“I first heard Songs: Ohia in Paris several years ago, when I was recording ‘’Streets of Philadelphia’’ with Andre Herman Dune (Stanley Brinks, as he likes to be called these days) and he put a cd on the player. I was nonplussed, but Andre was insistent that I listen more closely. There was something insistent in the music itself, too: something non-ironic, something soulful in the voice of the singer. I took a cd home with me, back to my dreary existence as a sociology student living in a tower block on the outskirts of Glasgow. I missed Andre, missed Paris, missed making music and writing songs as daily activities. I must have played that Songs: Ohia cd a thousand times over the next few years, while I smoked cigarettes and drank endless cups of tea and pretended to be a student, doing as little work as I possibly could and writing at least one song a day instead. The album was ‘’The Lioness’’, the one with, appropriately enough, Glasgow’s own Arab Strap as the backing band. The lyrics were simple and emotive, sometimes embarrassingly so. This was the closest music got to D. H. Lawrence. Style was set aside in favour of substance. Nothing was ever sung about that didn’t matter tremendously, at least to the singer. It would all have sounded terribly melodramatic in different hands, but the effect was unalterably real: this was the only way it could be, for this singer at this point in time.
I don’t know how I did it, I know that it involved several sleepless nights, but somehow I graduated. I moved to London, to make music with my childhood friend Franic Rozycki and his friend from art school in Cardiff, Jonny Helm. I wandered around London in the daytime, collected my Jobseeker’s Allowance once every other week, wrote more songs, and spent more time making music with Andre, too. Somewhere in the middle of all that, I acquired two more albums by Songs: Ohia, the peerless ‘’Axxess and Ace’’ and, the last under that name, ‘’Didn’t It Rain’’.
Notions of ‘authenticity’ in music are bogus. We all know this; we are all postmodernists now. But I felt when I listened to these records that I was listening to the truth, to the source of something. I felt that I was looking at the image itself rather than a photocopy. The music sounded unaffected, to me, and uncontrived. It still does. It still hits me where I live. I think it’s beautiful.
Time passed by. My band with Franic and Jonny, The Wave Pictures, became semi-professional, found a record label to release our music, booked our own gigs and played lots and lots all over the place. Once, we found ourselves backstage at the End of the Road festival, in a tent next door to Jason Molina, the singer and songwriter behind Songs: Ohia. He was a tiny little man, serious, friendly, kind about our show. We chatted about music, about the festival, about the internet (you have to have a conversation about that at some point with any new musician you meet). I liked him. He played an extraordinary show that day too. The music was bleak and un-showy, though Jason was dressed in an inappropriately fancy Nashville style suit. He had a guitar sound that rang like a bell. The songs cut straight to the core. The voice hit me in the belly.
A couple of years later, The Wave Pictures were asked to curate a show in London. We were given a small budget and told that, as long as we played, we could invite whoever we wanted to headline. I couldn’t think of anyone who I would be more excited to play a show with than Jason Molina. I managed to acquire his email address from somewhere, and sent the offer over to him. My phone rang immediately. It was Jason. He sounded hyper-enthusiastic about the prospect of playing with us, though he didn’t remember who we were, and he wanted to jam with us immediately to find out whether we could play as his backing band on the night. Imagine how surprised I was to get this call! Imagine how excited!
I gave him my address in Leyton, and several hours later he called me from the station, asking me to go and meet him there. I went, and I found another huge surprise when I got there, this time not the happy kind. Jason was in bad shape. He had a broken arm and black eyes. He was limping. A small hat hid train-track like scars running over his head, visible only when he reached up to scratch an itch. He was friendly, and he was excited, but he didn’t make a lot of sense when he talked. He was wild, a little disturbing, nothing like the person I met at End of the Road. He appeared to have recently been in a terrible accident of some kind.
We tried to play some music together, but Jason couldn’t really play his guitar with a broken arm. He asked me to write a song with him, and together we managed to come up with something. When he stopped playing and just sang, that beautiful voice of his was as clear and as powerful as ever. We recorded a little demo on the cassette machine in my room, and later Jason left my flat, supremely enthusiastic about the prospect of working with us again.
We were confused about what had happened, there seemed to be no way to make sense of any of it at the time.
In the days and weeks after this meeting, I tried many times to contact him, but I never heard from him again. It became simply a strange story that I told to my friends. I don’t know how long it was after this that I read the statement from his family, that Jason had huge medical bills, that he was unwell. It might have been 18 months after that second meeting. I felt terrible about the whole thing, very sad for him, utterly confused.
I persuaded a bunch of my friends to record covers of his songs, figuring we could sell them somehow, and raise him a bit of money. The Wave Pictures went into Soup Studio for the day and recorded a whole album’s worth of Jason’s songs, some of my favourites. The results are hardly on a par with ‘’Didn’t It Rain’’ or ‘’Axxess and Ace’’, but they have a certain charm, I think, and at least, were intended sincerely. I dearly love Jason’s music and I enjoyed playing it, getting to know it as a musician rather than a listener. It is rare to do something like this and come out of it admiring the artist even more than you did before, but that’s how I feel about this music.
We had come close to getting everything together, the covers that friends had recorded and The Wave Pictures’ covers album, when the devastating, terrible news came through two days ago. Jason had died. Though I didn’t know him well, I was shocked and saddened. I had hoped to see him again in happier times. I had assumed that he would get better. I thought that there would be more wonderful music.
It doesn’t seem worth hanging on to our recordings any longer. I hope that they seem to you like a fitting tribute to one of my very favourite musicians. I hope that you enjoy them, briefly, before they send you back to those mighty originals.
Please donate whatever you can afford, his family still need the money.”
David Tattersall, March 2013