:: Magnolia Electric Co. :: Fox Theatre :: April 7 ::
By Cornelia Kane
The Magnolia Electric Co. doesn’t really dabble in being a utility provider, but it has become known as the go-to power plant of powerfully tragic, indie folk rock goodness.
The Magnolia Electric Co. is better known as the brainchild of singer/songwriter Jason Molina, who has been recording and touring for the last decade or so both as a solo artist and with an ever-changing band, mostly under the name Songs: Ohia.
Originally from Ohio, Molina is a true iconoclast, who self-recorded and released numerous albums and EPs before being the first artist signed to the now well-known and respected independent label Secretly Canadian.
In a recent interview with The Marquee, Molina told the story of how he came together with the owners of the label. “They said, ‘Hey, we’re going to start this label and we want our first release to be something of yours.’ So, two of the guys flew half-way across the country to see me play some gig. After the show I presented them with an entire finished album, a seven-inch. I figured that if they came that far to see me play, they must really be serious. I felt I should contribute something too,” he said.
Molina has remained true to his roots and has released over 20 full-length albums, EPs and singles on the label since 1997. “Being on an independent matters utterly to me. I’ve been with Secretly Canadian since the beginning. It’s been 10 years now and I know they truly love the music. Of course there’s a business aspect too, but they definitely always put the artist first, before the dollar sign,” Molina said.
With an esoteric voice that has been compared to Neil Young, a store of dreamy, melancholy melodies and lyrics ready to make listeners hum and cry into their beer at the same time, Molina has perfected the art of the sad song that is still somehow catchy. His trademark lo-fi recording style gives his albums an old-fashioned ambience.
In the early days when Molina was self-releasing cassette recordings, he gave each project a new name that contained a reference to the songs on the tape. Some typically cryptic examples include Songs: Radix and Songs: Unitas (all of the recordings started with the “Songs:” prefix). Several early sessions were recorded with a ukulele and vocals. The Ohia is a Hawaiian tree and Molina is from Ohio and somehow the connection was made and Songs: Ohia became the title of a series of early recordings, and eventually the permanent stage name for Molina and the rotating cast of musicians that made up the various incarnations of his band.
Then in 2003, Songs: Ohia released an album titled Magnolia Electric Co. that struck many listeners as a fairly drastic departure from the decidedly lo-fi sound of much of the Songs: Ohia catalog. The album was recorded by Steve Albini (producer of Pixies, Nirvana, PJ Harvey) with a full band and a female backup vocalist and the result was a much fuller, richer sound. The album also did not contain the name Songs: Ohia anywhere in the packaging, and though it is officially still counted as a Songs: Ohia release, Molina officially changed the name of the band to Magnolia Electric Co. for the next album, 2005’s What Comes After the Blues. After a live album and an EP, the newly incarnated Magnolia Electric Co. now has a new full-length and is embarking on an ambitious tour in support of it.
“It was hard work!” Molina said of the latest album, 2007’s full-length Fading Trails. The album was recorded in several sessions at different locations with different producers, including the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis, Albini’s Electrical Audio in Chicago and Sound of Music Studios in Richmond, Va., with David Lowery (ex-frontman of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, now turned producer).
“I write the lyrics and the music; the skeleton of the song, then I bring it to the whole band and we work on the mechanical arrangement,” Molina said, referring to the fact the he is, in fact, the principal and only songwriter in the band.
Over the years, Molina has stayed busy in between Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. gigs, collaborating on albums with artists such as Will Oldham (better known as Bonnie “Prince” Billy) and releasing a split EP with My Morning Jacket, as well as releasing solo albums and displaying his own visual art.
Molina recently returned from a month-long solo tour of Europe and immediately hit the road for a string of dates with ex-Uncle Tupelo front man Jay Farrar’s band Son Volt. The mellow alt-country of Son Volt seems a fitting compliment to the Magnolia Electric Co.’s brand of plaintive, gothic-folk lullabies, but Molina isn’t even sure whose idea the tour was. “It was never a sit-down meeting,” he says in a puzzled tone. “We were honored to be asked.”
:: Magnolia Electric Co. ::
:: Fox Theatre :: April 7 ::
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