Jason Molina could break your heart with just a few notes. His voice, and the sadness it conveyed, was that moving.
The Lorrain, Ohio, native was one of the most compelling figures in the indie scene, with Songs:Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co., from the late '90s through 2009, when he withdrew musically. It was no secret that he was struggling alcoholism and health problems.
His label, Secretly Canadian, issued a statement today that he died on Saturday:
"We are deeply saddened to announce that Jason Andrew Molina passed away in his home in Indianapolis this past Saturday, March 16th of natural causes at age 39. Jason was a world class musician, songwriter & recording artist. He was also a beloved friend. He first caught international attention in 1996 when he began releasing albums under the name Songs: Ohia. In 2003 he started the band Magnolia Electric Co. Between those two bands he released over a dozen critically-acclaimed albums and, starting in 1997, he toured the world every year until he had to stop in 2009 to deal with severe alcoholism. Jason was incredibly humbled by his fans’ support through the years and said that the two most important words he could ever say are 'Thank you.' "
Molina was well-loved among fans and indie musicians here, and played a number of memorable shows here, at Garfield Artworks, Club Cafe and 31 Street Cafe (with Grand Buffet). His last performance here was an outdoor tent concert at the Andy Warhol Museum in 2009.
"I had the pleasure of working with Jason and Magnolia Electric Co. just once through our Sound Series," said the Warhol's Ben Harrison."It was particularly powerful and moving how his lyrical imagery and delivery could seize and entrance an audience. A tragic loss."
I had the opportunity to talk to him in 2003 and asked him about making the transition from playing in hard rock/punk bands in Cleveland to Songs:Ohia's more brooding folk-rock sound.
"I think I never did," he said. "I just wrote songs and never tried to write them in a particular style."
At the time, the prolific Songs:Ohia was switching over to the more Crazy Horse-sounding Magnolia Electric Co.
"I'd been doing the other stuff essentially for 10 years, that style," he said. "I think I wanted to change it a little bit more just to separate myself from some of the material and even some of the working methods. Now, I don't mind spending three days making a record, or five, and before, if I didn't walk out of the studio after one day making the record, I just threw it all away."
During the interview, he claimed to have never heard Uncle Tupelo, and said of alt-country "I hate those kinds of bands."
In recent years, he was in and out of hospitals and rehab centers, and struggled financially because of it. For a time, he worked on a farm in West Virginia, obviously not the best use of his talents.
In a 2012 blog post he wrote, "Treatment is good, getting to deal with a lot of things that even the music didn't want to. I have not given up because you, my friends have not given up on me. I do still need your support however that takes shape, good vibes are worth more than you might think."
His label said in the release: "Jason is the cornerstone of Secretly Canadian. Without him there would be no us – plain and simple. His singular, stirring body of work is the foundation upon which all else has been constructed... We’re going to miss Jason. He was generous. He was a one of a kind. And he had a voice unlike any other."