Nikki Sudden: Ten Years After His Death… an 8-year old interview emerges

2-1-3

Nikki Sudden says he was born ten years too late. After his post-punk outfit, Swell Maps called it quits, Nikki worked his way through the underground and watched as much of the world turned their focus to the miserable mainstream of the 1980’s. Through various side-projects, solo endeavors and his work in the Jacobites (a band he co-founded with his brother, the now deceased Epic Soundtracks) Sudden has been making music continuously since he began. Though he’s earned the respect of his heroes and influenced many present day underground success stories, his music still remains under-the-radar to much of the listening world. With a series of reissues released brought on first by Secretly Canadian and Sudden’s a self-proclaimed masterpiece on its way at the time of our interview, we thought all this would change.

Two years later, on March 26, 2006, Nikki Sudden died while writing in his journal. Luckily, Easy Action in the UK has put out a 3-album compilation and some LP rarities, while the Numero Group has recently released Sudden’s Jacobites records and some of his best solo work in a beautifully packaged boxed set.

I caught up with Sudden back in 2004 over the phone as he enjoyed a day off in the UK and readied for one of his last tours to America. I remember watching Scout Niblett play the Middle East that night. Back then she was his labelmate and fellow countrywoman. Mid-set the soundman told the crowd Nikki Sudden had died. It was a sad moment for all of us informed enough to care. Ironically enough, he died of a heart that was too big. Below is the interview from 2004.

2-1-2

I heard you broke a rib. What’s that all about?

I haven’t broken my rib; I thought I had. I only bruised it. I fell off the top bunk three times in one night on a sleeper car from Moscow to the Ukraine. I kept climbing back up and then I’d fall back down ten minutes later. The guy I shared the compartment with said ‘I think you should sleep in the bottom bunk’. I was drunk, but I wasn’t that drunk. There were two mattresses on top of each other, but there was no friction. They just kept sliding off. Russian sleeping carriages don’t have any safety rails. My bass player says I’m lucky to be alive. I’m always lucky.

I’m writing from the States and for us most of our Nikki Sudden access is through the Secretly Canadian reissues. How did this come to fruition? Were you searching for labels or did they find you?

Chris Swanson, the guy who runs the company kept calling me and I never called him back. One time he rang me and I actually answered it and we got to talking. He seemed like a nice guy and I figured anybody with that much perseverance was worth doing something with. Usually when people write to me I tell them that I don’t need another label. I don’t know why I thought that.

Were you in total control of choosing what records were chosen?

Everything was totally up to me. I compiled all the reissues, remastered the tracks, did the sleevenotes and the layout. The only thing they insisted on was the back cover of the tray, which I think looks pretty bad.

 You’ve been recording for over 20 years, but have only toured the states a couple times. How many times? Why is this?

I’ve been on four or five American tours. Every time I come to the States I play a bunch of shows. I’ve driven across the whole country, which is more than most Americans can say. I first played there in 1985.

Would you say you’re more popular in Europe than in America?

In LA, San Francisco, New York people always come see me, as much as any German city anyway. It’s the small towns you never know what’s going to happen. I’d say America’s my second biggest market. Germany seems to be my biggest which is why I live in Berlin. I’ve got to leave Berlin soon. I’ve been here for six or seven years and that’s too long. The problem is I don’t know where to go. I fell in love with this city in the Ukraine the other day called Ternopil. It’s a beautiful place. It’s like the 1950’s. There are hardly any cars, most of them are totally fucked up wrecks falling to pieces. There are big potholes everywhere, never a traffic jam and you can walk down the middle of the street in the middle of the day. I think this is the kind of place I can live. I was asked yesterday by these Italian publishers if I could write a book. I was like ‘I have nothing to do in June’, so I could go there in June and do it. Then I found out that my new album is being released in June and I won’t have a chance to do it in June. A whole book in one month—10,000 words a day. It shouldn’t be a problem.

2-1-4

What’s it on?

It’s kind of my journal mixed with my autobiography—a diary with flashbacks to the Jacobites and various friends of mine like Johnny Thunders. That’s what the publisher suggested to me. I don’t think that would be hard to write, but I’ve tried to write a novel– 130,000 words and I haven’t even looked at it in three years. Then there’s this book I’m writing on Ronnie Wood. He knows I’m writing it cause I’ve told him several times, but I haven’t even gotten an interview with him yet.

 Why Ronnie Wood

I was always fascinated by his first solo album and no one had ever written about him. I thought I should do it. Now I wish I hadn’t even started. I’ve got 120,000 words and I still haven’t interviewed Ronnie yet.

Would it be correct in saying you’ve been making music non-stop since you began? Have there been downtimes, hiatuses?

