Storytellers, killers and other small truths
On Justin Farren's new album, the truth is in the details
Inspiration comes to local singer-songwriter Justin Farren in little, seemingly meaningless moments. For instance, he once watched a friend go through a nasty breakup and still remembers the incident that summarized the pettiness of the split: The friend’s ex came over to claim all his Nintendo games.
Whether the former girlfriend actually wanted the games or just wanted to hurt the guy, it marked how low things had sunk, and the scene eventually ended up in lyric form: “She broke your heart / and she took your time / and all your Nintendo games.”
“Faith, Hope, Etc.,” which draws on what it was like for Farren to console his friend during that time, is now the opening track on his new album Another Bluebird Day.
The record marks a shift for Farren with a collection that’s decidedly more intimate than earlier works. Here, Farren still employs other musicians, with Brian Rogers on drums and Emily Kollars on backing vocals, but it’s the singer’s guitar and voice that take center stage, highlighting what he does best: sharing bits and pieces of his life.
“The songs I write are the byproduct of my life … the things I love to do or the things that happen. The songs are what come out,” Farren says.
The subject matter varies. “Sometimes I Like to Kill Things Too,” for example, is a whimsical track that Farren wrote one day after catching his dog killing his neighbor’s rabbits. The incident made him wonder if he was all that different than his dog. After all, he too killed (directly or indirectly) living creatures: plants, cows, spiders, etc.
“I feel like here’s a universal truth, that just by existing, you have edged something else out. You’ve probably destroyed something on a daily basis just be being alive. It kind of makes light of that idea,” Farren says.
When it comes to songwriting, Farren says he tries not to exaggerate. While he could easily take the kernels of truth and build off then with fictitious, more dramatic retellings, he chooses not to. Rather, Farren prefers his work remain an authentic expression of his life.
“The origins of most of my songs are these little mundane moments, but if you see the context of the things that led to that particular moment, then all of a sudden, you might see what’s interesting about them,” he says.
One of the most sentimental new songs is “Little Blue Dirtbike,” which recounts the summer Farren spent with his grandfather when he was 5. Farren wrote the song after his grandfather died, and its retelling of moments—such as the time his grandfather taught him how to play pool—exhibit an understated sense of emotion.
“That summer was my main experience with him. It talks about my viewpoint and learning about this man, and that being my only real memory of the guy,” Farren says. Such attention to personal detail, he says, is a way for listeners to know and understand him—not just as a musician.
“I feel like I’m showing enough of myself … that if people resonate with [my music], chances are we can hang out and just be friends,” he says. “If they get the songs, then they get me.”
Farren’s musical leanings started when he was young and discovered folk singers Greg Brown and Chris Smither, admiring both for their literary style of songwriting. Now, he says, he tries to bring that same quality to his work.
“It forces me to really condense the story down to the most pertinent lines in the most refined way,” he says. “I really love trying to find just the perfect words to fit in just the perfect lines that explains the story—that also gives you room to interpret it in your own way as well.”