Friday, August 13, 2010

Interview Transcript: Jay Farrar of Sun Volt/Uncle Tupelo

Indie rock royalty descends upon The Henry Miller Library in Big Sur this weekend with a pair of big shows.
On Saturday, an outdoor dinner, concert and screening will feature the documentary “One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur,” followed by a concert featuring Jay Farrar of Sun Volt and Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie. Dinner starts at 6:30 p.m.
The documentary examines the events that Kerouac's novel “Big Sur” was based on, using footage shot in Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Big Sur cabin, where Kerouac retreated to for a visit that would eventually become the basis for his novel.
The film features music composed by Farrar, a devoted Kerouac enthusiast, accompanied by Gibbard, who spent time in Big Sur and Ferlinghetti's cabin a few years ago.
Farrar spoke with “The Beat” about Kerouac and working with Ben Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie fame.

Q: You're a big Kerouac fan. What was it about “Big Sur” that resonated with you?
A: I guess I came across “Big Sur” sort of later on. I had read a lot of Kerouac as a teenager, but “Big Sur” I came across later, and more or less at a similar age that Keroauc was at when he wrote the book.
A lot of stuff Jack is going through — he's kind of beginning to question his ethos and question the philosophy that he wrote about a lot, which is ‘Where is the next thrill coming form and how do we keep this show going.’ I think myself, and maybe anybody that's over 40, begins to question and perhaps take stock of where they're at.
More importantly, Kerouac in general, his method of writing has always been an inspiration to me. The fact that he put across the idea that if there's less preconception and revision, the end result will be a pure, more individualistic form of expression. That philosophy particularly resonates with me.

Q: Are there any other excerpts from the books or passages from the book that really stick out with you while you were recording?
A: I think, looking at it from the perspective of when I was doing the writing, I think there's a song that reflects a particular scene. The song is called “Final Horrors,” and that's dealing with the scene where Jack was really sick at that point, really conscious of the fact that he was sick and just in a bad place. Yet, he's still able to write about it. It's remarkable. Jack was clinically, sort of documenting his whole experience, no matter how harrowing it was.

Q: Talk about the documentary, how you got involved and when you were starting to write some of the songs, what was your general approach in paying homage to this artist you revere so much.
A: I was approached by Jim Sampas to do be involved in this project. Jim ... knew my familiarity with Kerouac, and sort of made me jump at the chance to be able to get inside Kerouac's words, so to speak. It was an element of being a kid let loose in a candy store.
A bit of reservation going into it was the fact that Kerouac was always synonymous with jazz and free form kind of expression, which I can relate to from a lyrical perspective, but maybe not so much from a musical perspective. Throughout the course of reading the book, I discovered Jack did have a certain level of appreciation for folk music, and that's where part of my background is. That gave me the focus to take on the project.
Once I got into it, I got caught up in the spirit of the project, and not consciously, but that's just the way it turned out. I wound up working quickly, which was part of Jack's philosophy of creating.

Q: Talk about getting with Ben Gibbard. I've read a couple of past interviews, and it seems like it started out pretty loose, and you wound up with something more than you initially planned.
A: Ben and I had never met until the night before we started on the project. I was aware of Death Cab and aware of the fact that Ben had done some solo touring.
I think it was the spirit of Kerouac that kind of carried everything through. Our mutual appreciation of the work of Jack Kerouac. Perhaps on the surface, people might say we're coming from different places. But in the end, we're both musicians and we're inspired by a lot of the same stuff.
Ben was great to work with. He possesses a high level of musicianship. He's a great drummer, Good drummers are hard to find. I don't know if you knew that he played drums on the record.

Q: How did that collaborative process work out? Were you writing most of the lyrics? How did you go about laying out the songs.
A: I got involved in the project before Ben did, so I had a substantial head start. I think I had nine or 10 of the songs done at least in a demo form. And then once Ben and I got together, Ben helped change a few things around, flesh some things out. In the end, it was a collaborative process, and the sound that Ben brought to “One Fast Move...” is one of the highlights, in my opinion.

Q: How did you guys settle into your live set? Was it pretty fluid coming from the recording sessions and then taking it to the stage?
A: It was a process. It was ultimately fluid, I guess. But it was a process of putting a band together.
Nick Harmer came in from Death Cab, and Mark Spencer from Sun Volt and the drummer that played in the live band, John Woerster, both Ben and I worked with before. There was a chemistry there that worked, based on the fact that, at least in different sub groups, we had all played together in one form or another.

Q: Playing at henry miller library, what are anticipating. Are you anxious about playing in the redwoods.

A: I heard that the setting is nice. Ben and I are primarily being brought out, because the documentary is being shown at the library, so we're kind of in a supporting role for the documentary.

Q: Any news on Sun Volt?
A: Any news? No. We just came back from a short tour of Italy, so we're just sort of recovering from that and thinking of the next move.

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