"A New Life" and a New Sound for Jim James
When Jim James was booked for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon the day before the drop of his solo debut, he figured he'd be playing with The Roots--he just had no idea he'd be belting out his latest single with a 22-piece orchestra behind him.
After going back and forth with Questlove in the weeks leading up to the Late Night taping, the My Morning Jacket frontman was told to leave the loops and samples he used on "A New Life" at home in Kentucky, as the single from Regions of Light and Sounds of God would be given the royal treatment. Strings, flutes, a bass sax, a tuba, and three bass drums that may as well have been yoinked from the Energizer Bunny's prop closet were employed in place of the sounds James created in his at-home studio. "I thought it was just going to be me playing with [The Roots]!" says James. "The day before the show, I got an email from Questlove saying, 'Oh yeah! We're gonna do strings. And horns. And ... all this stuff.' And I was like, 'Okay man, cool.'"
The sum of these moving musical parts delivered a five-minute symphony the likes of which Studio 6B had never seen. Starting off with the unassuming, steady build between two acoustic guitars and three marching bass drums, James went from softly crooning about a fresh start to testing his lung capacity over the course of the song's extravagant breakdown. Questlove went on to call "A New Life" the most beautiful song he'd ever played on Late Night, and this sans-guitar singing thing that James was trying on for size was clearly fitting perfectly.
Renowned for both his vocal chops and string-shredding talents with My Morning Jacket, James went back to basics on Regions of Light and Sounds of God, which relies more on his vocal cords than anything else. "I always approach every project the same in that I always approach it different, if that makes sense," he says. "This tour will have a different vibe from the Jacket shows, but some aspects are similar. Even during My Morning Jacket shows, I just feel more at home when I'm just singing and not really playing guitar or anything. I still love to play guitar, but it just feels good to sing. In the studio I like to do everything; I like to play all the instruments. Live, it's been super fun to just sing. I'm going to play a little bit of guitar here and there, but I've just been really enjoying the freedom of singing."