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Spineriders story

Reilly Lambert, an old, dear friend of Jason Molina, looks back on the Spineriders, on the occassion of their cassette being released

The first time I met Jason Molina was at a local metal show at the Lorain, Ohio community center. It was around 1988 and we were all wearing jean jackets and sporting mullets. My friend Jeff had been talking about how cool Jason was for days. When we were first introduced, I expected him to be six-feet tall.

Jason was a genuinely great guy from the second we met. He commanded the room (in this instance, he commanded the sterile hallways of a Lorain community center) and possessed a confidence I saw over the years in many different places. It was as if he knew the venue by heart, leading me around to show me how things worked. Jason was at home where music was played. Looking back, I see that it was his passion that came across in meeting people and sharing his love of music.

One could say Lorain created the Spineriders, but that would be too poetic. It would give the Rust Belt a glory that it doesn’t deserve. The Spineriders were a result of the culture. Lorain was a factory town, and there were unspoken rules of conformity that begged for resistance. They knew what they wanted before they could express it. Barely old enough to drive, they had this amazing ambition to create something new.

I could go on about their punk and metal influences and even how Jason introduced blues folk to everyone in the band. However, doing that takes away from the music that these four kids created on the rusty shores of Lake Erie.

The band was Jason Molina on bass, Todd Jacops on guitar, Carl Raponi on drums, and Mike McCartney on guitar and vocals. Everyone who heard the Spineriders started a band. In Lorain, that was about fifteen of us.

The Spineriders made a name for themselves by competing in high school talent shows and battle of the bands competitions around Cleveland. I always got the idea that they did the high school talent shows on a lark, and they all seemed to have smirks on their faces as they played.  When they won a Battle of the Bands, they won studio time. Chris Keffer, a judge at one of the battles, produced their records. He introduced them to the studio, showing them how to work in it, and essentially becoming the fifth member of the band.

Their demo got them gigs at clubs around Cleveland. They even rented a community center in the area with other local bands. Somehow, they managed to get a decent enough crowd to cover the costs of both a P.A. and the room itself.

As they got older, their music got better, more intense. And with all high school bands, they eventually split up due to everyone in the band moving on after graduation. Todd went on to record more music with Jason on breaks from college. In 1994, they recorded songs that were completely different than what the Spineriders had produced. It was a new direction that would eventually evolve into Songs: Ohia. Todd and Mike played on early Songs: Ohia records: the debut “Nor Cease Thou Never Now” 7” (Palace Records), the “One Pronunciation of Glory” 7” (Secretly Canadian’s second release), Songs: Ohia (debut LP), and Hecla & Griper (Todd only). Carl went on to become a drum and bass DJ. Todd and Mike play in bands to this day.

I can go on for hours about how Lorain, Ohio is a shit town, but I won’t. Jason and I would talk about how much we hated it, about how we never wanted to go back. When I listen to the Spineriders now, I remember that period as such a creative time for the band and for everyone involved in the scene. Going to their shows and listening to their music gave me my best memories of Lorain. The background in music and the drive to be creative would shape them for years, especially Jason, who had ridiculous drive and creativity. He was prolific. I imagine Lorain is part of the darkness he always wrote about.

In 1993, I asked Jason what he wanted to be when he grew up. He’d just finished his first year at Oberlin College. He was disillusioned about school and dealing with financial aid. It was a sunny day. He was playing a beat-up acoustic guitar, fitted with nylon strings. There were only five strings on it and tuned in some odd way that he was fond of.

He stopped strumming, looked in my direction and said, “I want to be a rock star.”