such a great set by Centro-matic to close out Wigginstock 2012.
here’s the encore they did, “Love Has Found Me Somehow.” grateful thanks to Michael M for posting this.
just makes me smile…. what a way to end an incredible weekend of music.
such a great set by Centro-matic to close out Wigginstock 2012.
here’s the encore they did, “Love Has Found Me Somehow.” grateful thanks to Michael M for posting this.
just makes me smile…. what a way to end an incredible weekend of music.
“…one look at you and i know it’s going to be hot”
while i appreciated the camp — a word i like about as much as the word “edgy” — of the Shack Up Inn specifically i already know it was not the highlight of this roadtrip. and the environs of Clarksdale, well i was pretty much sick as a dog and didn’t have the energy or enthusiasm to go delve into the museums and blues clubs like i should have and/or would have if i had been healthy. i have such a love affair for Mississippi at this point that i’m almost 100% certain i will be back, so i hope that i will be able to do a more thorough visit to these places at then.
Clarksdale is this somewhat large (comparatively) and sprawling metropolis in the middle of what i can only describe as a post-apocalyptic flatland hell. the arid cotton fields were some of the grimmest looking scenery of my trip thus far. and i forgot to mention that driving in from the south i saw at least three dead dogs on the side of the road (among other assorted roadkill). and to top that off, there were at least a handful of very skinny looking dogs wandering around the side of the road as i zoomed on by, thankfully only going 55 mph. at first i was like, “what the hell?!?” but then it seemed to make sense for where i was. this part of Mississippi has got to be a challenging place to survive in environmentally. living here seems difficult. it made me a little blue, no pun intended.
very important t-shirt update™: Duquette Johnston‘s Club Duquette in olive with black type
so after more than a few cough-filled nights i am thrilled to be back on the road, albeit baby steps. not going to do a lot of long hauls but needed to get out of that temporary rut and mosey slowly north to see what awaits me in my messed up, molested by the storm, home of New York City.
Memphis was part of the original plan — and was not far from Clarksdale — but i’m pretty sure i’m still contagious / sick so a museum would knock me right back into bed so i’m going to conserve strength and cancel that leg. i’m sorry i won’t be able to meet up with a good family friend there but it sounds like the timing isn’t meant to be for either of us, so i’ll let the guilt go, as much as possible.
that’s one thing that i have noticed on this trip. i’ve had some real serendipitous happenings on this roadtrip from the start. not to jinx things or anything but i’m feeling truly blessed at some of the things i’ve seen and places i’ve been and people i’ve been able to spend time with. i’m very thankful. from Wigginstock 2012 on down to being where i am tonight it’s all feeling very connected and meant to be. don’t want to belabor this too much but it has been at the forefront of my mind when i’ve been making decisions about where to go and what to see. i find it comforting.
when reviews on Yelp say “trust me” and talk about the bacon being infused with yummy things they pretty much had me. if anything i think the reviews were a bit modest. some of the best breakfast i’ve had on this trip — and i’ve had a lot of breakfast.
i got the red eye gravy (three types of gravy!!!), which the waitress said has a bunch of cool stuff, including Coke, in it. it was amazing.
since i knew i was just going to drive a little today and then crash / rest up for tomorrow, i got THE LAST GENTLEMAN (two piece plate of Coca‐cola brined fried chicken with potato salad and cole slaw) for dinner, plus a side of fruit salad. i’m very much looking forward to that later on.
wanted to mention that i’ve not heard so much laughter and what sounded like happiness (yeah, THAT) coming out of a kitchen before. i think that sinks into the food.
supremely happy to have stumbled upon The End of All Music, a small but mighty record store in Oxford, MS. they sell mostly vinyl but their CD selection was robust enough to get me into a medium flop sweat.
my retail flop sweats — especially those reserved for record stores — are legendary (at least to me). while listening to the sweet sounds of Will Oldham‘s new EP, i tried to be surgical in my choices. this is what i picked up.
the guy at the store helped me choose some of these, which i think are local*. which i’m always happy for, as i’ve discovered cool music via record store expert recommendations in the past. i have a good feeling about this stuff.
in addition to the sticker i got this cool tote with my purchase. happiness!
