Monday, September 10, 2012

Local Music Connection: A conversation with Will Johnson of Denton's Centro ... - Dallas Morning News (blog)

Will Johnson found the experience of making the stripped-down "Scorpion" cathartic. (Matt Pence)

Will Johnson, best known as the frontman for Denton’s Centro-matic, took a stripped-down, living-room-private approach to making Scorpion, his first solo album in eight years. The disc, engineered by fellow Centro-matic member Matt Pence, was recorded at the Echolab in Argyle, Texas. Johnson, 41, crafted Scorpion in five days making sure to keep the creative atmosphere fresh and spontaneous. He’s about to embark on a tour to promote the CD that’ll bring him to Dallas’ Texas Theatre Oct. 2. Johnson, who now resides in Austin, talked by phone about Scorpion, his work with Centro-matic, South San Gabriel, Monsters of Folk and others, as well as his baseball paintings, which are homages to the greats of the sport.

Scorpion, your first solo album in eight years, is poetic, introspective and beautifully unvarnished. It sounds as if its conception and execution was a cathartic exercise. Was it a liberating, rejuvenating experience in the studio?

It was. I tried to capture a musical and spiritual moment in time by writing most of the material right then and there in the studio. With that you take chances. It can feel risky and sometimes they can fall apart. But these were the songs that I felt strongly about. I just wanted to capture that particular musical chapter of Matt’s and my life.

What is your creative mindset when making a solo album as opposed to a Centro-matic, South San Gabriel or Monsters of Folk record?

I can tell you specifically with this record we created a certain set of boundaries to work within, and sometimes that adds to the creativity. I went in knowing that I didn’t want a full blown, cymbal crash on it. There isn’t even a bass guitar on this record. By creating some of those rules it changed some of the choices percussion-wise, to add energy to the record but not in a traditional pop sense. It is more drawn-in, more subdued, but it still has a certain kind of energy to it. But it comes from a little bit different place than a pop record.

In addition to all your musical works, which also includes Overseas and New Multitudes, you also have a series of baseball paintings. Aside from it being another creative outlet, are there any other similarities between the painting and the music?

There are some significant similarities between the paintings and the solo records. Both are isolated experiences, both are fairly quiet experiences. The similarities end there. The paintings are based upon history and the solo records are more about wordplay and experimenting with imagery, and the movie scripts that play in my head sometimes. It’s more fiction involved in the music, whereas the painting are based upon facts and on history.

The upcoming tour in support of Scorpion, which reunites you with Anders Parker, stops at Texas Theatre in Dallas Oct. 2. Are you planning to keep the stage shows as intimate as the record?

I am, yes. These shows will be little more than just acoustic guitar and vocals. There may be a little bit of percussion. Anders will be doing some of his own solo songs. There will be segments of the show we will play together. We’ll probably figure out a way to make it one big show as opposed to two sets. It will be acoustic, very pared down interpretations of the songs. I’ve never done the acoustic venue type touring but I am looking forward to seeing how it goes.

Once the Scorpion tour winds down Oct. 4 in Austin, what’s next for you?

Centro-matic gets back together for some more shows in October. Then I will go to Europe in November to support Scorpion with Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers and Craig Finn of the Hold Steady. After that Centro-matic begins making its next record in December.

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