When legendary alt-country band Uncle Tupelo split up, its two leaders went in very different directions.
Jeff Tweedy formed Wilco, which went on to become one of America’s most popular experimental rock groups.
Jay Farrar doubled down on Tupelo’s roots in country and folk music, both as a solo artist and with his band Son Volt. For many fans, his sound came together best on Son Volt’s 1995 debut “Trace.” For its 20th anniversary, the album is getting the deluxe reissue treatment, with unreleased demos and a live set recorded at The Bottom Line in Greenwich Village in 1996.
amNewYork spoke with Farrar as he prepared for a short tour in which he’ll play “Trace” in its entirety.
What do you remember about writing and recording “Trace”?
When I listen back to it now, the band sounds good. It’s visceral but not polished, like a rock band should sound. I also hear in the recordings that I was ecstatic to be playing with a pedal steel player. That was new for me.
Is it special to you the way it is to a lot of fans?
I think it does hold a special place. I started a lot of the writing when I was living in New Orleans. “Windfall” has a reference listening to AM radio out of New Orleans, a show called “The Road Gang.” I was living in New Orleans, driving to St. Louis to do demos and driving to Minneapolis to record. I remember making that trek several times. It was liberating in a creative way to do that much driving. I don’t know if I’d want to do it again, but at the time I loved it.
For this tour, you’re performing with an acoustic trio instead of the full band that’s on the album. Why?
I felt that was the best way to present the songs in an elemental way, boiled down to their essence. Plus, reuniting with Eric Haywood, who played pedal steel, was something I wanted to do for a long time.
You get asked a lot about your past. How do you feel about that?
It’s gratifying that people care. It’s a little weird when people look at the catalog of work I’ve done, it’s like I’ve only done one record. I don’t see it that way. It’s been more of a journey for me. I can’t make the same record over and over.
What’s it like listening to the 1996 concert again?
I remember that The Bottom Line had a backstage room the size of closet. It fit four people and we had five. All of us were smoking. People had to leave the room to get air. I listen to the album now and think it could be called “Five Dudes Smoking.
If you go: Jay Farrar is at City Winery on Friday at 8 p.m., 155 Varick St., 212-608-0555, sold out