as i look into the prospective job market, the fact that i fell for a town like Oxford, MS — home of the University of Mississippi — was super reassuring. it’s likely i will need to relocate for my first few library science jobs. if it’s a place like Oxford with great food, awesome record stores, and nice folks, well i’m happy to leave the bubble that is New York City. at least for a little while….
going to trip on up the Natchez Trace Parkway a bit, then dip into Alabama maybe, then head on up to Nashville, Louisville, and maybe Pittsburgh before hustling to vote in New York City next Tuesday. that’s my only deadline.
returning the car rental to LaGuardia looks like it’s going to be a challenge. plus i want to bring back groceries and supplies as it looks like those are not easy to find right now — and i left my cupboards pretty bare.
so i’m crashed here in Clarksdale, MS for a little while recuperating from a nasty cold / sore throat. seeing as where i am staying is much larger than my apartment in New York City — and has a full kitchen — it feels like luxe digs.
still feels bizarre to not be home during this crazy storm. glad everyone i know of so far came out relatively unscathed.
i was hungry but it was sort of hard to find the same yummy victuals that i easily found in New Orleans and Wiggins (heck yeah) so i followed some kind recommendations and got food from this Lebanese-Italian (?!?) place called Rest Haven Inn in Clarksdale.
i still don’t get grits. too much of a northerner maybe? is Nebraska northern? i don’t know. but thank god everyone has potatoes / hash browns.
happier than words can express to go to the HUGE (to me) Kroger’s and stock up on some much needed supplies like bottled water, cold medicine, throat lozenges, soup, tea, vitamins, and fruit. they had like 4 aisles of frozen food. so much food in this world it’s almost ridiculous how we take this bounty for granted.
almost went through some gross drive-thru but was strong and held out for Abe’s BBQ. so glad i did that. the woman who helped me choose what to get was so nice and i have been driving by Abe’s every day so am so happy to have had the iconic Abe’s finally….
unlike other BBQ i’ve had, this had super vinegary cole slaw on the sandwich. i liked that — and the meat was pretty freaking great — but it was definitely a tang i wasn’t expecting. the sandwich was hot and delicious and surprisingly light for BBQ. highly recommend.
these were spicy as all get out. whoo! but very good.
not sure of the correlation between BBQ and tamales. i’m used to tamales only being served by Spanish-themed restaurants in New York City. but i’m a fan of tamales from my time in Los Angeles pre-riots so i always try them if i can. spicy, like i said. the woman helping me suggested having chili and cheese on top, smothering them, but i think it would’ve been too much for me. i like my tamales dry i think.
the best tamales i ever had — my gold standard as it were — were the tamales from the Von’s right down the street from my apartment on Bimini Place. the Von’s at 3rd and Vermont that got burned down during the Los Angeles Riots. they were amazing. oh man…. just thinking about them. yum.
medicine is working and honestly, i am giving myself a day or so more and then am hitting the road, sick or not. i want to get home soon and see my city that has been hurt so badly. start back up on my life and get things going there.
thanks to anyone still following me on my journeys…
Centro-matic’s encore at Wigginstock 2012. “Love Has Found Me Somehow” with Will Johnson demonstrating the dance that is sweeping Denton, Texas, and the world: The Trash Compacter.
as i write this on Sunday morning it’s almost impossible to look back on yesterday with any kind of objectivity. it was a day of music, great food, even better people. a freezing day. an electrifying day. and now i know where the Piggly Wiggly and various dollar stores are — and have finally stopped getting lost getting to WSHQ — i don’t want to leave Wiggins or the postcard family.
i take the fact that the hotel has this artwork hanging in the breakfast / lounge area as a sign that all things are aligned. it’s a very similar design to this blog template. yeah, it has been that kind of trip.
sort of freaky.
