FFF Fest Interviews: Centro-Matic
Our second installment of Funx3 Festival interviews features veteran front man Will Johnson of Denton based band Centro-matic. Will and I discuss all his projects and how the Cardinals can make it to the World Series next year. Follow the jump to read the entire interview with this incredible and highly underrated song writer.
ATH: Many moons ago, you created another band called South San Gabriel. What drove you to create a completely different entity rather than keeping all the goodness under the Centro-matic umbrella?
WJ: To keep it short, the main thing was just with set list arguments. Some of us wanted to play more laid back sets certain nights and others wanted to play louder more rambunctious material. We knew we were interested in creating a collective that was more grayed around the edges and different from Centro-matic. Instead of just doing some things on the side and drawing that out, we just decided to form a separate band and move on with It. We honestly don’t have a lot of rules for either band, but definitely fewer rules exist for South San Gabriel. With South San Gabriel, we can do whatever we want and don’t have to worry about changing the dynamic of Centro-matic.
ATH: So why the decision to make a dual album now and not earlier?
WJ: We had a dual album on the brain for a couple of years leading up to this and wanted to do one in some form. We originally had considered the idea of releasing Fort Recovery as a dual album because we had a double albums worth of material from those sessions, but we eventually talked ourselves out of it. After we finished sessions for this album, we felt that the Centro-matic and SSG material was different enough but they still fit well together as a collection of music. We just thought of the idea of a fan friendly release so you could get two records for the price of one record. We found it to be a good opportunity for us to show what we do in both projects and maybe someone who didn’t know about the other band could get in to it this way.
ATH: Throughout the years, you’ve brought in tons of people for the South San Gabriel project. Who were some of the people who helped out this time?
WJ: We had Robert Gomez help out with a lot of the string arrangements and some production. We also had two string players on this album we’d never worked with before named Buffi Jacobs and Tamara Cauble who were tremendous. They’re were a couple of days on this record when I didn’t know everyone’s last name and I was taking names at the door with everyone coming and going. Jeffery Barnes from a band called Brave Combo played a lot of bass clarinet and other various instruments. We also had our good friend Brian VanDivier all over the record. The record wouldn’t have become nearly as satisfying to me had those people not come in and helped us.
ATH: You seem to be doing a lot of solo dates these days away from the band, like recently opening for Jason Molina and Magnolia Electric Co. Why is this and can we expect another solo album anytime soon?
WJ: I’ve been doing that since before the band existed. I always try to pepper in some of my free time with solo shows. I’ve always enjoyed giving my ears a little break with some solo shows here and there. I’ll probably be putting out another solo record in the next year and a half or two years after I stock pile some stuff. I also just record an album with Jason Molina which you can expect next fall, maybe in October or so.
ATH: Was your recent video for “Rat Patrol and DJs” the first video that wasn’t just a straight up live video or live feeling video with animations and all that? Why the decision to do that at this point in your career and not sooner?
WJ: Well we sort of did one for a song back in 2001 called “Janitorial on Channel Fail” which required a little more acting on all of our behalves. This was our first one shot video and it took 16 tries but we finally got it right. The idea for the video really stemmed from our manager Bob who wanted to shot a one shot video of us scrolling on the sidewalk. I think some of the most interesting videos anymore are made in house by the hands of the artists and the people involved in music making. The best videos are made low key like that with a limited budget and limited time. I think if we can find the time to do it and get everybody together in one place, we’ll make some more videos for this record.
ATH: At this point in your career, you guys have a pretty expansive discography with everything you’ve done. How do you go about picking songs for a live set and which songs will also be in the Centro-matic set list?
WJ: It’s actually pretty easy. We’ll try to draw a little something from each of the records that we’ve released over the years. We don’t really lean on one single record when we go out on tour. A song called “Fidgeting Wildly” is an older song that we play just about every time that we go out. We don’t usually brood over the set list too much and we can always call an audible if we feel like it.
ATH: What has been the proudest moment in your career as a singer/song writer?
WJ: There’s not necessarily one moment. It’s honestly the fact that at this day in age with how much music people have that anyone’s listening at all. There’s so much stuff out there and I feel pretty lucky to have gotten a go at music these last few years. To know that we can roll into a certain town and anyone will be there to see us is a great feeling. It’s a life of music.
ATH: I’ve always thought your drummer Matt Pence is extremely talented and underrated as a drummer. Does he ever try to write the hardest rocking metal songs for Centro-matic so he can really let loose?
WJ: I will only say that I wish he would. I think it would be fascinating and I’d definitely encourage that. He’s an astonishing musician and it’s a very fortunate thing for me to look back and see him with me. What he contributes to our band is completely unmeasurable and it goes beyond drumming. He also does a lot of production and engineering. His vision is really amazing and that’s something I never try to take for granted. I’m going to pass along that you said that about him.
ATH: You’re known as a big baseball fan and a Cardinals fan. What do you think of the Cardinals chances next year and the lowly Cubs blowing it again?
WJ: They definitely need to bolster that bullpen which has been kind of a mess in recent months. I would say let’s start with that pitching problem first and then go from there. I had a blast watching it… It made me feel so dirty to resort to rooting against teams in the playoffs, but I cannot deny that I enjoyed it. Cubs fans were already hoisting a World Series trophy so I didn’t mind seeing them lose.
ATH: Did you have any comments about the redemption of Brad Lidge in the World Series after your boy Albert Pujols crushed his life in the NLCS a few years ago?
WJ: I’ve got to say, I was completely rooting for him. I know that Lidge was not the same for such a long time after that Pujols home run. I go to a lot of Astros games living here and the guy just wasn’t the same. I like the dude a lot and I found myself pulling for him to clear that hurdle.
Thanks again to Will for giving us the time to speak with him. Let’s hope none of his friends follow the Cubs… You can catch Will Johnson and Centro-matic at 2:45 pm on Stage 1 during this weekends Fun Fun Fun Fest.
Cover photo by Melanie Gomez.