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There are times when the smoky, downtrodden voice of Jay Farrar just wouldn't be appropriate. You're probably not going to slip on one of the Son Volt and Uncle Tupelo founder's discs while celebrating the birth of your new child. Drunken keggers won't get extra-rockin' when you pump in the slow, aching "Anodyne." Few pornos are scored with "Cahokian."
There are other days when Farrar fits right in, and Wednesday, November 3, is one of those days. Dark skies are dumping rain onto my office window, and the whole Delmar Loop seems sick. It wouldn't be surprising to get calls from sad-sacks Nick Drake and Ian Curtis from beyond the grave, just to make me feel worse. "Hey, maybe we did kill ourselves, but at least we didn't live to see today. Who's the sucker now?"
They don't phone, but Jay Farrar does: "How are you doing? Besides the obvious, I mean." The obvious being, for those of you just emerging from your fallout bunkers, that George W. Bush had just been elected Our Most Illustrious Papa for another four years.
I say something nasty.
"I know," agrees Farrar. "I know the feeling."
One thing this election proved was that rock & rollers aren't exactly the voter bloc that some political groups thought they were. Everyone from the Dixie Chicks to Eminem did their part to get out the vote. Farrar wasn't on any of the benefit tours but had wanted to help out if he could.
"I tried to get a song on the moveon.org CD," he says, "but I guess I didn't make the cut."
Ah, rejection. Just another reason to get down. Plus, we didn't even get the big Bruce Springsteen concert to salve our wounds.
"I had a dream last night," Farrar says. "Bruce Springsteen songs were going through my mind. I took it as a sign." He sighs. "But you can't believe your subconscious."
But Jay's been keeping busy. When I wrote about Son Volt's reunion last month, Jay wasn't available for interviews, and now I know why: He was locked in the studio.
"In December I'm going to be mixing some stuff," he says now. "One is a folk record that I recorded with [Varnaline frontman and Undertow Records artist] Anders Parker. We reworked some traditional songs, and there's some new songs. And I got to work on a Son Volt record, and we did fifteen songs."
Not bad for someone who's spent the past five years or so in solo artist semi-retirement.
"I think the primary reason I scaled back was to spend more time with my family," says Farrar. "I'd been doing some pretty heavy touring for five years. Then my son was born in '99 and my daughter was born a couple of years later. I wanted to spend more time with them so they knew who I was, basically."
Come on, Jay, family? You can do better than that.
"I also wanted to explore some different approaches and instrumentation with my solo records," he goes on. "Those two things kind of coincided."
Oh, OK, as long as it was for your art.
My claims last month of Son Volt getting back together turned out to be a little premature. About a week after the band reunited, I got a press release announcing that there were three new members -- making it a reunion in name only.
"I really wanted to see a Son Volt reunion," Farrar explains. "Unfortunately, what we all kind of failed to realize is that people change with time."
But nobody would deny that Jay was the driving force behind Son Volt. It's not like he's claiming an Uncle Tupelo reunion with none of the original members. Nobody complains about the Cure not having its old drummer. Even with new members, for Farrar there's something more inspiring about playing in a band, as opposed to solo work.
"There's a positive energy generated when you have four musicians working together to create something that wasn't there before," he says. "That's basically what the idea of Son Volt is. Trying to capture as much live energy as you can, and take that out and present it in a live context. With the solo record, the idea was more open. I felt like I could bring in electronic instruments that I wouldn't want to bring on the road, or I could record all the instruments myself, which I obviously couldn't do live."
Being that, in the rock world, Farrar is just about the biggest name in town, I have to ask: Why is he still in the Lou? The question gets him laughing, which is kind of like getting Gandhi to punch you.
"I do leave, a lot," he says. "But I come back. I have family and friends here. That's the main component. But St. Louis has a lot to offer."
One thing it has to offer is Jay Farrar at Mississippi Nights on Saturday, with Mark Spencer of Blood Oranges and Anders Parker. Farrar promises a Son Volt tour in early spring. But on such a gloomy Wednesday, it just doesn't seem like enough.
"I hope things look up," Farrar says in closing. "It might be a while."
Man. When Jay Farrar tells you to cheer up, you must sound bad.