Jason Molina (Magnolia Electric Co): Interview
Belly Up Tavern, Solana Beach, California
Jason Molina is a busy man. Last year, he released both a solo album (Let Me Go, Let Me Go, Let Me Go) and one with his band, Magnolia Electric Company (Fading Trails). He also recently wrote songs for the soundtracks of two films, the short film Wood Diary and the soon to be released Dream Boy. Touring currently with Son Volt, Magnolia Electric Company will embark on a European tour later this month, including an appearance at All Tomorrow's Parties. And somewhere in all this, Molina takes the time to write every day. Azucar drank Red Stripe with him ('Urray Beer!) near the railroad tracks under the Solana Beach moon to discuss the music, the lyrics, and sleepless nights.
So what do you think your influences were growing up?
I listened to a lot of radio, a lot of AM radio. So whatever would have been on the radio in the '70s I listened to.
Anything that stood out?
No, I mean I listened to like, I remember I really liked '50s, early '60s music. Early rock 'n' roll, I still love that music, but my parents had a great record collection and from the time I was just a little kid I would raid that collection and listen to the things that stand out to this day, the things I still listen to are like Patti Smith, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, you know, they had a really diverse collection -- things like that.
What are you listening to now?
Wow, not anything very very contemporary. I listen to a lot of demos on the road. I get a lot of people coming up to me and give me music and I try to...
You give it a listen?
Yeah, I do and the things that I really enjoy I pass along to labels and friends who might be able to help them out. But, I'm trying to think of what the last brand new released record was... I guess the new My Morning Jacket I've been listening to.
When we hear your lyrics they're so full of imagery, do you give any thought to the visuals of your lyrics?
Well, I think anytime that you are dealing with symbolic lyrics, hand-in-hand with that is maybe the visual part of it. To me that symbolism is all very real. It is not abstract to me. That is the way that I interpret the world so, yeah, I guess there is a visual component but I can easily see a listener catching onto right away.
You don't necessarily see it and then write it?
It does come to me sometimes that way, that's my story, the images, the symbolism, that's my narrative and sometimes I put more effort into making sure the imagery is solid, and then let it tell its own story rather than labor over connecting the A part, to the B part, to the C part.
Okay, I know that you do art, how much of that is the same type of imagery?
None, really, I really do pretty abstract art most of the time, so it's not really tied too tightly.
You have written songs for soundtracks, now how does that change the way you're looking at a situation? How do you go into it differently?
When I am working with film which is something that I am really excited about. Because I have always wanted to do it. It's only recently that I have been getting, what I consider is really high-class material, stuff that I am proud to be working with, like professional quality stuff. I think that, I don't know, I see like a rough sketch sometimes of what the filmmaker has in mind and sometimes I'm really immediately struck by it and I can come up with a lyrical passage that turns into a song that I feel is appropriate and I am using their imagery as a starting point rather than something that I pulled out of thin air on my own. But sometimes I see what the filmmaker has in mind and I just come up with an instrumental part.
Do you see yourself moving in the direction of doing more of that?
Yeah, absolutely, if I get good projects sent my way, I'm definitely game for that.
Last year you talked about releasing, a shitload, like every month...
A shitload's not going to work there.
Where are you guys at with that?
Well, we, actually, that, that project I really meant it when I said it. But we were so busy with touring, any moment that I have that is not on the road and I am not writing, I'm trying to put together a new record. So I think a project like that is just out of the realm of possibility right now for us, as long as we have, I mean, we can be booked a year in advance, if we are not careful. We still need time off to have a life and be, you know, humans again, and so who knows. Something like that, a big project like that could really happen, but right now we are concentrating on touring and putting together the material to record for a new record.
Do you see any other collaborations down the road?
I am always open for collaborations.
None that you are like focused on?
There is nothing right now, that is in the pipeline, no.
Random question. What sort of things keep you up, way late at night?
Nothing really, If I am really anxious about something I usually spend my time writing music to deal with it. If I am laying there awake in bed, you know worried or upset about something, I usually get out of bed and try to write a song. It doesn't necessarily end up to be a song that deals with it directly but sometimes that the starting point for a new piece of music.
Could you discuss how music downloads affect you?
It's hard for me to say. I know that by and large the majority of the music that Magnolia sells and that all of my solo music sells is all from the physical records from independent record stores, from online music stores, from people actually buying the physical record. We have been doing this for a really long time and we were on the cusp of the age of being a band that people first discovered by downloading. So we have a full run of records, singles, and EPs when people didn't download music. So we have a very solid fan base that is also rooted on coming to the show. They pay for the ticket and they buy a t-shirt and they buy a record. Or they go to their local store and they get the record there. It's hard for me to say right now if it affects us negatively or positively. I know that in the negative way, is that if a record is released and immediately it goes online illegally that clearly hurts an independent band. Because when you are talking about maybe 5,000 people downloading your record the first week it comes out, those are record sales that we typically had counted on having. There is no way I can really police that though.
Okay, another random one, in the game Rock Paper Scissors, what do you think is the strongest weapon?
Between writing, recording and performing what is your favorite?
They are all really important, and they are all connected. The writing is special to me. Writing lyrics, writing songs, putting the songs together, that's like a ritual. That is a ritual. The touring is a ritual. Performing becomes a ritual, I say this again and again: I don't approach this from an entertainment point of view. Performing is part of the writing, someone has asked us to play this music for them. I don't put any energy into making it a show. My favorite music, my favorite musicians, don't really put on a show. The show is them playing the songs, and it's just as simple as that. But the rare, rare time for me is the writing. Because on the road you don't get any free time. Here I am doing this interview right now, and if I wasn't doing this interview you know I would be watching Son Volt or whatever band is on stage. It's hard to just race off in a town that you don't know and sit down for two or three hours and just start writing. I don't hide away in the hotel and start writing. It doesn't come together that easily on the road. Because I am not in my environment. But I do write everyday. I know the road to a degree really has become our home. That is why I write everyday and when I get home I can piece together everything that I got and turn it into new songs.
If you weren't a musician what do you think you would be doing?
Its hard to say I have a lot of interests. I think I would probably be doing Art full time, painting or sculpture, something like that.
Last question now. This is for tinymixtapes.com If you were making a mix tape for the road what song would you put first and what song would you put last?
I guess I would put “Strike up the Band” -- that's a Warren Zevon tune, first. The last song would be “Sad Segovia” by The Fucking Champs.
Awesome. Thank you.