Joe C aka Jersey Joe and Anne and I went and took the traditional route (i.e., not Ward’s) for breakfast and i know i’m so grateful to have done that. we got a chance to talk to the woman who i think owns Serendipity and have less fast-foody fud, which i’m a big fan of this trip. if i can make it through this trip with less fast food and more of this kind of home cooking i’ll be really happy.
and then there’s this. us out-of-towners were very confused by the pepper gravy and tomato gravy. it was so funny because it was the first thing we all asked. they explained but i don’t think we really got it. in my pin mind i’m going to call it white gravy and red gravy. i’m so overloaded sense-wise i think big picture concepts is all i can handle right now.
and then the requisite food shot. nice and peppery potatoes. yumula biscuits of course. i am a HUGE fan of the large styrofoam cups they put the drinks in.
and so it began…
it was freezing cold. did a dollar store run — so fun i’ve never been to these before, was like a pig in sh*t! — for hats and gloves and fleeces. only downside was that i missed seeing The Pollies.
had a great time petting the Courtney Cat (orange tabby) and listening to Glossary while taking a break and trying to stay warm. felt good to serve as the official opener of Beef Jerky sticks — which was too much for the kids to deal with.
MacGyvered (well in my mind at least) a wet sock crisis, though i was thinking a clear produce bag (and a borrowed sock from the girls of the house), not a deli bag. must’ve been squishy and wet but there ya go….
Centro-matic played what ended up being a completely sublime set — a mix of old and new. it’s so fitting for me that i just saw Will Johnson play a solo show with Anders Parker a few weeks ago at the Mercury Lounge. it was the first live show in forever (maybe years). and then to have them cap off Wigginstock 2012, well, i’ll be going to more live shows when i get home. and will be glad for it. a nice reintroduction to the glory and beauty that is live music.
because of this g-d scary-ass storm, i’ll probably extend my trip, doubling days at locations so i get back to New York City next weekend. no skin off my back to spend more time in the South. i got some great recommendations from Susan and Doc from Doc Dailey for the Florence / Muscle Shoals area.
so the general plan is Clarksdale and Memphis for at least two days, one day on the Natchez Trace, with a jaunt to Florence / Muscle Shoals. then Nashville and wherever else i feel like hitting.
this is going to be the tougher leg of my journey i can tell already. what i am facing when i get back home to New York City — the job search, continuing to get my apartment and sleep schedule righted, adjusting to life post job of 15 years. continued terror and fear and excitement. so i’ll enjoy the solitude and distraction of these travels until then. and hope everyone stays safe in this apocalyptic weather.
big thanks (yet again) to Sean for suggesting i blog my roadtrip and the Wigginstock experience. have loved doing this.
via Stash Studios, “shot by Matt Pence as the group toured Spain recently.”
here’s an IFC article about the song / video:
The Texas treasure Centro-matic returns with its 10th album, Candidate Waltz, one of its best pop songs yet, and a video that offers a little insight to the hours they spend away from the stage.
We caught up with Johnson in Tennessee to talk about life on the road and Centro-matic‘s great new album, Candidate Waltz. The album is out June 21st.
By this point, you’ve made a lot of solo records, a lot of Centro-matic records, and a lot of South San Gabriel records. What’s your favorite thing about leading the old rock band through a new album?
It’s more about exploring the relationship between songwriting and volume–more of a physical event writing Centro-matic music for me than writing for South San Gabriel or solo. That’s a little more subdued and a little more introspective. But writing Centro-matic songs, especially the songs for this record, it was a truly joyful, kidlike experience. I set up a bunch of gear in the kitchen in my old house in a small town in Texas, and I bounced from amplifier to amplifier. Much of it was written on an overdriven bass guitar, which is such a loud but joyous way to write. If I have to pinpoint what the writing is like for each project, I would say that the Centro-matic songs these days are real, front-of-the-brain, unbridled, childlike joy.
That said, a lot of those songs are still about doubts and uneasiness. What’s the balance like for you, between joy and worry, in rock music?
Maybe it’s just my little outpost, but that’s a lot of what life is about to me. It’s about keeping the negative and fearing the worst but hoping for the best. Sometimes, I think the songs harbor some of those emotions. The language or the overtones might feel a little bit negative or sad or sorrowful or even just suspicious, but at the same time, hopefully there’s still an element of hope and positivity. Without a doubt, that’s a pretty common thing about a lot of my favorite writers–not just songwriters, but writers in general. I try to balance those two a little bit and sometimes have them test each other, either through a scenario in a song or through characters or through a setting. I try to set them up against each other and test the limits.
“Iso-Residue” seems to be a song about two people stuck in a situation that’s not quite satisfying. So why turn it up and make it such a pop tune?
