Has Item Five Really Returned?

Jay Farrar (center) and Son Volt
Jay Farrar (center) and Son Volt

Yes! It won’t be a regular feature around here simply because I don’t have time to do these interviews much these days, given my job, plus child rearing, plus need for sleep. But now and then it will pop up and it will be totally sweet. Get it? OK then.

It’s been three years since I connected with Jay Farrar. Last time we, uh, chatted, it was right when the aural assault of  “Okemah & The Melody Of Riot” was released. Son Volt have since released “The Search” in 2007 and are on the cusp of another release, called “American Central Dust.” The new album, which I hadn’t heard at the time of this interview is a return to plainclothes approach Son Volt’s intial records showcased. Farrar speaks about some of the specifics below, but it would be unfair to compare this new album to any of the previous 2 or 3. I have since received the album and I can tell you it is quite, quite good. It reminds me of an interview I read with Mark Sandman once, who explained that he loved to cook and did a lot of experimentation with sauces, but his favorite was still the plain old tomato sauce recipe. Elegantly simple. That’s what I think about when I  hear “American Central Dust.”

My latest exploration with Farrar is below. There is reference in this interview to the past ones, so for your sake, I will post links to the first two interviews first, then you can read the new one. As usual, big, big thanks to Jay for accomodating my, um, interview style.

Interview #1 (September 10, 2004)

Interview #2 (March 26, 2006)

aaaand here we go……

1. Last time we “talked” we said we’d do it again in a year-and-a-half. That was three years ago. Sorry about that. I went and had twin boys. That shit is hard, man! Back then you said your kids mostly would rather listen to Blues Clues instead of your music. What are your kids listening to these days? Do they actually prefer specific parts/eras of your music yet?

Green Day, All American Rejects and My Chemical Romance—-all bands my kids have been listening to lately. There was a period when they said “Terroir Blues” was their favorite which I thought was strange yet appreciated since that record always gets relegated to the bottom of the pile.

2. I had a lot of different reactions when I heard that the new Son Volt album was coming out on Rounder (July 7). I worked there for quite a few years in the 1990s. I think about record labels a lot given the music business environment and it’s my belief that many artists can and should just release their own stuff. Of course, I understand WHY artists still want a label (resources, etc), but I’m curious to hear if you’ve ever thought of truly going it alone and why you decided to go with a label again.

“Terroir Blues” and “Stone , Steel and Bright Lights” were examples of self released recordings( Transmit Sound). The Grateful Dead said years ago that they stopped putting out their own records because they didn’t want to carry around briefcases all day. I’ve found that it’s good to have clearly defined distribution of duties. Sticking to the creative side is best while letting the resources and experience of the label do what they do. With that said, it’s almost inevitable that Transmit Sound will come into play down the line.

3.  Gob Iron. I really loved that stuff. Went out to the Boston show with my pregnant wife when you guys came through, but we had to leave early because she wasn’t feeling well. I just want to confirm that you’ll come by my house and finish the part of the show I missed next time you’re in Boston? It was only like 45 minutes. That said, is there new Gob Iron stuff in the works? Why isn’t Anders Parker universally adored?

Anders Parker and I have been working on a project that hopefully will see the light of day in 2010.

4. I see that you had a talk with Spinner.com. The headline I saw was “Son Volt’s Jay Farrar Inspired By Keith Richards Drug Habits.” Come on, now! I picture you at home or in the studio, looking for inspiration to write a song – and then suddenly a wave of admiration for Keith because of his excessive and astounding drug use. That’s exactly how it went, right? Media headlines always nail it.

I was inspired by Keith’s honesty—not to mention all the music he has given the world.

5. OK, so I haven’t heard the new album yet. Do you want to tell me a little about it, did you do anything materially different in the process, were the songs inspired by anything in particular, the way, for example, Okemah was inspired by the events of the times? Yes, it’s the question you get in every interview.

The recording process was fundamentally the same as all other SV records with the emphasis on trying to capture the chemistry of playing live wherever possible while adding overdubs whenever it seemed beneficial. The idea going in to this recording was to make a more focused record than “The Search.” One way to try to achieve that was that I only played acoustic guitar and piano (no electric guitar).

6. Here’s the question you’ll NEVER get in an interview (yes, a riddle): where can you put a bookbag on the floor where nobody will be able to jump over it?

Let me know—I’ve been backpack jumping for years.

7. Do you have an IPod? Mind sharing the last five songs that you played (assuming it was on shuffle)?

“False Hearted Lover”(Levon Helm), “Tipitina” (Professor Longhair), “I’m Not That Kat Anymore” (Doug Sahm), “A Thanksgiving Prayer” ( William S. Burroughs), “Let Me Die in My Footsteps” (Bob Dylan)

8. I came across an old promotional CD for Paste Magazine a few years ago and found an Uncle Tupelo song called “Left in the Dark” that I had – unbelievably – never heard before. Hard to believe a song that good didn’t make its way onto any full-length – do you remember which sessions this song was from?

