Carl Broemel takes a break from My Morning Jacket for his third solo album, '4th of July'

The My Morning Jacket guitarist and Indianapolis native brings his distinct Harry Nilsson/Ron Sexsmith vibe to Taft Theatre.

click to enlarge While studying at Indiana University, Carl Broemel often came to Cincinnati to see shows. - PHOTO: BRIAN STOWELL
Photo: Brian Stowell
While studying at Indiana University, Carl Broemel often came to Cincinnati to see shows.
dozen years ago, Carl Broemel became the guitarist of record for My Morning Jacket after the departure of original member Johnny Quaid. In that time, Broemel has made his personal mark on a band that was already wildly unique. He was an essential component to the sonic and critical success of 2005’s Z, his first studio contribution to the band, and he’s been absolutely crucial to My Morning Jacket’s creative evolution in the intervening years.

Broemel is also something of a local boy. A native of Indianapolis, a graduate of Indiana University’s Classical guitar program and a veteran of several hometown bands, Broemel and his friends were regular Cincinnati visitors because nothing was happening in Indianapolis.

“We would try to play clubs, but most only wanted to book cover bands, therefore not a lot of awesome touring bands came to Indianapolis,” Broemel says from his Nashville home. “We would do our own shows. We would rent a P.A., rent the Jewish community center and put flyers up everywhere. It was when Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana were getting huge; everybody wanted to see bands, so we would do our own renegade shows. To see shows, we’d go to Bogart’s (in Cincinnati). From Bloomington, it was really (a quick drive). I saw Pearl Jam, Fugazi, Toad the Wet Sprocket. I remember a Sundays show that was great. We saw Guided By Voices at (former Cincinnati club) Sudsy Malone’s — those guys were our heroes. I was the guy who was there at 4 p.m. to watch them load in.”

Eventually, Broemel’s girlfriend-now-wife relocated to Los Angeles, so he broke up his band and followed her. That vantage point positioned him to receive his most fateful offer.

“I started hustling out there, playing music and doing weird jobs,” he says. “Since I did get some jobs auditioning for touring bands, I was in the zone to get called when My Morning Jacket came out there looking for people.”

Coincidentally, just months prior to getting tapped as My Morning Jacket’s new guitarist, Broemel released his debut solo album, 2004’s Lose What’s Left. He’s certain frontman Jim James never heard the work as a prelude to hiring him, and it’s not likely many people will hear it going forward. 

“I don’t consider that a record, I consider that to be experimenting,” Broemel says with a laugh. “It is a record, but I haven’t really played any of those songs. It’s about supply and demand. If people were like, ‘You have to play (a song from that album),’ I’d be like, ‘Absolutely,’ but there’s literally no demand for that.”

Six years later, around the time My Morning Jacket was working on its stunning Circuital album, Broemel dropped what he considers to be his first real solo album, the intimate and evocative All Birds Say. Left to his own devices, Broemel gives off a distinct Harry Nilsson/Ron Sexsmith vibe, which also permeates his recent solo excursion, 4th of July. His My Morning Jacket schedule and making time for his wife and 7-year-old son keep him perpetually busy, but he somehow finds time to explore his personal musical muse.

“The trigger is just idle hands, time off and time at home where I’ll be alone,” Broemel says. “My son goes to sleep and my wife falls asleep on the couch, and I sneak away and write a song and go to bed. That’s where the songs usually come from. I’ve always experimented with writing songs since I was a kid, horrible songs, so it’s just kind of part of what I do. It’s not the main event of what I do, but it’s an important part of it. I’m pretty cognizant of what I’m good at and what I’m not, but it’s interesting to explore that further. I love being in a band, I’ve always felt most comfortable in a group — it feels like my natural habitat — but getting to sneak off and do this enables me to go back for more confirmation or, if not that, then just a little more confidence.”

The primary reason for the long lag time between Broemel’s solo albums is his stated need to distance himself from the material he’s written in order to tweak and arrange it with “fresh ears.” The recent 4th of July followed that basic blueprint, but differed from All Birds Say, which had been recorded piecemeal and then assembled in the studio. The new album was done with some version of a band — My Morning Jacket’s Tom Blankenship and Bo Koster on bass and keyboards, respectively, along with bassist Jordan Caress and drummer Richard Medek — playing live in each session, with guest vocalists Laura Veirs and Neko Case, among others, contributing as well.

Broemel booked the studio in order to spur the process, but still gave the songs plenty of time to come to fruition. For him, it’s the most important part of the whole process.

“It takes me time to get that perspective,” he says. “Work on it, step away, that’s kind of how it goes. I did try to expand the instrumentation and expand in a more experimental way. I love The Beatles and Paul McCartney and Ron Sexsmith, so I naturally default to that form, but I tried to break it up a little bit.”

Broemel actually got a little more perspective this year than he bargained for. While touring this past summer with Ray LaMontagne, he fell ill with what turned out to be appendicitis.

“Thankfully, there was a hospital right next to the venue,” Broemel says. “I played the show, and during the show I was like, ‘Oh, man, I am in trouble.’ I went straight to the hospital and they were like, ‘You’re staying here, bud.’ ”

Whether the songs are personal — like “Rockingchair Dancer,” which began when his son was still in a crib — or expressing some universal thought, like “Landing Gear,” Broemel uses an interesting construct to reach his songwriting goals. Given his personally held belief that he’s better at helping others with their songs, he tries to imagine he’s accomplishing that same mission with his own material.

“I have to simulate that, like, ‘I didn’t make this, what am I going to do to this to make it better?’ ” he says. “For me, one of the best parts about it is just doing it. It doesn’t have a point. If you can trick yourself into doing something that has no goal or meaning, then you’re just working on it. You have to create an artificial situation. There is some anticipation for a My Morning Jacket record, but there’s not much anticipation for my records, so I like to enjoy that difference.”


CARL BROEMEL plays the Taft Theatre’s Ballroom with Dave Simonette on Saturday. Tickets/more info: tafttheatre.org/events.