Will Johnson

Interview: Will Johnson of Centro-matic


Will Johnson interview by Brian DeSpain

Will Johnson is a member of several bands, including Centro-Matic, South San Gabriel, Monsters of Folk and the duo Marie/Lepanto (with Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster), and project bands such as the Woody Guthrie lyric-driven New Multitudes.

Johnson has hit the road for a solo run of shows in Tulsa, Little Rock, Forrest MS, ending in New Orleans on Oct 16, following the anticipated Centro-Matic reunion at Shoalsfest in Florence, Alabama on Oct 3. The Shoalsfest event is a personal project of Jason Isbell.

Johnson will also open several showdates for John Moreland in November. Americana Highways joined Will Johnson in Tulsa on Oct 12 for a brief chat.

Americana Highways: How has it felt getting back to playing shows after the pandemic Great Pause?

Will Johnson: With some of the challenges remaining, being on the road [in the US] is like touring in 17 different countries with changing conditions and circumstances. It also feels a little strange because all of my laundry is clean starting out and the vehicle doesn’t smell like fried chicken and regret. [Laughter]

AH: You are just coming off the Shoalsfest gathering a week ago. How did it feel to reunite as a band and perform for a decent-sized crowd?

WJ: It felt like a big family reunion and we were very glad to be a part of it.

AH: With it being seven years since Centro-Matic performed together before Shoalsfest 2021, how was it getting ready for it? How well have the band members been connected playing together?

WJ: We’ve done some South San Gabriel sets over the years so there hasn’t been a lot of dusting off. It’s just kind of like muscle memory, making sure you’ve got lyrics and certain little turn arounds and changes and being reasonable tight as a band. I also have a fear of over-rehearsing and losing the feel and energy of the show. So we tried to split the difference with Shoalsfest. We ran the set three times in advance, and it’s like, “That’s it. Let’s go.”

AH: What was the process with the writing and recording of the new Marie/Lepanto album Gulf Collide? [digital release 21 August 2021 via Bandcamp]

WJ: We set a deadline to meet in the studio. That deadline got pushed back twice, however, because of the pandemic. We each had a certain number of songs ready in our pocket potentially ready for the record. Speaking from my personal experience, as it gets closer, I start changing things and switching things out, writing more songs. It’s like a puzzle. In the lead up, we send each other demos to put the puzzle pieces together. There’s a lot of communication. We don’t hide our cards from each other.

AH: How did you channel and adapt yourself not touring during the deep of the “pandy”?

WJ: A lot of painting and finishing up a book [If or When I Call, released 15 March 2021] I just put out. Really, writing music here and there, but mostly painting, just throwing myself into that. I won’t say 100 percent. I did release a solo record, El Capitan, in 2020 [14 August]. The vast majority of creativity went over to painting and making commissions for people. This wasn’t necessarily a first choice, but there wasn’t another choice.

Adapting was day to day, and sometimes, hour to hour, but the cool thing was I got to spend a ton of time with family and watch the kids grow. We got a lot of time together and for that I’m grateful. I just try to find inspiration and blessing with that each day. I’ve missed touring. I miss the interaction and energy of it, but you have to reroute your energy to other things. 

Find more info on Will Johnson’s tour dates and music, here: https://will-johnson.com

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