That song in particular deals with two individuals who are making do with one another at a certain stage. It’s got a little bit of a raised-eyebrow feel to it. There’s a little bit of suspicion between the two characters in the song, but ultimately, the characters only have each other. They’re figuring out how to proceed and how to make things better. There are clearly some communication problems between these two folks. At the heart of it, I really just wanted to write a quick, catchy pop song that I knew our band would latch onto pretty well and pretty quickly. While I have definitely discussed and analyzed that song as much as I ever have right here with you, at the core of it, I wanted to write a fun, bouncy pop song.
How did the band respond to that song, and, in general, what’s Centro-matic’s process of taking songs from your mind to the stage?
It’s different from song to song, but with a song like that one, when I was writing it, it was really easy for me to envision playing that one and getting it ready to perform very quickly. The instrumentation is not terribly complex. It’s not a heavily layered recording. It’s just a song that I pictured us playing pretty soon. And we did. We got right to it, started playing it out live almost a year and a half ago. We recorded it and then went out and started playing it live. It was recorded not even a month and a half after it was written, so there was a pretty quick turnaround from the writing to the recording. Six months after we tracked it, we were starting to play it live.
That short turnaround is notable here, because the video does seem to focus so much on your touring life–set lists and travel and backstage shots. When you wrote this song, did you know it was something you wanted to get onstage with the band?
Definitely. It’s a pretty quick and bouncy little pop song. That video comes from the soul and the eye of our drummer and recording engineer Matt Pence. He documented so much of this Spanish tour that we did back in November. He has such a talent for catching some of those moments on tour that a lot of people don’t necessarily get to see. Some of those moments are beautiful and serene, like when we have a little bit of time during one of the drive days and we get to the beach. It’s a spiritual hour, so to speak.
Others are your typical backstage settings where, frankly, you hang out and wait for the show to happen. You make jokes or play with food or read books. It’s a very appropriate document of our band’s life on the road during that time. There’s some other footage that he took from our New Year’s Eve show in Dallas at this old theater with our friends Slobberbone. It’s a little bit of a document that came out of a couple of months of our band’s life. A lot of our friends know that we go overseas to play shows, but they don’t know more than the stories we might come back with. To have a video souvenir of some of the daily life we experience on those European tours hopefully adds a little bit of dimension to our ongoing story as a band.
In Raleigh a few years ago, there was an art exhibit called 23 Hours, part of which focused on that idea for rock bands. You travel around, living your life, but you’re only judged for a very specific hour of each day by the public.
It’s easy for folks to forget that there are these other 23 hours of the day for a lot of maintenance–to keep the band afloat, to keep going. 2004 was a really have touring year for me personally. Just as a fun math problem, I added up all the driving mileages and the flights from that year. After adding it all up and averaging about 70 miles an hour or so, I calculated it to where I spent the first 71 days–if you started at January 1st, at midnight, and calculated it with a clock and a calendar–of that year driving or flying or riding, just in transit. You know how much time was spent on stage, actually performing? Just slightly over 10 full days. That’s just driving; that’s not waiting around in the club or any of the other killing of time that happens inevitably during your typical day. It was a pretty sobering realization.
How do you spend this free time on the road?
It gives me a chance to really concentrate on our music and to relearn old songs and to take some notes for some new songs, for sure. It’s a little bit of time to read and really just catch up with the guys. We haven’t done any significant U.S. touring now for years. To tell you the truth, it’s great to all get back together and catch up and tell a few stories and play music again. It’s pretty simple.
Your new role as a father probably figures into how you use your time with the band, right?
Definitely. It’s not a complaint. It’s just a fact of life, a product of evolving as an adult and as a parent. Having a child is definitely the coolest, greatest thing I could’ve ever hoped for. It definitely puts everything in perspective. It makes you realize how small some of things you used to fuss about truly are. That said, it’s definitely a lot of work, too. I’m definitely in full-time dad mode when I’m home. The writing doesn’t happen quite as whimsically or spontaneously as it used to. I really do have to make an effort to carve out the time. It’s a little different layout than it was a few years ago.
