Interview: Patrick Hallahan of My Morning Jacket Chats Church Gymnasiums, Morning Jackets, and Beards
March 8th 2012
Patrick Hallahan lives a pretty enviable life. He drums for one the world’s most respected live bands, My Morning Jacket. Last time he visited Australia, he toured the country with Neil Young. Next month, he’ll be back sharing Blues Fest stages with Crosby Stills & Nash, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. He also occasionally hangs out in the touring band for Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. WHAT OF IT, people?
He also has a damn fine beard. (Top left, check it. Seriously. Damn fine.)
While driving around his hometown in Louisville, Kentucky, Patrick had a chat to our Flog Ed Beth about recording in an overheated church, touring with the big guns and plans for killing time in Sydney next month. We’d like to say that Beth made valiant attempts to conduct a professional, relevant and gush-free enquiry. In the end, however, our interviewer couldn’t hold back on the real, burning topics she wanted to bring up with Patrick…
You recorded the album at home, didn’t you? Can you tell me where you recorded it?
Yeah, we ended up recording our album in a… well, in a church gymnasium, basically. There was some tracking done in the church itself, but mostly in this old wooden-floored gymnasium. We went there to demo some songs, not knowing that we were going to make the album. And it just sounded so good that we kept moving.
Did you have a relationship with the church or the gymnasium already, or did you just end up there?
You know, that’s actually an interesting story, because the church itself – there’s only like 25 parishioners left and they’re all in their seventies and eighties. So the church is kind of dying off. To keep the lights on and maintain their ownership of the property, they started opening up rooms in the church to local artists, who can go in there and paint, sculpt or do whatever. One of dear friends, Kevin Ratterman, who ended up working on the album with us, was already recording bands there, and he said something to Jim about stopping by and seeing the place… and the rest is history.
The album is called Circuital, and you guys recorded it at home… is that significant to the way it fits into the My Morning Jacket discography? Coming back to where you started?
Yeah, well like I said, that was not really intended. We didn’t know that we were going to be recording in Louisville, we were just getting together to start putting songs together. So it was totally not intentional, and the album title didn’t come until much later, when we kind of had a chance to step back and have a look at how it all happened. Actually, that is the only album recorded in Louisville. Everything else – the earlier albums – were recorded on a farm, outside of Louisville, about 30 minutes.
Do you feel like it changed your sound – being so close to the town where you grew up?
(Laughs) I think the greatest thing that changed the sound was that we did it in the middle of summer and there’s no air conditioning in the gymnasium. So not only does sound travel differently through heated air, but it was also making us play different because, well, gotta get those takes done so we can turn the fans back on!
The last time My Morning Jacket was in Australia was for the Big Day Out in 2009…
Oh my god. That might have been one of the hottest experiences of my life… Oh my God. I just remember playing there one day and thinking, how am I going to make it past the next song?! It was awesome.
And you got to support Neil Young when you were here. How was that?
(Laughs) How do you think it was? It was incredible! He is great, really welcomed us in, which was completely flattering. I mean they don’t come too much bigger on our radar than Neil Young. We respect him so much, and for him to invite us to come play and also just to be so hospitable, and start kind of a lasting friendship…. It still blows our minds.
You’re playing with some pretty huge artists at the (Byron Bay & Perth) Blues Festivals too – Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, Crosby Still & Nash – who are you looking forward to playing with the most?
I might try and put together a guitar-off with those guys, see what happens!
I haven’t actually had a chance to look at the roster that much. I just heard Australia and Blues Fest, and I said yes! It didn’t take much more than that.
And you’ve toured with Dan from The Black Keys as well – was that different touring with MMJ?
Of course. That was Dan’s band, so… its probably the first time I’ve been in like a backing band, and I didn’t really play drums that much, so it was an interesting thing. And the four guys that made up the band with me and Dan were family, so that added a dynamic to it. But it was great, I mean, I have lifelong friends from that. So you know, it wasn’t really better or worse… It’s kind of like going on a holiday or a vacation: you love being on vacation, but the whole time you’re at home, you’re thinking about being on vacation, and the whole time you’re on vacation you’re kind of thinking about home!
You’ll be in Sydney in April – will you have much free time when you’re here on tour?
We try to make time. You know, we love Australia to death. It’s just such a big undertaking, such a big trip, so while we’re there we really try to take the time to just soak everything in that we can. And that includes music and jams, and beach walks and harbour walks, conversations with people in bars… I can honestly say that everybody in this band has a love affair with Australia. We really do try to make every effort to play the show, get out of the show and go out on the town and wake up early and start again. And try and schedule days off as well.
Patrick, I have a question about the band’s name. I want to know… do you any of you actually have a morning jacket?
(Laughs) None of us have morning jackets per se… Oh, you know what? We all had morning jackets at one point! They were cheesy… but we don’t have them now.
What did they look like?
They were like red velvet smoking jackets. Like something that Hugh Hefner would wear.
I think you should definitely bring them back.
If you buy them, we’ll put them on.
New merchandise: Morning Jacket Morning Jackets.
It sells itself.
It sure does. Okay, and now I have to compliment… you have a very fine beard.
Ha! Thankyou! I appreciate it. It’s been with me for years.
How long have you and your beard been together?
It goes through stages… ‘til I get sick of it and shave it off! I almost did it yesterday, by accident. Someone hit me in the back with the bathroom door and I was trimming my beard and I almost went up the beard with the beard trimmer… so, you could have seen me without for this next tour.
But you’re safe for now.
If you had to give up your beard forever or your drum-kit, what would you choose?
Depends on the day I guess! (Laughs) No, I would shave my beard in three seconds, if I had to give up one of them. I’ll just grow the damn beard back when nobody’s looking anyway!
What if you could never grow it back though?
Yeah, well then I’d just keep the drums I guess. That’s fine.
WHAT: My Morning Jacket
WHERE: Enmore Theatre
WHEN: Tuesday 3 April
TICKETS: via Enmore Theatre