Jim James embracing new positivity with My Morning Jacket’s return to the road

“We are trying to embrace every moment, every minute of every show, trying to really try to be present,” James says of the band’s new tour.

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Jim James of My Morning Jacket performs during the 2015 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival.

Jim James of My Morning Jacket performs during the 2015 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. The band headlines Northerly Island on July 2.

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When My Morning Jacket’s Jim James wrote “One Big Holiday” 20 years ago about his dream to break free of dull work life and go out and play music, he never fathomed the fragility of that sentiment. After being sidelined due to the COVID-19 pandemic, My Morning Jacket has returned to the road the past year with renewed energy and appreciation for the dream of playing live music.

“It’s been really beautiful. There’s this renewed sense of gratitude after having it taken away with COVID,” says James during a recent interview. “We are trying to embrace every moment, every minute of every show, trying to really try to be present. There’s a really good feeling in the band right now. Just a better communication and just all around, just a renewed sense of clarity for everybody.”

My Morning Jacket

My Morning Jacket

With: Indigo De Souza

When: 7 p.m. July 2

Where: Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island, 1300 S. Linn White Dr.

Tickets: $24 - $75

Info: ticketmaster.com

It’s especially sweet, as it coincided with their return to the studio. After a short hiatus, the band reconvened to record their self-titled album, which came out last year. The album features a spirited journey of psychedelic and roots rock, always anchored by James’ thought-provoking and ever-hopeful lyrics.

“I feel really proud of the self-titled record, and it’s been really fun having that new blast of life in the sets. It’s a new way to move energy for me,” says James. “It really keeps the touring feeling fresh, and also having new songs injects new life into the old songs because you’re feeling more fresh in general. It just feels really good to have that energy in there.”

It helps that the album comes from a positive place, with James noting that the band is trying “as much as we can to be a source of positivity for people or an outlet for people to move some energy.”

That includes the band members themselves, as they’ve adapted healthier habits with their return to the road. James has struggled with mental health issues over the years and didn’t always know how to effectively manage his time. Touring life has often been a struggle for him in the past, but he feels hopeful things are improving.

“I feel like we’re entering a new era of trying to be better at controlling our time and be more responsible with our time and our health,” he says. “Every show just feels more precious to me, being able to do it and being able to be more conscious inside each moment. I just feel this new heightened sense of consciousness around it all.”

My Morning Jacket

My Morning Jacket

Austin Nelson

This translated lyrically in James’ songwriting, with the frontman grappling with his connection with the world through songs such as “Never in the Real World” and “Penny For Your Thoughts.” He also returns to a familiar lyrical topic of technology on “Regularly Scheduled Programming.”

“Something all of us struggle with nowadays is how do we navigate this pathway into the future, this pathway of technology? How do we navigate it so that it enhances our life instead of detracting from life?” says James. “The technology is so amazing and really built to suck you in and in a lot of ways I feel like we can all get addicted to it and sucked into it too far.

…The music reminds me to get out and take a walk or try and just go to an art museum or call a friend or do something real to get me out of that.”

Last fall the band released “LIVE 2015,” the first volume of a vinyl archival series that documents some of their favorite performances “the way we want them to be heard.” He likens the recordings to a time machine.

“It’s really interesting to look back at all these different versions of yourself and think about how you’ve changed and hopefully become a happier person since then, or maybe at least to learn some things, and also look back at that time and be grateful for what was going on then,” says James. “It takes me back in my mind to those moments, for better or for worse.”

James says he’s excited to return to Chicago, describing the city as “this big, amazing place filled with so much possibility.” Some of the band’s earliest tour gigs included Chicago.

“It’s a really special feeling for us because it brings us back to where we started and just feeling like somebody cares,” says James. “It feels so special to see people there really responding to the music.”

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