116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Over the past two albums, Jay Farrar has never been so direct as a songwriter. Not that Son Volt's singer-songwriter has ever been inscrutable, but the material he crafted for 2019's "Union" and the alt-rock, alt-country band's latest album, "Electro Melodier," couldn't be more blunt.
"I think my writing has changed a bit over the years, since I've been inspired more than ever by icons like Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Neil Young," Farrar said while calling from his St. Louis home. "I'm enjoying topical songwriting."
Farrar crafted songs about division and inequality throughout much of "Union" and during "Electro Melodier," which dropped in 2021, the thoughtful songsmith focuses on the state of our country. His message is intelligent, eloquent and inspiring, particularly during "War on Misery,“ which is a sonic cry for joy.
"It's easy to be miserable," Farrar said. "Look at our band. Our last tour was canceled. We all got sick. But we're coming back and I'm trying to be optimistic. What I've been writing about recently, with this album, is now. It's a snapshot of what is going on today."
Uncle Tupelo days
Farrar has been an exceptional songwriter since his days fronting the seminal Uncle Tupelo a generation ago, which combined the honest and direct storytelling of country with the power and passion of punk. Uncle Tupelo's landmark albums, 1990's "No Depression" and 1993's "Anodyne" are classics.
The band splintered and Farrar formed Son Volt and former bandmate Jeff Tweedy put together Wilco. Nearly 30 years later, each band still is standing and producing relevant material.
Farrar no longer speaks with Tweedy.
"We have spoken when we've had to, but there's just not much reason to talk with him anymore," Farrar said.
However, Farrar does look back fondly on his Uncle Tupelo experience and the ’80s, which helped shape his sonic viewpoint.
"Uncle Tupelo was a springboard to learn so much," Farrar said. "If it wasn't for that band, who knows what direction I would have gone? And then there are the ’80s and the impact that decade had on me. The ’80s was, in general, a barren period when it came to the mainstream. The mainstream was pretty awful and in order to find good music, you had to dig."
Such influential bands as X and The Replacements had a huge impact on Farrar and Son Volt, which also includes guitarist Chris Frame, bassist Andrew Duplantis, multi-instrumentalist Mark Spencer and drummer Mark Paterson. And then there was the effect of such brilliant bards as Guthrie, Bob and Young.
"Neil represented this raw element that I loved," Farrar said. "I learned a lot from Neil in terms of going with that organic vibe. Neil has always written what he's felt like writing, and you have to respect him for that. It's so important for me to get that message out."
Farrar is in a good space these days as he was during lockdown.
"I try to look at the good and there have been silver linings during this strange period we've been in," Farrar said. "I was productive at the start of the pandemic. That's when I started writing the songs that are on ‘Electro Melodier’ and it was good spending time with my family.
“I think all of the time gave us some time to get some perspective and think about what we want to get out of this life. How do we live in such a rat race?"
Farrar lays it all out about life and the rat race with the "Electro Melodier" opener "Reverie."
"The system grinds dreams to dirt/But the truth walks naked upon the Earth" is a jolt out of the gate.
"There's a lot of uncertainty out there," Farrar said. "Who knows what's going to happen next?"
It's inevitable what's next for Farrar, which is writing more songs for Son Volt, who will perform Wednesday at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City.
"I'm driven to create," Farrar said. "I have that inherent need to make new music. I'm sure I'll be writing more songs, but right now I'm excited about performing again."