Monsters of Folk played a set at Stubb’s outdoor amphitheater in support of
their self-titled debut album in 2009. The band, an indie supergroup made up
of My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst, M. Ward and
producer Mike Mogis, gave their respective fans plenty to keep them hooked.
For James, it was “Golden,” “At Dawn,” and other cuts from
the MMJ catalogue. Oberst played “We Are Nowhere And It’s Now,”
from his 2002 gem “At The Bottom of Everything.”
One of the less expected moments of the night came when Will Johnson, who had
been brought on to handle drums for the new group, stepped out from behind
the drum set to sing his own song, “Just To Know What You’ve Been
Dreaming.” James announced him as a hometown musician; a year later,
during a taping of “Austin City Limits,” he would announce Johnson
as the newest official member of the band.
The crowds at both shows approved — many of them no doubt knew Johnson from
his role as the front man for Centro-matic or offshoot South San Gabriel.
Though it’s a fairly high-profile gig, Johnson’s involvement in Monsters of
Folk is just a small part of a career that includes nearly 20 years with
Centro-matic (and a gigantic heap of recordings) as well as countless
collaborations with the likes of Jay Farrar, Vic Chestnutt, Jason Molina and
This week, Johnson is set to release “Scorpion,” his first solo
effort in eight years. Recorded with longtime Centro-matic bandmate Matt
Pence, it’s a personal, haunting and forward-looking addition to his
Reviews of Johnson’s work tend to include lines about his unmatched work
ethic, how the band is still “going strong” after all these year,
and how he’s such a prolific songwriter. It’s all true. A look at the last
year or so in his career reveals as much.
Fans and critics loved Centro-matic’s 2011 full-length “Candidate Waltz,”
which found the band continuing to improve with a collection of big rock
songs. Johnson followed that with the February release of “New
Multitudes,” a Woody Guthrie tribute that also featured Jay Farrar of
Son Volt, Anders Parker and Jim James.
Johnson also lent his voice to Craig Finn’s recent solo album and played in
Drive-By Trucker Patterson Hood’s solo band.
“I don’t think I could be in one band very well, without becoming —
fidgety, for lack of a better word,” Johnson said during an interview
at Spider House in August.
If a constantly rotating schedule of new bands and collaborations isn’t
enough, these days Johnson manages to balance his musical career with a
family. He wrote and recorded “Scorpion” when his life as a father
(he is now stepfather and father to two young children) was just beginning
back in 2009.
Parts of the album, with songs including “You Will Be Here, Mine”
and “Vehicular and True,” reflect that by touching more directly
on themes of relationships and commitment than a lot of Johnson’s other
It’s a change he shares with some of his bandmates from Centro-matic.
“In some ways I think it’s actually easier now,” Johnson said. “We
kind have all grown up together in certain ways and proven that we can still
do it in a way that suits our personal schedules and in a way that pleases
us artistically, and in a way that keeps it changing, and in a way that
we’re still learning from one another.”
The thrill of the new
Johnson grew up in the small town of Kennett, Mo., about three hours south of
St. Louis. He moved to Denton to attend the University of North Texas in the
1990s and he stayed, forming Centro-matic in 1995 after leaving another
band, Funland. Matt Pence, Scott Danbom and Mark Hedman would make up the
band’s lineup a short time later.
Between 1995 and 2001, Centro-matic released five full-length records. The
last of the bunch, “South San Gabriel Songs/Music,” marked a
period of artistic disagreements within the band, where some of the members
wanted to perform material that Johnson describes as “atmospheric,”
as opposed to more straightforward rock.
Instead of letting that divide them, they created South San Gabriel, a
collective that would include the core members of Centro-matic plus other
The band would go on to release music under both names, including a South San
Gabriel split single with Okkervil River and a double album that featured
both Centro-matic and South San Gabriel. “It solved a lot of problems,
to tell you the truth,” Johnson said. “It really made things
easier, especially in how we wanted to play each night. It confused a lot of
people, but I’m glad we made that decision.”
Around the same time, South San Gabriel opened for My Morning Jacket at Austin
club Mercury (now the Parish). MMJ had recently released its second album, “At
Dawn,” and embarked on a national tour.
My Morning Jacket “were just tremendous.” Johnson said. “I had
not seen or experienced a band like that in my life. I’ve seen a lot of
great, great bands for the first time, but that was one of those bands where
I couldn’t stop thinking about that show for a month. I was introduced to a
very, very special musical force of nature that night.”
