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Magnolia Electric Co. are a travelin' band

photo courtesy of girlie action
"Magnolia" - Singer-guitarist Jason Molina takes off his Songs: Ohia hat and puts on his Magnolia Electric Company Co. shoes for his performance at Plush on Wednesday. The band's new record was produced by rock and roll legend Steve Albini, the man behind Nirvana's Nevermind and the Pixies's Doolittle.
By Michael Petitti
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, April 21, 2005
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Some bands just can't cut it live. Behind the thick walls and knobs of the studio, they can meticulously craft hit song after hit song, but when the stage lights hit, they crack.

Magnolia Electric Co. is not that band.

The band takes their name from frontman Jason Molina's last album title with his previous outfit, Songs: Ohia.

Songs: Ohia garnered a reputation for Molina's world weary, stark country-rock tunes. With the transition to Magnolia Electric Co., Molina has noticeably beefed up his sound.

While all the name shuffling and moniker swapping may be confusing, the band's origins are far simpler. Guitarist Jason Groth likes to joke about how he came into Magnolia Electric Co. He suggests that Neil Young, Molina's most obvious point of influence, may have indirectly been responsible.

"I always tell people that I think I was asked in the band because I was in a Neil Young cover band," Groth said. "The bass player of Magnolia [Pete Schreiner] and I formed a Neil Young album cover band and Jason came and saw us do Tonight's the Night."

In truth, it was Jason's Indiana band (The Coke Dares) that actually captured Molina's interests and he recruited Groth and drummer Mark Rice to join Magnolia Electric Co. in 2002. With members from Illinois, Ohio and Indiana, the band is a decidedly Midwestern affair, which subtly influences their sound.

"I think geography plays a lot into it, of course," Groth said. "But I also have this theory that a lot of times songwriters end up writing songs like the ones they've heard all their lives. When you grow up in the Midwest you listen to a lot of classic rock and I think it's a much more regional thing, so if it's Midwestern rock it's because we live in the Midwest, but it's not a conscious thing."

Shortly after their forming, Magnolia Electric Co. released their first album, sort of. The live album, Trials and Errors, was recorded in 2003 in Brussels and released earlier this year. It features the band in their element, live and raw.

"It feels good," Groth said. "Every time we play live something changes and some nights songs sound exactly like they do on record and other nights there can be more soloing going on and they can be faster or slower."

Magnolia Electric Co. recently released their first studio album, What Comes After the Blues. The album is a wonderful collection of gritty, thoughtful rock, country and, of course, blues. Interestingly, some of the songs on the album came from Trials and Errors with a noticeable change in sound.

"It was a cool process because we had a full year to work things out," Groth said. "We had a full year to go from a four piece to a seven piece, so you can hear the difference between the live ones and the ones that are on the record. I think you get a good glimpse of how the songs have sort of evolved."

Actually, What Comes After the Blues is not that far removed from the live Trials and Errors. Much of the album was actually recorded live in one take with producer Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies) behind the boards, displaying the band's knack for playing live.

"Personally, I think everybody in the band likes that better," Groth said. "You spend so little time in the studio in comparison to playing live. I think it's a testament to the band when you can't blow your shot and you just have to hope that you get it. You end up capturing, in a much more controlled setting, how the band actually sounds. Doing it live was the only way to keep it as fresh as it is for every audience every night."

As far as working with Albini, the wunderkind producer and underground legend, Groth found the process more instructive than overwhelming.

"Steve will do anything you want as long as you ask him and it's within his parameters," Groth said. "He'll never say this sounds better than something else, he'll say 'I'm going to record you the way that you sound.' He's willing to offer advice when things aren't working at all, but for the most part he's willing to step back and just make the record sound really good."

Though Magnolia Electric Co. is a Jason Molina band, every member of the band is directly responsible for the songwriting process. The songs undergo their toughest tests, as expected, on the road.

"The songs don't seem to be realized until we play them on the road 20 or 30 times," Groth said. "A few of the songs we wrote in the studio have gone through a number of changes on the road and it's not just Jason doing them. It's also us saying 'I heard something last night that might sound really good here.'"

Being the true touring band that they are, Magnolia Electric Co. embrace bootlegging and even make several shows available for download on their Web site (

"Our shows are always different, so it's cool," Groth said. "The only thing that kind of bothers me is I've actually asked some of those people to just send me a copy of the show and you'd be surprised how many of them are like, 'I know you're in the band, but you'll have to trade me for it.'"

Magnolia Electric Co. is playing with the Court and Spark and Milton Mapes Wednesday at Plush (340 E. Sixth St.). Cover is $8 and the show is 21-plus.

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