Interview with Jason Molina of Magnolia Electric Company and Songs:Ohia from 2005 tour. RIP

magnolia-electric-company-in-chicago-illinois-2007I interviewed Jason Molina in May of 2005 for AZNightBuzz, during Magnolia Electric Company’s tour supporting the album “What Comes After the Blues.”  I would have simply supplied a link to the article but Starnet.com, The online presence of The Arizona Daily Star, literally took all the archives from AZNightBuzz offline years ago, and even the Wayback Machine does not have a capture.
I never do this, but below is a transcript of the interview, with some of the Arizona-specific stuff clipped out. He was very pleasant to speak with, and seemed to me to be very dedicated and down-to-earth about music and music making. He also seemed incredibly active and engaged. To paraphrase something he said: at this time in his career, the band had come out of the basement and for the first time, found themselves headlining.
It is tragic what can sometimes happen to wounded, talented people and this news is very sad. I’m posting this in hopes that the interview might provide a small window into his process and creative work-ethic. His music has at times provided me comfort in my dark moods.

Interview after the fold. Here’s the teaser from the original article:

Jason Molina of Magnolia Electric CO speaks with JB about touring, roadside whiffleball, his stellar artistic work ethic, working with Steve Albini and many other things.

Jason Molina is a very hard worker. This idea is all over the press material about him and his various musical endeavors, as well as his music. He’s got the enviable combination of talent and drive, and he writes sturdy songs at an alarming rate. In our conversation he mentions an unreleased EP that will come out in a couple of months, a solo album that never saw the light due to a voice altering cold, and the third Magnolia record which he and the band will record, in three days, as soon as they return from Europe, well after they finish a full US tour. Full interview below.

JB – From looking at the touring schedule and the press info, as well as remembering seeing your name in club listings it seems like you tour all the time.
JM – Pretty much every year there’s a good chunk of the year that’s reserved for touring and then hopefully recording at some point. It’s not a strict-strict schedule, and since we are from the mid-west the winter is not off limits for touring for us because we’re used to having to play and drive in blizzards and snow. A lot of bands just don’t tour in winter, so we find that it’s a really good time to be on the road, you get into better clubs, people are really appreciative that you came out because bands just skip over places like Wisconsin, Cleveland, Fargo, and Minneapolis. So we yeah we do spend a lot of time on the road.

JB – This is roughly the last the last third of the tour.
JM – We’re getting into the last two and a half weeks of our US tour and then we have 10 days to get ready to go to Europe for a month or two.
JB – Aren’t you playing a bunch of dates in Canada at the end of this tour as well?
JM- Yes. We’re going to BC, the Northwest and then later in year we’re going to do a full Canadian tour. We’d love to get up to Newfoundland, we’ve had offers to do a show up there, but it’s very cost prohibitive. It’s a thousand bucks for a ferry and then from there it’s a 10 hour drive each way, so it’s like a thousand bucks for the ferry ride just to get the van to place were we can drive and more or less 20 hours of driving. We wouldn’t even come close to breaking even on that show.

JB – That’s why I think someone needs to invent disposable instruments.
JM – Well you know it’s a typical situation in Europe to have a backline, so if you just flew in they would have amps and drums and things, but since we’ve never played in Newfoundland who knows what kind of gear they might have for us, and to go to all the trouble of doing the show, and if there’s like really sub-standard equipment it would be miserable for everyone, the band included.

JB – How does this tour stack up to the other tours you’ve been on in recent years?
JM – This one is a lot busier, the shows are a lot bigger, there are a lot of sold out shows, especially in the big cities.
JB – That’s got to feel good right?
JM – It does but it’s actually more work, just because were not really playing in basements anymore, and when you’re the headlining band every single night, which we have been, it means you’re the first to arrive at the club, so we have to be at the club at say 5, to get the stuff in and do sound check, and then we don’t play until midnight or one, usually, so we’re here all day and if there’s nothing to do around the club you’re just bored out of your mind.
JB – That’s when you write more songs.

JM- We read a lot and wander around a lot.
JB – Do you wander around while you’re reading, because that might be a little dangerous.
JM – No, we try not to do that, especially if I don’t know the neighborhood.

