Jason Molina was an American singer-songwriter, originally from Lorain, Ohio. He first came to prominence performing and recording as Songs: Ohia, both in solo projects and with a rotating cast of musicians. Since 2003, he has recorded either under his own name or with a stable line-up of band members as the Magnolia Electric Co. Molina was born in Lorain, Ohio and attended Oberlin College. After playing bass guitar in various heavy metal bands in and around Cleveland, Molina made the decision to become a solo artist under an assumed band name, recruiting other musicians for each individual project as needed. He made several home recordings under various names, including Songs: Albian, Songs: Radix, and Songs: Unitas, which he distributed himself at live performances.
Songs: Ohia was largely a project of revolving musicians with singer-songwriter Jason Molina as its center and sole stable member. Critics and fans alike have found considerable difficulty in trying to define the band's changing sound, usually settling on more general labels such as indie rock, lo-fi, folk or alt-country. The second part of the name is an allusion to both the Hawaiian tree ‘?hi‘a lehua and Molina's home state of Ohio.
Molina's first release under the Songs: Ohia moniker came in 1996 as a single on Palace Records, Nor Cease Thou Never Now. This was followed by the 1997 full-length album, Songs: Ohia (known among fans as the Black Album), released on the Bloomington, Indiana-based label Secretly Canadian, the label on which Molina has remained since. In 2000 Molina released three albums: The Lioness which was recorded in Glasgow by producer Andy Miller with help from Alasdair Roberts and members of Arab Strap, Ghost Tropic, recorded by Mike Mogis, and Protection Spells, a solo album which was sold at live shows and is now out of print. By 2000, Molina had given his tenor guitar a rest in favor of a regular six-string electric guitar and put together a full band to back him, including brothers Rob and Dan Sullivan on bass and guitar, Jeff Panall on drums, and Jim Grabowski on organ. In the same year the touring band also recorded a live album near Modena, Italy, which was released locally in 2001 as Mi Sei Apparso Come Un Fantasma.
In 2002 Molina recorded Didn't It Rain in Philadelphia with members of Bluegrass band Jim & Jennie & the Pinetops. On the album, named after a Mahalia Jackson song, the band achieved an almost gospel sound that was a vast departure from the dense feel of Ghost Tropic. Constantly recording and writing new songs, Songs: Ohia released a handful of singles and EPs in 2002, including a split EP with My Morning Jacket and a collaborative EP (under the name Amalgamated Sons of Rest) with Will Oldham and Alasdair Roberts. The release of Magnolia Electric Co. in 2003 marked a shift in direction for Songs: Ohia. Several major differences set this album apart from previous Songs: Ohia releases. First, the album, recorded with renowned engineer Steve Albini, is the most driving and straightforward rock album in the Songs: Ohia catalog. Every song was recorded live in the studio with a full touring band plus musicians from Didn't it Rain. The album's sound draws heavily from the heartland rock and folk-rock of the 1960s/70s, as well as, to some degree, Molina's heavy metal roots (British metal pioneers Black Sabbath are often cited as one of Molina's influences). Magnolia Electric Co. saw Molina relinquishing vocal duties on two of the eight tracks: local country singer Lawrence Peters lends his voice to "The Old Black Hen", while fellow Secretly Canadian artist Scout Niblett takes over on "Peoria Lunch Box Blues" (both songs were written by Molina).
In March 2003, while on tour, Molina announced that he would rename the band as Magnolia Electric Co., retaining many of the original players and the stylistic direction of the album of the same name. Molina would also continue to release solo work, but this time under his own name. The first such release came in January 2004, as the full-length vinyl release Pyramid Electric Co.Though Magnolia Electric Co. and Pyramid Electric Co. were originally intended as a double album, the latter seems to be the stylistic polar opposite of the former. Engineered by Mike Mogis, who also engineered Ghost Tropic, Pyramid finds Molina alone at the microphone with only his voice, a piano or a guitar. Magnolia Electric Co.'s first official release was a live album called Trials and Errors, followed by a studio album titled What Comes After The Blues and an EP, Hard To Love a Man, all three released in 2005. In 2006, Molina released two more records: the sparse solo Let Me Go, Let Me Go, Let Me Go and the more conventional Fading Trails, with Magnolia Electric Co., the latter culled from three separate sessions over the past year.
It is not entirely clear when Songs: Ohia became Magnolia Electric Co. In interviews, Jason Molina has claimed that he considered the tenure of Songs: Ohia over after "Didn't It Rain", which would make Magnolia Electric Co. the eponymous debut album under the new name. The name "Songs: Ohia" appears nowhere on the artwork of album and only a promotional sticker on the cellophane wrapping connects it with the prior name. Nevertheless, Secretly Canadian still promotes the album under the Songs: Ohia moniker. On the other hand, the Magnolia Electric Co. live album Trials and Errors was recorded on April 16, 2003 at the Ancienne Belgique club in Brussels, at a time when the band was still touring under the Songs: Ohia name. Pitchfork Media later reported that name change would be made official after the Spanish tour in October 2003.
Officially Songs: Ohia no longer records or performs, and projects have been either marketed as Magnolia Electric Co. or as Jason Molina's solo work.
GRAVE050: "From Black Sheep Boys to Bill Collectors" w/ Autumn Bird Songs by Jason Molina