This article was first published on CLUAS in Feb 2000
Caroline on recent visitors to Ireland 'Songs: Ohia' of Chicago
Jason Molina is a man who has 'never not been making music' although he has come a long way from the early days when he started out in what he describes as a 'Cleveland prog/metal band'. Although now only in his late twenties, Jason has been recording under several different names for the last ten years. The only permanent member of Songs: Ohia, Jason has still managed to put out five full length records since 1994. 'Axxess & Ace' is his second-last release, a dark and melancholy Will Oldham / Joan of Arse / Smog-like album that gradually worms it's way into your heart. On this album Jason is backed by a virtual who's who of the Chicago music scene including Edith Frost and violinist Lucy Liu from slowcore band 'Rex'. This fact that the participants only heard the songs for the first time on the day that they recorded together means that the finished product has an intensely raw, emotional feel that could easily have been lost in something less spontaneous.
The connection between Songs: Ohia and Will Oldham is more than just one of musical comparisons. Oldham's Palace Records put out a 7" of Jason's music about five years ago and Jason has been trying to dodge the comparisons ever since. By his own admission it's easy for him to get pigeonholed in the lo-fi bracket. He describes his music as 'plain. I try not to f**k things up with adding extra'. For him, the music 'isn't about anything other than the songs' and he tries to let them speak for themselves. According to Jason the songs are like haiku - carefully structured but compressing a lot of emotion into a few simple words. It's not always easy and he often feels that he has to fight 'to keep out all the non-essential things pressing to make it into the music'.
The last album that Songs: Ohia recorded, 'Lioness', was the result of collaboration in Scotland with Glasgow kings of lo-fi, Arab Strap. Songs: Ohia did a tour with Arab Strap and some on-stage improvisation during the gigs led to further work together in the studio. Molina thinks that Adrian Moffat and Malcolm Middleton had always wanted to 'produce something using all their ideas about song-making' and, as he already had the raw material, it didn't turn into a high-pressure situation where they had to be 'perfectionist'. According to Jason, one of the most difficult things about the collaboration was that they had to work 'so damn hard to just leave it alone and not add, add, add.'
Although Jason had made it to Scotland, he had never played a gig in Ireland but Glen Hansard of The Frames was determined to change that. While browsing in a record store in the US last year, Glen bought an album - which happened to be Songs: Ohia's debut full-length album - and subsequently got in touch with Jason: 'Glen just called me. I had never met him before, but he said Songs: Ohia was something he really wanted to play live with'. Although the two bands had missed the opportunity of playing together in Chicago, Glen was so passionate about the music that he asked Jason to come to Ireland: 'this was his way of making sure a show with the Frames and Songs really did happen'. Although Glen told him that all they could afford was to pay their fare and accommodation, Jason was happy to do the gig as he had never toured here and has 'been wanting to play a show in Ireland for years'. As a result of this there are plans afoot to release a split seven-inch with the Frames at some stage in the future. And, given the response from the crowd in Whelan's on the night that the two bands played together, it won't be long before Songs: Ohia make it back to Ireland.