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Jay Farrar On The Questions, ‘Reverie’ And Gratitude That Mark Son Volt’s ‘Electro Melodier’

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Son Volt
American rock band Son Volt includes (from left) bass guitarist Andrew DuPlantis, guitarist John Horton, frontman Jay Farrar, keyboardist and steel guitarist Mark Spencer and drummer Mark Patterson.

Like many musicians in the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jay Farrar found that along with all sorts of challenges, the year 2020 held some unusual opportunities. In fact, it sent Farrar into something of a creative reverie.

“I started writing these songs right as the pandemic struck,” the St. Louis-based founder and frontman of Son Volt explained Thursday on St. Louis on the Air. “It was kind of an existential concern, really, as a musician that can’t play live music anymore. [I] sorta just tried to make the best of it and dove into writing these songs — and really just had a singular focus, I think, that oftentimes we didn’t have as a band because we always had another gig on the horizon that we had to pay attention to.”

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Evie Hemphill / St. Louis Public Radio
Jay Farrar joined Sarah Fenske in studio Thursday.

The fruits of those stay-at-home labors are on full display in the 14 songs that comprise Son Volt’s 10th studio album, “Electro Melodier,” which drops Friday. Its title comes from the names of vintage amplifiers — and also points to its blend of genres and a return to “more melodic, uptempo, upbeat-type songs.”

“I have an interest in old amplification, and a lot of the words they were using for amps and guitars back then kind of dealt with space exploration and all the possibilities, whether it’s ‘rocket’ or ‘electro,’” Farrar told host Sarah Fenske. “And this word, ‘melodier,’ jumped out at me. It’s actually not a word — it’s not in the dictionary — but I feel like it should [be]. It’s sort of someone or something that emotes a melody.”

But current events are hardly absent from the album.

“I read the news too much, so with the pandemic as the backdrop and with a lot of political turmoil as the backdrop, some of that found its way into the writing,” Farrar said.

In its lyrics, “Electro Melodier” probes a range of emotions and subjects. The first track, “Reverie,” reflects its author’s contemplations amid a world in crisis. “The system grinds dreams to dirt/But the truth walks naked upon the earth/We won’t know where we stand ’til December,” Farrar writes.

After A Year Full Of Songwriting, Jay Farrar And Son Volt Release 10th Studio Album
Listen as Farrar talks with host Sarah Fenske about the band's recent creative efforts and upcoming tour.

“Diamonds and Cigarettes” expresses a tenderness and gratitude toward Farrar’s wife of 25 years. Others offer social commentary — and unanswered questions. That includes “Livin’ in the USA,” a nod to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” Farrar’s track describes a land of freedom where “all can live the dream they say” but where there are “voices crying out and sirens wailing away.”

“Where’s the heart from days of old?/Where’s the empathy?/Where’s the soul?” Farrar asks in the chorus.

On Thursday’s show, the Belleville, Illinois, native and south St. Louis resident offered an inside look at the perspective that informed his reflections on a country he fears may be in decline.

“Just the polarization is incredible,” Farrar said, “which, I hope we find our way back. … I don’t know if the whole foundation [of the country] was rotten. I think there’s just always been some cracks in it. We have to fix the cracks. ... I approach these songs with hope as a central focus, for sure.”

He also touched on how he’s treasured the extra time spent with his wife and kids in recent months.

Related Event
What: Son Volt at the Open Highway Music Festival
When: 7 p.m. Aug. 7
Where: Chesterfield Amphitheater (631 Veterans Place Dr., Chesterfield, MO 63017)
More information

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Paola Rodriguez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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