Category Archives: Will Johnson (solo)

and then there’s the supremely talented Jason Isbell


Jason Isbell covers “Just to Know What You’ve Been Dreaming” by Will Johnson at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, GA, on March 20, 2008. With Browan Lollar on guitar.

I still remember the first time i saw Jason play. there was this baby faced boy onstage at a Drive-By Truckers show a long while back. i think i stood there with my arms crossed, shaking my head at this child onstage with one of my favorite bands of the time. then he proceeded to make the band even better than it was with a string of crazy great albums.

Jason Isbell hard at work, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass (shot by Scott Dudelson)

i don’t auto-buy the DBTs anymore. the rock show sort of lost its luster after Jason left. but memories of those sloppy DBT / Slobberbone shows remain.

and i follow Jason’s music avidly. such a talent.


Austin360 article on Will Johnson

Will Johnson performs with Monsters of Folk at the Austin City Limits music festival in Zilker Park in 2010.

Will Johnson performs with Monsters of Folk at the Austin City Limits music festival in Zilker Park in 2010.

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
many others.

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

Keeping busy

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,”
Johnson said.

“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.”

Will Johnson

When: 5 p.m. Tuesday, the day “Scorpion” is released

Where: Waterloo Records, 600 N. Lamar Blvd.

Cost: Free


Will Johnson and Anders Parker

When: 8:30 p.m. Oct. 4

Where: The Cactus Cafe

Cost: $12 in advance ($15 at the door)


Dallas Observer interview with Will Johnson


a good interview with Will Johnson from Centro-matic about his upcoming solo record, Scorpion.

i love what he says here (clipped from article below). unfurrrrrl!

“There’s such a thing as a grower record that can be engaging after a couple of listens, hopefully. It’s just a matter of the listener taking the time or having the patience to let it unfurl, because these really aren’t pop songs. It’s not that kind of thing. It’s got its certain subdued nature and I would even say its time and place to be experienced.”

Will Johnson Looks Inward with a New Solo Album

On September 11, Will Johnson will release Scorpion, his first solo full-length record since 2005. It comes after a four-year stretch in which Johnson has seen his profile heightened by collaborations with Monsters of Folk (Jim James, M.Ward, Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis), New Multitudes (Jay Farrar, Anders Parker, Jim James) and Jason Molina. He says he’s just keeping his head down and doing what he knows to do: cranking out music. With that in mind, he also relates that Scorpion was recorded over the course of five days. Johnson shares the rules he created for making the record, the pros of his high-profile pairings and the status of a new Centro-matic record.

[i used a different pic of Will here than on the article website — like it a bit better…. — Erika]

On first listen, Scorpion is a difficult record, but the third or fourth time it started to click. It’s very rewarding if you give it the right amount of time. Did you set out to do it that way?

Kind of. Even just after we tracked the first couple of songs, I knew it wouldn’t be the type of record that just grabbed the listener in a pop or rock kind of way, or even in the way we constructed Candidate Waltz. The solo records are just kind of different animals from the band records. It started to take that direction right off the bat, but it doesn’t mean it has to be distant or cold. There’s such a thing as a grower record that can be engaging after a couple of listens, hopefully. It’s just a matter of the listener taking the time or having the patience to let it unfurl, because these really aren’t pop songs. It’s not that kind of thing. It’s got its certain subdued nature and I would even say its time and place to be experienced.

You’ve been working on all these projects, particularly with Jim James over the last four years. How do you feel your career has changed since that time?

It’s hard to say because I’ve started doing some other things since that time as well. There’s the New Multitudes thing and taking part in the release with Jason Molina. I’ve also started painting and doing art shows, so it’s kind of hard for me to say how the career has changed. Monsters of Folk got together back in February and recorded for a little while. This particular recording session was definitely more of a collaboration. Getting the glimpse into those three writers’ lives or general motions, as far as completing a song, has definitely been insightful and educational. I feel like I’ve learned a lot more.

Do you have any other new projects in the works?

We’re going to start making a new Centro-matic record in December. It’s written and I even have a rough sequence of how I want it to go. It seems like some people have found out about Centro-matic thanks to Monsters of Folk or New Multitudes. Maybe they found out about my solo stuff. I kind of choose to keep my head down and keep making records that are interesting to my ears and try to keep things different with each visit to the studio. I would do that with or without the Monsters of Folk or New Multitudes experiences, I think. All that said, I’m just as grateful to get to experience those things because they teach me a lot and inspire me to get back to my own writing.

What can we expect from the Centro-matic record?

I went out to Wimberley, Texas, and rented a cabin for three days and had one big writing session. To me it sounds like it’ll be a pretty raw record. It will revisit some of the earlier energy of our records. I think it will be kind of a big rock record, especially in the wake of Scorpion. I’m kind of anxious to turn the amps up again and go for it and try to capture something that has some live room energy to it.

blame Patterson Hood


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:

a rose by any other name would smell as sweet


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?

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet


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

o koozie where art thou?


the Koozie

you don’t have to be a member to enjoy the LOoSC koozies on facebook

these koozies are well traveled beyond North America

and may or may not be part of Frank Turner‘s Illuminati. hmmm

they come in many variations…  Preacher RoeMagnolia Mountain, W’10, LOoSC, Glossary

and are both beautiful and iconic

a small selection:

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