Tomorrow, April 19th, is Record Store Day across the world and we are marking this years’ RSD with the Songs: Ohia Exclusive Record Store Day Box Set Journey On: Collected Singles [more info here]. This release has already been featured in RSD must-have lists on KEXP, Pitchfork, and now Secretly Canadian label co-founder Ben Swanson has a few words on Jason Molina and this special box set.
Words by Ben Swanson, Secretly Canadian Label Co-Founder
We’ve been talking about this release for years with Jason. At first he was reluctant, as he always kept his eyes on the road ahead, never in the rearview. For those of us that have been long time fans, this had always been one of the most exciting and exhausting aspects of Jason’s live shows. Limited set time was ever given to the current release’s songs, and rarely were you treated to the “hits”; instead Jason used the stage as his workshop where he would hone the nuances of his early morning sketches. As a fan, it was a treat to watch the new songs evolve over a tour until finally – usually somewhere in the middle of the run – they were laid to tape, often live in the studio, and then quickly jettisoned from the set list. The work was done, time to move on.
For Jason, each recording had its own life, and, regardless of its scope, there was something sacred to which the tunes were ultimately presented. Besides, there were new Ghosts to discover, or Wolves to ride, or Moons to bleed (go ahead and choose your favorite Molina metaphor).
Early on Jason imbued the label with the preciousness of the release and we largely agreed…in spirit. However it could be maddening that some of these gems never got their due. Only to be enjoyed by the 1,000 people that bought the 7″, and the super fans that traded high quality FLACs of shitty vinyl rips.
As fans, we loved the new stuff, but we were in love with the old stuff.
Eventually, Jason relented and began to entertain the notion of revisiting these semi-lost recordings. Maybe he was far enough away from the material where he could see the merit in taking a peek back. Or maybe he was just sick of us asking.
Either way, this collection follows Jason’s career throughout his Songs: Ohia period, from 1994 to 2000; from Oberlin, OH, to Bloomington, IN, to Chicago and back again.
I was first introduced to Jason’s music through the Freedom 7″ on Palace Records. My brother, Chris, had sent me a dub of it during my last year in high school during the period we began talking about starting a record label. The 7″ was otherworldly and Jason seemed untouchable. I don’t remember exactly how, but eventually my brother Chris tracked down an email address and we huddled around the computer. We had nothing to offer but our enthusiasm. It feels naive to think about now – we found his email! he wrote back! – but in the mid-90s, this was new terrain.
Through a handful of emails that were – much like Jason himself – short and cryptic, Jason mentioned he was playing an in-store at Adult Crash in New York, and if we came, he’d give us the master for our first 7″. To anyone that’s familiar with Jason, they know he appreciates hard work, and whereas a normal person would’ve sent the DAT through the mail, there was an implicit challenge in inviting us to New York. If we put in the work and showed up, we’d get the tape. And what did we know? Fourteen hours later we arrived in NYC to collect the tape of what would eventually be the One Pronunciation of Glory 7″.
There’s a similar history to each of the songs on this collection and lets be clear, not all of these songs are gems. However, each song is a snapshot of Jason at various points in the first half of his career. They’re Jason at his most loose, his most feisty; always inviting new friends to play. He was quick and generous when it came to recording. To Jason, it was situational – with the right ingredients, the right temperature, and, if the humidity is just right, you can catch that spark. He was after instinct, not training. He’d create structures for the musicians of the day, and line them with booby traps. It was a maddening but effective trick.
Anyway, I’m glad he finally relented. It was a rare treat to go through these old tapes and an incredible experience to watch a master grow into his craft.