Centro-matic is one of those bands everyone should know. It is nearly criminal that these Texas boys aren’t selling out venues five times the size the Mercury Lounge, which is where their tour has them stopping on June 30. This current tour is in support of their new record Candidate Waltz, and despite it being something like the band’s tenth LP, it is a great place for novices to start as it showcases the earnest, heartfelt Americana that characterizes the Centro-matic sound. We caught up with lead singer Will Johnson while the band was on the road heading towards New York for their show tomorrow night.
What is your favorite part of returning to New York for shows? Seeing many old friends, mostly.
You've played a number of NYC venues over the years including a solo show on your house tour at my buddy Stu's apartment building with Anders Parker. What has been your most memorable experience? That show in particular was pretty memorable. The authorities and the super were not aware that it was a show, so instead folks that bought tickets were instructed to mention they were there for a "party". We had use of the multi-purpose room for four hours, and kept it on the sly. Once the show was over everyone cleaned up, grabbed an item and went downstairs in staggered numbers so as not to draw attention and all. We all met at my truck, threw the guitars and merch in, and Anders and I left the city. Like nothin' ever happened.
Centro-matic is from Denton, TX. Are there any watering holes in New York that remind you of home? The Lakeside Lounge sometimes reminds me of the soulful and great bar at Rubber Gloves in Denton. The layout's different but the feel is similar. It’s the site of many fun after-show gatherings.
The band is currently out on tour supporting their fantastic new record "Candidate Waltz." How does your creative process change when you are recording with the band rather than working on a solo record? There's camaraderie, communion and inherent teamwork when the band convenes. Oftentimes if I'm making a solo record, it’s just Matt (Pence) and I chipping away. I'm usually writing in the studio and its a little more quiet, free-form and isolatory.
Music isn't your only artistic endeavor. The band's website has a link to your personal website titled "Baseball Art" which showcases some of your pieces. How long have you been painting? Does the subject matter ever change? Where do you pull the information found on the specific player's paintings? I started making those paintings a couple years ago, really just to have some decoration for my place and to pay tribute to some ballplayers I've long admired. I'll draw the information from various books or online, or through stories I'm aware of. The subject matter shifts around some. Some of the early paintings are of Negro League legends, but I worked up a show of 70's players earlier this spring.
What is your earliest memory of playing in or seeing a baseball game? I used to get up to St. Louis to see Cardinals games as a kid. I guess my first memories of seeing and playing baseball start around age 7.
On the bio page of the Will Johnson - Baseball Art website, you mention that you used to work on a farm. As a guy who bailed hay for a summer during high school, I'm wondering what kind of farmhand jobs you've had to endure? I worked on a small farm for a few years in my late 20's. I did mostly maintenance type stuff. Then I went to cleaning up radioactive- and mercury-contaminated waste after that. I became certified, would wear the space suit and all. It was incredibly shitty work. But the people I worked with were pretty kind.
Back to NYC, good or bad, have you ever had what you would describe as a quintessential New York moment? I don't know if this is "quintessential." It could happen anywhere, but it sort of makes me laugh now. The first time I was ever there with my first band, our van was stolen off the street within an hour of us arriving. We spent a few days dealing with the police. On the way back from our last exchange with the cops we saw a downtrodden guy wearing one of our band t-shirts. We asked him where he got it. He said he got it from a crack dealer two days earlier. At that point we figured that van was real gone.
Finish this sentence: New York City is the sweetest place on earth because… of its wealth of diversity, human movement and overwhelming romance. Its one of the most romantic places I can think of.