Tony Molina’s Micro-Pop Masterpiece

Barry Walters

By Barry Walters

on 03.27.14 in Features

File under: Poppy ’90s-style alt-rock, but with hardcore song lengths
For Fans of: Weezer, Teenage Fanclub, Guided by Voices, Johann Sebastian Bach, Agnostic Front
From: Oakland, California

The bard of both hardcore and similarly minimalist guitar pop, Tony Molina may craft short songs, but he boasts a tenacious work ethic. He’s recorded with an innumerable string of bands, among them Ovens and Caged Animal, turning out a string of impossibly catchy songs that all mostly clock in under a minute. When I meet up with him on a Friday evening, he’s preparing to rehearse his solo act late into the night before leaving for South By Southwest, where he’ll play songs from the just-released Dissed and Dismissed. This is after clocking out from his job at the Vogue, one of San Francisco’s last surviving old-school movie palaces, the one celebrated in a pair of songs he wrote for Ovens, “Fired from the Vogue, Pt. 1” and “Fired from the Vogue, Pt. 2.” It’s during his night shift there that I meet up with him. There’s a film playing in the theatre, and here in the lobby, there’s only place to sit, and that’s in the ticket booth, which is where Molina places himself. He is, after all, still working.

In his late 20s, the slim, denim-clad guitarist still bares the look and demeanor of an inner-city teen — tough-talking, but a bit anxious, yet charmingly so. If the entire transcript of this interview were to be published without a single edit, it might break a Wolf of Wall Street-type record for the number of “shit”s in a Q&A. Like, you couldn’t even get through it for all the shits.

But not even that can distract from the man’s talent. Micro-released last year on the tiny California indie Melters (and subsequently reissued by Slumberland), Dissed and Dismissed features 12 tracks and runs approximately 12 minutes. There are intros, verses and solos but, depending on how you hear them, there are either no choruses, or everything’s a chorus. You can hear Molina’s background in classical music in his solos, during which overdubbed guitar leads are played in harmony. It’s like a one-man Thin Lizzy, but with less blues and more Beethoven. There’s virtually no space for repetition, and yet the songs are crazy-catchy, and the concision puts the onus on you to play this shit again. Trust us: You’ll want to.

On the length and construction of his songs:

I think people think there’s this rule that a song has to be three minutes long — verse, chorus, verse, chorus, repeat, repeat, repeat — just so it’s legitimate. But if you listen to, like, Napalm Death, that’s not true. When the Ovens first started, it was the same thing that everyone else does, like a song has to be a standard length, and it didn’t really work. I’m sure if I kept at it, and kept thinking that songs have to be this length, I could’ve figured it out — somehow, maybe, possibly. But I was just like, “This song would be fuckin’ sick if I just did the verse and I just did the riff and then it faded out.”

On the length of his sets:

Everyone has seen really shitty bands that have this weird sense of entitlement where they play a long time and they don’t have a filter. Your song doesn’t have to be three minutes. Your set doesn’t need to be 45 minutes. You can do whatever the fuck you want. We do anywhere from 10 to 13 songs. They feel long, but they’re all short [laughs]. It doesn’t seem like that when you’re doing it. And no one ever comes up to us and is like, “That was too short.” But technically, they are pretty short, about 15 minutes or so.

On swinging between hardcore and guitar pop:

I’ve always done both, ever since I started playing music. My first real band was a hardcore band. Ovens started maybe a few months after, during my junior year, ’02, with the same people, and we wanted to try to play pop music. But the main thing I’ve always wanted to do is stupid hardcore music with my friends. It’s not even fun. And it’s not rewarding. I dunno, it’s just like something me and my friends do. You just relate to that shit more, you know?

On his earliest musical memories:

Just the Beatles when I was really young. Like, four. We had the Hard Day’s Night movie. I used to watch that all the time. That scene when Ringo’s in the bathtub and he pretends that he’s drowning, I remember that scarin’ the shit of me. My dad was always into Led Zeppelin and shit, and I like that. I love Pink Floyd. My dad’s brothers, they used to play in an old Latin rock band in the Mission in the ’70s. Yeah, that shit’s always been around.

On school band:

My parents made me do that shit when I was in high school. I played string bass — you know, like upright? I started playing guitar when I was about nine, and I just always practiced. I’ve kinda learned by ear. But some of the classical shit that you would do in school, I’ve always liked that shit. I listen to that stuff a lot, you know, like Bach for Guitar-type shit; I have a bunch of CDs like that.

On getting serious about music:

A girlfriend in high school, she broke up with me and I was, like, really bummed out and fucked up by it. Before then, doing bands was cool. But in senior year in high school, I was like, “I gotta actually do this shit.” After we recorded the first album, I was really driven. I remember by the time we recorded the second one, I already had the third and fourth ones written. All the best shit I’ve done is when I’m super bummed-out. I’ll be trying to write riffs anyway, but usually when I think I come up with like, wow, one of the good ones, that’s usually when I’m depressed. Dissed and Dismissed, I was super-fuckin’-bummed when I made that. All the best Ovens shit, the same.

On participating in six bands, mostly all of them current:

Four of ‘em are hardcore bands. I have this band Caged Animal that’s been around for awhile. That’s hardcore. We have a 7″ and we’re doing another 7″. Then I have this other band Scalped, which is also a hardcore band. We just put out a demo and I think we’re gonna do a 7″. Then I have this other band Fraudulent Lifestyle, which is a hardcore band, and we’re putting out a six-song demo tape, and I’m in this band called Provos, who put out a 7″ before I joined, but I think we’re going to do another 7″ or maybe an LP. And then I have Ovens, which is not technically broken up, and the solo stuff.

On whether or not he was, as his song claims, fired from the Vogue for smoking PCP:

It’s an inside joke. My old boss, Herb, he doesn’t work here anymore, but when I first started, I wrote some songs about him, and I was like, “Check out this song.” But no, I’ve never been fired from the Vogue. I’ve been here for over 10 years. And I’ve never smoked PCP. As many songs as I fuckin’ have about it, I’ve never done it. Actually, no. I accidently did once, but I thought it was weed.