September 22, 2016

This Charming Man: 15 Minutes with Jim James


I was privileged to interview My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James last week for the Santa Barbara Independent. Giddy from my brief convo with one of my heroes, I was inspired to write not one, but two variations for the weekly newspaper to choose from. HERE is the one they published, below is the other. I’m happy with both, but extra fond of the one posted here because after so many years toiling in VCReporter’s paragraph factory, to be inspired was a welcome change.

“If you could just watch the clock, I try not to jump in.”

I can’t help but wonder if the publicist is this strict to protect her client or the interviewer. Based on my gratuitous consumption of Jim James interviews I might guess the latter: James has a lot to say. Regardless, I must condense my encyclopedic curiosity (read: fan obsession) into 15 60-second increments. I give myself a list of admonitions: Don’t get too personal; don’t mention Kurt Cobain; try not to sound like the lead actress in Valley Girl; don’t propose marriage. I ask my friends if I should use my sexy voice.

I’ve been a fan of My Morning Jacket for about six years but only recently fell hard for its frontman James Edward Olliges, Jr. AKA Yim Yames. I’m not sure whether it’s his righteous pipes and his deep lyrical expositions, or the way he overemphasizes the last consonant of certain words in his songs and his subtle Southern accent that have me aflutter, but I need to switch on the A/C.

My fascination may have something to do with his extreme authenticity. For a rock star, he’s so not a rock star. He comes off as such an average and approachable guy, utterly unconcerned with image and so unapologetically human that as you delve into his catalog you begin to understand why you can’t find a cozy niche for his musical polygamy. Transcendental meditation and Pilates are his current drugs of choice. He enjoys solitude and plays a handful of instruments in addition to a mean guitar. He’s genuinely quirky and a spiritual seeker who often mentions God when discussing indefinable beauty. Both awkward and adorable, when he’s particularly moved, he glides to and fro across the stage like a child in socks on a polished wood floor, invoking Tom Cruise in Risky Business, and somehow it’s sexy.

Three years since his solo debut “Regions of Light and Sound of God” and after being invited to play the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco by his good friend and collaborator Conor Oberst, James is using the opportunity to introduce material from his latest record “Eternally Even” to audiences on the West Coast.

“Hello” he says softly. My palms sweating I can only hope he can’t hear me breathing. James receives my schoolgirl crushing as I would expect; with humor and grace. I may never know how many times his heart’s been broken, if he’s ever tried lucid dreaming or who “Actress” is about. Fifteen minutes are not enough to swim to the deep end, but together we make it work. And the publicist never has to jump in.

How is Jim James the solo artist different from the frontman for My Morning Jacket?

I don’t know. I don’t think about it too much. I just like to work on music by myself in studio and that’s where making solo records came from. It’s been a fun experience to put together a different band. I feel like when you try to do as many different projects as you can, it kind of really opens up your mind. For me, it opens up my mind to The Jacket and makes me kind of re-fall in love with those guys and what we do, just by doing something else cause it keeps it fresh. The solo band I have is really special and great friends of mine so it’s also great to spend time with them. It’s a thing that just kind of happens.

So it’s not necessarily that you’re expressing different identities?

In a way I am. I guess I feel like a different person on both of those stages. There’s definitely something different about me at a solo show then a Jacket show, for sure, but I don’t know if I could say what that is.

For KCRW’s Apogee performance you wore a brooch that a fan made you. You explained to the interviewer the symbolism of the piece and it was very touching. Do you share a special connection with your fans?

I feel like there’s a really beautiful thing that happens between fans of music and the people playing. I’ve been on both sides. It’s like you can’t have one without the other. That’s the beautiful thing about live music, that human connection you get. I feel like we live in an increasingly isolated world where we’re online or at our job or at our house and we don’t come into contact with people, and I think going to live music concerts is one of the best ways to connect with people. You can’t perform without the audience, and I love making music by myself and in the studio, too, but there’s something about that shared experience of the giving of the energy, [between] the audience and the performer.

As one of the more prolific artists around, do you ever feel creatively depleted? How do you replenish?

Oh, definitely. Yeah, I go through phases where I wonder if I’ll ever write another song again. I think most people feel that way. I think it’s part of the cycle of life. It’s like anything else. You fall in love and then you fall out of love or you love your job then you hate your job, you feel well, you feel sick. I feel like songwriting is just like that. You can’t control it, really. You can’t force yourself to fall in love and you can’t control when you fall out of love, sometimes. There are definitely times when I feel like I’ve fallen out of love with what I’m doing, and I don’t know what’s going on or there are no songs coming to me but then, knock on wood, I just hope that it will come back around again and it always has. I think that doing as many different things as I can kind of keeps stoking that fire. When I get to to do the solo stuff I really enjoy it and it makes me miss doing The Jacket stuff so it fuels the fire for The Jacket stuff and vice/versa. It’s like it kind of turns the mirror on the other things you do and inspires you.

