have wondered for a while about the origin of the name of the band Centro-matic.
i know there’s Centro-matic, there’s South San Gabriel, there’s Will Johnson’s solo stuff. and i think i generally understand the differences between the three musically. but probably as such a newbie i don’t fully.
but when i googled it today in this ongoing research project today it took seconds to find some cool information — and answers.
this is the official Centro-matic bio from their agency:
Centro-matic – A biography
Keeping track of the distinctions between Centro-matic and South San Gabriel could be a full-time effort, if one were so inclined. Based in Denton, Texas, Centro-matic once titled an album South San Gabriel Songs/Music, only to give a splinter faction of the participating musicians – meaning Centro-matic and more friends – the name South San Gabriel and release that album in Europe under the new band name. South San Gabriel includes the four core members of Centro-matic, plus additional members, but we’ll get to that shortly. You might be inclined to say that Centro-matic material tends to be more rockin’, with SSG its mellow, literary counterpart, and Will Johnson’s solo material as…well…usually (how shall I put this?) skinny-dipping in the abyss – but it would be a gross oversimplification. Each of these projects shares all of the aforementioned respective qualities and more. What is distinctive about the release of Dual Hawks is that we get the chance to hear side-by-side the various ways in which Centro-matic and South San Gabriel complement and play off of each other – sort of the full-length equivalent of a split single.
Named for a model of an Italian accordion, Centro-matic began as little more than a home-recording outlet for Will Johnson’s unstoppable muse. Redo the Stacks (1997) was primarily the work of Johnson, with soon-to-be Centro-matic members Scott Danbom on violin and Matt Pence in the recording engineer’s seat. The band soon grew to become a more collaborative effort, with Danbom (“the pride of Ponca City, Oklahoma”) on keyboards, bass, and vocals, as well as the occasional violin, Pence on drums and production/engineering duties, and Mark Hedman on bass and guitar.
The head wound may have been a setback (as the name of Johnson’s music-publishing company implies), but it was by no means the expiration of Will Johnson’s songwriting prowess. Far from it. Over the past decade, we have been treated to – I hope I get the count right (or that somebody who hasn’t been drinking the tequila Will brought over fact-checks this thing) – nine Centro-matic albums, four EPs, five singles, two South San Gabriel albums, two Johnson solo efforts (as well as a tour-only release) – every one a Maserati. Some bands focus on quality; others on quantity. With Dual Hawks, the respective bands prove once again that they are one of the rare breeds who can do both. Catchy hooks, wiry guitars, harmonies and handclaps, splendid string and horn arrangements, and songs so well written and produced they will make indie-rockers of lesser mettle go home and cry.
I had the good fortune of spending some time on the road with these folks a few years back, and let me tell ya, in this business we call “show,” you meet some characters (not all of whom you’d feel comfortable having over for a barbecue). What struck me about Centro-matic and Co. was not simply that they are extremely talented musicians, producers, and arrangers, or that they are road-seasoned to the point of seeming incapable of performing a stale, by-the-numbers show, or that they consistently (and as frequently as their label will permit) put out stunning and at times breathtaking recordings, or that they are among the finest people I’ve been given the opportunity to know – but that they are all the encapsulation of of these things and more. Every day. Centro-matic and South San Gabriel are, in a word, exceptional (in all senses of the term). I would tell you more, but I don’t want to ruin the thrill you will get when you put Dual Hawks on for the first time. And I can guarantee you, it won’t be the last.
– Edward Burch (Contributor for Harp, Clamor, LiP, and No Depression)
so really, what exactly is in this name, Centro-matic?
What matters is what something is, not what it is called.
From Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, 1600:
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
i mean, really, like it says above, “What matters is what something is, not what it is called”?
here are pictures of the Lira Centromatic accordion
and a close-up
apologies for the grody keyboard shot — it’s hard to take pics without getting glare and my trusty old keyboard(1) was the perfect prop.
got the new District Attorneys record and the new Matthew Sweet record yesterday. it’s like Christmas in September. yay!
(1) Love my Microsoft Natural Keyboard — which they don’t make anymore. i always joke when folks make fun of how yellow and old and clunky it looks that they will have to pry it out of my cold dead hands when i die.