Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Flower Power

With the recent surge of independent music labels competing in an industry dominated by major labels, Magnolia Electric Co. is one of the bands helping the “little guys” leave their mark.

Formed more than 11 years ago, Magnolia Electric Co. is comprised of five musicians from all over the Midwest. Over the years, Jason Groth on rhythm guitar and back-up vocals, Pete Schreiner on bass, Mike Kapinas on keys and trumpet and Mark Rice on drums have joined lead singer and guitarist Jason Molina in the creation of the band’s unique independent-folk sound. Often compared to Chicago-based Wilco and Neil Young, Magnolia Electric Co. draws from all musical genres, including country.

“We’re influenced by traditional country music, like Hank Williams, and music from the ’30s and ’40s,” Molina says. “Myself and the rest of the band (members) are collectors of all kinds of music, from jazz and blues to country.”

Magnolia’s latest LP, which will mark the 12th album for the band, will be released on Secretly Canadian records, an independent record label based out of Bloomington, Ind., which the band has called home since its first album.

Although Magnolia Electric Co. have been approached by major record labels over the years, Molina says the band remained with Secretly Canadian because of the artistic freedom the label gives them.

“We are utterly content to be on an independent label,” Molina says. “We tour when we want, we put out records when we want and we work with the engineers and studios we want.”

Molina added that major record labels have, over the years, developed a practice of signing talented bands and changing the musical direction of the band in an attempt to sell records. Not so with Secretly Canadian, according to Molina and the members of Magnolia Electric Co.

“There’s a mutual trust we’ve developed over the course of successes and failures,” Molina says. “We don’t have commercial obligations to make the record sound a certain way.”

Magnolia Electric Co. will be playing material from their latest EP, Hard to Love a Man – sans changes by their record label – on their upcoming tour. The band will play a show at Schuba’s Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave., Jan. 15 before embarking on an extensive tour that begins mid-March.

During the month of February, Molina will be curating several nights of music at Schuba’s. Scheduled to perform are several local and regional musicians – including Bottomless Pitt, a group which includes two former members of Silkworm and Danny Black of the Blacks. Each concert will feature a wide variety of bands and music handpicked by Molina, who will also perform a solo set.

“This is not a typical night of music,” Molina assures. He mentions that Magnolia Electric Co. have a strong local presence and that being given the possibility to do an extensive set of shows in a small venue is not surprising.

“We have a long history of playing here in Chicago,” Molina says, noting that Magnolia Electric Co. has played various Chicago venues over the years, including the Bottom Lounge, the Fireside Bowl, Schuba’s Tavern and the Empty Bottle.

In addition to playing in these Chicago venues, Magnolia Electric Co. played the Chicago-based Intonation Music Festival last July. The festival, curated by online music guide Pitchfork Media, showcased about 24 bands and brought together more than 30,000 independent music fans. For Magnolia Electric Co., the festival was an opportunity to see other bands perform, a luxury Molina says professional musicians seldom enjoy.

“It’s always great to be on a bill with bands we are curious about,” Molina says. “Being professional musicians, we rarely get to spend a whole set’s worth of music watching the band.”

Besides being the band’s songwriter, Molina is also a developed visual artist, currently displaying mainly drawings and prints at an exhibit in New York City’s Brooklyn Fireproof Art Gallery. Molina notes that his musical and artistic skills developed simultaneously as he grew up.

“Both skills have been developing in a parallel way,” Molina says. “I’ve been a musician for as long as I can remember and it’s the same thing with art. I had an innate desire to create something.”

Molina adds that most musicians, particularly musicians in the independent music world, have artistic interests in places beside music.

“There are lots of (visual) artists, architects and even lawyers (within the music community),” Molina says. “There’s a wide range of what musicians are into.”

Battling the myth about the “starving artist,” Molina defends musicians who enjoy performing their music for their personal sake without regard to gaining wealth or popularity.

“In the same way that a boring person has the drive to do nothing but find the way to pay rent, there are people who struggle to pay the rent and have an artistic outlook on life,” Molina says. “(There are people) who are playing music for themselves.”

Medill sophomore Marcy Miranda is the PLAY calendar editor. She can be reached at [email protected].

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Flower Power