Remembering Jason Molina: Grand Lake Islands’ Tribute

grand-lake-islands

As part of a series called “Remembering Jason Molina,” I’m collecting stories about Jason and his impact on songwriters, musicians, and music writers. These are all individual tributes, on how Jason has affected their music, their perception of music, or just anecdotes on meeting him or seeing him live. Each story is posted to promote the new album Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina, which not only celebrates Jason’s music, but will also help the Molina family and MusiCares with its proceeds.

I realize that I should be posting more often, but not-so-great things and stress at work have been happening, and they have just brought me down. So, I have been focusing all of my energy on the not-so-great things, work, family, relationships, etc. hoping that things will eventually turn the corner and head in the right directions. But, enough about me, this post is about Erik of Grand Lake Islands and his memories of Jason.

Below, Erik Emanuelson, the lead of the collective Grand Lake Islands, remembers a space and time in his life when Jason’s music helped him make sense of his own thoughts. His reflection of those lonely, dark nights can certainly be heard and felt in his haunting cover of “Alone with the Owl.”

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Writing about someone you never knew is always a challenge. My perception of Jason Molina is reflective of my own life. Unfortunately, I never got the opportunity to see Jason play, let alone meet him. Yet somehow, I can say without question, that his music and spirit, at least how i’ve projected them, have meant more to me than words can duly express.

One of the only redemptive aspects of Jason Molina’s tragic passing has been the way people have sort of come out of the shadows to express the way that Jason’s music at once clawed at and nurtured the most remote and personal places in our souls. In my opinion, Jason’s music is best experienced alone. Even though you can appreciate the talent of a songwriter like Jason, a complete communion with his work comes in moments of solitude, when you are both inward and open. Jason’s music reaches me like a dream; I can feel it, but can’t explain it. The feelings that his music evokes, the places that it touches are so real, but when I try to explain them my words seem to fail.

I first came across Jason’s music in college, but I gave it little attention and it sat around, largely ignored for awhile. After living in Brooklyn for three years years, my girlfriend and I decided to leave New York City and move to Portland. Portland is beautiful, but when I got here, the sweet summer was giving way to that fabled northwest gloom. I started to have substantial doubts about my life decisions. Aside from my fiance, Robin, I didn’t know anyone. I had quit my job as a teacher in New York to pursue music more whole-heartedly; it was a terrifying decision.

A few months in, the cold, lonesome reality of our decision was starting to show her teeth. I got a dead end job at a coffee shop chain a few miles from my house, and when I got out at night, I’d ride my bike or walk home. It was during these walks, lost in my own world, that I truly discovered Jason’s music. Starting with Magnolia Electric Co, I worked backwards and then forwards, hovering around Didn’t It Rain and Ghost Tropic. Jason’s high and lonesome quiver was meditative, but ominous. It was like driving down a straight highway in the dead of night, the amber lights in lonely buildings glowing even though there was no one inside. There was a comfort and a sadness in these feelings, a foreboding peace. I had given up my old life and my old coast, and moments of searching for affirmation usually left me disappointed. Yet somehow I knew that I had made the decision I needed to make.

I soon discovered a copy of Let Me Go, Let Me Go, Let Me Go that I had completely forgotten I had randomly bought in New York. One day I dug it out of a stack of records and put it aside, eagerly waiting for the right moment to put it on. I waited until I had the house to myself, turned off the lights, laid on the floor, and played it loudly. In my life I cannot remember an album that carried the same impact upon my first listen. I was floored. A specter drifted across a big empty room singing, “Behind these eyes, a desert spirit”. The voice and the lyrics reflected someone who so badly wanted to give up but could not regress to apathy.

For me, nights like these were redemptive. Sitting on my floor staring at the rain-blurred lights of the West Hills, I drifted off with Jason’s records on repeat. With those records as the soundtrack to lonely nights when Robin was at work, I began to make sense of my thoughts. Slowly, my life in Portland started to take form.

