With a new Magnolia Electric Co. album and 7" arriving this year, plus a Molina/ Will Johnson collaboration on the horizon, DiS took some time to catch up with one of the most prolific, and some might say 'best' songwriters in America today - Jason Molina.
DiS: Can we expect any radical departures on the new record? Is it still called A Map of the Falling Stars? How was working with Steve Albini? Any guests we should know about?
Molina: My feeling is that thematically the record [title: TBC] is still in the long and ever evolving family of songs that would be familiar to those who know my writing. The song structure on the new record is much sharper than prior efforts. I am using a very unwieldy tuning for my guitars and it really gives the songs an eerie feel. Special guests were the band Drakkar Sauna from Lawrence, Kansas. Working with Albini is always great. He leaves us alone. If we have questions he answers them. If we have special requests or ideas he finds a way to make these things happen.
DiS: You've suggested in the past that trees crop up in your art and lyrics because they provide a visual continuity between places... whilst the "ghost" metaphors are related to the transitoriness of the road. How do "stars" relate to this? Given the artwork of the boxset, can we expect more specific/classical myths, in addition to the symbols of the growing Molina-mythos?
Molina: I am still a way out for putting together the artwork [for the new record]. I am convinced by what I have for the cover but inside i hope to have something different and I'm still working on images similar to what is in Sojourner [Box Set of 3 albums + tour-DVD + prints of Molina’s artwork]. About stars. If they appear in songs or in my art I am not able to say they always work in the same way. Generally speaking mountains, valleys, rivers, shores, horizons, are somehow always a boundary. Ghosts, owls, birds, tides, and stars seem to triangulate the flesh and blood [DiS: see, especially, Molina's most romantic, nay erotic, record: The Lioness]. It's complicated to even begin discussing my lyrics. I don't try to entertain or to tell direct stories in these songs. I am just meditating in some cases or the song can be a metaphysical apology or it could simply be the blink of the eye that sees the whole heartbreak and the whole sky falling. I always believed that there could be an entire world in a short song. On the new record we explore some very heavy lyrical territory and the music I feel is grounding these words in a way that is beautiful. The musicians on the session really worked some magic.
DiS: How has it been playing live without Evan Farrell? Was the mood of the record elegiac in places, or celebratory?
Molina: I imagine that it will be a whole lifetime of contemplation about the death of a musician so profound and a friend that I was so close to, we all were. Evan had so many ideas about this new LP. And I tried in my way to carry out as much of what we had in mind as was possible. It really was less of a practical nuts and bolts recording than others. Every record is spiritual in its own way and this one seemed to have been driven by endings. I still have to adjust to it since there is so much material. In the day to day recordings I found just when certain elements of the songs seemed to be at a stopping place there appeared another turn or another element to carry along. I know Evan would be happy with what we recorded. I know he was there the whole time. He'll be always right there over my shoulder.
DiS: How did the collaboration with [Italian noise-duo] Bachi di Pietra work out? Are any recordings likely to surface, as with [essential Songs:Ohia live album] Mi Sei Apparso...? Noise acts (indeed, noise-duos) are enjoying a high profile these days.
Molina: There were some bootlegs of these shows and they'll not be officially released. The shows with Bachi were wonderful. It was a chance to really try and play again the kind of music I was doing in the late 80's. I was never interested in traditional folk music. I did love certain elements of the Carter Family and Hank Williams and started to wonder about the formulas they were using, they were too restrictive for the types of lyrics I was interested in [i.e. detailed narratives requiring long lines]. I always wanted to stay away from the strict parts and allow the lyrics and the music to struggle with themselves and with me if it came to that. In the old formula of songwriting I find that lyrics sometimes land too hard. It makes the song seem too slick even if it is beautiful. There is a place of course for that kind of working and it is great for skill sharpening. I still hope that doing more of the heavy and improvised songs will fill my days. After January, I'll be working on the next project and we'll see how that goes.
DiS: Can you tell us more about the collaboration with Will Johnson [of Texan bands Centro-matic, and Dan’s Silverleaf]? I.e. what did you each bring to the table, and how the project came about?
Molina: That project was wonderful top to bottom. It was beautiful to be out under the Texas sky watching the season change. Writing was very seriously taken by Will and I. We wrote all the time and everyone involved put their back into it. There was no real plan for how the record had to be in the end. Will is a wonderful songwriter and musician and that was a starting point. The most important thing is that not a single record label was involved. He and I paid for everything and then sent the recordings out as if we were starting from scratch. We did the recordings in secret and sent out the first recordings to our friends and then to labels. Secretly Canadian records were on the phone the day they had it on their desk and I am proud that even outside of the formula of Magnolia/Ohia/Molina/Pyramid record-making this is a group that backs my projects. The songs on the Molina/Johnson record are some of Will's finest of all time.
DiS: How was it playing the Rough Trade instore show, last summer? You mentioned that working at a store was a formative experience... can you say some more about that?
Molina: Playing in a record shop is a very strange and cool thing. Having spent years behind the counter and selling used vinyl in college and afterwards it compares to nothing. I like to play in the small shops or the shops I really like to be in. There are bands that do these as strict promotion and others who are just needing a show. I have seen amazing and unknown bands put on a Hell of a show in the tiny little place that is just starting up, or you have the Stooges playing at a shop in Austin [TX]. The record store is part of our lifeblood. If I go to the trouble to make these records and carefully put together a good side A and side B and have quality vinyl and artwork I see the hard work that a good record store is doing. I can tell that there is a good record store in town when I sign autographs and there are all of these people with vinyl under their arms. Sometimes they have things that I don't even have and they tell me that I should just go down to "Landlocked" or "Rough Trade", they have two more copies. Usually if we don't leave too early I will search out these local places and pick up something. I've only bought my own records a few times and that was to give them as gifts. It was strange to sell my own records however. I never knew if I should tell the person buying who I was or not. It was better to keep my mouth shut.
DiS: Circa 2002, your sleevenotes referred to a dark time for America / the world; how do you feel since the election of Barack Obama?
Molina: A CHANGE IS GONNA COME BROTHER!
DiS: What records are you looking forward to this year? If not contemporaries, what old stuff are you (re-) discovering?
Molina: I really am enjoying the new things I hear from Antony & the Johnsons. I have not been out much. I have no idea who's got new things coming. I've been so busy. New Magnolia EP is coming out right away, [then the] Magnolia LP/CD, [the] Molina/Johnson split-LP, solo recording, and touring. The new Bottomless Pit record was my favorite recent purchase.
DiS: What poets & writers are interesting you / informing your work at present?
Molina: I have been really enjoying this 19th century illustrated dictionary/encyclopedia I found. It was cheap and it's in bad shape but it is really rare. The company that printed it was very very scrappy but the material inside is great. There are hundreds and hundreds of things in there that have made me happy. Especially disturbing are some of the descriptions of workhouses.
DiS: Any plans for a book of artwork & lyrics like Mark Kozelek's Nights of Passed Over? Am I right to see hints of Paula Rego & Edvard Munch in your artwork?
Molina: I really like Munch, I've been all over the world and have seen most of his major work. I especially like Cy Twombly and [German Impressionist, Emil] Nolde. I write a lot that never makes it to songs and am planning on doing a book. I have the basic format finished. I'll be working on it until Spring and see where it stands.
Release dates and finalized titles for the Magnolia Electric Co. 7", LP/CD, and Molina/Johnson collaboration will be announced shortly. See secretlycanadian.com for details.
Free downloads by Johnson's band, Centro-matic, are available at www.Daytrotter.com