You’re bringing Twin Limb from your hometown on tour with you. Do you think it’s important for people to support and nourish their local music scenes?

Oh my God yes, it’s one of the most important things cause we’re all part of some local music scene. There are bands that tour all over the world but they also come from a local scene. Here in Louisville there’s such an amazing local scene of musicians and I feel like Twin Limb is really a special and unique band. It’ll be really cool cause they’re going to open the show and then they are also in my band. We will combine forces.

The song State of the Art has an almost prophetic quality to it. Sort of like a warning. Did you mean it that way?

In a way, yeah. The heart of the song is talking about trying to be happy with the things that technology can’t affect, and trying to be happy with the love in your life and the family around you. We never know what’s gonna happen and if we keep disrespecting the earth and disrespecting each other we could see real chaos, we could see a loss of power and crazy things like the ocean swallowing up places it shouldn’t be swallowing up because of global warming. You have to try to be really good with yourself and good with your family and love the things that are the most important.

Jim James will perform at the Ventura Theater on Thursday, Sept. 29. For tickets, visit

January 15, 2016

the beautiful people

jadwiga_b_half-faceJadwiga Bronte, a student at the London College of Communication gained rare access to the residents of an institution in Russia where victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and other disabled or “odd” people are housed to keep them out  of public view. She photographed them, along with parts of the jail they call home for a group exhibition at the college.  Once the blunt-force reality of gene mutation seen in The Invisible People of Belarus fades there’s a tenderness about her subjects, a testament to the sensitivity Bronte approached the project with. See them all HERE.

December 31, 2015


“There’s a party in my head, and no one is invited.”

For the last few years I’ve taken to making lists. I blame age along with technology’s incessant need for attention. Beginning Jan. 1, every time I hear a new record that I like, I add it to my master list. Same goes for all forms of entertainment and other things that give me pause. (Pause is vastly underrated.) This year, a number of the names on my list were female, especially in television and especially in twos. Things I would “Pin” this year, if I actually used Pinterest, included the Serial podcast, Monique Marvez (Friday nights on KFI radio), The Cobain documentaries (Montage of Heck and Soaked in Bleach), Kim Gordon’s memoir, Grace Randolph’s Beyond the Trailer on YouTube, The Militant Baker (and the entire body acceptance movement), the Coachella livestream, wood as an art medium, Wild Ophelia peanut butter cups and binaural beats.  My personal achievements this year were numerous, but my proudest Internet moments were the flame wars I started on the Edward Sharpe Facebook page (in defense of Jade Castrinos) and Sarah Silverman’s page (in defense of faith.) It seems like every year there’s one artist that dominates my life. When I fall, I fall hard. Last year it was Against Me! (Way late to the party.) The year prior, it was Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. This year it was Tame Impala.  Jim James don’t be jealous, you have my heart. Here’s what I liked in 2015, as seen partially in VCReporter. Happy New Year!


Woman in GoldWelcome to Me + The End of the Tour +Joy


Courtney BarnettSometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit

There was a minute when Lorde was being hailed as the voice of her generation but I’d like to nominate Courtney Barnett for that distinction, though she’d probably giggle and craft a clever comeback on the fly. The charmingly disheveled millennial from down under (everything good seems to be coming from Australia these days) has a particular way with words. On this, her second record, she gives us a glimpse into the deep mysteries of her personal life: She’s saving money by using a cappuccino machine and prefers swimming to jogging — which sound exceptionally cool when vocalized over poppy garage melodies. Her ability to transmogrify her daily observations into profoundly catchy songs makes her one of the most brilliant and incisive musical artists to emerge this decade. And just when you think you’ve sized up all her quirk she shows you she’s just as comfortable in the deep end where the darker aspects of humanity, ecological destruction and the foils of love are handled with sublime aplomb.

Tame ImpalaCurrents
As long as he and his band keep processing those blissed-out beats, Kevin Parker’s awkward, barefoot, infinity-scarf hipsterism is forgiven.  Though Currents is not my favorite of Tame Impala’s rapidly growing catalog, it was the fresh blood I needed to satiate my lust for the band’s electro-psych expositions. Not only was Currents the launching pad for the best remix of the year, HAIM’s sultry take on “Cause I’m a Man,” but it may have produced the most NSFW video ever seen outside the rap genre with its soft teen porn for “The Less I Know the Better.” (Niki Minaj, step back.) I’d like to see Parker et al. return to the heavier, less techno leanings of their earlier work, but I’ll take whatever I can get — Tame Impala just never gets old.

