By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
She's been everywhere, man. In fact, Sethi is often too busy saving the planet to monitor new releases with a music geek's assiduity, but that doesn't mean she doesn't like a good jam.
Though Indian in heritage, the petite, vivacious 36-year-old grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and a slight twang came through in Sethi's voice while talking about her list of the music, among other things, that kept her going this year.
You picked "Digging in the Dirt" by Peter Gabriel. Not many people aside from big fans have heard it.
"I think that whole album, Us, is great."
And Jay-Z, "99 Problems"?
"I lived in Harlem when the song came out, and it just reminded me of the fact that there are more black men in prison than are employed, and I think that's a horrible injustice."
You're a Mariah Carey fan?
"I like Mariah. I interviewed her in Tokyo when I worked for MTV News and she first played the Tokyo Dome, and I've liked her and her music ever since. It's not something many people expect out of me, but I like Mariah."
What was she like?
"I'm impressed that she writes her own lyrics and did it at a time when she didn't have to, and it's a good comeback story. She managed to reassemble her career and did a good job of it."
How do you find out about music?
"NPR and stuff my friends send me from Singapore, just whatever I happen to catch. I listen to Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW. There's not a single area where I find my music. Stuff on the radio."
What did you listen to growing up?
Did you absorb any music during your time working for MTV that you still listen to now?
"Not really anything now, because that was quite a while ago, but the bands I got to interview then are still very much a part of the music I listen to, like the Beastie Boys, Smashing Pumpkins, Mariah. Those are probably some of my favorites from that time frame. Foo Fighters."
Did you not cover much music native to India and Singapore?
"I did, but that's not the music I listen to now. I'm Indian, so I've grown up listening to Indian music."
What would you recommend to people who are interested in Indian music?
What type of music is that?
"It's Bollywood music, but it's a lot of love songs. Any collection of her greatest hits would be a good introduction for folks."
Tell me why you picked the Dixie Chicks.
"I really liked Shut Up and Sing. I thought that was a great documentary. I grew up in the South, but I never listened to the Dixie Chicks, and after seeing that movie here in Lawrence at Liberty Hall, I had a profound appreciation for their courage, and I got introduced to their music that way."
What about one of your other picks, Rihanna? She's a sexy pop star. Does that contrast with the powerful-woman image?
"I think women can be both those things. I don't think it's a contrast."—Jason Harper
Jay Farrar's Chant and Strum
Many St. Louis musicians hightail it out of the city as soon as they can in hopes that the sunnier pastures of Los Angeles or chillier climes of Chicago will be more welcoming. Save a short stint in New Orleans, Son Volt founder Jay Farrar has lived in south St. Louis for the last 15 years, and he's not going anywhere.
"St. Louis is still very much a city of immigrants, and that—coupled with distinctive, historic neighborhoods—makes for a good quality of life in my estimation," he says. "I'd rather be where the action is percolating, as opposed to where the action is hyped and purported to be."
That low-key attitude informs Son Volt's latest album, The Search. Released earlier this year, the solid release finds jaunty horns and burbling organ adding soulful color to the band's trademark dusty alt-country and gentle twang. Farrar and a four-piece band toured heavily around Search this year; Son Volt also released a limited-edition, extended-vinyl version of the album, On Chant and Strum, and recorded a version of the Beatles' "Hello, Goodbye" for an ESPN commercial touting David Beckham's arrival in L.A.
Farrar's 2008 calendar looks fairly busy already: a few NYC solo shows early in the year, a spring Son Volt tour and the release of another Gob Iron record. (As a matter of fact, that band's Anders Parker reminded Farrar of a 2007 fave: PJ Harvey's White Chalk.)
Still, his packed schedule perhaps explains why Farrar goes out of his way to apologize that many of his 2007 favorites weren't released this year: "It usually takes six months for a new record to get to me, and then another six months of really letting it sink in, and by then it's often a different year."