By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
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Deprived of caffeine and pastries by a seemingly endless series of interviews, Jason Molina is, at the moment, even more edgy (but no less talkative) than usual. From a hotel room in Indiana, the singer-songwriter best known for his work with Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. speaks (prolifically) about his music, past, present and future—as well as a possible tribute to the late Michael Jackson.
"In 1982, sure, I bought Thriller," Molina says. "But I got it just for the album's gate-fold jacket. I hadn't heard a single song before that."
So, wait. Should we expect a tribute effort from Molina's band? Probably not—but don't rule it out.
"A couple of guys in the band can play a lot of that Quincy Jones-era stuff, so who knows what we may come up with," Molina says, with a hint of sarcasm.
Thankfully, Molina's own music is of such high quality that he doesn't need half-hearted tributes to get attention. On tour in support of Josephine, the fine new Magnolia Electric Co. release, Molina comes across as a likable nerd, a wordy musicologist who knows he's got talent and isn't afraid to talk about it.
"If you don't write a damn good song, then don't put it out there," Molina says, addressing and dismissing the criticism that he, like another heralded alt-country songwriter, Ryan Adams, may be too prolific for his own good. After all, under one moniker or another, Molina has released 17 albums in a little more than 12 years. "If you got the work in you, then put it out. If I think a song is shitty, then it doesn't go on a record. If a song is good, if it makes an impact, it's not going to dilute anything."
Molina is always eager to converse, but his recent collaboration with Centro-matic's Will Johnson really sets his tongue a-wagging.
"I've been a fan of Will for years, and I would see him on tour," he says. "It just made sense to send him some songs and see if he wanted to write together. Songwriters are the cagiest bastards in the world, but Will said, 'Yes,' and then made it happen."
Once Johnson responded in the affirmative, it didn't take the pair long to write an astonishing 24 songs. Set for release later this year, the joint effort proved to be a labor of love for both songwriters.
"We would sit at these desks and write like we were in school," Molina says. "We sweated over syllables and half-rhymes. It was correct songwriting—the way you would see it in a movie, the way it should always be."
The collaboration should garner quite a bit of talk.
Molina wouldn't have it any other way.