A Not-Typical Texas Band: Centro-Matic
Centro-matic’s tour concludes at The Mohawk in Austin, TX (with Sarah Jaffe opening) on Sunday, July 10th. And, AdobeAirstream chatted with Centro-matic’s songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist Will Johnson as he and bandmates—Scott Danbom (keyboards, violin, harmonies), Matt Pence (drummer), and Mark Hedman (bass, guitar)—neared the end of their tour in support of their newest album Candidate Waltz.
As Johnson explains, Centro-matic’s new album “focuses more on elements of restraint, even tension at points—hopefully not a cold tension but [Candidate Waltz] is more tightly wrapped than our previous, louder, guitar-drenched rock records that we’ve put out. And that was our intention from the start, we definitely wanted to experiment with new musical undertones and step out of some older habits that we would fall into—not necessarily bad habits—just trying to experiment with new ways of recording.”
Typically, Centro-matic will record for three weeks and walk away from the studio with a finished product. This time around, as Johnson recalls, “we got the basic tracking done in about ten days [at Pence’s studio, The Echo Lab, just outside of Denton, TX] but then the record rested for a while, while we all went our separate ways” (Pence and his wife had their first child, Johnson toured with Monsters of Folk). The rest of Candidate Waltz was completed via email (over 600 emails, in fact, between November 1st and January 1st) as the band sent various mixes back and forth to each other. It sounds like it could have been a frustrating process, but Johnson points out that even though it took a lot more time to do things this way, “it made the vision a little clearer for the record. We had a lot of time to really consider things and we were inherently confident about our decisions.”
When asked about Centro-matic’s discography accumulated during its 15-year lifespan, Johnson says “each record represents a different chapter in our collective creative lives together.” If you are not familiar with Centro-matic, they put 24 free Centro-matic songs up on their website to provide new listeners with a vivid cross-section of their oeuvre. Johnson concedes, “that is a good place to start, get 24 songs for free and then make the judgment call on that. It’s pretty traditional for musicians or artists to tell people to buy their latest, but that is not necessarily the case with us. If anything the best place to start is the first record—Redo the Stacks—and move onwards from there if you like it.”
With such a prolific repertoire at his fingertips, including albums released under the moniker South San Gabriel as well as two solo albums, Johnson explains “we keep Centro-matic shows limited to the Centro-matic catalog. We don’t really have enough time to get to all of the Centro-matic songs that we want to play onto the set list. We try to draw from five to seven different records per night, but we don’t necessarily weight the set list in one direction or another. Obviously we want to play songs off the newest record and support it while we are out, but at the same time we take care to go back and draw a few songs from the very first record, a few songs from the second and third records, and so on. I think that’s more fun for the long-time fans that way.”
Centro-matic considers Denton, TX to be its home-base, though Johnson has lived in the Austin area since 2002 and the other Centro-matic guys are scattered around north Texas. They may not sound like a typical Texas band, but Johnson admits that “over the years of living in Texas, it would be really hard for me to not be influenced by the geography, by the landscape and often times by the weather. The whole Candidate Waltz record was written during the dead of summer without a lot of air conditioning in the house in a small town, so those songs are almost like souvenirs from living in that small town. It can be something like a town name or a conversation that I might overhear among strangers or just the damn summer heat—good God!—all that stuff gets into the song and I think that’s important. Most of my favorite writers write from their place, from their world—I don’t care if its William Faulkner or Craig Finn from The Hold Steady—I get a glimpse into their world through their eyes, and that is humongously important and really enjoyable for me.”