My Morning JacketThe Waterfall
fans waited four long years for this baby to drop, and what a beauty she turned out to be. Crafted during frontman Jim James’ recovery from back surgery and a breakup, it’s a soaring, philosophical response to adversity with a big, fat, layered sound that’s just what the doctor ordered — for James and fans. Genre-defying almost to a fault, MMJ has mined every inch of modern music’s geography yet managed to escape the dreaded “derivative” label — that’s authenticity. With “Get the Point,” a breakup number to rival Ryan Adams’ Love is Hell period and “Compound Fracture,” one of the group’s best songs to date and my personal favorite of 2015, The Waterfall fits comfortably among MMJ’s best work.

Plus: Sleater Kinney, No Cities to Love; Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color; Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear;  Joanna Newsom, Divers;  Jill Scott, Woman; Erykah Badu, But You Caint Use My Phone;  Parquet Courts, Monastic Living; Watkins Family Hour, Watkins Family Hour; Circles Around the Sun, Interludes for the Dead; Crooked Eye Tommy, Butterflies & Snakes; The Pullmen, Going Dark; Seth Pettersen, Sweet Reaper.

DISAPPOINTMENT Eagles of Death Metal, Zipper Down. Obviously an unpopular opinion at this juncture, but as an EODM fan from way back, I can with a clean conscience say this band has run its course. And that’s totally OK.

TELEVISION or whatever they call it these days

Broad City (Comedy Central) The YouTube series that caught Amy Poehler’s attention was a breakout hit when it debuted this year on Comedy Central. Created by and starring Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson as, essentially, themselves — single Jewish slackers whose lives revolve around sex, weed and Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons — nothing is taboo and anything goes as the hilarious besties navigate everyday life in the Big Apple. Bong and webcam not included.

Downton Abbey (PBS) I was woefully late to this party, but bingeing on five seasons at a rate of one episode per day (thank you, Amazon Prime) in 2015 made me an obsessive fan in no time. With the series’ final season premiering Jan. 3, I sip my tea (pinky up) and raise an eyebrow in solidarity with millions of other Cult of Downton mourners. From the Countess Dowager’s brilliant one-liners and Lady Mary’s purebred snobbery to the everlasting love between Anna and Mr. Bates despite constant tribulation, there is no such thing as too much drama where this British tour de force is concerned.

Mad Men (AMC) Though producers made us suffer through excruciatingly long breaks between seasons, even separating the final season into two parts, Mad Men will always be the gold standard for character-driven, haute television drama. What would become of anti-hero Don Draper was anyone’s guess but the final scene was pure redemptive gold. (Not to mention Peggy Olson’s iconic strut through the hall of McCann Erickson.) Goosebumps.

Unreal (Lifetime) No one saw this coming: a well-written, well-acted drama on the network known for its maudlin biopics and After School Special production values? Behind the scenes of a reality dating program that mimics The Bachelor, two female producers use their wits, charm and cunning to manipulate the cast for ratings and, ultimately, industry clout. The tension exists where their threadbare morals gets tangled up with their lust for power. Shiri Appleby (Roswell, Girls) and Constance Zimmer (Entourage) are perfectly cast as the conniving, two-faced producers who occasionally question their actions, but only long enough to knock back a whiskey and lick their wounds. Unsurprisingly, it was picked up for another season.

Wayward Pines (Fox) You may not have heard, but Twin Peaks and Lost had a baby fathered by M. Night Shyamalan (he directed the pilot and co-executive produced) and it’s pretty damn good. Adapted from a sci-fi book series, Matt Dillon is FBI big-wig Ethan Burke who finds himself thrust into a picturesque but isolated town that’s under constant surveillance. Using all his signature overacting muscles (with a face like that who really cares?) Dillon as Burke makes it his mission to solve the puzzle of Wayward Pines and deliver its denizens from their beautiful prison where detractors are publicly executed and children are secretly indoctrinated into the “First Generation.” A second season is coming next year.

Plus: Better Call Saul (AMC), Maron (IFC), Narcos (Netflix), South Park (Comedy Central), True Detective (HBO), Orange is the New Black (Netflix).



November 10, 2015

Old school takes another hit from tech

When technology began swallowing the music industry, musicians were pushed into a scary but ultimately freer new paradigm. Same thing has been happening in publishing, and now visual art. The art gallery could become a thing of the past (museums are immune for the most part) as artists are eschewing representation in favor of the friendly simplicity of Instagram. The New York Times wrote a salient piece not too long ago on the subject. But as someone wise once said: there’s a prize and a price for everything.


