At Home With Jim James: A Conversation About One Record

Jim James Photo by: Sheva Kafai

Jim James was 21 years old and shopping at Ear X-tacy, the legendary Louisville record store, when he first discovered the George Harrison album that would change his life. He was talking to a friend who worked there, Jeremy Podgursky, the singer and guitarist in a band called the Pennies, which was at the time playing a lot of shows with James's then-new rock band, My Morning Jacket. And so when James told Podgursky how much he loved the song "Long Long Long," a Harrison-written song from The White Album, Podgursky responded, "Well then you must love All Things Must Pass," James didn't yet know the 1970 rock masterpiece, Harrison's first solo album after the Beatles broke up—but he bought it that day. "There are so many records you've found that you really don't remember the exact moment you found it," James recalls now. "But this one—I remember the day, I remember what my bedroom looked like, I remember the person who told me about it. I remember so clearly everything about it." 

All Things Must Pass is a gorgeously textured, three-LP document of Harrison's deeply felt journey through spirituality, influenced in part by Hinduism, the Tao Te Ching, and the folk and gospel albums the itinerant Beatle was imbibing through the 1960s. It's perhaps reflective of the cultural tenor of 1970 that an album with one entire LP dedicated entirely to instrumental jams went to Number 1 across the world, but for James, its resonance is also because of Harrison's ability to convey yearning through his music—particularly in its gentle lead single, "My Sweet Lord." "There was something that spoke to me about him because he seemed like the odd man out, the outcast, and I've always felt like that in my life," says James. "And there's something aching about his songs—I mean, I love all the Beatles. But there's just something about George's ache that I really felt was just so… peculiar, the way his soul emitted light and sound. And this desire from him to try and bring spirituality and those deeper things into it always blew my mind."

Jim James Photo by: Sheva Kafai

Harrison died in 2001, not long after James discovered All Things Must Pass, so for him "it took on this cosmic thing, this extra sadness, because I was just so in love with this music… It's crazy because [the album] is so long, but the whole thing is just so deep and so wise, and there's some of it that's so silly and childlike. It's really a bold, brave statement from somebody that was so successful."

All Things Must Pass was important enough in James's musical evolution that in 2009, his first solo EP, Tribute to, consisted entirely of Harrison covers. "My Sweet Lord," in particular, is in constant rotation. "The word 'God' or the word 'Lord,' to me, means a more universal consciousness. I believe we are all God and that God is love and God is everything." he says. "With 'My Sweet Lord,' I just feel this universal wash of love. There's a certain hypnosis; it's almost like air to me. It sustains me and keeps me alive the way really no other song has, because it doesn't project itself. Alice Coltrane's music is similar to me, where there's this beautiful expansion of consciousness and love and god and awareness—this deep ache of what we go through on Earth, trying to understand our role in the cosmic scheme of it all." 

Jim James dropping the needle on "My Sweet Lord" Photo by: Sheva Kafai

When James mentions that he breathes "My Sweet Lord" like air, he means almost literally. "Sometimes for weeks or months, I really don't listen to any other songs. I listen to it on vinyl a lot, but I listen to it on Spotify in the car or wherever, and every single year when they do Spotify Wrapped and present your top song to you and it's this big surprise: 'Your top song of 2019 was 'My Sweet Lord.' Every single year, 'My Sweet Lord' comes on. 'You're in the 999999th percentile.' They're like, 'What's wrong with this dude," he laughs.

My Morning Jacket is currently in the studio recording their tenth studio album (out early 2025), and besides that, they're almost constantly on the road touring. So when he first used his Wrensilva console, he "just sat there and cranked it and really bathed in it" on vinyl. (He also listened to Eddie Dunstedter's Where Dreams Come True, an album of songs on pipe organ from 1961.) James decided to place his console where his TV was mounted, and so when it arrived he simply "ripped [the TV] off the wall and gave it to the people who delivered the Wrensilva," he said. "So now when I walk in I see this beautiful piece of reality rather than a fucking TV. And the movers who brought the Wrensilva over were so stoked, they took the TV away, it was perfect."