“My friend’s uncle was playing guitar with Miley Cyrus’ band years ago. I saw him on the Country Music Awards and he busted out a guitar solo, and it was sick.”
Tony Molina might be poised for the microscopic non-success of a beloved 21st century indie rocker, and he might stick hard to the DIY ethos of hardcore, but when it comes to a future in music, sometimes he’d rather just be a mercenary for some big-ticket industry operation. “I’ve always wanted to [make a living through music], but I’ve never wanted to do it through my own stuff,” he says. “Like if I just got paid to play bass in some fuckin’ successful band…I’ve always wanted to do something like that.
“The idea of making music off my own shit just seems…like I don’t really know, y’know? I don’t even care who the band is,” he says. “That’s the beauty of it—it has nothing to do with me; I’m just a hired gun. That shit is sick—that’s just a dude up there getting paid. If a band you don’t like asks you to play bass and will pay you so much and blah blah blah, like, why not?”
It’s easy to talk to Tony Molina about music. He speaks straight and deals in facts, or at least strong opinions. (“Hardcore’s better than all other kinds of music,” he tells me with total sincerity.) After a few minutes it feels like you’re talking to a dude you’ve known for years, jawing on the phone about bands and records like you’re at a corner bar. In Molina’s case though, it’s a dude who just happened to make one of the best rock records of 2013.
He’s even willing to dredge up old business from knucklehead days. Before he got into hardcore, three bands familiar to anybody who drew breath in the ‘90s nudged him towards his current life’s direction. “When I was a kid, I was like 10, it was Nirvana, Green Day and Weezer,” he admits. “Those were like the three bands me and my friends liked. I don’t listen to Green Day now, I don’t really listen to Nirvana anymore even though I really like ‘em, but Weezer, for some reason, they’ve just held up. Probably because I like the guitars so much. But the lyrics are so fucking terrible. That guy writes the creepiest fucking lyrics.”
Molina’s open about what he likes (Guided By Voices, Teenage Fanclub, Metallica) and doesn’t like (pop-punk might have killed somebody he loves), but he doesn’t have time for introspection. He’s already in just about every hardcore band in the Bay Area (or at least four of them) and under his own name put out one of the best power-pop and indie rock records of 2013. He sticks to declarative sentences, announcing what he thinks but seemingly uncomfortable about saying why. When he says he loves hardcore, don’t ask him to explain. There’s nothing worse than rambling like a misguided philosopher-poet on whatever kind of music you like, and Molina’s too busy doing what he loves to waste time thinking about why he loves it.
Molina does what he loves a lot. His four hardcore bands include Scalped, Provos, Fraudulent Lifestyle and Caged Animal (who might be breaking up after their next 7”). His first solo record, a lightning-flash power-pop miniature called Dissed and Dismissed, came out about a year ago and is the best thing he’s done. The original press run on the small Melters Music label got good reviews from the places that review punk and indie-rock records with 500-copy press runs and sold out quickly. Big-time indie Matador Records gave him a slot in their current singles club after hearing Dissed, and the album was just reissued last week by legendary noise-pop label Slumberland.
For a guy dedicated to hardcore, one of the most insular scenes ever, Dissed and Dismissed is a surprisingly catchy and accessible record. Its 12 tracks scream by in 12 minutes, with a pan-generational appeal that crosses over a good half-dozen subgenres of underground rock, playing to the punks, the indie rockers, the pop kids and the garage revivalists. Even those who gaze with melancholy upon the moldering corpse of grunge will find a beacon of hope within the thick riffs of Dissed and Dismissed. Molina might love hardcore above all, but he raves about Big Star, calling them his favorite band ever, and it makes sense: Dissed and Dismissed and the Matador EP sound like a kid who grew up on hardcore and metal making power-pop records.
It’s no surprise, then, that the first run of Dissed sold out. With that large variety of influences, most people who hear this record will love it. If it had come out in 2008, at the height of the HoZac / Termbo / Reatard L@@K OOP eBay orgy, second-hand copies would probably be funding a lot of coke habits already. Twenty years before that, when people still listened to the radio, it would’ve been a college-radio classic. The kids of today would honor it with reverent tones and half-assed covers.
