singer-songwriter Jay Farrar heads to FitzGerald's for a solo concert
on Friday, many of his fans may be wondering what's going on with
his band, Son Volt. Farrar, who originally played with alt-country
pioneers Uncle Tupelo and later recorded three albums with Son Volt,
had been focusing recently on solo records. Earlier this year, he
released a live CD, "Stone, Steel & Bright Lights," featuring
Canyon as his backup band.
Then came the
announcement this fall that Son Volt was getting back together to
tape a new album.
That press release
was soon followed by another announcement: Son Volt was indeed recording
an album, but Farrar would be the only original member left in the
band. The other three players -- Dave Boquist, Jim Boquist and Mike
Heidorn -- were bowing out of the project and being replaced with
Brad Rice, Andrew Duplantis, Eric Heywood and Dave Bryson.
about the latest developments with Son Volt as well as his solo
music during a recent telephone interview.
are your plans for this tour?
be playing with (pedal-steel guitarist) Mark Spencer, and I plan
to work in some new songs. I just got done doing some new recording.
We did 15 songs. We won't be doing that many new ones, but hopefully,
a couple. Mark's great. He's very versatile. He adds sound texture
through the use of a lot of different effects that give the songs
a different sound.
happened with the change in Son Volt's lineup?
I wanted to see a reunion happen, you know? So we were proceeding
with that in mind, and then in the interest of getting everything
done right, lawyers are brought in -- one for me, and one representing
those three guys. Ultimately, maybe that was the problem. Basically,
a proposal was made to them. Everybody made concessions on both
sides, and everything was agreed on. The lawyers agreed to all of
the terms, both lawyers. So at that point, the reunion was announced
and recording time was booked and planned and all that. And then
on the first day of preproduction and rehearsal, there were new
demands -- major new demands -- made from their side. So that kind
of set an adversarial tone that, you know, we just never recovered
sort of demands are you talking about?
I think that it's not so much the details of it. It's more the timing
of it that really threw me for a loop. I woke up that day thinking
we were going to be recording, and then they basically refused to
do that. I mean, I called them all and said, "Come on, let's set
up and just start playing. We can work this out eventually." But
they wouldn't do that. They basically just wanted to communicate
through their lawyer. It was a devastating week for me.
this mostly around money issues?
if you get lawyers involved, sure, there's going to be that element
then how did you come to the decision to still do a Son Volt record
but have a different lineup?
I basically came up with the idea of Son Volt as a vehicle for a
certain type and spirit of my songwriting. I mean, Son Volt wasn't
a situation where we were a pre-existing band that got signed. Son
Volt was basically me. I had a contract. Then I picked these guys
to play with me. Once again, the main idea was it would be a vehicle
for my songs. This is just a continuation of that with different
would you say is the difference between a Son Volt record and the
Jay Farrar solo records that you've done?
guess the idea that goes with the Son Volt songs is more that it's
going to be in a band context, a band recording live, as much live
as possible, in the studio, and also playing those songs in a live
context. The solo stuff, I just wanted to leave it open a little
more to experimentation, whether it's me recording all of the tracks
on a song or adding electronic instruments or whatever.
your recent records, you've been playing around with alternate tunings
on the guitar. What difference does that make in the sort of songs
you're playing a song in a different tuning, it has a different
sound, a different voicing. Also, I've found when you're playing
with (another guitarist whose) guitar is in standard tuning, the
two complement each other. That concept was developed by other folks
long ago, people like the Rolling Stones ... It's kind of an open-ended
situation when you're writing. It's a lot more fluid, because you're
not covering ground you've been on before, it's all new territory.
of your songs in recent years have a sort of Eastern quality, including
droning. Is that something you consciously tried to do or does it
naturally happen in these tunings?
It kind of naturally happens when you play in those tunings, because
you have a lot of drone strings, a lot of sympathetic strings similar
to what you find on a sitar. I recently just sort of lucked into
going to see a sitar player -- it wasn't at an Indian restaurant,
it was an actual concert setting. Kind of cool.
there a running theme to your recent lyrics?
I guess not necessarily a running theme. There are some (songs)
asking questions about what's going on in the world politically
and things like that. Of course, I don't have the answers.
of the new songs on the live CD, "Doesn't Have to Be This Way,"
is pretty political. Did you just feel compelled to make a political
statement in a song?
I guess that was the case. As I get older, I guess I feel more like
a stakeholder, you know? I have kids. You sort of look at the leader
of the country, who's had more run-ins with the law than I have.
(Laughs.) But even beyond that, I grew up listening to people like
Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, who didn't shy away from making a statement.
you feel like you can have any political impact by writing a song
I don't know that songs that I would write would have that much
of an impact, but certainly people like Bruce Springsteen, when
they do it, it has an impact.
you satisfied with your current position as a musician who keeps
on working while not being at, say, Bruce Springsteen's level of
I feel lucky. I'm able to record whenever I'm ready to, essentially.
And I know I have an outlet for the songs that I write, that they
will find their way out there somehow. That's something that I see
to be the most important thing, just getting music out there.
seem to have settled down in St. Louis. Do you plan to stay there?
(Farrar answered this question a week before the election.)
now. I guess we'll see how the election goes.