Jay Farrar Spreads His Solo Wings
Explaining the dissolution of alt-country faves Son Volt, singer/songwriter Jay Farrar, the band's former leader, has no dramatic stories to tell. After the lauded group finished its final tour earlyExplaining the dissolution of alt-country faves Son Volt, singer/songwriter Jay Farrar, the band's former leader, has no dramatic stories to tell. After the lauded group finished its final tour early last year, Farrar says, he was simply in need of a change.
"From a creative standpoint, after five years of recording and touring, it just seemed like it was time," he says. "There are a lot of positive aspects of being in a band for five years: You develop a kind of synergistic groove and a particular approach. But after a while, there's a tendency to stick with that. And I felt like I would have been repeating what I had done before to make another [Son Volt] record."
After he wrapped that last tour with Son Volt -- which he notes isn't entirely terminated but rather on "indefinite hiatus" -- Farrar began piecing together the lyrics and music for his first solo album, "Sebastopol," due Sept. 25 on Fellow Guard/Artemis, on which he experiments with different rhythms and instrumentation.
Thanks in large part to such guests as Gillian Welch, the Flaming Lips' Steven Drodze, Kelly Joe Phelps, Superchunk's Jon Wurster, and others, "Sebastopol" has provided the St. Louis-based artist with the chance to spread his musical wings a bit. The album, co-produced by Farrar and John Agnello, has given him a chance to harmonize with other singers and experiment with keyboards, slide and blues guitar, and different drummers.
"On this one, I was able to let the songs evolve and mature," says Farrar, a former third of alt-country champs Uncle Tupelo. "They were put together more slowly. With Son Volt, we basically cut the songs live so we could re-create them on the road. ["Sebastopol"] is more of a studio album in that the songs are kind of pieced together."
Lyrically, the album -- named after a small Northern California city and recorded in Millstot, Ill., not far from his home -- is vintage Farrar, weaving mentions of such Western towns as Branson and Reno into stories of "drive-on wedding vows" and "forgotten nightmares," rising waters and dead promises, ascending ideals and lost freedoms.
"He symbolizes some sort of sturdy earthiness," says Fellow Guard head and former Warner Bros. A&R man Joe McEwen, who signed both Uncle Tupelo and its two offspring, Son Volt and Wilco, to Warner. "He's got a very honest, American-type voice and songwriting style that really transcends eras."
Recorded from May to July of last year, the album's release was delayed as Farrar made his transition from Warner Bros. (for which Son Volt recorded three albums) to Fellow Guard, which will make "Sebastopol" its first release. Farrar passed that time by composing the score to an upcoming indie film, titled "Slaughter Rule," and by playing a string of intimate U.S. gigs, during which he was backed only by former Blood Oranges guitarist/vocalist Mark Spencer. Farrar and Spencer will return to the road next month.
Later this year and into the next year, Farrar will dig through the Uncle Tupelo archives for live tracks and unreleased demos for a Legacy/Sony anthology due in March. The label is to reissue the band's first three albums, starting in early 2003.