Only when I can’t get gigs. If I’m not playing gigs I’m not making money. I wrote in my diary a couple days ago: all I ever do is make money to pay for a flat I’m never in and pay phone bills for a phone I never use. I think if you’re a musician you should either be playing gigs, writing songs or in the studio. I wish I could play 200-300 gigs a year and spend a couple months in the studio. That’s the ideal life I think. Being on tour is a totally surreal experience. You never have to think about anything. You just have to get on a bus and hope you get something to eat. You do a soundcheck, do a show and talk to some girls. Then what happens, happens; what doesn’t, doesn’t.

How do you account for the fact that after playing music for the past 20+ years you are still somewhat under-the-radar?

Bad luck basically. I’m sure if I’d been born 10 years before we’d be as big as Dylan, the Stones and people like that. But we’re not. That’s the trouble. I can never explain why. I still don’t understand why I’m more popular. It doesn’t make any sense at all. You just see all these useless bands come along like the Strokes. They get so much press and you hear them and they’re so average. And there’s the White Stripes. I’ve heard Led Zeppelin III, I don’t need to hear the White Stripes. Something is going wrong.

 In your mind what is the best record you’ve ever made?

I know musicians always say this, but my favorite album ever is my new one, Treasure Island. I’ve heard it about 500,000 times now and it still sounds great. Everyone’s been telling me this is the best album I’ve ever made.

Will you be performing solo this time?

Yeah, I can’t afford to bring the band over. Basically I want to release this new album in America. When you play solo it’s different thing than with the band because the band doesn’t know all the songs. Solo I can play whatever I want.

Obviously the Stones are one of your favorite bands, do you enjoy what they’re doing now? Is there ever a time when bands need to stop?

I think as long as you’re playing from the heart and soul you can do it until you die. The Stones are still doing it from the heart and soul. There’s no way they’re doing it for the money because they don’t need the money. I don’t think they ever need to stop. The only reason people say that is because they’re jealous of them. I saw them 22 times on their last tour. I think they’re the best band ever and that ever will be. I just wish they’d get some of the background people out there.

 Another of your favorites, the New York Dolls, are reuniting? How do you feel about that?

My take on it is this, if Johnny and Joey will be there, I’ll be there. Chrissy Hines is gonna take Johnny Thunders’ place. She plays nothing like Johnny. It should either be Steve Jones or Kevin Key. Kevin is a total Johnny wannabe and he does it quite well. Steve Jones basically saw all of Johnny’s leaks and he could do it quite well.

Are there any new bands out there that you find intriguing?

That’s the question I always hate because I don’t like any new bands. I like Primal Scream, but they’ve been around for 20 years.

You’ve worked with members of several American bands, some of whose music you do not like (like Sonic Youth). How did you end up working with people from bands you don’t like?

That’s a good question. I like them as people. I get on fine with Thurston, Steve, with Lee and Kim. I think Steve is a really good Epic Soundtracks inspired drummer and I think Steve would agree with that. I didn’t say I didn’t like their music. I just said you can’t blame me for Sonic Youth being influenced by us. I wouldn’t say I dislike them. I just don’t go for what they do, but they do it well.

Anything else?

Just make sure you use a cool photo.

2-1

 

Advertisements

R.I.P Jason Molina: Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Company’s Farewell Transmission

by Steve Gullick

by Steve Gullick

On Saturday, we lost of one America’s finest songwriters and most prolific pioneers of independent music. Jason Molina died of organ failure due to alcoholism on Saturday, but it wouldn’t become known to most of the world until yesterday. His immense and intense catalogue of music caught momentum under the Songs: Ohia moniker from 1997 til 2003 and continued on as Magnolia Electric Company. If Songs: Ohia was his Neil Young, Magnolia Electric Company was his Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Constantly keeping his audience guessing, he also recorded under his own name, Pyramid Electric Company, Amalgomated Sons of the Rest and did a collaborative recording with Centromatic’s Will Johnson under the name Molina and Johnson.

Through his various projects, Molina made some of the greatest records of the late 1990’s-2000’s. Didn’t It Rain and Magnolia Electric Company remain among my favorite emotive and cathartic records of all time. The pride of the Secretly Canadian record label and independent music in general, I was happy to hear them when they came out, and have always held them close and dear through the years. I paid tribute to Mr. Molina yesterday listening to almost his entire catalogue and noting its continuing progression. While the songs maintained their inherent sadness combined with a certain stoicism, they seemed especially haunting and all the more chilling.

