Best-known for leading the alt-country rock bands Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt, Jay Farrar teamed with Death Cab for Cutie‘s Ben Gibbard for his latest project, an album with lyrics based on the prose from Jack Kerouac‘s 1962 novel “Big Sur” that’s due Oct. 20 from F-Stop/Atlantic Records. The partnership began when the two artists were asked to contribute a few songs to the soundtrack to the upcoming documentary “One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur,” about the time the writer spent in the Northern California town.
1. You had never met Ben Gibbard before working on the film. Why did the partnership click, and how did it turn into a full album?
Ben and I met the night before we started recording, and throughout the process I think it became apparent that we had a shared sensibility. Under the circumstances things could have easily not gone well, because we were basically getting to know each other in the studio as we were working, and sometimes there were cameras rolling in the studio as well, but it all turned out in the end. I think that both of us having gone through that experience resulted in a bond that you can’t create any other way.
2. How has Kerouac’s work and the themes in his writing influenced you throughout your career?
I’ve always been a follower of Kerouac’s work. I got started when I was a teenager reading “On the Road,” and I think that book gives voice and meaning to a wanderlust that exists in all of us. The quest for self-discovery is encapsulated in that book very well. “Big Sur” is almost kind of the bookend to that, even though it was written during a period in Jack’s life where he’s kind of looking back and taking stock. Probably the biggest influence from Kerouac that I’ve picked up over the years is his method of writing, the idea of getting all your first thoughts out there, more of a stream-of-consciousness style of writing, not worrying about structure or form.
3. What was the songwriting process like using Kerouac’s words as your lyrics? Was it easier or in some ways harder to adapt than if you were putting your own ideas to music?
It was much easier for two reasons. The first being there was a familiarity with Kerouac’s work just from having read so many of his books over the years. Also there was this kid being let loose in a candy store element to the project when I first started getting into the writing. Secondarily, because I was using Jack’s lyrics, words and lines from the text of “Big Sur,” I think it took away a degree of self-consciousness that’s sometimes there when I’m writing my own stuff.
4. How important is it that people read the book and/or watch the film in order to get the most out of the music?
The fact that Atlantic is putting out an edition of the book along with the DVD and the record itself is great. It is a very complementary experience.
5. What are your touring plans to support the album, and will shows include elements other than music, such as readings or film clips?
Ben and I talked about that, but I think because we’re first and foremost musicians I think we’re kind of falling back on the idea of just making it a rock show. The plan is to do a handful of shows near the end of this month concurrent with the release of the package.
6. What can you say about the reported Woody Guthrie project you’re working on?
It actually won’t be a continuation of “Mermaid Avenue” [as has been reported]. It’s something that I started working on with [Woody’s daughter] Nora Guthrie that’s still in the works, and if everything goes well, it could be ready for release sometime next year.