Jason Molina’s untimely passing in 2013 left a dark hole in the indie-folk circles he inhabited. The heartfelt and brooding music he created with Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. made an intense personal impact on many. Even now his presence is palpable.
His recent posthumous album, Eight Gates, was released this month on the Secretly Canadian imprint. The nine-track project is a collection of his final studio work that he recorded while living in London, detached from the rest of the world. Its title adds a gate to the seven gates of London Wall, the extra door perhaps signifying his own personal portal that he held to “The Big Smoke.” The album is raw and sparse, unfinished even, but this is also its charm. Studio banter is left in at parts, offering a glimpse into his process and gentle demeanor, while edging the listener closer to the voice behind the music.
Molina was never afraid of the dark and it was this penchant for the deeply personal that carried his voice throughout the world. We reached out to some of his friends, colleagues, and fans — including Bill Callahan, Amber Webber of Lightning Dust, Darcy Hancock of Ladyhawk and Tony Dekker of Great Lake Swimmers — who were gracious enough to share their memories with us to remember the songwriter while celebrating this final addition to his weighted discography.
“The Dark Don’t Hide It” is a Magnolia Electric Co. song that still stops me in my tracks. It makes me feel all the feelings within moments of it beginning. I have many sweet memories of Jason Molina and the rest of Magnolia. One night in 2006 they almost played Richards on Richards (in Vancouver) but it was abruptly canceled moments after the openers, Ladyhawk, hit the stage. This was due to toilets overflowing so rapidly the whole bottom floor of the venue was under an inch of toilet water. Without skipping a beat Jason brought his guitar out onto the sidewalk near the building’s entrance and performed a solo set as folks exited the venue. Everyone stood in a circle around him in silence as he performed his heart out. Still feel so grateful to have witnessed that beauty.
In 2005, Ladyhawk was asked by Malcolm Croome from Sealed With a Kiss (concert promotion company) to open for Magnolia Electric Co. in Victoria and Vancouver. Jason Molina and the rest of the band seemed to like us and when they went home to Bloomington they told the folks at Secretly Canadian/Jagjaguwar that they should sign us. A year later we toured the American prairies and the west coast with them, starting in Omaha and ending in LA. Jason was extremely kind and generous to us. This was only our second tour of the US. He would buy us meals, give us nice bottles of scotch, and prank us. Magnolia pranked us hard every day. They were so good at it! We were never able to repay them with pranks.
Jason always made us feel like we were doing the right thing with our lives. He always had nice things to say to keep you feeling hopeful, even on the worst days of tour. It was shocking to us that he liked our band. We had all been listening to his music since we were teens. I don’t think I have a favourite song of his—too many good ones with too many memories attached. They were in the process of writing “Shiloh” while we’re touring. I loved hearing it live. Different every night and amazing each time. They were all such sensitive players; a song could become something new on any given night. Since his death, “Hammer Down” has been very hard to listen to.
Three Jason Molina memories: The first one was before I’d met him if I recall. I was playing a show on Smog’s Supper tour, so this must’ve been 2003/04. I watched Jason walk up to the merch table, buy a copy of Supper, walk about five steps away from the merch table, rip the shrink wrap off and stand stock still ‘til he’d read the entire lyric sheet, then continued walking.
The second memory, I was in Europe somewhere on a festival day, taking a walk after breakfast. Jason comes tearing out of a bar to ask if I wanted to get a drink with him. He said it was just him and the bartender, and the bartender had good stories. It was early and I was in a walking under blue skies mood, not a drinking in a dark bar mood, so I declined.
My third memory is from later that day, on the festival grounds, hanging out with some other performers with time to kill. Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub, Jason, and some others. A dutch guy offered to tutor us in some kind of movement. Martial arts or something. A traditional dutch dance. I don’t remember what it was, but we all went out to this field and tried it. I remember Jason loving it, big smile on his face.
Great Lake Swimmers had the chance to open for Magnolia Electric Co. on a few occasions in the US and Europe. One show in particular, at Emo’s in Austin, Texas is memorable because their album, What Comes After The Blues, had just been released and their live set consisted mainly of songs from that record. The band was on fire. I remember hearing the song “The Dark Don’t Hide It” live for the first time and being moved by the intensity and energy. It would’ve been sometime in 2005 I think. We spoke to Jason a bit, and when he found out we were from Toronto, he told us that one of his favourite restaurants in the world was there, just down the street from Lee’s Palace where the band had played a few times. A Hungarian place, the name of which escapes me now! [Editor’s Note: Country Style Hungarian Restaurant].
When he passed, we started covering “The Dark Don’t Hide It,” slowing it down and giving it a more mournful feel, as a sort of tribute. A great song among so many great songs that he wrote. We recorded a version of it for the Dutch series “Onder Invloed” (“The Influences”) a few years ago that was released earlier this year on a Great Lake Swimmers covers compilation album, When We Last Shook Hands.
My hope is that people continue to discover the amazing body of work that Jason Molina left to us, in all of its various incarnations; Songs: Ohia, Magnolia Electric Co., his solo work, and amazing collaborations such as Molina and Johnson. His music has meant a lot to me over the years and I return to it again and again, always hearing something new deep in the tracks.
My love for Jason Molina began only a few years ago. I had overlooked him for years, too overwhelmed by his many monikers and sprawling catalogue. Then on a European tour in 2016 our driver put on Magnolia Electric Co., and my mind was blown. So began my obsession with the man and his music. A few months after hearing him I was on tour with Waxahatchee, where Katie (Crutchfield) and I bonded over our mutual love for Molina, and we got the idea to record two of our favourite Songs: Ohia songs: “Farewell Transmission” b/w “The Dark Don’t Hide It.”
Jason Molina has one of those voices with the ability to carry so much. It’s a vessel. Place any pain within a song of his and he’ll carry it to pass. He carried me through the naive melancholy of my early 20s, often lying on the floor, eardrum to the speaker on low volume, feeling the quiet loudness while trying to tap into the intimacy he conjured. “Just Be Simple” always stood out for its complexity of moods: defiant, reflective, suffering, hopeful. The arrangement carries these moods so honestly and naturally. It always reminded me of Neil Young’s Ditch Trilogy in that it found a way to make sense of darkness through leaning into the flame.
Jason Molina is my favourite lyricist of all time. “Mama here comes midnight with the dead moon in his jaws” is possibly the best line ever, in my opinion. When I’m starting a painting I always listen to Songs: Ohia’s Magnolia Electric Co. album and never get sick of it. That album raised the bar for me. My old band, The Cape May, opened for Magnolia Electric Co. in Calgary in 2005 at the HiFi Club and it was a great night, even though the sound was terrible. My bandmate Jeff [Macleod] was backstage talking about how we probably drank way too much on tour in Europe and Molina remarked with very little emotion, “Just wait until you get to the free cocaine level.” Eight Gates is available now via Secretly Canadian.