Jay Farrar Has the Driest Sense of Humor on the Planet
Whether solo or in Uncle Tupelo or Son Volt, singer/songwriter Jay Farrar has created a canon of alt-country and Americana music that may be unrivaled. Brooding and intense, Farrar's songs chronicle the darker side of human emotions and like his songs, Farrar isn't the most upbeat guy on the block.
Speaking from his home in St. Louis on Good Friday and in anticipation of Saturday's show at the Sons of Hermann Hall, Farrar spoke with DC9 about Son Volt's great new album, Honky Tonk, and how he believes fun is a relative term.
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You come through our area fairly regularly. Have all your visits here been positive?
It's always been a great stop on the way to other places west. This time, it's Sons of Hermann Hall. It's like stepping into a different world; but it's a good world.
Does the venue play a big part in how a band performs?
I think, for the most, we try to choose the places that we know the sound system will be good or at least functional. There is always some adversity that is encountered along the way. The places we have played in Dallas have always been really good.
Do you have input on the bands that open each show?
Over the years, we usually start off with a stack of CDs bands have given us. Even our bass player, Andrew Deplantis, started off opening for us. There is a tradition of that. This time around, some of the guys in Son Volt will be using the alter ego Colonel Ford and opening the show.
The new album, Honky Tonk, is very straightforward country. Did you go in with the intent of making an old school country album?
Yes, it was inspired by the country music of the 1950s and 60s, a lot of the stuff coming out of Bakersfield. Over the last several years, I've been learning to play the pedal steel guitar. I got immersed in country music through that process. The impetus for this record was learning to play the pedal steel guitar. Then, I started playing with a local country band around here in St. Louis called Colonel Ford.
Were you parents into country music when you were young?
They were. My father was a Hank Williams Sr. fan. My mother was into bluegrass so my interest fell someplace in between. That didn't happen right away though. Country music was something I embraced in my late teens and early twenties. I remember learning that the Beatles were inspired by Buck Owens.
You were originally influenced by punk rock?
Yes, I kind of got into that through the music of my older brothers. I was exposed to Gang of Four and The Clash. Ultimately, my music became an amalgam of all those things.
This is the first interview I've ever done on Good Friday. Were you parents religious?
That is a good question. The short answer is no. I think they sent me and my brothers to bible school once. That was the extent of it.
How did that work out?
We went once. It didn't work out very well.
But religion seems to play a big part in old school country music.
Absolutely, that is true. The Louvin Brothers did some really haunting stuff. I don't want to diminish the effect that religion has had on country music and gospel. It was certainly important.
How do you create a set list? Do you try and cover every Son Volt release?
The set is heavily weighted in the last several Son Volt releases. It's comprised of songs that go all the way back to the first solo effort, occasionally dipping into the Uncle Tupelo catalogue.