It was a good song written by the Vertebrats.

9. I am scared shitless of two things: bees and roller-coasters. What are you afraid of? Are you afraid of me?

Cormac McCarthy’s post apocalyptic vision in “The Road” was unsettling.

10. Has a particular book ever changed your life or made you materially change something about yourself?

Jack Kerouac’s book “On the Road” tipped the scale for music as a way of life for me.

11. I know you have some level of fondness for old institutions, so I need to ask about General Motors. Is there a certain sadness to their plight, or do you think of it as yet another piece of mind-numbing news in our country? What do you drive?

I tend to filter everything through a historical perspective–it was only about 100 years ago or less when big business leaders were either xenophobes or cozy enough with politicians to have striking workers shot by the National Guard in the good old U S of A. Overall…optimistic…


The Only Thing You Have To Fear……

Bungee jumping is something that I can assure you I will never try. Oh, I bet it’s quite a rush. But my personality is not one that is prone to being that risky. Plus I stopped crapping myself when I was around three and I don’t want to start again. So bungee jumping is out. A few years back Steph and I rented a house on Martha’s Vineyard and had a few friends come down. We ended up on a beach one day and there was a small bridge that people were jumping off, into the water. I thought to myself “I will never do that.” Ten minutes later, after watching several friends do it, I was jumping off the bridge. Repeatedly. And loving every minute of it. Everyone has their fears, whether they be heights, spiders, snakes or flying. We all have them. My fear of bees is well-documented.

I’ve always been afraid to make cake. Not in the same way that I am afraid of bees or bungee jumping, but the fear in cooking is arguably worse, because other people have to experience your failure. If you crap yourself while bungee jumping, it’s just you. Another fear of mine is giving gifts that people won’t like. This fear is not realistic. You simply can’t make everyone happy all of the time. So, with that said, I took two relatively interesting risks over the weekend for my lovely wife’s birthday, which was yesterday (Monday):

a) I got her an IPhone. I should preface this by saying that Stephanie could probably care less what phone she is using, so long as it dials numbers and functions properly. So I was a little afraid to do it, but I believe it will make her life a little easier given I work at home and hog the computer much of the day. The phone came pre-loaded with all of her contacts, an MBTA app, her music, a weather app and other little stuff I thought she would find helpful, because our lives are extremely hectic right now with a pair of 2-year olds running around. It’s a risky gift, because she’s not so much into showy gadgets and time will tell if it is truly a great utility for her, but I think it could be.

b) I made a cake! I’m totally bragging. First time ever I’ve made a cake and I chose to do it from scratch. At 10pm Sunday night after she went to bed. I was thinking it would be daunting and time-consuming to make a cake from scratch, but I buried the task in about an hour and fifteen minutes. It should come as no surprise that I worked straight from the bible, Cook’s Illustrated Best Of book and I have to say, it came out pretty damn good! I did end up going store-bought on the frosting, though. It was a chocolate layer cake with chocolate frosting and fresh local strawberries on top. Every step of the way, I had fear, though. There’s the basic fear that it will suck. But there’s also the fear that you will destroy the cake when you take it out of the pan, or you’ll render it a pile of crumbs when you try to frost it. In general, making cakes isn’t as difficult or time consuming as I had originally thought. At least this one wasn’t.

So there you have it. Two fears.  One is more-or-less conquered and the other will play out in the coming weeks and months. In the big picture, these fears aren’t nearly as scary as bungee jumping or bees and if she doesn’t like the phone, that’ll be okay, because she has a lot more birthdays coming up……

Cake, dammit. CAKE.
Cake, dammit. CAKE.

Off The Wall

Plenty of places to find news on Michael Jackson, obviously. My only thoughts are this: most articles talk about how shocking and sad it is. It is, indeed, sad. Somewhere in that catalog, there is a Michael Jackson song (or 10, or 20) that you like, whether or not you care to admit it. You can’t argue with the numbers, or his groundbreaking use of the video medium – or his talent. He was a monster.

But shocking? Hardly. I mean, you take a nameless 50 year old man, seemingly healthy – and if he drops dead of cardiac arrest, that’s shocking. But Michael Jackson? This is a guy who, sadly, never experienced a normal day in his entire life. All spotlight, all the time. The largest selling record in the history of music (be careful what you wish for..) can certainly be an albatross. Throw in the eccentricities, the medication from what undoubtedly were several surgeries and the stress (guilty or not) of child molestation charges and you’ve got a guy who probably had a little stress in his life. So it’s terribly sad, but I am in no way, shape or form surprised by the outcome.


Where Are You Searching?