JB – This is a generic tour question, best moment on the tour so far for you?
JM – I don’t really think about it. I don’t even know were I play from day to day, I don’t look at the tour book because I don’t want to see that oh God, we have 25 shows left and I’m already beat, similarly, the minute that I’m off of the stage I shut off the entire show. . .
But to answer your question, we played two weekend shows in Chicago and sold those both out, that was really exciting because I lived in Chicago a long time and even before I lived there it was a very supportive city for the kind of music we’ve been doing, though there’s been a lot of changes in the style, it’s still nice to see the same people coming back after 10 years.

JB – That’s got to be great. Do you have a funny or horrible story about traveling?
JM – Funny is that we’re crazy about wiffle ball, so anytime we get a chance . . .
JB – Do you have a bumper sticker that says that?
JM- No but we should get one. We play in the desert and it’s very funny probably to see a bunch of rock n roll looking guys on the side of the little two lane highway playing whiffle ball in the desert. We also love fireworks, so once we get into the desert it’s sort of open season to blow shit up.

JB – Some of these questions I am sure you’ve been asked a million times, but I have a question about the name change from Songs:Ohia to Magnolia Electric Company. Why not just use Jason Molina?
JM- I never wanted, I like the collaborative approach to making music, and I think if I’m writing honestly I think I’m putting as much of myself into the music as I can, an I don’t need to put my name only on it. So the name change was basically a 10-year marker. I’d been really, seriously putting out records and touring for about 10 years as Songs:Ohia and I felt like it was time for a change. So that’s pretty much all it was. And it’s sort of settled into a more of the same line-up kind of band.

JB – Do you plan to stick with the current band?
JM- It’s an open door policy, as long as anybody wants to stick it out, that’s great. There are really no rules in the band; just if everybody wants to contribute to my songs I’m happy to have them.

JB – ‘What comes after the Blues’ is a great sounding record.
JM – Thanks. There are 2 Magnolia studio records and there’s a live record, we just finished an EP, 4 or 5 songs which will be a 10 inch, which will come out in June or July, and at the very end of all this touring we’re going to go back to Electrical Audio to record the third studio album with Albini again.

JB – You just answered like 9 questions I had. Tell me about the EP?
JM – We went in the studio at Secretly Canadians request to record an EP. We have a really mean and very accurate cover of Werewolves of London, the Warren Zevon tune. And we were going to put that out with an original, as a 45, but there was a Warren Zevon tribute album recently, and that song was grabbed quickly, because it’s such a recognizable one, so we didn’t want it to seem like somehow we were doing something silly . . .We sincerely like his songwriting a lot, so we were sort of stuck with booked studio time and we didn’t know what we were going to do with it, so I wrote a couple of songs and dug out a couple of songs that had been around for a while but never recorded for various reasons, one is that I never had time to show the material to the band. We had two days to do whatever we wanted to do and I think it’s a really compelling, not one-off kind of record. It has a really distinct sound. We’re really excited about it.

JB – I know its well known about you but what you’ve told me about your process makes it seem like you must write constantly.
JM- It’s my job. Seriously I trained myself because I always worked full time jobs and was still trying to juggle music and that meant that you had to be as productive as you could when you get off of work or before you go to work, so just working everyday on music is natural for me. So now that I’m a full time touring musician, I try not to waste my time.
JB – It’s the perspiration/inspiration ratio.
JM – Absolutely. It doesn’t come easy, and when you do get something that seems really strong as far as a song goes, it’s stuff you really can plan out. It’s the payoff of having written 40 mediocre or bad songs and something comes out of that, it’s just like practicing if you’re an athlete. If you’re not writing you shouldn’t be surprised that when you sit down and really bear down for four or five hours of writing and your getting nothing, that should be no surprise.
JB –Just like any muscle.

JB – Let’s talk about ‘What comes after the Blues’ (Magnolia Electric company’s most recent released full length) a little bit. You recorded the album in three days, all live. Why do you generally record live?
JM – I’ve recorded all the records live because it’s the way that I first made recordings back in my junior high and high school bands. It’s expensive to be in the studio and we would have everything ready to go so they could roll the tape and we would be out of there in 3 hours.
I really love working that way. Everybody has to be really sharp and it allows for the real character of the recording and the engineer, those things become kind of like an extra band member. It becomes really obvious where we recorded the music and the records, if we get out of the way of it and literally play it like were doing a live show.

