This scene from our photo shoot with the members of My Morning Jacket proves that their music isn't the only thing they're loved for, it's also their personalities.
This article appeared in the July 2012 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.
“OK, Suki,” Patrick Hallahan says,“art-direct us.” Suki is Suki Anderson, our art director. Patrick Hallahan is My Morning Jacket’s drummer. It’s Thursday, May 24, on the second floor of an old schoolhouse, now home to the Squallis Puppeteers — or, judging by the mounds of costumes and props and materials to make costumes and props, the Squallis Hoarders.
We’re here for our cover shoot of My Morning Jacket’s three Louisvillians: Hallahan, mystical leader Jim James and soft-spoken bassist Tom Blankenship, who at one point squeezes into a green-and-white furry bodysuit that prompts James to say, “You look like Mario in his frog suit.”
James — who arrived in the hallway and immediately began snapping iPhone photos of elaborate puppets large enough for humans to fit inside — enters the high-ceilinged former classroom (the chalkboards and gold-bar-sized black erasers are anachronisms) where photographer Mickie Winters has set up lights and a white backdrop. James sees an orange boa and a blue tutu. “These are great,” he says. Things are about to get weird. But only after James establishes some ground rules. “Nothing too hick-y,” he says. “I just happen to be barefoot, but let’s not focus on our feet.” Image, you know? Also, this: “And not too Flaming Lips-ish.” The bear heads, then, are out.
“Those bastards!” Hallahan says, guffawing — the right word because he drenches rooms with his guffaws. “The Flaming Lips beat us to the punch every time!”
Soon, Hallahan is wearing gorilla pants. Anderson, the art director, shows him a wooden chair made for a grade-schooler. “Oh, God,” Hallahan says. “I don’t even know if my real butt could fit in this chair.” He sits.
“Arched back,” Anderson says. “Butt looks good.”
“I get that all the time!” Hallahan says.
The other two bandmates, Bo Koster and Carl Broemel, aren’t here for the shoot, so the masked doppelgangers are local recording maestro Kevin Ratterman (“They call me Barl,” he says, blending “Bo” and “Carl”) and Hallahan’s brother Chris, who pulls on a huge papier-mâché head.
“Are you a peasant?” Patrick asks him.
“I think I’m Stephen Hawking.”
“You’ve got a pretty mouth, boy,” James says in a Deliverance-worthy twang.
“Come over and kiss it,” Chris says.
Patrick hugs a bruised tuba. Blankenship’s in that frog suit. At one point James, in the tutu and boa and sitting before a miniature piano, thrusts a battered tambourine high above his head and distorts his mouth into a mock-screaming countenance. This tableau can only symbolize a band that’s made it.
Eventually, all of us climb into cars for a quick trip to Dairy Kastle. James (orange sherbet), Blankenship (butterscotch) and Hallahan (vanilla embroidered with Oreo crumbles) eat ice cream while wearing fly heads. Again: For this photo shoot, the My Morning Jacket guys eat ice cream while wearing fly heads. Anderson takes a short iPhone video that will later circulate around the office.
After nearly two hours, Winters shoots the last of her more than 600 frames. It’s almost 4 p.m., the ice cream-melting sun throbbing in the sky. Ratterman decides to stroll the few blocks down Eastern Parkway back to Squallis.
“Yeah, let’s walk,” James says. “It’s a nice day.”
Photo: Courtesy of Mickie Winters and Amanda Bates