Singer, guitarist, songwriter
Songs: Ohia's Jason Molina helped to redefine the independent singer-songwriter genre that developed during the 1990s, along with artists such as Palace's Will Oldham, Smog's Bill Callahan, and Cat Power's Chan Marshall.
Born in the working class town of Lorain, Ohio, Molina grew up on a steady diet of hard rock from the 1960s and 1970s. He told the Tucson Weekly that his parents had "a great record collection" that included "a lot of Patti Smith and Neil Young, Roxy Music, a wide range of songwriter stuff." His parents moved their family between Ohio and West Virginia, and while traveling between the two states Molina picked up a taste for southern rock and old country music.
Molina's first forays into performing took shape while he was playing bass in heavy metal bands around Cleveland. Soon, though, he developed an interest in slightly obscure indie rock, and while honing his gift for songwriting, he began performing solo with just voice and guitar. His early home recordings under the names Songs: Albian, Songs: Radix, and Songs: Unitas were duplicated on cassettes and handed out at his local shows, and they helped solidify his growing fan base. With his specially tuned guitar set to complement his unique voice, Molina quickly became recognized as a musical innovator. In 1996 Molina sent one of his demo tapes to Palace Music's Will Oldham, and Palace released Songs: Ohia's first official single, Nor Cease Thou Never Now…..
Molina's working-class mindset, apparent from his very first recordings, was heavily influenced by his time spent growing up in industrial towns. "It has always followed me," he told Chart's Aaron Brophy. "I know it has something to do with people knowing where I grew up…. It absolutely informed every word out of my mouth. Either in songs or just in my day to day life outside of music."
Although his family couldn't afford to send him to college, Molina won a full scholarship to Ohio's prestigious Oberlin College, and graduated with a degree in art. While there he met Jennie Benford, a musician with whom he would later collaborate on Songs: Ohia records. After graduating, Molina slowly began forming the revolving-door band that would accompany him on his records to follow. However, Songs: Ohia would always be Molina's project, regardless of whether or not he was performing with others.
The first Songs: Ohia full-length album, a self-titled release, emerged in 1997 on the Secretly Canadian label, based in Bloomington, Indiana. Molina's relationship with the label grew, and the two became symbiotically linked. Songs: Ohia became the flagship band for the label, and they put nearly all of their promotional energy into Molina's music.
With 1998's Impala under his belt and a slew of singles and EPs set for release, Molina's popularity was on the rise. He was also in the fortunate position of being able to produce all of his albums on the smallest of budgets. In fact, right down to the tape on which the songs were recorded, everything that Molina required to produce his records—studio time, session musicians, and instruments—was donated to him. At about this time he moved to Chicago in order to immerse himself in its burgeoning avant rock scene. He was able to make use of his art degree by obtaining a day job at the city's Art Institute, while plying his musical trade by night.
His next album for Secretly Canadian, Axxess & Ace, was recorded in just over two days, and garnered much critical praise, setting Molina on a path of full-time performing, touring, and recording. Molina usually opted to play his tours alone or with pick-up bands from the country he was visiting, due to the costs of bringing along a full touring band. During the European leg of the Axxess & Ace supporting tour, Molina met up with Scottish band Arab Strap. Alasdair Roberts of Appendix Out and Aidan Moffat of Arab Strap then accompanied Molina on the tour. They soon found they had much in common, and the Scots agreed to record two albums with Molina. Those records, The Lioness and Ghost Tropic, were released in 2000. The Lioness, recognized for its stylistic about-face, incorporated much of Arab Strap's analog-electronic sound rather than Molina's sparse acoustic tone.
The next and final Songs: Ohia album, Didn't It Rain, was released in 2002. Exclaim! called it "A sparse and gorgeous record, on which Jason Molina proves himself not only a wonderful writer, but composer and conductor." As with some of his previous records, Didn't It Rain was also a one-take recording hashed out with Molina's musician friends during a few days in the studio.
Molina then moved on to other collaborative projects, one under the name Amalgamated Sons of Rest, with Oldham and Roberts. He also recorded a self-titled debut as Magnolia Electric Co. with a new full band. Steve Albini headed up the project at his Electrical Audio studio in Chicago. For Molina, working with Albini was a dream come true. He told Paste that Albini "hard-earns his knowledge…I know he can engineer a great sounding record, but that doesn't mean as much to me as the fact that he is one of my favorite guitarists and songwriters."
Molina received the best critical response of his career when he brightened up his sound with a full band and decided to take the focus off himself and simply be a part of Magnolia Electric Co. "It sort of makes special this grouping of players," he told Rockpile. "Every time I've put together a band for a record, they're never on another record with me. Since I'm the blood and guts thread from record to record, it overstates my importance in the record. It takes away too much from the players' contributions and it somehow focuses the whole record on me."
Molina's next record, under the name Pyramid Electric Co., was originally intended as a companion for the Magnolia Electric Co. release. However, the solo project, engineered by Lullaby for Working Class's Mike Mogis, was so strong that it warranted its own release, also earning praise from the music press.
After each release Molina was never content to sit back or even revisit old ways. "I can do better," he told Rockpile's Brian Baker. "My next one, I'm already sweating it," he said of his Pyramid Electric Co.'s release. "Since the day I walked out of the studio, I've been working on the next one."
Molina has continued to move around, temporarily settling in Bloomington. He told Chart, "I move around a lot. I've never been able to settle down. Maybe I'm part gypsy or something. I don't mean to be, because I certainly love places…. Before I was a touring musician I really had to learn to absorb as much as I could, good or bad, from a place while I was there instead of always worrying about the final resting place. Maybe there's not going to be a final settling down for me."
"Nor Cease Thou Never Now…," Palace, 1996.
Songs: Ohia, Secretly Canadian, 1997.
Hecla & Griper (EP), Secretly Canadian, 1997.
Impala, Secretly Canadian, 1998.
Axxess & Ace, Secretly Canadian, 1999.
Ghost Tropic, Secretly Canadian, 2000.
The Lioness, Secretly Canadian, 2000.
Protection Spells, Secretly Canadian, 2000.
Didn't It Rain, Secretly Canadian, 2002.
(As Magnolia Electric Co.) Magnolia Electric Co., Secretly Canadian, 2003.
For the Record …
Began performing in Cleveland heavy metal bands, late 1980s; performed under the names Songs: Albian, Songs: Radix, and Songs: Unitas in the early 1990s; recorded his first single as Songs: Ohia, 1996; signed with Secretly Canadian label, 1997; released debut album, Songs: Ohia, 1997; for same label, released Hecla & Griper, 1997; Impala, 1998; Axxess & Ace, 1999; The Lioness, 2000; Ghost Tropic, 2000; Didn't It Rain, 2002; began recording as Magnolia Electric Co. and as Pyramid Electric Co., 2003.
Addresses: Record company—Secretly Canadian, 1021 South Walnut St., Bloomington, IN 47401, website: http://www.secretlycanadian.com. Website—Songs: Ohia Official Website: http://www.songsohia.com.
(As Pyramid Electric Co.) Pyramid Electric Co., Secretly Canadian, 2003.
Chart (Toronto, Ontario), May 2003.
Exclaim!, January 2003.
Mojo, February 2003.
Paste, February 2003.
Rockpile, May 2003.
Tucson Weekly, November 30, 2000.
"Songs: Ohia," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 25, 2004).
Additional information was provided by Secretly Canadian publicity materials, 2004.
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