It was right around this time that I heard the news of Jason’s death. I was at work, reading some blog on my break. I returned to work in a daze and relayed the news to a coworker. Her response was, “People die, get over it”. Seeing that we never really saw eye to eye, I should have anticipated her unsympathetic reaction. I didn’t take it well, and snapped back at her before retreating into a silent despondency for the remainder of my shift. It was if someone I had just come to know had been lost to me. From this point on my connection with his music grew even stronger. I read tribute after tribute, watched interviews, tried to get to the bottom of whatever had happened to him— as if it was something that could be understood. On tours with my own band, I waited until everyone was asleep in the van late and put on Songs: Ohia records and let my thoughts drift over the long, straight stretches of I-5.

As I type, I am sitting on a flight back to Portland from Boston. The piercing blues and whites of the half frozen Great Lakes loom below me. As I marvel at their harsh beauty, I think of all the time Molina must have spent around them, contemplating their vastness. Every time I meet someone with a strong lean towards Molina’s music, I feel an immediate kinship, as if that person had also gone to the same desolate mountaintop or sat silent and alone in a boat on the some peaceful midnight lake, experiencing the great polarities—beauty and loneliness, elation and sorrow.

– Erik Emanuelson, Grand Lake Islands

 

 

Purchase Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina: Amazon; iTunes
Jason Molina: Website; Secretly Canadian; Graveface Records
Magnolia Electric Co.: Website; Secretly Canadian; Facebook
Grand Lake Islands: WebsiteBandcampFacebook; Twitter; Instagram

 

Best Albums of 2015

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Wow! Another year has gone by without much blogging, but I’m still listening to what’s out there. So, here are my favorite albums of twenty-fifteen, and here’s to hoping and wishing that my job will allow me to write more in twenty-sixteen… But, you know what they say about wishes.

10. Where in Our Woods, Elephant Micah

9. All Your Favorite BandsDawes

8. High On Tulsa HeatJohn Moreland

7. Coming HomeLeon Bridges

6. Something More Than FreeJason Isbell

5. WindfallJoe Pug

4. Swan City VampiresWill Johnson

3. This Is The LifeAndrew Bryant

2. Over and EvenJoan Shelley

1. TravellerChris Stapleton

Anna & Elizabeth – Anna & Elizabeth

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Lately, most things Appalachian is making a resurgence, especially the folk music. Appalachia is concentrated in western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, western North Carolina, eastern Kentucky, and eastern Tennessee; however, it is important to realize that West Virginia is the only state that can be considered entirely Appalachian. So, as a West Virginian — born and raised — it isn’t hard for me to distinguish authentic Appalachian folk music or good folk music in the Appalachian vein, and I must say that Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle are shining examples of this music tradition. Combining their love of storytelling, interest in the Appalachian music, and their beautiful voices, Anna and Elizabeth do this folk tradition a-world of justice on their new self-titled album, Anna & Elizabeth.

Traditionally, Appalachian music has been centered around the guitar, banjo, dulcimer, mandolin, fiddle, etc., and you can hear most of these instruments on the album, however they’re sparse embellishments that give room for the duo’s harmonies making each song sound as old as the mountains yet as fresh as the mountain air. Their honest, salt-of-the-earth vocals are indicative of the rugged landscape singing about familiar themes of the region — religion, love, death, and work. The amount of respect these ladies have shown the tradition and ultimately the Appalachian culture through these collective songs is extraordinarily reverent and sincere, and that is what I appreciate most about this album. Anna and Elizabeth are world-class preservationists without the pretension because they not only sing the Appalachian songs, they know region firsthand. They do not pay lip-service to Appalachian music simply because it’s what is in vogue, but they have lived it and loved it, and it definitely shows on this album.





Purchase Anna & Elizabeth
Anna & Elizabeth: Website; Facebook; Twitter

Remembering Jason Molina: Erin Osmon’s Tribute

Erin_Osmon

As part of a series called “Remembering Jason Molina,” I’m collecting stories about Jason and his impact on songwriters, musicians, and music writers. These are all individual tributes, on how Jason has affected their music, their perception of music, or just anecdotes on meeting him or seeing him live. Each story is posted to promote the new album Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina, which not only celebrates Jason’s music, but will also help the Molina family and MusiCares with its proceeds.

