Five Questions: Bo Koster (My Morning Jacket)

Five Questions - Bo Koster (My Morning Jacket)

I recently sat down with Bo Koster, keyboardist for My Morning Jacket. We talked about music, life, spirituality, love, fear, and, of course, he answered Five Questions. Meet Bo and his dog, Auggie.

How do you define being “in love”?

Hmm…I could probably sit here and intellectualize it and come up with a lot of things to say, but I think at the end of the day it’s just kind of a feeling. It’s probably where, like, your heart, your mind, your body, and your spiritual self kind of meet, and kind of convene. You know what I mean? Because I always think about that, when you first start dating you’re like, “Do I like talking to her? Do I enjoy the conversation? Do I enjoy being naked with her and exploring that? Do I feel like she understands how I feel? Do we meet at the same place when it comes to how we feel about the world and life and existence and whatever?” And usually when I’m feeling love, it’s like, some of it is actually real, like, “We really are connecting mentally.” And then you, like, project the rest.

Me: Absofuckinglutely.

Bo: Right? [Laughter] So you project like, “Oh, she totally knows how I feel!” [Laughter] And she—usually this is like early on. And then they start doing it to you and it’s a bit of an illusion. Cuz it’s not real. So in some ways I feel like there’s a diff—love is kind of like a weak word if you think about it. Because it doesn’t really do the thing justice. Right? Cuz you have these words that don’t really—cuz there’s all different kinds of love, right? There’s that—like we talked about, projecting. That’s a kind of love because if you ask somebody who’s in the third week of that thing and they thought they found their soulmate and they’re like, “Oh my god, I’m so fucking in love already.” And they’re telling each other, “I love you I love you I love you.” And then nine months later they’ve broken up. You know?

Me: And who are we to say…

Bo: Right? Who are we to say that that wasn’t love? But then there’s that other thing you have with people—it could just be a friend or your family—where like you have this shared experience. And that’s where I feel like the real deep love comes from. When you’ve known somebody for so long and they know you so well and they’ve seen you change and you’ve, together, been through so many things, that you have this shared experience which is like—it results in a deeper kind of love. And it’s less selfish in a way. That early love is more selfish. So I don’t know. That’s a roundabout way of saying I don’t really know. [Laughter] But I think it’s a feeling. But I’m really into trying to find that deeper more, like, long-term kind of thing. Like with a friend of with a partner, you know what I mean? I’m kind of over the manic excitement of the early stages of love. Maybe that’s just—I don’t know. I think that’s important too cuz I think those early stages can really inspire you and push you towards the deeper thing later on. Because you’re like, “Man, we had that thing and I remember how that felt and I’m gonna keep pushing for that.” Which gets you to it. But yeah, the word love doesn’t really do the thing justice. 

Me: Right, the thing. That’s what we should call it. “I’m in the thing, man!” 

Bo: Yeah, the thing! [Laughter]

What is your greatest fear?

God, so many fears, man. [Laughter] It’s crazy how fear is such an everyday part of our lives. So much fear drives us and it shapes our lives if you think about it. I almost think like our fears shape our lives more than the loves. You know what I mean?

Me: How though?

Bo: It’s more powerful. You’re more apt to avoid something you fear than you are to grab something you love, you know what I mean? [Long pause] I guess my greatest fear would be to not realize the full breadth of who I am or my capabilities. Like to be sitting on my deathbed thinking like, “Man. You never really put in the time or the work or pushed through the fears to experience who you are at its fullest level.” You know what I mean? That would be my biggest fear. Something along those lines.

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We conducted this interview in a park and at this point, a fellow park-goer’s dog came lumbering over to say hi to Auggie. The two dogs got acquainted while Bo, the other dog owner, and I sat and chatted for a while. I let the tape roll so there’s like 10 minutes of dogs playing, barking, and human chatter.

What I learned about Auggie: She’s a pit bull/chihuahua mix and a super sweetie once she gets to know you…which takes about 60 seconds.

What I learned about myself: I say “Bless you” to dogs when they sneeze.

