If you are unfamiliar with My Morning Jacket, a single song or even a single album can’t serve as your introduction. At the heart of it, My Morning Jacket is a rock and roll band—ringing guitars, huge drums, and vocals that can run from Neil Young to Roger Daltrey to Prince and beyond. They have quiet and contemplative “folk” songs such as “Wonderful” from 2011’s Circuital and “Golden” from 2003’s It Still Moves. They have epic guitar jams like “Mahgeeta,” also from It Still Moves and they have songs like “Holdin On To Black Metal” from Circuital—songs that can’t be classified by genre but can be classified as awesome, complete with killer fuzzed out guitar parts.
For their newly released album The Waterfall, My Morning Jacket decamped to Stinson Beach, California with producer Tucker Martine (Decemberists, Modest Mouse, and Neko Case among others).
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Carl Broemel, My Morning Jacket’s guitarist, pedal steel player and saxophonist. Carl joined the band in 2004 and has played on every album since 2005’s Z. I asked Carl about recording the new album, songwriting and arranging, and of course, guitars, amps, and pedals. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our exchange.
Tone Report: You guys recorded the new album near Stinson Beach in CA. Why did you choose that studio? Who produced this record?
Carl Broemel: Jim and Tucker Martine produced The Waterfall. Tucker sourced the studio through a friend, who had moved his studio from Sacramento to Stinson Beach. The studio is in a crazy castle-like home of cobblestones and all reclaimed materials built by a professor in the late ‘60s. The live room is a pretty non-traditional studio space, which I loved. A huge window overlooks the Pacific Ocean and every day the fog and sunsets were epic. The control room is down in the basement near the bomb shelter tunnel which was set up and used it as a reverb chamber!
TR: How would you describe the sound of the new album?
CB: It sounds like us, lost out in Marin County, CA!
TR: Does Jim [James, My Morning Jacket’s lead singer and primary songwriter] come in with fully formed songs or do you guys jam and create new songs in a more collaborative process?
CB: Jim usually comes in with demos that he purposely makes very quickly so we can all sort it out together in the room. Sometimes there are key elements that he puts in there that just need to be there, and sometimes we fill in the space as we go. We still find the need to create new approaches to songs in the studio, even though we've made many records together, you always need to find a new wide-open brain to negotiate twists and turns of what is needed for any particular song.
TR: Did I hear correctly that you recorded enough songs for two albums?
CB: Yep, we do have another batch of songs from our time working on The Waterfall which will become another album. There is still a bit of work to be done, but the idea is to have another record ready sooner than we ever have in the past.
TR: Do you have any favorite guitar moments on The Waterfall?
CB: “Thin Line” was a song that just came together very fast, within a few hours we had a take. Then Jim added the solo over the outro bit and we were done! Also Jim's fuzzy solos on “Spring” and “Like a River,” I really like. I love the guitar parts on “Like a River.” They sound like romantic-era piano accompaniment to me, like tone painting.
TR: Did you use any new guitars, amps, or effects that you are excited about?
CB: For amps, I mainly used my old (Fender) Tweed Deluxe and Princeton Reverbs for electric guitar, and a Fender Vibrosonic for pedal steel. I did find a Maestro Reverb-Echo amp at the Marin County Guitar show that we used a lot. You use banana clips to connect the Maestro to the speaker of your main amp, and it sends 100 percent reverb out of its own speaker. It also has a tremolo circuit that is after the reverb which is the reverse of how I would have done it on a pedalboard, but such a cool effect in this order. I played my Duesenberg Starplayer, a Gretsch Tennessean, my Black Les Paul and GFI pedal steel.
TR: Your approach to pedal steel is very innovative. It seems like you use it almost like a string section. Are you still using the Eventide effects [Modfactor and Pitchfactor] for the steel? What is it that you like about them?
CB: Thanks a lot. Though I am a pedal steel novice by purist standards, I do love playing it and not worrying too much about "how it’s done" by those masters of the past and present. For pedal steel effects I try to keep it very simple, just the amp’s reverb, or add a Moog or Fulltone tape delay. The Eventide Modfactor is also a go-to. The Eventide pedals are very versatile for steel, sax, keys, and electric guitar. We used the Eventide Space prominently on a song that will likely be on the next record. I also used their mixing link to add effects to some saxophone sounds. I have two H9s on my guitar board for the upcoming tour to cover all the strange things I might need to do. Living in a time where we get to merge the old touchy analog gear with the new fancy computers is pretty exciting as long as you are really listening to the sounds and not just looking at waveforms.
TR: Is your Les Paul Standard still your main guitar? What's special about it?
CB: I use the Les Paul Standard '88 and the Doozy about the same now, they are friends. I’ve had the LP for a really long time, so if I had to choose one guitar to take into space to go to Mars and never come back, I'd take him based purely on his tenure and ability to comfort. When I go to a session and need a guitar (that) can do it all, I take the Doozy.
TR: What are your other main live guitars now?
CB: I have a few more Les Pauls, a gold one, a Jr., an SG for downtuned songs, a Duesenburg 12-string…
TR: And what about amps?
CB: I have been using a Carr Slant 6v6 and Rambler, I also recently purchased a 3 Monkeys Grease Monkey. I like to mix and match heads every so often.
TR: Moving on to effects, I remember seeing a video or you using the EHX Ravish Sitar pedal. Is that something you're still using?
CB: Yes! That thing is amazing. I’ve used it for a soundtrack recording project with a friend. It’s not on the live board, but always in the toolbox.
TR: So what's on your touring pedalboard these days?
CB: A Fulltone Full Drive 2, Spaceman Saturn, Hudson Electronics Stroll On, Electro-Harmonix POG, Eventide H9s, Fulltone wah, Xotic SP, Empress Tape Delay, SIB Mr. Echo,
Boss Reverb, Fulltone Supa-Trem 2, and a Disaster Area MIDI controller for the H9s.