My Morning Jacket may be regarded by many as an indie rock back, but especially in the formative years of the outfit, the Louisville, Kentucky-based group symbolized the late-era alt-country style of picking up roots influences left behind by mainstream country, and mixing them with more modern sounds. My Morning Jacket was one of the first indie rock bands to feature pedal steel guitar, and that influence continues to linger throughout that side of the music world.
As the band readies to release a new album called The Waterfall, frontman and songwriter Jim James spoke to Rolling Stone about the prospects of the band ever having a big radio hit. But the question would be, where? Jim characterized pop radio as “such a waste of time,” and then had some pretty scarring words for country.
“I feel like modern country is deliberately dumbing down the human race,” James said. “They’re deliberately making people take glory in being uneducated and racist, and it’s just sad. I think it’s absolute mind control.”
Though it might be hard to find disagreement with Jim’s assessment of modern country from a quality standpoint (though he really doesn’t make that point specifically), James’ words go much beyond regular complaining about quality to downright implicating the genre for glorifying racism—a pretty formidable accusation.
How much of this is hyperbole should probably be considered before reading too much into the songwriter’s words, but saying modern country glorifies people being racist seems a little harsh to say the least. Arguably country music has never been more inclusive to outside influences, and though it may be fair to say that a fair amount of racists remain in the ranks of country listeners, there’s really not a way this is symbolized or promoted through the music itself. In fact the opposite could be argued with the regular inclusion of rapping and other Ebonic inflections coming from many country artists, and a slowly-increasing amount of artists of color throughout the genre.
At the same time, the assessment that modern country is directly responsible for the dumbing down of the population, especially when you hear much of what the format has to offer today, is pretty spot on. Mind control may be a little out there too, but moreover Jim James’ words symbolize how so many feel about country music from the outside looking in, and how country scares away worthy talent and intelligent listeners by being so simpleminded.