JB – It’s a very old school style, there’s so much technology available now. . .
JM – Oh man, I can’t even  . . . I still use a typewriter and hand write everything. I couldn’t operate any kind of musical gear. I can run a tape recorder, but I chose, I have educated myself a little on recording I know what I like as an end result and I know how to play my strengths, like editing down a record, like which songs are getting chopped, sequencing the record, worrying about the artwork, that’s the stuff I feel like I contribute a lot more to that side of putting out my records rather than getting into the studio and producing the hell out of it. There’s really no producing at all, we already know the arrangements, we know how to play the songs, or I’ll write em in the morning and then show em to the band and record em.

JB – Very Dylan in 65-66, writing in studio and rolling tape.
JM – Everybody worked that way back then. They also could spend 10-15 days in the studio recording, having access to any musicians in the world. We’re working on a more limited schedule. We’re saying 3 days; we want the record to be done. This upcoming record we’re going to do the same thing, record as much as humanly possible.

JB – How many songs are you working with?
JM – I think we will be working with about fifteen, which will be whittled down to eight, or about 50 minutes.

JB – So tell me how you got involved with Steve Albini?
JM – I was living in Chicago and I was interested in recording a record, I had a lot of new material and I didn’t have a band, I just wanted to go in and do some solo recordings. I just opened up the phone book and looked for studios and I got his number out of the phone book.
JB – Oh my god.
Jm – So Electrical Audio is a very accessible and amazingly competently staffed studio that people shouldn’t be afraid of picking up the phone and saying ‘tell me about your rates and tell me about the studio.’ I made the call and they said: ‘first why don’t you come down and see the studio and see if it’s the kind of place you’d like to make a record in,’ and of course I thought it would be a great match, so I recorded a solo record which I’ve never put out. I unfortunately had a pretty serious cold on the days I had to record so it sounds amazing, it just doesn’t sound like me.
In the course of the next few months I put together a band and had a bunch of other material written so we went in and did the Magnolia record. So we’re really familiar with the studio and we feel really comfortable there and that’s why we’re going to go back. I couldn’t speak highly enough of recording there, especially if you choose to record in a live fashion. I like to describe working with Albini in that studio, the only thing you need to do is set up like you’re playing live and he just puts the mikes around the band. The band is basically delivering and live show in the studio.

*

JB – On the album there are several nods to Hank Williams Sr., and specifically one of his great songs ‘I saw the light.’ What made you decide to make homage to it?
JM – It’s one of the best songs ever written, I think, It’s a song that’s been with me for as long as I can remember. I knew it as a little kid and I don’t know; it’s been a really important touchstone song for me. I couldn’t really explain any specific reason why, but I noticed on the last tour, the one that preceded the material for ‘what comes after the blues,’ we would be doing songs that would have long sprawling guitar solos, like Crazy Horse jam sections, and the band would sort of slip into doing an improvised version of that song. So it was showing up frequently in the sets and I realized I had all these songs that use a lot of the same kind of imagery, maybe not exactly the same, but a lot of the songs I thought were related to that song lyrically, so I started to consciously put down lyrics that related to the theme of that song. It ended up being a whole record of things that ended up referring, not in a hokey way, to that great song.

JB – Lyrically and emotionally there’s a lot of disconnection on the album. People waiting for people not to call, people hanging up in the early few songs, and a lot of sadness and loss throughout. Is that a choice as a songwriter, do you write from sadness, is that a color in your palette . . .
JM – I don’t sit there and say I’m going to write a song about any certain thing. Whatever comes to mind is what becomes the song. I really don’t have a lot of energy left over to try to rationalize a lot of emotional and lyrical choices I make in a song. I feel like I start with a song and I try to follow it to it’s end lyrically. I have a hard time listening to these songs, I don’t like to listen to these songs, sometimes we’ll rehearsing for tour playing songs I haven’t heard since the day I recorded them and it stirs up a lot of shit, but I can’t avoid it, it’s the song, My goal is to do as accurate a delivery of the feeling I had when I wrote that song. I don’t have to go into character ever, I try to write as straightforwardly as I can, I try to write in a way that’s like my personality, if I feel like I’m doing anything false I wouldn’t peruse it, it would immediately get thrown in the trash.

JB – So no foreseeable songs about booty shakin’ in the future?
JM – We love that kind of shit, we laugh at it a lot. Believe it or not there’s a sexy element somehow to the saddest songs.

~ by 15wattLasVegas on March 18, 2013.

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