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”.
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