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Drawing On A Tradition Of 'Protest Music': Jay Farrar Discusses Latest Son Volt Album

Singer-songwriter Jay Farrar joined "St. Louis on the Air" to discuss the latest Son Vault album. April 9, 2019.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

It is hard not to notice that “Union,” the newest release from St. Louis-based band Son Volt, has a distinct political bent. Songs like the title track and “The 99” tackle some hot-button topics indicative of contemporary American discourse, with lyrics that speak of protest and income inequality.

Jay Farrar, the band’s lead singer and song writer, explained to producer Alex Heuer on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air that he wanted to write songs addressing the modern political climate, something that the artists he grew up listening to did in their own eras.

“I was really just kind of taking in ideas from reading headlines and putting it back out,” Farrar said. “That's kind of the tradition of the bard, I guess. It's the musical background I grew up with – folk music, protest music, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie.” 

The album was partly recorded at the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the Mother Jones Museum in Mount Olive, Illinois, which Farrar said was a nod to the way the songs he was writing connected with the messages of the two famous organizers and activists.

“I wanted to highlight the contributions that those folks made – Mother Jones and Woody Guthrie – and some of the material I was writing seems like it was aligned with their viewpoints,” he said. 

Farrar, who is originally from Belleville, also discussed his roots in the area and why he has stayed in St. Louis throughout his decades-long career that began with alt-country band Uncle Tupelo.

“St. Louis has a lot going for it,” he said. “I just [visited] Brooklyn, and maybe Brooklyn of 20 years ago I found to be kind of exciting, but I just came from Cherokee Street yesterday, and I find the energy down on Cherokee to be very exciting – better than Brooklyn at this point.”

Listen to the full conversation:

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air producers Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan andJon Lewis give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Jon Lewis was the production intern at St. Louis Public Radio from January to May 2019. Originally from Pelham, New York, Jon came to St. Louis to attend Washington University in 2015. Previously, Jon has interned for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Eight by Eight, a soccer magazine based in Brooklyn.