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Eats and Beats: Finding inspiration in troubled times with Son Volt’s Jay Farrar

Son Volt 2022
All Eyes Media
Son Volt singer, songwriter and bandleader Jay Farrar (center) wrote the band's 10th studio album in 2020 amid the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing prominence of social justice movements in the U.S.

The acclaimed Americana band Son Volt is playing Thursday at the Orpheum Theater in Flagstaff. They’re on tour in support of their 10th studio album, Electro Melodier, which was released last year.

For bandleader Jay Farrar, the COVID-19 pandemic was the backdrop for the songs and the social justice movements of 2020 served as a primary inspiration. Much of the album rambles through the American experience with lyrics ripped straight from the headlines.

In the latest installment of KNAU’s series Eats and Beats, Farrar talks about his new songs and finding inspiration in the midst of a chaotic time in the country’s history.

A digital or printed copy of a negative COVID test result within the last three days or proof of full vaccination is required to enter the show.

Jay Farrar: I guess over the years I’ve sort of fallen into somewhat of a pattern of writing about topical issues. I was just kind of using touchstones from the news and that was finding its way into the song.

We are a country of many, many imperfections but we are also a country that’s incredibly resilient. I think that’s been shown over the centuries. These are trying times and that’s certainly creating, and music in general is one thing to turn to in trying times.

It was kind of awe-inspiring to see people out speaking out for what they believe in. I feel like getting out, especially with respect to the Black Lives Matter movement is very important at times. Yeah, it was inspiring to me.

It was definitely an eerie, existential time with a lot of things shut down and the streets empty. And a lot of times you turn to music to sort of exorcise the demons and feel better about things and that was the process I used in the writing and recording of this record.

I think another thing we learned during the pandemic is that just being appreciative of those around you, your friends and family. And being able to spend more time with them. Often the life of a musician is you’re away, you’re missing birthdays. The pandemic in a way had another silver lining for musicians in that even though they couldn’t necessarily earn a living the way they were used to earning a living they could spend more time with family and friends, which I did.

We played one show in 2020. That was the timeframe, you know, I tried to make the best of it. There was no touring, that was off the table, so I was able to kind of apply a singular focus to the writing of these songs and also the recording, you know, and I think that that shows. There was a synergy there I think for sure.

With each project you kind of learn what works and what doesn’t work and often it’s a situation where I’m trying to maybe be inspired by something different than the previous recordings. Each step along the way you learn and you apply what you learned to the next one that follows, and I hope that that’s been the case. That’s the process for me is just finding what’s inspiring.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom as executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.