It has been a while since the last Molina tribute, so I thought I’d post one while I had some downtime at work. Erin Osmon is a music and culture writer who has written about Jason and Magnolia Electric Co.. After his death, Pitchfork commissioned Erin to write “Hold On Magnolia”, a longform piece for their print publication, The Pitchfork Review, which delves into Jason’s life and the creation of his most epic album, Magnolia Electric Co.. Erin is also in the process of publishing her forthcoming book about Jason, Riding With the Ghost, which you can read an excerpt on SPIN. Erin was also kind to write a little something about Jason and the Songs:Ohia album that has has impacted her as a music writer and fan.

Photo by Noah Kalina.

Photo by Noah Kalina.

Jason Molina’s feral trill seeded itself in my consciousness in 1997, when I was 17, and the song “Cabwaylingo” (aka “Vanquisher”) traveled via mixtape from some exotic urban locale to my hometown of Evansville, IN, where the only record store was a Coconuts Music & Movies and local all ages shows were held in church basements and dilapidated biker bars. I’d been reared on the Michael Jackson, Hall & Oates, Neil Young, Beatles and Tom Petty Records my parents preferred, and like many small-town teens feeling stifled in the grips strip malls and chain diners, I swiftly “rejected” that of my parents upon learning of alternative acts such as Nirvana, Jane’s Addiction, Pavement, The Lemonheads, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, Sebadoh and The Pixies.

Despite the cultural subjugation of our hometown, the teeny, insular creative community of my friends—the writers and photographers and painters and musicians—was fiery and churning, and always traveling (much to the dismay and/or ignorance of our parents) to absorb the largely Midwestern music scene we’d learned of via mixtapes from older siblings and friends in college, and mail-order catalogues from labels in Louisville, Champaign, Bloomington and Chicago. By the time my 16th year landed, I was fully hooked on the Midwest’s interpretations of punk and indie, the wild sounds wafting through my baby blue ’86 Honda Civic (aka “The Mini Fridge”) via cheap cassette rips of 7″ records and LPs.

I’d sojourned through The Palace Brothers’ ghostly indie-folk, but it wasn’t until these words poured from Molina’s mouth that I laid roots in what I estimated was the closest thing to my parent’s Neil Young and Tom Petty (which I’d always loved in secret) and the underground alters I bowed to:

“They come in sorry for the second vanquisher
To have so much to pretend
Themselves not so against
Though overtaken
This we’ll survive, surviving those
Against the smell of rope through pulley sing
There are fewer greater losses known
They have their affect they have their ransom
This will survive
You’re all I think, this thing set troublin’
It will not end without brevity
Against the smell of hope through measuring
There are fewer greater former ghosts
We have our affect we have our ransom
This we’ll survive”

It was the first time that punk and folk didn’t feel mutually exclusive, its no frills production meeting breathtaking and timeless lyricism in one transcendent swoop. It was a marriage made in heaven to my pubescent ears and writerly aspirations, and I saved what little remained of a TCBY paycheck to snag a copy of The Black Album, which I think I scored at ear X-Tacy in Louisville, though it might have been TD’s CDs and LPs in Bloomington, where I’d later move to attend Indiana University (and to be closer to the music scene where bands like The Impossible Shapes, Japonize Elephants, and The Panoply Academy held tenure in the early and experimental days of Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar). Turns out I’d never really know Jason, as he took off for Chicago the same year I arrived in Bloomington, but I’d get to know all of his songs. And I’d get to know his performances, where he’d mesmerize a crowd, or swiftly tell it to fuck off. He didn’t demand much, other than to work and to be heard.

Over the years I’d collect the majority of his musical output and adore much of it—Didn’t It Rain and The Magnolia Electric Co., most notably. But The Black Album and “Cabwaylingo,” with its central theme of survival amidst turmoil via beautifully cryptic Civil War imagery, would become a through line of my adult life.

“This we’ll survive” it rallied, through my roommate’s stereo, after I was laid off from my first real job in Indianapolis, IN.

