Son Volt draws inspiration from spirit of blues, country
As the longtime leader of Son Volt and the cofounder of Uncle Tupelo, Jay Farrar deserves credit for starting the Americana movement — if only he felt like taking it.
“I try not to think in those terms,” he said this week. “I just think of folks I used to go see ... the ones I was inspired by. To me, it’s all a big continuum of bands who pass on their art, hopefully to inspire someone else.”
Son Volt is currently onto a new phase, with its first blues-oriented album in “Notes of Blue.” While Farrar has drawn from the blues before, much of the album features a primal, fuzz-guitar sound that’s new for the band.
“I wanted to focus more on playing electric guitar, which I haven’t done on the last few Son Volt albums. So to mark the band’s 20year milestone, I pulled out the amplifier that’s on the cover of our first album, ‘Trace.’ It’s a ’30s amplifier, from Webster in Chicago, and I felt like it had the right aesthetic for what I wanted to do.”
The Paradise show on Thursday, he promises, will be slanted toward the band’s uptempo electric side.
To Farrar, the bluesy sound isn’t too far from the classic country that has inspired him all along.
“I’ve always been drawn to the spiritual aspects. Music is something you turn to to lift you up and get you out of your situation, and the blues has always occupied that place for me. It’s a religion of sorts. And when you listen to the icons of early country, people like Hank Williams, you can feel that the blues was a foundation for what they did. There was a lot of cross-pollination going on, and that’s what I wanted to explore with this album, that convergence of blues and country.”
One surprise about “Notes of Blue” is the brevity of the songs, all but one under four minutes.
“I’ve been feeling you can say what you need to say with a couple minutes and a couple of chords,” he said.
Also notable is the uplifting feel of the advance single “Back Against the Wall.” Said Farrar, “That was intended to be a rally song of sorts. I’d put it in the same category of an early Son Volt song like ‘Windfall.’ They both take on adversity in whatever form, and I think there’s always going to be songs like that.”
But it wasn’t all inspired by the current political climate, he said. “Most of the songs were written over a year and a half, so they were just starting to bleed into the political spectrum, as it were. But I definitely have been writing more topical songs as of late. I look at the news every day and try to think of what Woody Guthrie would be saying if he were around today. I’ve been inspired by his work for most of my life, and have tried to view what’s been going on through a Woody Guthrie kind of lens. He’d be saying a lot right now, that’s for sure.”