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Get It

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New Breed
A Conversation With Jay Farrar
Samuel Barker
November 10, 2001

Jay Farrar Promo (2001)

Samuel Barker: So, how's the tour going, is it nice to be doing the 3 man gigs as opposed to worrying about an entire band?

Jay Farrar: Yeah, it's been nice to get out and do the stripped, acoustic shows. That's where the songs were based from, so it fits well.

Samuel: Had you ever done any solo gigs before Sebastopol?

Jay: Yeah, I had done a few sporadically. In the past I had done acoustic tours with my bands, but, yeah, this is the first touring I've done solo.

Samuel: Are you just doing Sebastopol songs or are you mixing in any of the older songs in the set?

Jay: I'm doing mostly Sebastopol songs with Son Volt. I also throw in a few older songs from Uncle Tupelo.

Samuel: Does having a family make it harder to stay on the road for extended periods of time?

Jay: Yeah, it does to a point, but it's no real difference from the past, you still get tired of being on the road. It's usually after about three weeks you're ready to get home.

Samuel: I see you're hooking up with Brian Hennemen for a few shows and Jeff is out doing some solo gigs, is there something in the air that's making all of you go solo?

Jay: Well, they were all in the same situation I was in. They've done the band situation for so long that they're all looking for something new to try. I've been in bands for 20 years now and always had other people to worry about so it's refreshing to get out and do something different.

Samuel: One thing I've noticed about all your projects is that none of them have lyric sheets in them, do you enjoy allowing people to decipher your lyrics on their own?

Jay: Yeah, definitely. Actually, with the second Son Volt album, Straightaways, they released a lyric book with guitar chords in it. And with this album they're releasing a lyric book to be given away, I don't know if they've done it yet. So, I guess I'm changing speeds and taking a new approach now.

Samuel: Well, I know the guy over at gumbopages has a lyric archive, does it amuse you when you see some misinterpretations of your lyrics?

Jay: Yeah, I've seen that. Actually, I've read some of the lyrics people have written out and liked what they thought I said more than what I actually wrote.

Samuel: A lot of your songs deal with the everyday man's struggles, how did growing up in Belleville and watching the economical decline of the town shape you as a songwriter?

Jay: Well, your environent definitely plays a role in how you turn out. If I had grown up in a prep, northeast area, I would have been into polo and not written about this, or not been a songwriter at all.

Samuel: Also, a lot of your songs deal with midwestern history and small town stories, are you interested in finding out the history of little out of the way places.

Jay: Well, one thing that comes from touring is staring at maps all day and seeing all these little towns with odd names. After a while you start finding out things about them and their histories. Like, Ste. Genevieve actually made it into a song.

Samuel: Having parents who were musicians, did it help to have them understand where you were coming from rather than drilling you with the 'Get a real job!' talk?

Jay: Well, they were understanding to a point, but there was a balance between supporting my music and telling me to get a real job...I guess only one really stuck.

Samuel: So I guess the typical parent ideal is hard to escape.

Jay: (laughs) Appears so.

Samuel: I saw that on Wide Swing Tremelo you played the dulcimer and on this album you broke out some keyboards and other instruments, are you still actively learning new instruments?

Jay: Yeah, I'm still picking instruments up. I picked up on some middle eastern instruments, like the Tambura which I played on a song on this album.

Samuel: Is there anything you're currently trying to pick up?

Jay: I've been working on learning the sitar. I actually used it on a score I did for a movie called "The Slaughter Rule." It should be out next year.

Jay with Son Volt (1998)

Samuel: By doing this album piece by piece with different musicians coming in as opposed to live recording like you did with your older bands, was it interesting to see the works come together more at each phase?

Jay: Yeah, usually a part was layed down and then I would work from there and figure out where to go. Some of the recording on this album was done live as well, so that's not completely gone.

Samuel: When you brought in the guest musicians, did you have an idea of what you wanted them to play or did you let them go and see what they came up with?

Jay: I usually let them go and saw what they could contribute. I'd usually see how it fit into everything and work with it from there. For the most part I was completely happy with what everyone did on their own.

Samuel: A lot of Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt songs are harder edged with electric guitar and on this album there is no trace of it. What led to the acoustic only sound?

Jay: Well, all the songs I write are written on acoustic guitar and then they are brought over to electric. These new songs are in their original form.

Samuel: Are you excited about re-releasing the Rockville material of Uncle Tupelo's?

Jay: Yeah, I'd say I am. We're going to be doing an anthology first with possibly some unreleased songs on it. So you've got something new to look forward to.

Samuel: Have you seen that the old Uncle Tupelo records are going on eBay at price up to $50 or more?

Jay: No, I haven't. That's...I haven't seen that.

Samuel: Yeah, the 'Super Out Of Print Uncle Tupelo Albums.'

Jay: Well, that's the nature of eBay I guess, everything costs more than market value.

Samuel: What you first started playing, did you every dream your music would reach this level and spawn a movement of sorts?

Jay: I never really imagined this. I always took it one record at a time and tried to write the best songs I could and get them out. I never thought about anything like that, it never entered my mind.

Samuel: Well, time for the burning question, is Son Volt still alive or is just something that exists on paper now?

Jay: Well, it's on an indefinite hiatus as of now. Actually, we recorded a song together after I finished Sebastopol. It all comes down to if we're all ready to do something and then we will...If we're all on the same page.

Samuel: Is the song you guys recorded the song from the Nebraska tribute?

Jay: Yeah, that's the one.

Samuel: I couldn't help but notice that a verse was missing from the song (Open All Night) was that due to time constraints of the CD or did you just decide to change it?

Jay: Well, it had to do with time constraints in a way. After we slowed it down so much, it would have been 20 minutes if we had done all the verses, so, yeah, it was due to time constraints.

Samuel: So, what are you're future plans?

Jay: I'm going to finish this part of the tour and then head out to the West Coast early next year and probably head to Europe after that.

Samuel: Great. Thanks for talking with us this morning.

Jay: You're welcome, good talking with you.

Samuel Barker is Senior Editor. Contact him at suma@rockzone.com.

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