“This we’ll survive” it reminded, in the midst of a horrible stint in Baltimore, MD, when the song poured out of bar speakers during my first visit to a dive called The Idle Hour.

“This we’ll survive” it insisted, through my first set of ear buds, as I was near starving and exhausted trying to carve a path to a writing career in Chicago, IL.

“This we’ll survive” it comforted, through my second (and last) car’s speakers, as I escaped the noise of a packed funeral to breathe through the overwhelming effects of the loss of my mother to pancreatic cancer in Evansville, IN.

I’m not writing a book about Jason because he died. I’m writing a book about Jason because he truly lived, unwavering and intentional, always in engaged in the creative lifecycle of song, from The Black Album to his very last days. His ethos is invariably valuable, as is the vast catalog of albums and tomes of tales he left behind.

— Erin Osmon






Purchase Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina: Amazon; iTunes
Jason Molina: Website; Secretly Canadian; Graveface Records
Magnolia Electric Co.: Website; Secretly Canadian; Facebook
Erin Osmon: Website

Remembering Jason Molina: Jeffrey Fields’s Tribute

morningriverband

As part of a series called “Remembering Jason Molina,” I’m collecting stories about Jason and his impact on songwriters, musicians, and music writers. These are all individual tributes, on how Jason has affected their music, their perception of music, or just anecdotes on meeting him or seeing him live. Each story is posted to promote the new album Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina, which not only celebrates Jason’s music, but will also help the Molina family and MusiCares with its proceeds.

Today’s tribute comes from Jeffrey Fields, the frontman for Philly’s Morning River Band. Although Jeffrey never met Jason, he has been greatly influenced by his music and songwriting as evident in his short but reverent tribute below. Morning River Band has also contributed a raucous and celebratory version of “Whip-poor-will”, which I have included at the end of the post. Oh, yeah, and be sure to check out Morning River Band’s new EP, Abyssal Channeling, due out on May 29th. I think you’ll like it.

Photo by Amrit Singh

Photo by Amrit Singh

Few who frequent Jason Molina’s world of ringing bells, blue lights, and black crows return unchanged… some don’t return at all. Those who do emerge with the realization that Jason’s songs are mirrors. Those little, sad eyes staring back from inside the music are your own. Though the creator of that universe has passed on, his work remains. The choir continues to wail through the fog; and, so long as man has ears to hear, the double tongues will sing. Farewell, Jason. Though I hardly knew you, you weren’t hard to love.

— Jeffrey Fields






Purchase Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina: Amazon; iTunes
Jason Molina: Website; Secretly Canadian; Graveface Records
Magnolia Electric Co.: Website; Secretly Canadian; Facebook
Morning River Band: Website; Facebook; Twitter; Instagram; Bandcamp

Remembering Jason Molina: William Matheny’s Tribute

WilliamMatheny

As part of a series called “Remembering Jason Molina,” I’m collecting stories about Jason and his impact on songwriters, musicians, and music writers. These are all individual tributes, on how Jason has affected their music, their perception of music, or just anecdotes on meeting him or seeing him live. Each story is posted to promote the new album Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina, which not only celebrates Jason’s music, but will also help the Molina family and MusiCares with its proceeds.

As I sit at work waiting for my emails to archive, I thought now would be a good time to post a tribute … So, here we go.

William Matheny is a singer-songwriter and musician from West Virginia, and has been a member of a few local and not-so local bands — one being a little band called Southeast Engine on Misra Records. He has also been known to do his own thing, but either way you cut it, William is a talented guy doing his state proud. So, it is no wonder that he has agreed to pay tribute to a fellow songwriter and honorary Mountaineer with a few words and a terrific cover of “Just Be Simple”.

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Although I’d been peripherally aware of it since 2003 or so, I didn’t become fully immersed in the music of Jason Molina until the autumn of 2008. I had just beaten out some not particularly stiff competition to join a band from Athens, OH called Southeast Engine. The only other applicant for the position wasn’t available to play shows on Saturday nights. I could play on Saturdays and I had also just bought a van, so that may have had something do with my getting the job.

