My Morning Jacket’s Tom Blankenship on a Surprise Album Drop, Canceled Tour, New Projects and Mental Health In an Unprecedented Time
Back in the late summer of 2020, I began exchanging emails with Tom Blankenship bass player for My Morning Jacket, an advocate for mental health awareness. During these unprecedented times, we are so fortunate to have musicians that still remain proactive in their communities, friendships, and causes they champion.
This writer would like to thank Tom for taking his time to join us in this important discussion. Please look for his new projects on Bandcamp with the following link: https://bandcamp.com/sometomguytoo and from this writer to all of you I wish you Happy Holidays. Reach out if you need help and remember, we will be dancing together to all our favorite bands before we know it.
And now the interview…
Sean Nevison: How have you been using your time during this global pandemic?
Tom Blankenship: I feel like a lot of us are doing this: I’ve been taking a step back to reflect on how I’d been utilizing my time and energy pre-COVID and refocusing my current energy toward family and myself. Oh, and a lot of reading.
Sean: Before we were locked down in this very fluid time, your band My Morning Jacket had announced an album and tour to follow in the fall, obviously live music is on hold, but can you tell us anything about this album or any other projects you have been working on with MMJ or other artists?
Tom: Right, the band had been working on a new album for some months, with a possible release date in the fall. Tour dates had already been booked. Obviously, that was all put on hold. but it gave us the perfect opportunity to release The Waterfall II, which may not have come out had it not been for the current state of the world. When else would we release these older tunes that we wouldn’t necessarily tour behind, ya know? I did a bit of tracking at home during quarantine for MMJ alumni John McQuade‘s third The Ravenna Colt album. That album was just released on Bandcamp recently. Patrick and I were the rhythm section for (also MMJ alumni) Danny Cash‘s new Hawks album. That one will be out sometime in the new year.
Sean: Can you tell us of some of your most transcendental experiences playing or recording?
Tom: Believe me, this may sound like a dream and I don’t take it for granted in the least, but anytime the five of us are playing together it’s an indescribable journey that I quickly lose myself in. The kind of experience where you feel like you’re truly a small part of a WHOLE. No place where they begin and I end. Just one big swirling ethereal mass of sound and love.
I really think that’s why live music has such a huge impact on all of us. Why we’re really missing that experience so much due to the pandemic. It affects musicians and fans alike. It’s this beautiful, constant reminder that we’re all connected, that we’re all one. Just close our eyes and move to the sound of our hearts beating as one.
Sean: What role do you think music plays in society?
Tom: Beyond the maybe-too-poetic description above 🙂 – perhaps it allows us all to express those things inside of us that we (a) don’t realize consciously need to be expressed and/or (b) don’t have the words to properly describe. It’s cathartic on both sides – listener/experiencer AND for the musician.
Sean: What is the best advice you have received about being a person as well as a touring musician?
Tom: I can’t recall any touring advice besides my own golden rule on being a musician: “don’t expect anything from anyone else besides yourself” (and your bandmates to a reasonable degree). It has helped for the most part. (Haha) Regarding our role as fellow humans this passage from Rick Remender‘s excellent comic series Black Science comes to mind:
You come to life bright, bubbly, and full of joy.
Piece by piece, you’re destroyed.
Eventually, everything reveals the disappointment of its true self.
And that disillusionment never stops hurting.
Things aren’t the way you imagined.
Not the kind world you were taught.
One layer of truth is pulled at a time until you get to the core of it all.
The only thing that matters…
…how we treat each other as we make our way through it.
Sean: You are a champion of mental health awareness. During this unprecedented time, what challenges have you seen become even larger problems?
Tom: Hmmm, maybe two big challenges: the first is our divisiveness, this belief that we’re all islands of disparate beliefs which has played such a huge role politically in this country… and damn have we really seen it in how we treat one another. It’s saddening that in a time when we should really come together and remind one another that we are all one, how interdependent we truly are on one another, that these beliefs are holding us at arm’s length and keeping us even further apart. The other challenge is our dependence on and addiction to being digitally connected. We’ve forgotten they we own our phones, not the other way around.
Sean: What programs, literature, and/or movements do you believe to be healthy and good for fundamental knowledge of what is happening today?
Tom: I hate to admit this but I’m honestly SO bad about keeping up with the news, beyond listening to the local NPR affiliate occasionally. BUT I can’t pass up the opportunity to appeal to the good senses of anyone reading to ask “maybe it’s not a good idea to get all of your news from your Facebook feed?” It feels like it’s directly contributing to the aforementioned divisiveness. negativity floats to the top of your feed. our ever-increasing feeling of being separated by our beliefs fueled by a soulless algorithm intent on making money off riling us up and keeping us from feeling connected and loved.
Sean: If a friend of yours was struggling with depression, PTSD, coming out or any mental health problem how would you try to help guide them?
Tom: I would simply remind them that their feelings and thoughts are valid, that they are heard, and that they are loved. Every struggle needs a specific approach, but I think this is a good place to start!
Sean: During this pause in what we called “normal,” how do you think we can better the meaning of “being a human being?”
Tom: Be more present in the lives of those we love. In realtime. Again, remind folks that we hear them, we see them, and we love them.
Sean: Lastly back to music. What bands/artists have you been digging on during this pandemic? How have they helped get you through? What bands/artists do you always come back to?
Tom: There’s been many a morning that I’ve returned to Abbey Road for comfort. It’s funny, a buddy and I used to play Warcraft II yeaaaaaars ago and if you put a CD in it would play it on repeat during gameplay, but only the first six songs. So we spent countless hours just listening to the first half of that record. (Haha) A silly inconsequential story but that album has always been “comfort food” to me musically.
Are you or a friend in need of help?
People often don’t get the mental health services they need because they don’t know where to start.
Talk to your primary care doctor or another health professional about mental health problems. Ask them to connect you with the right mental health services.
If you do not have a health professional who is able to assist you, use these resources to find help for yourself, your friends, your family, or your students.
Emergency Medical Services
If the situation is potentially life-threatening, get immediate emergency assistance by calling 911, available 24 hours a day.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Live Online Chat
If you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your confidential and toll-free call goes to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals.
SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline
Call 1-877-SAMHSA7 (1-877-726-4727)
Get general information on mental health and locate treatment services in your area. Speak to a live person, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.