Inspiration comes from the most abstract places, and that statement did not falter in the inspiration behind Jim James’ upcoming solo album, Regions of Light and Sound of God, out February 5 on ATO Records. James drew inspiration from a vintage book entitled God’s Man, a wordless 1929 woodcut novel by Lynd Ward, for the song, “A New Life,” which just premiered on Rolling Stone, making parallels between his life and the life of the novel’s protagonist. “There’s a scene [in God’s Man] where the main character’s like chased out of town and he falls off a cliff and is lost and kind of injured and this woman finds him and nurses him back to health and they fall in love,” James says. “And they have a child together and they have this new life that’s kind of coming. That had happened to me. Like, I had fallen offstage and gotten injured and gotten super dark and fell in love and all that was happening at the same time I was loving this book. It was like I had this beautiful illustration of what was happening in my life.”
“I take walks a lot,” says James, “and as I walk, songs kind of build in my mind, and I start adding and subtracting things. So I had a full vision for a lot of the songs on this album before I even recorded one note.” Over the course of fifteen years and six studio albums, James has been the focal point of a group that has grown into one of the most acclaimed and successful rock and roll bands in the world. With this project, he reaches into new territory that extends, but doesn’t break from, MMJ’s accomplishments.
Until now, James had never felt the call to create a longer-form album on his own. “I’m very lucky to play in a band with guys that I love, who are great at what they do,” he says, “so on MMJ records, I don’t have a need to play bass or keys or what have you. But as a person and as a musician, I love to play every instrument under the sun, and I wanted to make a record where I played all the instruments and produced/engineered it myself.”
The results are nine songs that resist easy categorization, from the hazy space-funk of the opening “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)” to the chiming, operatic pop of “A New Life.” On Regions of Light and Sound of God, nothing is what it seems—touchstones from old-school R&B or island folk or hip-hop flicker into focus and then disappear; a delicate instrumental is titled “Exploding.” It’s complex but cohesive, intimate and hypnotic where My Morning Jacket might turn more wide-screen and epic.
“The album knew what it wanted to be,” says James. “The songs would tell me what they wanted to be, and I just had to search around and find those sounds to bring them into this world.”