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Clip: Jay Farrar enjoying the journey

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  • Carl Z.
    Jay Farrar enjoying the journey MUSIC | Sometimes-solo Son Volt frontman
    Message 1 of 3 , Apr 9, 2007
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      Jay Farrar enjoying the journey
      MUSIC | Sometimes-solo Son Volt frontman grooves on the spontaneity of

      April 8, 2007
      BY MARY HOULIHAN Staff Reporter

      After the completion of Son Volt's 2005 release, "Okemah and the
      Melody of Riot," singer-songwriter Jay Farrar had time on his hands,
      something rare for the busy musician. So for several months, he dove
      right back in and worked on a batch of 22 new songs, 14 of which would
      comprise the band's next CD, "The Search," released last month.

      Having so many songs to work with early on was the key to creating the
      diverse sound found on "The Search," which for the most part steps
      away from Son Volt's usual brand of alt-country rock and instead
      features a balance of new textures and instrumentation.

      "Just having that many songs to work with allowed the whole process to
      be more expansive and go in different directions," Farrar said, from
      his studio in St. Louis. "I feel that good things can happen from
      pushing things in different directions."

      One of those directions is actually kind of startling. Horns are
      something never usually associated with the straight-ahead Son Volt
      sound. Farrar was inspired by the '70s Rolling Stones horn section --
      Bobby Keys, Jim Price and Jim Horn.

      "I actually wrote the song ["The Picture"] with horns in mind, and I
      usually don't work that way," Farrar said. "Actually, it was very

      One thing that over the years has drawn fans to Farrar's music is his
      voice -- a reserved and somber baritone. Its aching tone provides an
      anchor for his work, which may be stretching in new directions but
      remains stamped with his own personal imprint.

      Professionally Farrar has traveled a winding road since his days with
      Uncle Tupelo, the seminal alt-country band he founded in 1987 with
      high school friend Jeff Tweedy. Visions clashed, the relationship
      soured and the band dissolved in 1994. Tweedy, of course, went on to
      fame with Wilco; Farrar stepped in with Son Volt.

      Farrar, a man of few words, doesn't enjoy rehashing those stormy days,
      but he will admit to a moment of indecision after Uncle Tupelo's

      "I didn't immediately know I wanted to start another band," Farrar
      said, pausing. "I think I even considered leaving music, but it only
      took a couple of months to fully realize I couldn't do anything else."

      Along with former Wilco drummer Mike Heidorn, bassist Jim Boquist and
      multi-instrumentalist Dave Boquist, Farrar was back in the spotlight
      in 1995 with the release of "Trace." Quiet, thoughtful ballads
      alternated with Neil Young/Byrds-influenced rock numbers on two more
      albums, "Straightaway" (1997) and "Wide Swing Tremolo" (1998) before
      the new band went on hiatus.

      It was nearly two years before Farrar returned with "Sebastopol," his
      first of three solo albums. He recorded with neo-traditionalists like
      Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, raised eyebrows with a dance remix
      of "Damn Shame" from "Sebastopol" and scored the independent film "The
      Slaughter Rule."

      But Farrar says he missed the band dynamic forged by Son Volt. The
      band reformed in 2005, this time with drummer Dave Bryson, bassist
      Andrew DuPlantis, guitarist Brad Rice and keyboardist Derry deBorja.

      "When you're working solo, you're more aware of what your limitations
      are and you know where things are headed," Farrar, 40, said. "But with
      a band there's a lot of spontaneous things happening ... and that
      keeps things interesting."

      Minus a year spent in New Orleans, Farrar has lived in St. Louis since
      1991 not far from his hometown, Belleville, Ill. He loves being
      "plopped down in the middle of the Midwest" in an ethnically mixed
      city that has an easy, old-time feel. He devotes much of his time here
      to his family: wife Monica and children Ava, 4, and Ethan, 8.

      The youngest of four boys, Farrar grew up with a wide array of musical
      influences. His parents were fans of Woody Guthrie; the older brothers
      offered just about everything else from jazz and bluegrass to punk,
      rockabilly and garage rock. He started playing guitar at 12.

      The soft-spoken Farrar is a man of quiet confidence. His songs
      sometimes are home to his introspective musings such as on the new
      album's title track, "Always dreaming / It's the search not the find."