As an homage to Molina and his fans, I dug up the first story I wrote about Songs: Ohia back in 2002– just after he released one of his greatest works, and just before he changed his sound all together. The following interview is unedited and hopefully pays tribute to this truly important songwriter. Our hearts go out to his friends and family…….

by Dylan Long

by Dylan Long

 Interview from Boston’s Weekly Dig (December 2002)

Jason Molina is trouble’s troubadour. His songs are beautifully chilling, but with just enough subtle warmth and light to be completely cathartic. So many great musicians hail from Chicago, but none seem to speak its language like Molina. His songs all seem to be sung under the same grey skies and all seem to summon a mystic strength that lurks among its despondency. Since 1996, Molina has appeared on about 50 different recordings, whether that’s part of a compilation, collaboration, EP, LP, 7” or single. Constantly reinventing himself through different monikers, the unifying thread that ties each of Molina’s recordings together is that dichotomy of fragility and strong-willed stoicism. Molina’s most popular works are filed under the name Songs: Ohia, and the ones that aren’t are usually ultra-rare collectors items found only in the hands of those who caught on early, or those with enough money who peruse the eBay market. Jason Molina has no band; both live shows and albums have an ever-changing cast of characters. He strays from routine and uses spontaneity as a creative tool. Molina’s last album as Songs: Ohia, Didn’t It Rain, was a collection of seven extended songs that seemed to have been stranded out it in a downpour of his emotion and then brought inside and told eerily by the warmth of a fireside. The album, from its feel all the way down to the instrumentation and lyrics seemed so well-conceived, but that’s the most interesting part—it wasn’t. It was recorded live and without practice. It all goes to show that Jason Molina can do more with a guitar and his passionate vocals than most bands can do with an unlimited team of personnel and months of over-production in the studio. Molina’s latest work is a collaborative project with Will Oldham and Alasdair Roberts called The Amalgamated Sons of Rest and two new Songs: Ohia albums will surface in the near future. Presenting an electronic conversation with Mr. Jason Molina:

You have a rotating cast of characters on each of your albums, how does it
work when it comes to touring time. How often do you play solo?

I don’t have any set percentage of times I show up on stage with a band or not. I have to sometimes consider the impracticality of bringing a whole pack of musicians to remote places. It helps that since I started out people have come to the shows not expecting one or the other. In Boston I will be alone this time.

I read somewhere that Didn’t it Rain was all recorded live. To what degree were the songs worked out before you met up with the players? Was there much practicing or was it more spontaneous?

We never practiced those songs. I would show them the chords and most of the time we didn’t even have to listen to me singing the whole thing. The complexity in those songs is in their “tone” not so much the note-by-note delivery of them.

How often are your albums created with the same spontaneity?

I just work day-by-day at these records. Usually within three days it should all be done, much more than that it starts to fall apart. I like to think that strengths in these recordings lie in whatever elements cannot be re-done.

The sound of Didn’t it Rain is amazing. How important is the recording location
in the conception of an album? Where was this one recorded?

Didn’t it Rain was done in an old brick building in Philadelphia. The Magnolia Electric Company [the upcoming LP] was done with Steve Albini in Chicago. The location, specifically the rooms where we did each of these recordings was important, but not more so than the assemblage of players and engineers who know what they’re doing.

Your albums each have a different feel, but the songs on each album are cohesive. Is that a conscious thing?

I try to get a good family of songs together and the thread of music or lyric that seems to be the binding element is what I try to feature in the recording of the LPs.

I’m assuming Didn’t it Rain’s cohesive element is Chicago life.

Well, the Midwest. You can’t run out of things to say about all that grey.
How has your songwriting changed since you moved to Chicago?

I live most of the time in the Midwest, so I wouldn’t notice anything dramatic about the influence of Chicago in particular upon the songs. When I wrote Ghost Tropic I attempted to take the theme of being lost, dislocated, way out past the boundary and put it into a record. I then concentrated on putting a foot down and saying something about finding a place, you understand? And then the two new records coming out The Pyramid Electric Co. and The Magnolia Electric Co. are working out the people in the place.

Talk a little about the upcoming records. I heard it was just going to be one record stripped down and now it’s destined to be two records featuring a whole cast of players.

The Pyramid Electric Co. is just coming out on vinyl and it’s me alone in a room with an electric guitar mostly and a piano. It has a depth to it that I was very pleased with. Sonically and lyrically there seemed to be a great reaching to get something done which I had not been able to do before. A short while after that comes out, the other songs I did with [Steve] Albini will come out as The Magnolia Electric Co. And that one is with a 10-piece band playing live, it really isn’t like anything else I’ve done. It has elements of straight Nashville circa 1960, the first Jackson Browne record, Harvest and 1950’s American guitar, especially Link Wray’s guitar tone turned down. . . I ain’t kidding.
On the new record I found people to sing the leads on some of it. I just sit out and let them go. It’s educational to hear the way Albini recorded each of the different singers and made it all sound.

You’ve done a bunch of 7″s in your day. Talk about the magic of the 7″.

There is nothing like it. I suppose I have done about 15 of these maybe, and this year I am doing quite a large project involving 7”s only. I am doing the next set of releases as Jason Molina. Since the Magnolia Electric Co and the Pyramid Electric Co. were trying to change things, I need a way to ease into being something that is not Songs: Ohia. This new 7″ project is one where I do my new record over the course of a year with about 6 different labels and each record comes out as a Jason Molina record and I’ll have some theme which ties them all together. Then I am sending out the masters to various labels of my own choice and submitting them like the old days, seeing who will be willing to put them out.