Off the Record: Magnolia Electric Co. - Birthplace of Country Music

Off the Record: Magnolia Electric Co.

Our Radio Bristol DJs and related staff are a diverse bunch – and they like a huge variety of musical genres and artists. In our “Off the Record” posts, we ask one of them to tell us all about a song, record or artist they love.

Black and white photograph of Jason Molina on stage playing guitar with various band members on their instruments.
Jason Molina and his band, Magnolia Electric Co., playing at a festival in Stockholm, Sweden in 2005 – two years after the release of the album Magnolia Electric Co., released by Molina and his band (under a different name), Songs: Ohia. Image:https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Magnolia_Electric_Co._live_20050707.jpg

On and off the record I can confidently say that “Farewell Transmission,” a song written by Jason Molina and recorded by him and his band Songs: Ohia, is one of the greatest songs of all time. There is something in both its lyrics and sound that is universal and timeless.

“The whole place is dark

Every light on this side of the town

Suddenly it all went down.”

It all went down one July day in a little studio called Electric Audio in the Avondale neighborhood of Chicago. Jason Molina gathered members of his band, along with some other musicians, to record “Farewell Transmission,” the first track on their upcoming record Magnolia Electric Co. This group of 12 musicians were quickly taught a three chord progression that would serve as the basic structure of the song, and then with little else, they hit record. As they were making their way blind through the recording, Molina’s manager was opening and closing various doors within the studio in order for the acoustics to be just right as the musicians fluctuated in intensity in their sound output. The musicians in the room played and riffed until Molina gave them a signal to end the song. You can hear his signal in the last few lines of the song as Molina repeats the word: “Listen!”

“After tonight if you don’t want us to be a secret out of the past

I will resurrect it, I’ll have a good go at it.”

Jason Molina’s past is integral to understanding “Farewell Transmission” and just how prolific of a musician Molina truly was. During his childhood, Molina spent the school year with his parents and siblings on the coast of Lake Erie and spent his summers with his grandmother in a coal mining town in West Virginia. 

It was the summers in West Virginia that really influenced and molded Molina as a person and musician. As Max Blau relates in his Chicago Reader article on Molina: “His friends recall him drawing elaborate art inside the back covers of library books, playing sad Civil War-themed songs on the ukulele at house parties, and attempting to memorize the entire Carter Family songbook. He began to move away from his metal roots into the world of folk, blues, and alt-country.” It wasn’t just his personal past he was trying to resurrect within his music but our collective past, our collective history. It is this element of a shared past that really makes Molina’s music so impactful.

“I will try and know whatever I try, I will be gone but not forever”

While Jason Molina and his bands never reached commercial success, he was a legend and major influence on popular groups that came after him. Some of those musicians include the Avett Brothers, My Morning Jacket, and Glen Hansard. Molina was also one of the first artists to sign on the small, independent record label, Secretly Canadian, which would go on to sign artists like Bon Iver, Dinosaur Jr., and Sharon Van Etten. Molina really laid the foundation for indie, alt-country, and Americana artists that would see a huge rise in popularity in the early to mid-2000s.

Black and white close-up of Jason Molina wearing a dark suit and with his guitar on stage.
Jason Molina playing at a Melting Vinyl Show in Brighton in 2009. Photograph: Greg Neate on flickr

After his death in 2013 from organ failure as a result of alcohol consumption, an outpouring of recognition came his way from all of the musicians he had influenced. Popular artists like Kevin Morby, Waxahatchee, My Morning Jacket, and Glen Hansard either recorded covers of Jason Molina songs or performed many of his songs live at concerts. Many of these artists cite Molina as one of their greatest musical influences. Molina will never truly be gone or forgotten as the legacy of his music lives on.

For more on Jason Molina and his journey, I highly recommend Blau’s article

Summer Apostol is a frontline associate at The Museum Store and also a technical services assistant at Kelly Library at Emory & Henry College. More importantly, she is a huge music fan and active in the radio world, helping Radio Bristol DJ Toni Doman with spooky (and not-so-spooky) sound effects for “Mountain Song and Story” and hosting her own radio show “Art Talk” at local station WEHC 90.7, where she makes the connection between visual art and music through interviews with local and visiting artists.

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