Jay Farrar may be the most normal man in rock. As the co-founder (with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy) of Uncle Tupelo and leader of Son Volt, Farrar is often named as one of the founders of the "alt. country" movement. He should have been in and out of rehab several times and destroyed countless hotel rooms by now.
Instead, he married his high school sweetheart, and when not touring or recording, he spends most of his time listening to Woody Guthrie with his two kids. Unfortunately, Farrar isn't completely immune to the rock-star cliché: After leaving Uncle Tupelo in 1994, Farrar had a successful run with Son Volt, until he put the band on hold in 2000. After releasing two solo albums, an EP and a live album under his own name, Farrar reformed the band's original lineup for a song on a tribute album and had plans to continue with the members on a new album. But when lawyers got involved, Farrar found himself a man with a band name but no band. He soon soldiered on with a whole new lineup and recorded "Okemah and the Melody of Riot," a return to the straight-up rock sound found on 1995's "Trace."
What was your initial reasoning behind putting Son Volt on hiatus?
After five years of touring pretty steadily and recording—just doing one after the other, pretty much—I was just looking for a change, I think. I'd just had a son a year earlier. I wanted to spend more time with him, as well as I was looking for a different challenge, which at that point was doing a solo record. (I was) trying out some different recording techniques and instrumentation, things like that.
Were there things you felt you couldn't accomplish musically within the confines of the band?
Absolutely. There's a group dynamic in a band, and if you want a particular sound, it may not always be what someone else wants to play.
When you realized the original group wasn't going to get back together, did you think about making another solo album or starting another band from scratch?
At that point I'd already written songs for a Son Volt record so I was already committed to the idea. Son Volt was what I was originally looking to get back to. I wanted there to be a reunion, but when that didn't work out, I just wanted to continue on with perhaps some new people involved. I knew it would represent a different sound because every person brings their own unique musical background to the mix.
Is this lineup, which some critics have dubbed "Son Volt 2.0," as definitive for you as the original?
It is. It's been a good group dynamic so far. We haven't played much or done any shows at all, but we kind of coalesced around a common purpose, which was the recording itself. Being in a situation like that is kind of trial by fire, and it means a lot in so far as we were able to do it and make it work. I hope it continues to evolve. Son Volt has always represented a certain aesthetic that hopefully will remain constant yet change along the way, if that makes any sense (laughs).
You've recently released retrospectives for both Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt. How did it make you feel that you've done enough work to warrant two compilation albums for two different groups?
The weird thing is actually going back and listening to it, and I'm surprised to listen to some of it. It's not the kind of thing I sit around and listen to, so it's kind of like traveling back. I guess the thing that strikes me the most, especially with Uncle Tupelo, is the amount of work we put in. Living it day in day out experience. But it's hard to relate to some of the songs written 15 or 16 years ago. We're not the same (people) we were then.
Son Volt plays at Hal & Mal's on Wednesday, Sept. 21 with Earlimart.