Go the Distance

Centro-matic's Will Johnson chases the ghosts of Mississippi

"It's never taken us a year to record anything," he continues. "I mean, it's so strange. The first record took six weeks, maybe a month at that. Actually, yeah, like a month. And then the following three were all recorded in the same six weeks. And South San Gabriel was recorded in, whatever, five, maybe six days total. I think it just has to do with so much scheduling. We did our best to kind of keep it on the cheap, as far as the studio goes, so we wouldn't get blocks of time. We would just record whenever there was available time. Matt would call and say, 'Look, so-and-so canceled, or, 'There's a window of time here, so let's work then.' Before you know it, it's nine months later."

Not a second of the extra time spent on Distance and Clime was wasted, however. You can hear it in every song, as even "The Connection's Not So Civilized"--which clocks in at just over a minute--sounds like an epic. The spare kick-drum intro to "Fountains of Fire" marches into one of the most beautiful and lush pop songs Centro-matic has ever recorded, coated in Johnson's soft moan and acoustic guitar. The sad-eyed piano of "To Unleash the Horses Now" gives way to a wordless chorus that says more than any lyrics could. "Truth Flies Out" nicks its drumbeat from Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" (really, it does), and the guitars from "On the Sagtikos" wouldn't sound out of place on a Bedhead album (or maybe The New Year, more likely), but the band makes you forget as soon as you remember. Every song on Distance and Clime has a tear in its eye and a smile on its face, a combination Johnson has perfected over the years. Yet even though this is its sixth album in just more than five years, Centro-matic still doesn't repeat itself, as each new song is a surprise, a new direction. It's obvious that writing is a muscle, and Johnson only gets stronger the more he uses it.

While Johnson's strength is still relatively unappreciated pretty much everywhere else except for the Dallas-Denton-Fort Worth area, audiences in Europe have been quick to take up the cause. All the Falsest Hearts Can Try and South San Gabriel Songs/Music were both released overseas last year to rave reviews, and both times Centro-matic has toured the continent, it's been met with packed houses and enthusiastic responses. The band's planning to go back after Thanksgiving, and while Johnson is looking forward to the trip, he knows not to get too excited. After all, he may be able to go to heaven anytime he wants to, but he can only be a rock star in Amsterdam every once in a while. It's best not to let it go to your head.

The men who pit the static vs. the strings: Centro-matic is, from left, Mark Hedman, Will Johnson, Matt Pence and Scott Danbom.
Peter Salisbury
The men who pit the static vs. the strings: Centro-matic is, from left, Mark Hedman, Will Johnson, Matt Pence and Scott Danbom.
"I got a little misty sitting there at Robert Johnson's grave just considering what an origin, what ground zero that is for everything that we surround all ourselves in daily," Centro-matic's Will Johnson says of his recent trip to Mississippi.
Mark Graham
"I got a little misty sitting there at Robert Johnson's grave just considering what an origin, what ground zero that is for everything that we surround all ourselves in daily," Centro-matic's Will Johnson says of his recent trip to Mississippi.

"It's very sobering," he says, "especially the trip last wintertime, just given that that was the first time. It was a very sobering experience, playing Amsterdam and it's sold-out on a Sunday night, and then the next Wednesday morning, I'm back in Texas, like, cleaning a toilet. It just puts a lot in perspective." He laughs. "That was kind of an interesting time emotionally."

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