Facebook has a lot of utility and that’s why so many people are using it these days. I think I’ve said before that social networking sites seem to trend towards flavor-of-the-month. Show of hands – how many of us went from Friendster to MySpace to Facebook over the past three years without a hiccup or a smidge of brand devotion?

One thing I like so much about Facebook is the opportunity for me to a) see what people are doing now, both right now and professionally and b) see people’s hobbies and personal likes such as music, movies, books, etc. It’s really, really interesting. As someone who minored in sociology, it could very well be the internet’s great sociological experiment to date.

Friends of our family live in the next town over and we get to hang out with them a few times a year. They, too, have two young children and we always enjoy their company because they are funny and interesting people to talk to. But take a look at what our friend Kolby put in there for her “occupation.”


Drudgery. That shit is funny! That is the kind of stuff I like to see in people’s profiles. It’s only one single word, but it’s honest and fits her personality. This is what MySpace and Friendster didn’t really have. Now, I can’t say with any degree of confidence that five years from now we won’t be looking back at Facebook the same way we do the deadpool of other social networking sites, but I can say Facebook is the most evolved and useful out of all of them so far. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if someone came along and did ’em one better though.

Another very interesting thing to look at, which you’ve probably seen elsewhere, is the amount of traffic that a site like Facebook can drive to a site. Take a look below at the site stats for this blog since January 1, 2009:


NEVER before has any site driven more traffic to RustedRobot than Google. Google has always been the top referrer of traffic, for obvious reasons. But this year, Facebook has rocketed above Google search (listed 3rd as google.com above). I have no idea whatsoever why Google Image Search is the top referrer, by the way. I think it might be because my most popular post ever on this site contains links to pictures of a baby panda and a baby polar bear. Anyway, you can plainly see how powerful Facebook could be if they play their cards right. Maybe there isn’t one company that can challenge the beast that is Google, but between Facebook and Twitter, you have two extremely powerful and terrribly useful websites who offer a very differentiated and compelling search elemen . Interesting stuff.


Their names are written in concrete!

We’ve had the opportunity to see some movies lately, a nice treat! Blurb reviews below:

  • First off, Meryl Streep is so utterly believeable, convincing and spectacular as a nun in Doubt that it doesn’t even occur to you that it’s actually Meryl Streep. She is such a great actress who seems to be able to transform herself into anything and do it flawlessly. The movie itself had a dark theme – a progressive priest (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who is accused of sexual abuse in a 1960’s school by a traditional, hard-core disciplinarian nun (Streep). The movie doesn’t end with a little bow on top, so bonus points for it not being traditional Hollywood dreck. BONUS: 104 minutes, now nice is that?
  • If it IS traditional Hollywood dreck you are looking for, try He’s Just Not That Into You, the proverbial chick flick of the year. The cast is absolutely loaded with big names and the movie hops along breezily from scene to scene and story to story, focused on a set of Baltimore 20 and 30-somethings and their various quandries in the game of love. Jennifer Connelly, woefully out of place in a movie like this, turns in a great, neurotic performance and Ginnifer Goodwin (I’ve always liked her) is great as the spazzy chick desperate for love. Not a bad film if you’re looking for something effortless and predicable – sometimes you need a movie like that.
  • One of favorites of the year was Frost/Nixon, a Ron Howard movie that tells the story around the David Frost interviews of Richard Nixon a few years after Nixon resigned. If you’re a history buff like I am, this one is a no-brainer, you have to see it. Howard takes a cast of virtual no-names and creates an intense, interesting and pretty educational film. I had very little knowledge of the Frost-Nixon interviews previous to the movie and while I’m not planning on using the movie as my main source of knowledge about the sessions, it’s a good starting point. The movie is basically a story about how Frost, a Brit, landed the interviews and his initially breezy approach to it all. I’m unsure about how much of the story is true, but the interview scenes are taken verbatim and they are excellent.
  • Rachel Getting Married was another dark, dark drama about a twenty-something woman just out of rehab who is trying to insert herself back into a “normal” life with her family, whatever that is. Anne Hathaway (celebrity crush alert) plays the lead and she sparkles – it’s why she was nominated for Best Actress, I suppose. Anyway, the movie is tense and emotional from start to finish and also quite beautiful in its own way. The wedding scene was both sad and quite uplifting due to the great band and music scenes.
  • Tropic Thunder (which I watched alone) was flat-out ridiculous. Of course, I loved it. Robert Downey Jr playing a black man, Ben Stiller and many others make this movie very stupid but deliver enough laughs to keep you watching throughout. Downey was actually nominated for his role, too. I never – EVER – thought I would say this, but I’m saying it here: far and away the best actor in the movie was Tom Cruise. His bit part was so funny and so left-of-center for Cruise that you can’t help but sit there with your mouth open in amazement. It makes me truly believe that if Cruise did comedies for a few years – true comedies – he would have the comeback of all comebacks. He was that funny.