Since Jason Molina‘s death in 2013, there have been some memorable and intimate releases. In 2016, Secretly Canadian released The Townes Van Zandt Covers (I’ll Be Here In the Morning/Tower Song). It came as no surprise that Molina should be drawn to these songs. His melancholic sad tones seemed well suited to those Townes songs who, like Molina, also battled with alcoholism.
The latest offering from Secretly Canadian may be a less obvious connection – The Black Sabbath Covers 7″. Although Molina was in the punk band Spineriders in the late ’80s and early ’90s this isn’t a return to those days, instead, the two tracks Solitude and Snowblind were recorded in the late ’90s, with just voice and acoustic guitar. He makes them both his own although they are no sooner started then they’re over – combined they come in at just under 3:30 minutes but this does allow the b-side to be adorned with an etching of a black ram by the brilliant Rhode Island artist and musician William Schaff.
Schaff’s artwork is well known, it has adorned albums by the likes of Brown Bird, Okkervil River, Guy Capecelatro III and the wonderful Allysen Callery for Mumblin’ Sue. Of all his work, the cover for Molina’s Songs:Ohia album is probably my favourite – the image and music seemed to form a perfect marriage (image left).
While the stencil artwork for this release appears to be more recent Schaff was pretty much responsible for Molina recording the TVZ Covers.
The story is that at a Songs: Ohia show in the early 00s Jason Molina said to Schaff that he’d be honoured to see himself depicted as one of his signature, skull-headed creatures. The pair struck up a pen pal affection in the late 90s, bonding over art and music, and frequently traded letters, drawings and historical ephemera. Schaff naturally obliged Molina’s request, adding that if Molina fancied the drawing he planned to send, he would be thrilled to receive a recording of the Townes Van Zandt covers Molina had performed that night. Months later in 2002, a cassette appeared in Schaff’s Providence post box along with a polaroid of Molina’s new digs, labeled “Sweet Home Chicago.”
This short documentary from 2010 gives a little insight into Schaff’s life and work. Like in other interviews, he keeps his face hidden with a mask.
If you love William Schaff’s work you can become a patreon – as he says “Commissions do not come as regularly as the electric bill.” Find out more here.
The Black Sabbath Covers is out now on Secretly Canadian.