September 5, 2015

So many colors!

In case you weren’t aware, adult coloring books have arrived. Of course, they’ve always existed, but for the last year or so they’ve been trending like crazy (blame those damn hipsters?), and in an era where the human attention span is diminishing more with each device we plug into, grown ups are rediscovering how relaxing the simple act of coloring can be. Enter artist Laurel Huggins whose art nouveau paintings and lush textiles have been collected around the globe for decades. I visited Huggins in her studio at Bell Arts Factory during First Friday where I openly swooned over her gorgeous coloring pages. They are available on archival paper suitable for framing and regular paper just for fun. Get ’em now before they go viral, because they will.

Reach her at or visit her at Bell Arts Factory, 432 N. Ventura Avenue, Studio 95.20150904_195853

June 3, 2015

Largest illegal graffiti project ever


This has particular meaning for me in light of the devastation to precious wildlife and resources caused by the oil spill in Santa Barbara. That’s the thing about art: it means what you want it to mean. Read about the project here.

February 28, 2015

Women’s History Month


These are some of the women who have influenced me most—be it my career path, my self image, my spirituality or my aesthetics.

Left to right, top row:Exene Cervenka, Erykah Badu, Patti Smith, Rickie Byars Beckwith, Erica Jong

Left to right, bottom row: Jess the Militant Baker, Dorothy Kilgallen, Annie Leibovitz, Norma Shearer.

January 20, 2015

Tiny Desk Concert Contest: The Water’s Mala

Every city has its talent pool, some deeper than others. In Ventura, there’s very little room to swim, yet a few manage to stay afloat. Aaron Orbit is a rare talent in a world full of medium rare talent. He eschews the tag singer-songwriter for the preferred “composer” and it suits him. His compositions are violently human and his voice from on-high. On  a whim… with only two days to prepare, he entered NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Contest. This is his entry. The song is a yet to be released hit. Hear it now and know why.

January 9, 2015

A hand for a grip

grip resize

Grips are the superheroes of the film industry. They are real life MacGyvers and without them, no film could ever be properly made. They work 12-18 hour days and almost always come home bruised and battered. They rarely complain. Work pays well for union grips, and not quite as well for indy grips. Unless you’re on a regular series or in the union, there can be dry spells. Dry spells that last too long become droughts and no one thrives in a drought. Grips are the kind of people you want on your team. They can handle anything, solve any problem and they always step up to help. This particular grip is in a drought. That drought was recently complicated by identity theft. I’m reaching out to you in order to help him until the next rainfall. Please consider donating. For the price of lunch, your generosity will reverberate through the cosmos. Click HERE to donate. Thank you.

January 7, 2015

10 artists that should play Coachella by the Sea 2015


Yesterday’s announcement of the 2015 Coachella lineup got me pumped — not because I’m looking forward to three sweaty days of over-stimulation in the desert, but because now I get to fantasize about which acts will perform at the Ventura Theater during the event’s bye week.  (Rob Antonini, Loanne Wullaert and Roni Osmer are you listening?)

Who I hope will play Coachella by the Sea (coined by moi, btw)

1. Ryan Adams
I will probably have a stroke if this announced and therefore be unable to attend, but I’m still rooting for it. Sure I’ve hated his last few records but I’m loyal to those I love and he will always be my main man.

2. Alabama Shakes
I’ve listened to their debut album way too much and it’s time I saw them live. It’s also time they put out a new record.

Because they’re on constant rotation in my car and they’re named after a Manson girl—the good one.

4.Brant Bjork and the Low Desert Punks
FUCK YES. I’m a desert rock/stoner rock junkie and even though I’ll never get to see Kyuss, there’s still a possibility I can see someone from Kyuss other than Josh Homme (my second love after Ryan Adams).

5. Jenny Lewis
Jenny’s the shit. She’s like a cheerful, poppier Liz Phair. If “Jenny” on The League was a musician, she’d totally be Jenny Lewis. Also if she comes to Ventura, she’s bringing Ryan Adams with her.

6. Steely Dan
Haters gonna hate but who cares?

7. St. Vincent
Because I want to love her.

8. Ghostface Killah
Because I nicknamed my dog “Zoeface Killah” and because Wu-Tang.

9. Tame Impala
I get the feeling their shows are transcendent.

10. Action Bronson
A fat white rapper who’s a chef and sometimes writes about food. What else do you need?

Who will probably play Coachella by the Sea (based only on pad thai-fueled intuition)

Azealia Banks, this year’s Ellie Goulding; Off, we luvs us some punk rock; Run the Jewels, overhyped rap artist of the moment; FKA Twigs, even more overhyped; Lykke Li, critics love her.







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