Tony Molina Doesn’t Work for You

From his work in his local hardcore scene to his gentler solo efforts, the West Bay riffer continues to do things his own way.

Even though I write about music professionally, there’s little funnier to me in this world than a musician laying into lazy music writers. Unfortunately for Tony Molina, his most well-known musical pursuits invite half-assed journalistic devices: he writes classic, accessible pop melodies, and drops them into fun-size songs often clocking in under the minute mark (almost always under two minutes), plus he also kicks around in local hardcore bands in the West Bay part of the San Francisco Bay Area—and isn’t it weird that he does both? In doing research for this article, it sometimes seemed like this was the sum of all critical appraisal of Molina’s records. It got boring real quick.

So, when Molina and I spoke on the phone recently, we spent most of our brief conversation talking about lazy critics (that section has been edited for clarity, and because we both said “fuck” a lot more times than I felt like transcribing). Maybe it’s because it had taken us a couple tries over the course of a week for the chat to happen, or maybe it’s just that Molina was anxious to get back to hanging with friends at the bar, but either way, he was ready to get it all out. If Molina sounds angry, rest assured I had to refrain from overuse of the ol’ “[laughs]” device.

Molina’s latest, Kill the Lights, is a cool step forward from his prior work, by the way, largely stripping back the loud guitars of his earlier solo releases in favor of ornate, almost chamber-pop-style arrangements. This isn’t an entirely new move—Molina’s old band Ovens wasn’t afraid of acoustic guitars and mellower arrangements—but he seems to enter the zone this time with more confidence than ever.

Meanwhile, he’s already at work on the next one, and he’s also probably starting another hardcore band as I write this (one of those bands, Healer, just released a split 7″ with Dank Goblins on the Warthog Speak label this year). If you haven’t kept up with Molina over the last few years, though, don’t worry: Any music writer will be happy to pithily inform you that it won’t take long to get up to speed.

I’ve hung out with plenty of hardcore dudes in my day, and you’ve been in hardcore bands. My experience has sometimes been that good chunks of that crew tend to be dismissive of music without “socio-political” “content.” Do you ever catch shit from your hardcore friends for doing songs about relationships and loneliness?

I mean, my friends clown me for that shit, for sure, but I love that. I’m from the West Bay, and people tend to be more open-minded about music in general where I’m from. Across the board, we just make and record music.

When we first started my old band Ovens, we were also in a hardcore band at the same time, so the first show we got offered was with the band Tear It Up from New Jersey, in the garage at our friend’s house. I remember being so freaked out about that: “I don’t want these people to know that I play pop music!” We didn’t wanna expose that to people, but then when we finally did, everyone was really supportive, which really helped us be comfortable doing what we do. It was a huge thing, because we were so insecure about that.

Why do you think people think it’s weird to play both hardcore and pop music?

I don’t think people do…?

I guess I’m thinking about things I’ve read in interviews and articles with you. It seems like music critics think it’s weird.

Yeah, but y’know, fuck those people, man. Seriously, if you’re some fuckin’ dickhead who listened to some MP3s that somebody sent you so you can write about something you don’t even know about, fuck you. Where’s your fuckin’ record, man? You’re a parasite. Come to the West Bay with that shit.

“It’s none of [critics’] business what we do. It’s local music… It’s for us, not for you. We’re humble people, we keep it close.”

Let me tell you another thing, man: These motherfuckers are so entitled. We’d go out of town to play New York or something like that, and we’d get e-mails from some fool we’d never met, all like, “Hey, I really enjoyed the MP3s that someone sent me, and I wrote about it for my dickhead website. Can me and four friends get on the list?” Fuck you, dude, I’ll put you on the list so I can beat your fuckin’ head in. The list is for friends and family. What do they do? They’re typing on a laptop. That’s not music, that’s not culture. That’s a leech. I mean, honestly, it’s none of their business what we do. It’s local music… It’s for us, not for you. We’re humble people, we keep it close.

Right, it’s not about pleasing some dildo who doesn’t know where you’re coming from.

Exactly. I didn’t put a gun to your head and force you to listen to my shit on Spotify.

Anyway, totally different topic: you’ve said that when you make a song whose influences are obvious, you think of it more as “worship” than as a “rip-off.” Is that always the case, or do you ever hear stuff where you think, “Eh, this is such a cheap knock-off of blank”?

I can’t really think of anything where I feel like that. I remember the first time I ever heard “Shake Some Action” by The Flamin’ Groovies, I thought, “Oh, man, this is some Beatles worship… Hell yeah!” If you can do a track that sounds exactly the same as a better band, then man, you’ve got a track, you know what I mean?

Do you think there’s a science that can create a perfect pop melody, or does science just get in the way?

I think if you have an ear for melody, the records you listen to are going to get ingrained in your mind a little bit. For me, that’s how I do stuff, and it probably comes out whenever I step to a track.

I’m not gonna make you talk at any length about the “short songs” thing, because I think it’s about as boring a topic at this point as you probably do, but: do you think if you forced yourself to write in a standard verse-chorus-verse, bridge, middle eight framework, you’d be less prolific, since you’re more comfortable writing in the way that you do?

Yes. [Pregnantly pauses, laughs.]

Y’know, people talk about the length, and I get it, but it’s the way I’ve always carved out my own thing, even back in Ovens. People want to talk about it, or complain about it, but what they maybe don’t understand is that that’s what makes it good. If it was longer, it wouldn’t be as good. Trust me, I’ve thought about it. FL

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