Moving on…

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In what ways do you hold yourself back?

I think it goes back to perfectionism and the fear of failure. The fear of being criticized. The fear that I won’t live up to my own idea of what I am. You know what I mean? Cuz we all have this idea of how good we could be or how special we are or whatever. Our parents tell us we’re special or whatever and then you get out into the real world and there’s a fear that you won’t live up to that idea that you have of yourself. Cuz in my mind, nothing’s really holding me back. I’m not missing a part of the equation. It’s more of like just putting in the work. So in my mind I’m like, “I could be as good as I hope to be. As a musician, as an artist, as a creative person.” Like in my mind I’m like, “I have unique creative ideas and thoughts and I have the ability to play my instrument at a high level.” And then it’s kind of that fear of not realizing your own potential. You know? And knowing that you haven’t really put in the work to become the master that you wanna be. So when you get put in these situations instead of just failing as you should, you know, allowing yourself to just fail and to come to terms with the fact that maybe you haven’t put in the time or the work to fully realize your creative or technical self, I instead will just avoid the moment. So I do a lot of avoidance. It’s like avoiding the criticism of myself in some ways. It always comes back to you. Everything. Every problem you have in life, whether it’s a relationship or your job or your spiritual pursuits…if you run into a roadblock it’s usually you. It’s never outside. At least that’s what I’ve come to think. 

Who is the most important person in your life?

[Long pause] It’s like you could try to pick someone that you have the closest bond with, your mother, your father, or like your best friend, your girlfriend or wife, and all those people are important. But I think at the end of the day you’re the most important person in your life. I always like to see—I love the metaphor of our lives are us being a garden. And we either tend to our garden or we don’t. You know what I mean? And so in that sense, I feel like you are the most important person in your life and you tending to your garden is the most important—making sure it gets all the sun and all the water and all the attention and design it needs for you to be happy, ya know. Do you know that saying of the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence?

Me: Uh huh.

Bo: I love this other version of it which is the grass is greener on the side of the fence that you water the most. So I just feel that’s the most important thing. Because if you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t be there for anybody else and they can’t be there for you. And at the end of the day, I do think the most connection and meaning we have in our lives is when we’re there for other people. So you can’t be there for other people unless you take care of yourself. 

Me: So what are some ways you take care—how do you water your grass?

Bo: It’s a constant battle. It’s a constant work in progress. I try to be as healthy as I can in every phase. I try to eat good and exercise, I do a lot of exercise. I try to pursue spiritual goals and stuff like that. I’m constantly trying to erase blindspots. Try to look at myself in the mirror. Try to get a clearer picture of who I am. I’ve gone to therapy. I think that’s something everybody should do. I think therapy is something akin to working out. I don’t think there’s anything different from going for a run and going to a therapy appointment. To me it’s the same thing. Because when you talk to someone who’s objective you can get a better mirror to who you are. And you can kind of find those blindspots. And then that goes for intellectually, too. The more you learn, the more you realize what you don’t know and that becomes your blindspot and you wanna fill in those holes and you wanna fill in as much knowledge as you can. You know. And emotionally I try to tend to my garden in a way where I, like, try to push into fears lately. Knowing that I have hang-ups and fears being vulnerable. I think everybody does to a certain extent. So I try to be as fearless as possible with my heart. I’m not always as good at that as the other side of things, but those are some of things I try to do.

What will you miss the most when you’re gone?

[Long pause] God, that’s hard. [Laughter] I’d probably miss the quiet. Those moments where you feel completely in the moment and connected to everything and everyone. Where you feel like you’re a part of a bigger thing. And that can happen on stage in front of thousands of people too. You can have those moments of feeling completely quiet in your mind. I’ll miss the non-thinking moments of life. Those are the best. When I’m in the zone. I guess that’s what they call it: The Zone. Or flow. Flow State. And that can happen in conversation. It can happen when you’re making love. It can happen when you’re playing music. It can happen on a walk with your dog. Could happen at any time. I’ll miss those moments for sure, those are the best.