Work ethics

By MICHAEL ALAN GOLDBERG  |  September 15, 2006

The work ethic that feeds his high volume comes out of his upbringing in rural West Virginia and small-town Ohio — where he was desperate to entertain himself — and from a creative drive he’s been aware of for as long as he can remember. “My dad has these recordings of me from when I was a real little kid, like, singing these stories I made up. I was always composing something, there was always music in my head.”

As a teen, he got into metal and began teaching himself how to play bass and electric guitar, though instead of trying to learn Maiden and Priest tunes note-for-note like his friends, he’d come up with his own songs, often staying up all night practicing and writing. He played in a local metal band with guys several years older, but his tastes were expanding as he discovered Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, and Brian Eno in his parents’ record collection. Eventually, his band mates went off to college and jobs, and, he recalls, “I was sitting there with like 40 songs that I had written and no band and I was trying to figure out, how can I present this stuff alone?”

After a brief foray into the Ohio folk circuit (“I’d play these coffee shops and people didn’t wanna hear originals, they’d be like, ‘What the fuck, can’t you do a Dylan tune?!’ ”), he gravitated toward the underground indie-folk scene populated by the likes of Will Oldham and (Smog). Despite working 50-hour weeks in a series of full-time jobs, he’d spend four or five hours a night working on songs “no matter how tired and shitty I felt.”

He now has the luxury of working on music full time, but that doesn’t mean he’s gotten any easier on himself. When not touring, he says he spends at least six hours every day writing and another three or four practicing guitar. He estimates he throws away several hundred songs for every handful he keeps. And that attitude carries over into the recording studio. “With the David Lowery collaboration, I’d throw together three or four new ideas each night before we’d go in to record, and I set myself up for failure if I didn’t come up with a song, because there I’d be in the studio with a whole band assembled with nothing to do, just waiting on me. I like giving myself that kinda pressure. That’s when I have to be less self-conscious about the music I’m making and just go with my gut instincts, and usually I end up surprised.”

Such moments are fleeting. Songwriting, Molina says, “is hard — it gives me a migraine sometimes,” and as with most artistic types, he’s his own worst critic. “The release day of a record for me is one of the most depressing and horrible days of my whole year. You know, you finish a record, and it may be a year before it comes out, and then suddenly you’re confronted with the specter of this album, and I have to weigh my new material against something that’s old and see how far I’ve progressed. And if I feel like I haven’t really progressed, it’s really awful.”

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