Room to Roam

Son Volt returns to St. Louis to support Wide Swing Tremolo

Farrar's music stands apart for the way his private visions explode into the political -- though he would likely eschew the word -- and the public, and constantly shift the listener between the complex world inside and the sometimes maddening, sometimes fantastic world outside. "A song like 'Medicine Hat,'" he says, "I made a point to make sure the lyrics were discernible, though for most of the songs the lyrics and music are meant to coexist. 'Medicine Hat' represents to me a summation of the past year-and-a-half or something, observations, what's been going on."

There will be droughts and days inundated
Unveilings free from saturation
Departures raised with no masquerading
There will be teachers that die by their own hand
Pundits that push headlong for atonement
Friends and followers devoted to living
There will be watchers that ply for new confines
And those committed to society's circles
Unwary cogs with no cadence or virtue
There will be right, there will be wrong.

"I probably wrote the music in the course of one month," Farrar explains. "I wrote the lyrics in a stream-of-consciousness style, probably a couple of days. People's perception is that the songs are more fragmented than a traditional approach, and maybe that's true, but it's the way I write. If people connect with just a phrase out of a song, that's good."

Son Volt returns to St. Louis for two nights after a lengthy Southeastern tour and, before that, a fall tour misnamed "acoustic." "The term 'acoustic' was used because they had to come up with something," Farrar says. "The 'Sitting Down Tour' didn't have quite the ring to it." The band focuses on the new album, not out of pressure from Warner Bros. but, as Farrar puts it, as "the natural selection of things." "You just gravitate towards the new material. Even if you've recorded a song, it's not always the definitive version. The songs evolve over time; sometimes you figure out a different or better instrument somewhere down the road."

Son Volt has become a band on the road, a necessity arising from bassist Jim Boquist and guitarist Dave Boquist's residence in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. The brothers have played with Farrar and Heidorn for nearly five years now, under conditions -- middling record sales, lucky-to-break-even tours, geographic distance -- that might spell dissolution. "Like anybody else, you think about your life and the life of the band," Jim Boquist explains. "We're as much of a band as we've ever been, in the true sense of the word. We approach things deliberately and in the moment. The idea is a longer haul, forming a body of work, delivering it and building it. I really can't speak for the others, but when I hear about some things, I'm left with an unsavory opinion of the business. I just trust that we're doing the right thing by not buying into it."

"We'll never be millionaires," Heidorn says. "We just want to make enough money to make the next record." Heidorn laughs, and he no doubt believes it, because he no doubt wants to believe it even more.

"I wonder once in a while how this band will play out in the future," Dave Boquist offers, "what kind of band we are. I'm not exactly sure. It seems to be a band that won't have the huge radio play, the Grammy after the second album. I think we're long-distance runners. You look at Straightaways, and maybe the sales weren't what we hoped for, but that album has the potential to be discovered by people to be a good record. Hopefully it's music that can transcend the trends."

For all the dark, stormy brooding churning through Son Volt's music, a key to transcendence lies in the deep friendships and relations that need no speaking: the brothers Boquist, who without pretension seem to intuit Farrar's vision, and Farrar and Heidorn, whose friendship has long been more than musical. As they ready to leave the restaurant, Heidorn pulls a piece of paper from his pocket, shows it to Farrar, and gives him encouragement that the ideal skating rink may yet be found: "Look -- Cahokia Ice Rink. Monday-Friday stick- and-puck. No weekends. Hour-and-a-half increments every Monday-Friday for three bucks."

"It's hopeless," Farrar says, but there's knowing humor in his voice.

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