Jay Farrar and Son Volt find melodious inspiration on latest album
Over the album’s fourteen tracks, Son Volt engulfs the listener in an eclectic mix of folk, country, blues, soul and rock.
Son Volt frontman Jay Farrar is always looking for new sources of inspiration. Sometimes it comes from an unconventional place such as Electro and Melodier — two amplifier brands from the ‘40s and ‘50s. He combined the two words for the band’s latest album title, “Electro Melodier.”
Over the album’s fourteen tracks, Son Volt engulfs the listener in an eclectic and melodic mix of folk, country, blues, soul and rock.
With: Jesse Farrar
When: 7 p.m. Feb. 25-26
Where: SPACE, 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston
“The last two Son Volt records, ‘Union’ and ‘Electro Melodier,’ I was going for more of a melodic sensibility,” says Farrar. “That amplifier named Melodier especially captured my imagination; it’s a word that doesn’t exist in the English language. But maybe it should because it’s someone or something that produces a melody. That’s what all of those musicians do. Most of us, anyway.
“I felt like it was consistent with the name Son Volt and the aesthetic, felt like it was emblematic of this group of songs.”
With a lot of unexpected time off the road due to the pandemic, Farrar had more time to listen to music, take stock of his career and compile a future archival release that will include demos and covers.
“I tried to make the best of it, both in terms of writing new stuff and taking a look back and digging through the archives and just finding stuff that I would not otherwise have time to do,” he says.
“I’ve had time to appreciate a lot of different types of music I haven’t really delved into. One of those being soul music. I sort of dove in headfirst,” he adds. “I’ve tried to use my time to just learn, find more inspiration in music that I haven’t heard before.”
One of the album’s most ambitious songs to arrange, “Someday is Now,” pushes the boundaries of Son Volt’s atypical sound. Farrar says that the song veered into the prog rock territory at one point and “started to sound like Rush at times,” before they reigned it in a bit for the recording. He feels there’s also a little Led Zeppelin influence in there.
Elsewhere, on “War on Misery” the band sought more of a Lightnin’ Hopkins vibe, with tuning the guitars down.
“Lightnin’ Hopkins often flirts with some pretty interesting low-tune guitar stuff,” he says. “I was trying to emulate that and just bringing everything down a notch, and by bringing everything down a notch that meant whiskey was involved. And when whiskey gets involved, you don’t always play the right notes.”
One trait that remains steadfast are Farrar’s sharp and pointed lyrics. For example, on “Living in the USA,” he questions the notion of the American dream and its current status with “so many things going on from racial inequality, the economic inequality, and the proliferation of guns.” He asks, “How can so much wrong happen in a country that’s supposedly held up as an example to the world of what’s righteous?”
“It didn’t start out as an intentional thing, but in retrospect, I can see it as a nod to some of the songs that we’re all familiar with. Like Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born In the USA.’ or Neil Young’s ‘Rockin’ in the Free World.’ Both of those songs established a thematic tradition and I’m just kind of updating and asking the same questions.”
“It’s just sort of second nature to write from the hip, so to speak,” he adds, “to just write about topical subjects that you think are important.”
The band now features former Bottle Rockets guitarist John Horton, who took over for Chris Frame last summer following the album’s release. He’s quickly gelled with the group, thanks to prior experience working with Farrar and having a shared sensibility.
He’s looking forward to getting back on the road after six of the band members got COVID last month, forcing the group to cancel shows.
“I suppose we could have been a case study in the transmissibility of the new variants or something because it caught so many of us en masse,” he says. “But I think we’re all more determined now to persevere.”