Jason Molina started out as an Iron Maiden-obsessed, bass-playing metal kid. At the same time, he was into Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Patti Smith. In the early '90s, when his much older bandmates went off to college and got full-time jobs, Molina found himself searching for a way to present his music as a solo artist. Picking up the guitar, the Chicago-based songwriter gravitated 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 preparing to release six full-lengths over the next several months, starting with the August release of Let Me Go, Let Me Go, Let Me Go, his stripped-down solo album. The five Magnolia discs set to follow include collaborations with David Lowery and longtime engineer Steve Albini, as well as a session done at Memphis's legendary Sun Studios. We recently spoke with Molina about his seemingly inexhaustible productivity.
Westword: Were you ever worried about overkill, releasing all of these albums so close together?
Magnolia Electric Co.
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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?
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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 the other day to play Taste of Chicago, and I went over to see them. 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, 'Okay, 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, 'Okay, 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.