On September 11, Will Johnson will release Scorpion, his first solo full-length record since 2005. It comes after a four-year stretch in which Johnson has seen his profile heightened by collaborations with Monsters of Folk (Jim James, M.Ward, Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis), New Multitudes (Jay Farrar, Anders Parker, Jim James) and Jason Molina. He says he's just keeping his head down and doing what he knows to do: cranking out music. With that in mind, he also relates that Scorpion was recorded over the course of five days. Johnson shares the rules he created for making the record, the pros of his high-profile pairings and the status of a new Centro-matic record.
On first listen, Scorpion is a difficult record, but the third or fourth time it started to click. It's very rewarding if you give it the right amount of time. Did you set out to do it that way?
Kind of. Even just after we tracked the first couple of songs, I knew it wouldn't be the type of record that just grabbed the listener in a pop or rock kind of way, or even in the way we constructed Candidate Waltz. The solo records are just kind of different animals from the band records. It started to take that direction right off the bat, but it doesn't mean it has to be distant or cold. There's such a thing as a grower record that can be engaging after a couple of listens, hopefully. It's just a matter of the listener taking the time or having the patience to let it unfurl, because these really aren't pop songs. It's not that kind of thing. It's got its certain subdued nature and I would even say its time and place to be experienced.
You've been working on all these projects, particularly with Jim James over the last four years. How do you feel your career has changed since that time?
It's hard to say because I've started doing some other things since that time as well. There's the New Multitudes thing and taking part in the release with Jason Molina. I've also started painting and doing art shows, so it's kind of hard for me to say how the career has changed. Monsters of Folk got together back in February and recorded for a little while. This particular recording session was definitely more of a collaboration. Getting the glimpse into those three writers' lives or general motions, as far as completing a song, has definitely been insightful and educational. I feel like I've learned a lot more.
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Do you have any other new projects in the works?
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We're going to start making a new Centro-matic record in December. It's written and I even have a rough sequence of how I want it to go. It seems like some people have found out about Centro-matic thanks to Monsters of Folk or New Multitudes. Maybe they found out about my solo stuff. I kind of choose to keep my head down and keep making records that are interesting to my ears and try to keep things different with each visit to the studio. I would do that with or without the Monsters of Folk or New Multitudes experiences, I think. All that said, I'm just as grateful to get to experience those things because they teach me a lot and inspire me to get back to my own writing.
What can we expect from the Centro-matic record?
I went out to Wimberley, Texas, and rented a cabin for three days and had one big writing session. To me it sounds like it'll be a pretty raw record. It will revisit some of the earlier energy of our records. I think it will be kind of a big rock record, especially in the wake of Scorpion. I'm kind of anxious to turn the amps up again and go for it and try to capture something that has some live room energy to it.