When talking to Will Johnson of Denton Texas’ Centro-matic, you get the feeling that, as thoughtful and succinct as his comments are, there’s something else going on inside the mind of this man who’s been the driving force behind eight albums produced in 10 prolific years. Johnson admits he’s inundated with melodies. They constantly run through his head, often accompanied by lyrics that sometimes even he doesn’t completely comprehend. The indie-Americana identity that Centro-matic has forged is a tender confection of alt.country riffs, faintly haggard vocals and meticulously thought-out melody that paints a vague but still tangible sonic picture. About to embark on the West Coast leg of the band’s tour, Johnson talks with the Alibi about songwriting, musical influences and coming of age.
Tell me about your latest album, Fort Recovery (Artist).
This record has more themes that maybe wouldn’t have been on our other records. There are a couple songs that are more overtly romantic or more obviously about coming of age and getting older that probably would have been dealt with using more angular or obscure lyrical fragments on earlier albums. It’s just a matter of getting older and coming to terms with those types of emotions.
Your lyrics have been described as being intensely vivid. Is that a conscious effort on your part?
It depends on the song. Some songs, I know exactly where I want to go with them as far as conveying a specific feeling. Some songs I want to keep even myself guessing, using wordplay or more scattershot-type lyrics. It may sound cryptic once I’m done, but I’ve occasionally killed a song by overthinking it, and that’s a much worse feeling than not knowing exactly where a song is going.
With national magazines like Rolling Stone taking notice of Centro-matic, has the band ever thought of joining a major label?
Not often. That’s not to say it wouldn’t happen, but we kind of have our own way of doing things as far as releasing things when we want, what we want, and owning the rights to our music. That’s been a great freedom to us. That hasn’t meant a windfall of popular success, but it has meant a windfall of creative success.
What about your musical influences?
A lot of my first records I bought were early kinds of American independent rock from the early ’80s. Bands like The Replacements, Black Flag and the Minutemen. Those bands helped me realize that you don’t have to be on FM radio to be successful or to do something noteworthy. Also, my mom and grandparents had a lot of great country and soul records by people like Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn. So those artists had an affect on me musically as well.
Where do you see Centro-matic’s sound going?
Well, it’s actually kind of easy to say since we just finished up a record’s worth of material a month ago in the studio. But I don’t want to divulge too much info about it right now and we may tinker with it. All I can say is that it was a lot of fun to do.