Jagjaguwar would not exist today if it weren’t for Jason Molina.
I met Jason Molina for the first time in 1997, when he performed as Songs: Ohia in Charlottesville, Virginia at the sushi-restaurant-venue named Tokyo Rose. I was the promoter and sound person for the show. Jason had just released his debut album, and due to his newfound renown, the one-year-old Bloomington, Indiana record label he was on, Secretly Canadian, was growing by leaps and bounds.
It goes without saying that Jason’s performance that evening was a special kind of evocative. His one-of-a-kind voice soared through whatever obstacles the rickshaw sound system of Tokyo Rose put in front of him, and that night Charlottesville learned that Jason was not only a poet but an evangelist. So many of us left the show with an immensely personal and abiding bond to his messianic song-craft. In the years to come, Jason’s extraordinary efficacy in making new fans and keeping them, combined with his uncanny work ethic, would carry the fledgling label Secretly Canadian a very long way.
That night I also met Chris Swanson for the very first time. I had spoken with the co-founder of Secretly Canadian on the phone numerous times, but I had never met him in person. Shortly thereafter I would ask him to become my partner in Jagjaguwar. Chris would say yes, but only if I was willing to move the label to Bloomington. So in 1999 I moved to the Midwest. Jason would become a friend and a neighbor. In that same year, Jason offered to Chris and I the recording entitled “Journey On” for release on Jagjaguwar. It was a house-warming gift, and it would become one side of a split 7-inch record. The other side was a recording called “Fat Bobby’s Black Thumb” by the Brooklyn band Oneida, who Jason knew from his days at Oberlin. And so Jason connected Jagjaguwar to Oneida, and Oneida would become a very important flagship artist for Jagjaguwar during our early, insecure period as a label, when we were first trying to reach out beyond our Virginia roots. If Jason was still here with us today, I could imagine him fondly recasting the split 7-inch as some defining “blood oath” between the Secretly Canadian and Jagjaguwar brotherhoods.
It’s one of the things I miss the most about Jason when I think of him now. He was a genius for the way he stated things so strongly and so convincingly, concerned only with communicating what he thought was the most beautiful, possible truth. He revised history to establish sacrosanct bonds, and he was always generous in his recollections. He was a masterful, charismatic storyteller. But his ecstatic truths were not fictions. He was right most of the time. Most of the time.
So I will say it again, but with even more conviction this time: Jagjaguwar would not exist today if it weren’t for Jason Molina.
Journey on, Jason Molina. You commanded respect not only for yourself but for all of us. You carried us on your back to ecstatic heights. The whole Jagjaguwar family shall miss you dearly.
— Darius Van Arman