      Farrar offers a quiet laugh when asked to elaborate.

      "I think what I was getting at with this song was a kind of loosely
      made philosophy I've fallen into over the years. It's more about the
      journey than the destination, especially as it relates to the music
      business. That's something you can't fully realize at 18. But at 40,
      I'm very content with my creative outlet."

      Gob Iron side project gives folk a fresh sound
      Nowadays, every self-respecting singer-songwriter has a side project.
      Jay Farrar is no different -- he has Gob Iron.

      When plans for a Son Volt recording session fell apart in 2004, Farrar
      and Anders Parker, from the band Varnaline, instead took their mutual
      love of traditional folk music into the studio. They recorded songs by
      the likes of A.P. Carter, the Stanley Brothers and Stephen Foster.
      Last year, Gob Iron (British slang for a harmonica) released its stark
      debut disc, "Death Songs for the Living."

      "We loved the music, but at the same time we wanted to update it a bit
      and try to get a more contemporaneous sound," Farrar said. "I think
      sometimes there's too much importance placed on the traditional part."

      To put their own mark on the project, they rewrote lyrics and melody
      in certain songs. It wasn't until after they had chosen the songs that
      the duo realized many of them dealt with death.

      "That was totally unintentional," Farrar said. "I guess death is
      something every generation of songwriters before us has struggled to
      understand. Lyrically, these songs left an impression, and songs about
      something compelling and serious like death resonate."

      Mary Houlihan

      When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
      Where: The Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield
      Tickets: $21
      Call: (312) 559-1212
    • Kevin J. Hosey
      I had a great time doing my two-hour shift on WBNY 91.3 FM Alumni Weekend from 6-8 p.m. Saturday, April 14. I appreciate my lovely wife Val coming in with me
      Message 2 of 3 , Apr 19, 2007
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        I had a great time doing my two-hour shift on WBNY 91.3 FM Alumni
        Weekend from 6-8 p.m. Saturday, April 14. I appreciate my lovely wife
        Val coming in with me and helping with information, music and the
        phones, and I appreciate the telephone calls from people listening over
        the airwaves and online. I changed things a bit this year and played
        newer local and national music, and found the strength to play no
        Clash, Gang of Four, Sex Pistols, PiL, Hank Williams, X, Jason and the
        Scorchers, Husker Du and the Replacements from back in my days at WBNY
        in 1984-1985. Here, in order, is the music I played between nasal

        6-7 p.m. - Elvis Costello and Alan Touissant, Tears, Tears and More
        Tears; Honky Tonk Confidential, Hangover Boogie; Tom Waits, Lie to Me;
        Willie Nile, Cell Phones Ringing (In the Pockets of the Dead); Jim
        Whitford, Poison in the Well; Loomer, Bang the Nails; Stoll Vaughan,
        Alright; Graham Parker, I Discovered America; The Silos, Top of the
        World; Mike Oliver, Little Miss Oblivious; The Ramrods, I Got a Full
        Tank of Gas/I'm in Love with My Car (live); Mark Norris and the
        Backpeddlers, Walk Out; Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3, Wired.

        7-8 p.m. - The Flaming Lips, The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song; Rosanne Cash,
        Black Cadillac; This Is Now, Planet Why; Terry Sullivan, Blow Out on
        the Thruway; The Old Sweethearts, Arms of the Town; Kathleen Edwards,
        Hockey Skates; The Bottle Rockets, Better than Broken; Mark Knopfler
        and Emmylou Harris, Red Dirt Girl (live); The Transonics, Get On!; The
        Bird Circuit, Maryann and the Bridge; Rob Lynch, Smoking Accident; Los
        Lobos, Done Gone Blue.
        Sadly, I ran out of time while "Last Seen in Gainesville" by Audrey
        Auld Mezera was sitting in the CD player.

        Damn, I wish I got to do it more than once a year.

      • Kevin J. Hosey
        My review of last week s Lucinda Williams show at the University of Buffalo Center for the Arts is posted at http://Buffaloroots.com, as are a couple new CD
        Message 3 of 3 , Apr 25, 2007
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          My review of last week's Lucinda Williams show at the University of
          Buffalo Center for the Arts is posted at http://Buffaloroots.com, as
          are a couple new CD reviews.

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