Southeast Engine had the good fortune of sharing a booking agent with Magnolia Electric Company (a steadfast captain of the stormy sea of independent rock booking named Erik Carter), but more relevant to the story at hand, my new bandmates were huge MEC/Songs: Ohia fans. It didn’t take much time in the van before I had become enamored with the songs, with Molina’s inimitable phrasing and, more than anything, with the mystery of this music.

As of this writing, the aforementioned van now has 148,646 miles on its odometer and the music of Jason Molina has been a faithful companion nearly the whole way. I have vivid memories of blasting “Farewell Transmission” while driving through the mountains of western Colorado under a bright full moon. I remember listening to “Hammer Down” on vast emptiness of I-90W somewhere in North Dakota. I remember starting every morning for months with “O! Grace.”

As an interpreter, Molina always seemed to know exactly which cards not to show, and with his deep body of work created music that is somehow both haunting and comforting in equal measure. There’s something inherently unknowable about it that hundreds of listens later I still can’t entirely put my finger on.

I’m joined on this track by Bud Carroll (drums, pedal steel), Ian Thornton (bass) and Bradley Jenkins (vocals). I chose “Just Be Simple” because it so wonderfully articulates the struggle for a satisfied mind. It might be simple, but it isn’t easy. Thanks for everything, Jason.

— William Matheny

Purchase Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina: Amazon; iTunes
Jason Molina: Website; Secretly Canadian; Graveface Records
Magnolia Electric Co.: Website; Secretly Canadian; Facebook
William Matheny: Facebook; Bandcamp

Remembering Jason Molina: Lil’ BUB’s Tribute

Lil_Bub_2013_(crop_for_thumb)

As part of a series called “Remembering Jason Molina,” I’m collecting stories about Jason and his impact on songwriters, musicians, and music writers. These are all individual tributes, on how Jason has affected their music, their perception of music, or just anecdotes on meeting him or seeing him live. Each story is posted to promote the new album Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina, which not only celebrates Jason’s music, but will also help the Molina family and MusiCares with its proceeds.

It’s no secret that I love cats. I have more than any normal person should. You see, I have 6 of them — 3 at my house and 3 at my boyfriend’s. I did have seven, but my oldest, Miss Kitty, passed away in February at the age of fourteen. I still miss her very much. So, it isn’t any surprise when I say that the photo of Jason cradling a cat in his arms is my favorite picture. Each time I see it, it brings a smile to my face. It has also led me to ask if Jason was a cat-person. And, here is what I found out …

Bhaji

Bhaji

Jason was actually a dog person but liked all animals. However, that all changed in 2000 when Jason and his wife Darcie rescued a cat — Bhaji — from a no-kill shelter. They developed a close friendship, and, during their time together, Jason would write silly songs and draw many pictures of Bhaji. Sadly, Bhaji passed away in 2014, a year after Jason. But, Bhaji wasn’t the only cat that Jason loved. He loved all of Steve Albini’s cats, and he would have loved Lil’ BUB had they met. Their love of magic would have been an instant bond.

BUB has listed Magnolia Electric Co.’s Josephine as one of her favorite albums and her Dude was a close friend, so I asked if she would like to say a few words about him. This is what she wrote …

jason-molina-Bcat

While I never met Jason in person, I had a close spiritual and magical connection with him through the friends we’ve shared. My dude and his closest friends played with him in his band and recorded his music, so we were bonded by the magic that comes from music, love, and friendship. We are also both very small, so we had that in common too. While he may not be with us in physical form, we all know that his music lives on. But more importantly, his spirit lives on through his music, and through his friends. As a magic space cat, I am able to see and hear him all around, and I know that he is feeling better and stronger than ever. I look forward to meeting him face to face, in the future, in deep space.

— Lil’ BUB

Also, please consider donating what you can afford to Lil’ BUB’s Big Fund For The ASPCA.






Purchase Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina: Amazon; iTunes
Jason Molina: Website; Secretly Canadian; Graveface Records
Magnolia Electric Co.: Website; Secretly Canadian; Facebook
Lil’ BUB: Website; Facebook; Twitter; YouTube; Instagram; Tumblr