Molina’s own bandmates don’t always dig his solo stuff, though. “Some of them are super down,” he says, “but some aren’t into it at all. They have a different vibe.”
Nobody will love Tony Molina’s music more than rock critics. His hook-heavy, imperfect sound invites countless comparisons to other bands, and there’s little rock critics like more than showing off their useless knowledge and smothering some young hopeful with a thick smear of RIYLs. You better get used to it when, like Molina, you operate at the nexus of such critically beloved subgenres of rock.
It’s easy for references to dominate the discussion of Molina’s music because he’s really good at writing classic pop songs. He’s ret-conning the indie-rock canon, making up history and almost convincing us that it always happened this way. Despite its brevity, each song has a riff or melody or three that will plow deep into your brain and hang out long after the party’s over. These songs sound simple and familiar but not specifically like anything else you know, which makes them feel timeless. It’s the kind of record where you want to immediately listen to every song again once it ends, until the first couple seconds of the next song instantly hook you and keep you moving forward.
Molina’s used to comparisons. He’s heard them as long as anybody’s written about his music, or about his previous band, Ovens. “It’s only weird when they list bands I don’t listen to,” he says. “A lot of the time they say bands like Pavement and Lemonheads. I don’t dislike Pavement or the Lemonheads, but I don’t really listen to them.”
The ultimate act of rock-critic name-gaming with Dissed and Dismissed would go like this: It’s like early Guided By Voices if Bob Pollard only ever listened to the first Weezer record. It’s got the fuzzy guitar tone of Blue Album-era Weezer, the no-frills production of classic GBV, and Pollard’s no-fat songcraft from the days before he indiscriminately released every dictaphone belch and hiccup. A verse and a chorus will lead into a fuzzed out guitar solo or sometimes an impromptu metal breakdown, and then the brakes slam and the next hit rips. Near the end Molina cuts the GBV refs off at the pass by straight-up covering the band’s “Wondering Boy Poet,” eliminating the half-second of deduction necessary to make that stylistic connection. A dude who likes good rock songs now writes good rock songs, and those who listen are better for it.
Molina’s confused by the influences that nobody has picked up on. “It’s weird that no one has called me out on the Fastbacks worship because I feel like it’s kind of obvious sometimes,” he says. “That was the main band the Ovens were influenced by. It’s just weird to never get called on it, ever, because it’s a heavy influence. And ‘Breakin’ Up,’ that one song on the Matador 7” that is almost exactly ‘Southbound’ by Thin Lizzy, was never called out. That was weird because people were saying it was a ‘power-pop indie-rock jam’ or some shit. I was like ‘oh shit, I guess you have never heard the Bad Reputation LP.’”
Of course it sounds like “Southbound” cut in half, as, like almost every Molina song, it’s really short. Molina comes from the GBV/Wire school of not wasting time. The longest song he’s ever released under his own name is a Metallica cover on the B-side of his Matador EP that runs three times as long as any of his originals. (Molina on Metallica: “And Justice For All is my favorite. That song ‘To Live Is To Die’ is sick. Best band.”) Molina is an economist, but not necessarily by design.
“It’s just whatever the song calls for,” he says. “I don’t know if I write songs intentionally short. It’s easier to do short. I don’t need a song to be standard length just because I feel like it should be a standard length, you know? It doesn’t need to fucking repeat. Why does it have to repeat? You’ve got to be a really good songwriter to have a song that’s long and have it not be boring.”
There’s nothing boring about Dissed and Dismissed, and not just because every song ends as soon as it begins. There’s not a wasted second on the record. “Indie” has always been a stupid, awkward term, especially when used as a genre tag, but at least it used to tell you what to expect: cheaply produced music, usually with guitars, that isn’t particularly slick and that has roots in punk and its forebears. “Indie” has never been a label to be proud of, and now the word’s completely meaningless, but if you grew up listening to what used to be called indie rock, there’s a great chance you’ll dig Dissed and Dismissed.