Copyright ©2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Jason Molina was a successful musician on a small, independent label from Indiana. He sold tens of thousands of records and influenced many of his peers. But a little more than a year ago, Molina died at age 39. He was an alcoholic. Now two new releases are paying tribute to the singer/songwriter.

Here's Iowa Public Radio's Clay Masters.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CLAY MASTERS, BYLINE: Jason Molina started out under the moniker Songs: Ohia.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

JASON MOLINA: (Singing) I tell all your friends that you're bound for glory...

MASTERS: Songs Ohia was basically just him as he told Indiana University student filmmakers in the mid-1990s.

MOLINA: I listen to a lot more complicated music than what I play. But I'm just one guy - I can only do so much - and I'm not into overdubbing and stuff if I can avoid it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

MOLINA: (Singing) I tell all my friends that I'm bound for heaven...

MASTERS: Molina recorded this song in 1995, but it's been out of print and was just re-released as part of a memorial box set by his longtime label, Secretly Canadian, despite the fact the label says Molina was always reluctant to revisit his old songs. He used the stage as a workshop to flesh out new material and broaden his sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

MOLINA: (Singing) The whole place is dark. Every light on this side of the town, suddenly it all went down. Now, we'll all be brothers of the fossil fire of the sun...

MASTERS: Molina's lyrics frequently expressed a kind of despair and that appealed to Jim James, lead singer of My Morning Jacket.

JIM JAMES: There was this beautiful darkness about the way he expressed himself, both lyrically and musically, that I think went right to the core of what people feel, you know, in an everyday way.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

MOLINA: (Singing) I will try, know whatever I try. I will be gone but not forever...

MASTERS: This song was released on what many fans, including Jim James, consider Molina's best record. It's called "The Magnolia Electric Company" and it marked a shift for Molina says Jason Evans Groth who was tapped to play guitar in the band Molina named after the album.

JASON EVANS GROTH: I'm excited now even that I got to be a part of that shift. He was taking chances doing things that seemed a little more traditional than he did before, but to him it was a big change. Playing standard chord structures and taking the chance to write songs that were a little in the more the traditional rock vein.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

MOLINA: (Singing) Something held me down and made me make a promise that I wouldn't tell if the truth forgets about us, saying it now comes easily after just finding out how you've been using me. At least the dark don't hide it. At least the dark don't hide it...

MASTERS: The band toured constantly, cramming up to seven musicians into a van and even managed to make a little money. In 2008, they recorded what would become Magnolia Electric Company's final album: "Josephine." The sessions were captured in a documentary.

(SOUNDBITE OF A DOCUMENTARY)

MOLINA: (Unintelligible) start it at records...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) You locked the door and put the ooh.

MOLINA: Yeah. Oh yeah, an old...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) You locked the door and put the ooh...

MASTERS: The film shows a different side of the solitary Molina, opening up to his fellow musicians in the studio.

(SOUNDBITE OF A DOCUMENTARY)

MOLINA: Make sure you land that one real pretty do it again?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Should I go up again?

MOLINA: Yeah, I think so.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: OK.

MOLINA: Nice.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Do it again?

(Singing) Oooh...

MASTERS: Molina seems content during the session.

(SOUNDBITE OF A DOCUMENTARY)

MOLINA: It's a cooperative effort. I don't really have any, you know, far reaching vision or/and never have outside of just the songs themselves. So as I've met these guys along the way, we formed into this group. It's magic in its way but it really did just fall together

MASTERS: But then things fell apart on the tour that followed. Guitarist Jason Evans Groth says they watched Molina's health quickly deteriorate, as his drinking became more of a problem. He says one night, Molina would be spot on.

GROTH: And then the next night he's unable to the hit the notes, he doesn't know what the words are, he's playing the wrong chords and he's soloing for minutes on end in the wrong key.

MASTERS: Magnolia Electric Company finished its tour and Molina spent the next few years in and out of rehab.

GROTH: I remember getting a message where he said I've been listening to a lot of our songs and it's strange how prescient a lot of these lyrics are that I wrote about myself. You know, and I know he was referring to his struggle with alcohol.

MASTERS: For his part, My Morning Jacket's Jim James hoped Molina's songwriting would be therapeutic.

JAMES: I always hoped, for him, that it would eventually manifest itself into like a way out. You know 'cause I think that was something that his music could take you to this super dark place. But I always felt like there was like a suggestion of some kind of way through that to a better place. And that's what I always hoping that he could find for himself.

MASTERS: But Jason Molina died in March 2013 in Indianapolis.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

MOLINA: (Singing) And it all just fades away to blue...

MASTERS: The remaining members of Magnolia Electric Company lend a couple of songs to a memorial album, out today. It includes a song the band played live many times but never recorded, with guitarist Jason Evans Groth singing the lead.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

GROTH: (Singing) Since I was a child, I knew my tune would be trouble in mind. Me, myself and I sometimes we left a lot of heartache behind...

MASTERS: It's a song that Groth says has Jason Molina begging to remember for the sober musician he was, a musician who nevertheless refused to look back.

For NPR News, I'm Clay Masters.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

MOLINA: (Singing) Remember me. Remember me, my own true love, as the man I tried to be and not the man I was ....

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

MOLINA: (Singing) Comes rolling in. I'll be on my way to a better place, singing The Old Black Hen...

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.