South San Gabriel went on to tour with MMJ after the release of MMJ’s “It
Still Moves” and “Z”; Johnson joined them on stage on more
than one occasion, including New Year’s Eve at Madison Square Garden in 2008
and at this year’s Newport Folk Festival.
After Monsters of Folk recorded their album in 2009, the band wanted someone
who could sing and play drums, and called on Johnson to handle drums on tour.
Since then, they’ve made good on James’ assertion that Johnson is the “fifth
monster” (“I wasn’t prepared for it, I didn’t know he was going to
do it,” Johnson said of the announcement) including him as a full
member in recording sessions earlier this year.
“There were moments during the session in February when it had the
excitement of a really young band just kind of rocking out in a living room,”
Johnson said. “There were times when I would get on guitar and Jim
would get on drums — there’s just an undying and inevitable thrill to that,
no matter the situation. It’s thrilling to feel that after all these years.”
In the studio
Johnson recorded “Scorpion” over five days with Pence, his
Centro-matic bandmate, at the Echo Lab studio outside Denton, which Pence
co-owns. On past solo albums, including his 2004 album “Vultures Await,”
as well as Centro-matic recordings, Johnson set song arrangements well in
Here, despite the speed at which they worked, Johnson and Pence worked almost
everything out in the studio. Johnson used the drive from his home in Austin
to Denton, which clocks in around four hours, to work out songs in his head.
Though it might seem his level of productivity could be the result of
aconstant stream of wild brainstorming, Johnson is quite disciplined, Pence
“He specifically sets aside time where he knows he’s going to go in and
work on something, and he does it in a methodical way, so that he creates a
space where he can then be spontaneous and kind of tap into a more pure
creativity,” Pence said. “He does things in a smart way that is
Parts of “Scorpion” feel populated by ghosts. Distant clatter of
percussion interrupts the gentle, rocking guitar on the opening track; at
other points, Johnson’s vocals call out from a far-away place.
“It’s less instrumentation with the solo thing,” Johnson said. “It’s
Matt and I kind of putting our heads down and seeing what we can come up
with. We wanted to experiment with some new, strange things.”
In that vein, another new thing that Johnson added to his repertoire over the
last few years and will continue this fall is his “living room show”
series, in which he trades in traditional club shows for a series of
fan-hosted house performances.
He picked up the idea from another collaborator and friend, former Pedro the
Lion frontman David Bazan.
“I liked that it put everyone on neutral turf, and it broke down some of
the barriers that we encounter at the traditional venue setting,”
“I liked the fact that there was no PA. In a way I thought it harkened
back to the way that people originally played music for one another.”
When: 5 p.m. Tuesday, the day “Scorpion” is released
Where: Waterloo Records, 600 N. Lamar Blvd.
Will Johnson and Anders Parker
When: 8:30 p.m. Oct. 4
Where: The Cactus Cafe
Cost: $12 in advance ($15 at the door)
Patterson Hood from the Drive-By Truckers is more than a little responsible for turning on a lot of folks to the glory that is Centro-matic and Will Johnson.
here’s some words he had to say:
Solo-projects from artists who primarily perform in bands give the artist a unique chance to pick and choose friends they don’t typically work with. You seem to make a point of picking Centro-matic’s Will Johnson any chance you get.
I’ve always said that if I could be in another band on earth, and if they would have me, it would be Centro-matic. If I wasn’t in the Truckers, I would gladly jump on-board. I love those guys. I love the way they interact with each other and their work ethic. It was love at first listen for me. I knew Scott [Danbom – piano, fiddle] before I knew Will, just because he would come to Truckers shows anytime we would make it to Denton [Texas]. A big part of me wanting to make Murdering Oscar when I did was because I wanted to record with Scott and Will. I loved Scott’s piano playing, and I wanted their harmonies on a few of my songs. When I figured out what I was doing with this new record, those two were among the first I called, because I knew I wanted them involved somehow. Between those two, Kelly Hogan and my dad, I felt like I had a great group to bring to Athens and start recording.
also, here’s a track from Patterson Hood‘s most recent solo record: