Jason Molina, the frontman behind Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co., has died, according to a post on Chunklet and confirmation from his label Secretly Canadian. He died on Saturday as a result of organ failure due to alcohol consumption. He was 39.
The prolific songwriter was born in Lorain, Ohio, and attended college at Oberlin. Getting his start by playing bass in metal bands around Cleveland, he began to write and record his own solo material under the name Songs: Ohia, a project where Molina was the only constant amid a rotating cast of musicians. In 1996 he released a single on Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s Palace Records label, and in 1997 he released the first Songs: Ohia full-length, a self-titled record often referred to as The Black Album, on Secretly Canadian, the Indiana label he’d primarily call home for the rest of his career. Listen to “U.M.W. Pension,” the haunting final track off the record, below.
Molina released numerous albums, EPs and singles under the Songs: Ohia umbrella, culminating in the release of 2003’s Magnolia Electric Co., an ambitious collection recorded in Chicago at Electric Audio with producer Steve Albini. Though Molina claimed that 2002’s Didn’t It Rain was the final Songs: Ohia album, Magnolia Electric Co. is often considered the band’s last before Molina began recording under the name Magnolia Electric Co. Listen to “Farewell Transmission” off of the album below.
Under the new name, Molina would go on to write and record three studio albums as Magnolia Electric Co. along with a boxset of material, Sojourner, which was released in 2007. Molina also released solo material under his own name, including 2003’s Pyramid Electric Co. and 2012’s Autumn Bird Songs, which was recorded years before his health problems got the best of him.
Despite his productivity, Molina was a troubled man. In a 2001 interview with the fanzine Comes With A Smile, Molina said, “I think there are no plans you can have with music. You can never take it easy if you are a songwriter. Ideas will dog you until they get what they want. There are no breaks from it all, and if you can see this as a calling and meet it on its terms, I think a good relationship may develop. Also a violent and abusive and extremely depressed situation can be born out of songwriting.”
Molina’s fraught relationship with alcohol was further brought into the light by a moving 2011 post on Chunklet from his friend Henry Owings that called for fans to donate to a PayPal account to help Molina’s family as he was in and out of rehab. “Jason is sick,” Owings wrote. “Apart from being an insanely talented and prolific musician, he’s truly a good guy. However, he’s got a problem with alcohol. And it’s destroying him.”
Tragically, Owings was the one to break the news today. “Of course, even with all of his friends never leaving his side, he cashed out on Saturday night in Indianapolis with nothing but a cell phone in his pocket with only his grandmother’s number on it,” he writes. “Of course, she was the first to be dealt the tragic news.”
Secretly Canadian also confirmed the sad news with a tweet and an official statement, which you can read in full here.
Watch Molina perform the song “Destiny” below.