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Son Volt's Jay Farrar and the meaning of life

By Bill Sacks, March 1996

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CST: How has the move made a difference in any of your new songs' subjects?
JF: Well, in so far as environment inevitably effects the way anyone works, sure. I mean, that's more or less the area where I grew up, so there are all sorts of memories which living there now brings back after having been away - some things which I'd been too close to even four or five years ago to consider them proper "memories," you know? And the sense of place is important, too, I guess. One of the new songs on the record, "Way Down Watson," has a reference to the portion of Watson Road (an east-to-west thoroughfare which runs along the southern tier of the St. Louis area) which was part of old Route 66; the whole prevailing mentality about that area is to tear down anything of historical value, as if it was a reminder of something that some people want forgotten...that's just one specific reference to a larger issue...

CST: Was it that sort of willful destructiveness which provoked the more fatalistic tone in some of the new songs?
JF: I don't think I'm being willfully fatalistic (laughter). No, tearing down evidence of the past isn't the work of fate, and I'm not fatalistic about it...But in other ways, when you think about the small details of living on a day-to-day basis, so many situations happen that are out of anyone's direct control, you just have to question why sometimes. And talking about "fate" is just one way of asking that question.

CST: There's been a fair amount of speculation in the music press about how the breakup of your old band figures into your songwriting.

JF: I think I'm pretty much past all the talk. I mean, the anger or animosity which some people have read into the songs was never there to begin with. And being able to pull together a new band which works well together has helped to move things along.

CST: Should I ask whether you've been in contact with your old partner (Jeff Tweedy)?
JF: We do speak from time to time. I saw him about a month ago when Wilco played in St. Louis. I stopped by the soundcheck...I suppose there's room for improvement there, but isn't that always the case? I mean, things could definitely be worse.

CST: One holdover from the Uncle Tupelo days is your decision to continue working with Brian Paulson in the studio. (Paulson co-produced "Anodyne" and both Son Volt discs.) Tell me a bit about what he brings to a recording session.

JF: He's just a really good guy to work with... I think he's sort of an anomaly in his profession in that he's very musician-oriented in the way he chooses to work... He's most interested in letting interaction between the players develop organically, and then if he sees that something is going awry, he'll try to help sort it out.

CST: In terms of altering song arrangements?
JF: In terms of everything from instrumentation to tempo choices, all of it. Also, he has a good sense of when to just put a song down and get away from it for a couple of days. He understands when to let an idea settle, and I've appreciated it.

CST: Are there any other players or bands you're looking forward to recording or touring with? Anyone you've specifically requested as an opening act?
JF: Well, on this current tour most the opening slots are being split between Richard Buckner and Slim Dunlap, and their sets seem to have gone pretty well. Other than them, I like Michael Hurley, who has a record out on the Koch label and has done a couple of shows with us. We'd be glad to play with him again. As far as recording goes, that's a little far off yet.

CST: Anyone else you're listening to right now who really grabs you?
JF: Let's see... well, we saw an excellent Vic Chesnutt show up inMinnesota. I was really surprised by how good it was, and I'd like tocatch him again at some point. We also went out of our way to see TownesVan Zandt in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania a while back... he didn't look veryhealthy, but... well, anyway, there was a guy who put a lot of care intohis songs.
Recently, I've been listening to Junior Kimbrough (a blues singerand guitar player from Holly Springs, Mississippi), who tells goodstories... Aside from that, I guess it's just been lots of old blues andcountry reissues, especially things that weren't even available on vinylas far back as ten or fifteen years ago... I think there's a lot of oldermaterial out there now of high quality, and because it hasn't been widelyavailable in such a long time its influence on newer music probably isn'tas widely felt as it could be. That possibility certainly gets myattention.

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