Songs: Molina

Magnolia Electric Co. are not a second-rate Crazy Horse.

Jason Molina started out as a bass-playing metal-obsessed kid, but even in junior high, he was writing original songs while everyone else was doing crappy covers of Judas Priest tunes. At the same time, he was also into Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Patti Smith—all staples of his parents' record collection. When his much older bandmates went off to college and full-time jobs at the beginning of the '90s, Molina found himself searching for a way to present his music as a solo artist. Picking up the guitar, he found himself gravitating toward the indie-folk scene and eventually began recording under the moniker Songs: Ohia.

More than a decade later, Molina has crafted nearly two dozen albums, some filled with stark, introspective, acoustic music akin to that of Will Oldham (his friend and occasional collaborator), as well as smoldering roots rock with Magnolia Electric Co., the band he's led since retiring the Songs: Ohia name in 2003. In keeping with that prolific streak, Molina's in the middle of releasing six full-lengths. It started with the August release of Let Me Go, Let Me Go, Let Me Go, his stripped-down solo album, and continued with last month's Magnolia Electric Co. album, Faing Trails. The Magnolia discs set to come soon include collaborations with David Lowery and longtime engineer Steve Albini, as well as a session done at Memphis' legendary Sun Studios. We recently spoke with the Chicago-based Molina about his seemingly inexhaustible productivity.

Seattle Weekly: Were you ever worried about overkill, releasing all of these albums so close together?

Jason Molina: Really, the way I look at it is, if I'm writing stuff I feel is worth putting out and I have a venue for it, if I have a label that will back it, then I should just do it, because there will be a time when maybe I won't have that luxury.

I've read that for every bunch of songs you put out, you've tossed dozens, if not hundreds, more?

Yeah, well, it's work, you know? I'm not sentimental about everything I write. That's not to say that music doesn't mean everything to me, because it does—I literally am one of those people that when they say, 'I don't know what else to do,' I really mean it. I spend three hours a day practicing guitar and probably another four to six hours writing songs. But, for example, My Morning Jacket was in town. . . . I was hanging out with 'em backstage, and then after I left, I realized that I had lost a book of lyrics for this new record I'm writing. It probably had 200 pages of lyrics and, like, first drafts of songs with all the music written in there and everything. And I hadn't done any demos yet or anything, so the whole thing was lost. So I just took a deep breath and was like, 'OK, it's gone.' An hour later, [MMJ frontman] Jim James walked up to me with my notebook, but by then I had totally resigned myself to having lost what was probably hundreds of hours of work.

You weren't completely freaking out?

Nah, I wasn't stressed about it at all, really. I was like, 'Well, I just gotta get back to work.' I wasn't going to even try to re-envision what I had lost. I was like, 'OK, that's gone, let's go; let's start new.' If you work every day at it, you know that all you have to do is start working and it'll be all right.

Does it ever bug you that you get compared to Neil Young and Crazy Horse a lot, especially after [the 2005 Magnolia Electric Co. album] What Comes After the Blues?

Not really. I mean, I've got a high voice, I have one foot in the roots of country and mountain music and one foot in hard- hitting, crunchy guitar music; but what does bum me out is when people believe we're trying to duplicate those Crazy Horse records. I mean, there's no way, having grown up listening to that stuff, that it's not gonna appear somehow as an imprint on the kind of music we make, but it's not like we ever consciously try to do it. But, you know, there will never be a day when people don't compare bands to other bands. If an alien fell out of the sky and made music using only sine waves, someone would figure out a way to compare it to . . . I dunno, Faust. But yeah, I'm really happy with this new batch of things. Every album is so different that there's no way anybody's gonna say, 'Oh, I see they still just wanna be this crappy bar-band version of Crazy Horse.' There's no way.

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