One of the founding fathers of the 1990s alt-country movement, Jay Farrar was a founding member of two of the genre's key bands, Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt, though his solo career has made it plain that his musical ambitions stretch far beyond the retro-leaning twang of many of his contemporaries.
Farrar was born and raised in Belleville, IL, a small town not far from the Illinois/Missouri border. Farrar was 12 when he first began leaning to play the guitar, and in high school he made friends with a fellow musically inclined student named Jeff Tweedy. Farrar and Tweedy formed a garage rock band called the Primitives, but after a few years (and the arrival of drummer Mike Heidorn), Farrar and Tweedy would begin incorporating the influence of the country music they had grown up with and the traditional folk sounds that had struck their fancy. Renaming themselves Uncle Tupelo, they forged a sound that fused the ferocity of punk rock with the melodic structures and lyrical intimacy of country, and while they weren't the first to combine punk and country, their formula was unusual enough to spawn a whole new musical subgenre, with literally dozens of likeminded bands soon following in their wake. Uncle Tupelo would release four highly acclaimed albums between 1989 and 1993, but Farrar and Tweedy had a falling out while touring in support of their first major-label release, Anodyne, and in the summer of 1994, Farrar announced his resignation from Uncle Tupelo, effectively ending the group.
While Tweedy and several members of the expanded version of Uncle Tupelo from the Anodyne tour soon formed Wilco, Farrar teamed up with drummer Heidorn (who had left Uncle Tupelo in 1992), bassist Jim Boquist, and multi-instrumentalist Dave Boquist to comprise the band Son Volt. Alternating between quiet and contemplative ballads and Neil Young-influenced rockers, Son Volt's 1995 debut album, Trace, musically picked up where Uncle Tupelo left off, and the follow-up, Straightaways, followed a similar path. With Son Volt's third album, 1998's Wide Swing Tremolo, Farrar began exploring more adventurous musical textures and instrumental avenues, but while the album signaled a new direction for Farrar, it marked at least a temporary conclusion to the Son Volt story; while Farrar never formally folded the group, Son Volt did go on hiatus while Farrar began exploring solo projects.
After a layoff of nearly two years, Farrar returned with his first album under his own name, Sebastopol, in 2001; the disc found Farrar expanding on the sonic innovations of Wide Swing Tremolo while also maintaining clear ties to the melodic tenor of his best work; guest artists on the album included neo-traditionalists Gillian Welch and David Rawlings as well as Jon Wurster from Superchunk and Matt Pence from Centro-Matic. Farrar raised even more eyebrows in 2002 with a follow-up EP, ThirdShiftGrottoSlack, which included a dance-friendly remix of Sebastopol's "Damn Shame" along with four unreleased songs. In 2003, Farrar tried his hand at film scoring by composing incidental music for the acclaimed independent film The Slaughter Rule (Bloodshot Records released a soundtrack album, featuring Farrar's score as well as source music used in the film), and he launched his own independent record label, Act/Resist, with the release of his second full-length solo set, Terroir Blues. After a German record label, ACT Music expressed concerns about the similarity of their names, Farrar re-launched Act/Resist as Transmit Sound in time to release Stone, Steel & Bright Lights, a live album recorded during Farrar's 2003 tour with the group Canyon. ~ Mark Deming, All Music Guide