Van Hunt Talks My Morning Jacket’s The Waterfall

Grammy-winning songwriter Van Hunt says My Morning Jacket has made a soft couch for aching bones.

I spend hours online looking for inspiration — listening to music, new and old, trying to connect with the feeling that originally fueled my drive to create. One day, I found My Morning Jacket.

I want to close my eyes and concentrate on their new album The Waterfall but happiness threatens when I do. The first three drops — “Believe (Nobody Knows),” “Compound Fracture” and “Like a River” — make the kind of noise that I’m afraid to believe in. I fend off déjà vu as the drumskins and electric axes keep kicking the AM radio of my past into my present. But finally, at the first fortissimo, I say “fuck it” — and in an unobservable moment, I do. I actually do believe that My Morning Jacket is the panacea.

This record is irresistible. A soft couch for aching bones.

OK, now I wanna smoke. The fourth song, “In Its Infancy (The Waterfall),” is darker than the beginning of the sequence and I welcome the guitar solo that arrives three-quarters of the way in. Thank you. Then “Get the Point” lopes into view and… oh man, I hope she gets the point, too. Oooh, that pedal steel should help drive it home! This is obviously a great song that shouldn’t lose any “cool” because of that fact.

The first time I listened to The Waterfall, iTunes reshuffled the album’s sequence. Big Brother is now making the decisions about what order I will listen to this album in. As I swivel and reach to turn off shuffle, “Big Decisions” cuts the line. The irony is too good to disrupt, so I recline. The song asks an important question: “What do you want me to do? Make all the big decisions for you?” And, of course, lovers will answer “yes” but in truth, my love only wants decisions made for it when it’s weary and tired of being afraid of what could be next.

“Only Memories Remain” is my kind of dynamite. A sweet, sticky thang that gets caught up on itself. It’s hot sugar: a chunk of high, punchy rhythm guitar jumping on a solid, concrete beat. I really enjoy MMJ’s guitar solos, but they should have kept the groove going while this particular solo played. A bending note that goes as far as this one does to put its neck on the line for a sound deserves a safety net. But ahhh, the vamp… this is that Neil Young shit. In fact, I might “shoot my baby down by the river” after this track fades. Whoa, the drummer just went to the rimshot, and the band gathers itself for the finale.

Tennessee and Kentucky lie together on the map. It’s fun to imagine the Louisville-sown MMJ purposely taking full advantage of their proximity to the former yards of Memphis pillars like William “Bell” Yarborough, Willie Mitchell and Isaac Hayes. But dig a little deeper into their roots and you can pull Appalachian bluegrass out of an African gourd — the kind of country music that swept all around the world via Carl Perkins, Chet Atkins, Buffalo Springfield and even Deep Purple.

MMJ isn’t afraid to reach for more in the middle of a perfect drone. They can get jangly and punch holes through a bag. “Spring (Among the Living)” slaps you with a Tower of Power/Fela Kuti groove, which can be gratifyingly strange when filtered through the Bluegrass State.

I can tell “Thin Line” is going to do me in. This joint sounds like the Persuaders rehearsing next door to the Flaming Lips after distortion vaporized the dividing wall. The trill of the strings adds a shimmering escort for the song’s exit. “Tropics (Erase Traces)” is the last song (on Big Brother’s shuffled sequence, anyway). It makes me wish I was experiencing it on an evening with 30,000 other Woodstock fugitives. Frame by frame, toke by toke, and indeed, we would erase the traces.

I used to have a writing partner, given to hopeful creativity. I trusted him to stretch out the anxious-less environment of his sound, forever and ever. He had a Jim James-esque quality to his playing that held little in the way of self-consciousness. Almost without ego, but pushy in ways, too. He was sort of a gracious host who ignored my self-indulgence by firmly insisting I relax and have a good time. My Morning Jacket, maybe even more so than my former writing partner, could fulfill the promise of undying heavens.

Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Van Hunt has collaborated with John Legend, Joss Stone, Dionne Farris and many others. His 2011 album What Were You Hoping For? reached both Billboard’s Top 50 R&B/Hip-Hop and Heatseekers charts. His new album The Fun Rises, the Fun Sets is out now. You can follow him on Twitter here.

(Photo credit: Stefania Rosini)