Will Johnson (musician)

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Will Johnson
Born (1971-03-23) 23 March 1971 (age 44)
Kennett, Missouri
United States
Genres Rock
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter
Years active 1988-present
Labels Undertow Music Collective
Idol Records
Rounder Records
Associated acts Centro-matic
South San Gabriel
Undertow Orchestra
Monsters of Folk
New Multitudes
Website will-johnson.com

Will Johnson (born 23 March 1971)[1] is an American musician, singer-songwriter and painter who is the lead singer of the bands Centro-matic and South San Gabriel. Called "one of the most prolific artists in [recent] American indie rock,"[2] Johnson has also released solo records, is a member of the bands Monsters of Folk, New Multitudes and Overseas, and has performed as part of the Undertow Orchestra.

Early Life[edit]

Johnson was born in Kennett, Missouri. When he was 11 years old his mother remarried and they moved to a military town called Killeen, Texas.[1]

Johnson moved to Denton, Texas, to attend the University of North Texas, which had a very active music scene that he was involved in. He has a double major in English and elementary education.[2]

Johnson currently lives in Austin, Texas.[1]

Music career[edit]

Early Music[edit]

Will Johnson started playing the drums, piano and singing in the church choir at an early age. After moving to Killeen, Texas, from Missouri, he was a founding member and drummer for jangle-rock band the Benjamins. They released two cassettes in 1988 and '89 before Johnson left for the University of North Texas in Denton. While there, Johnson played in bands such as Polyester, Salt Lick, The Dooms UK, and he was a founding member of Baboon.


On Super Bowl Sunday of 1991 Johnson joined with Peter Schmidt and Clark Vogeler to form Melt, which changed its name in 1992 to Funland. Funland signed with Arista Records in 1992, releasing the EP, Sweetness, in March 1993. The band toured regularly in the US, and released its first and only full-length, The Funland Band on Steve Records in 1995. After five and a half years together, Funland disbanded in June 1996.


Centro-matic began as a four-track cassette project when Will Johnson returned to college in May 1995. It was the first time that Johnson had written and sung songs, and later that year saw the release of the cassette-only Non-Directional Jetpack Race. A handful of 7" releases followed, and Johnson started playing out live under the moniker in March 1996. For the greater part of the next year, the live show consisted of Johnson solo, on electric guitar and vocals. In December 1996, Johnson recorded the first Centro-matic full length release, Redo The Stacks, with longtime friend Matt Pence engineering. The album consisted of Johnson playing all instruments except violin (Scott Danbom) and cello (Lindsay Romig), and was a lo-fi and brash affair of pop and rock and roll.

In February 1997, Johnson started performing full band shows with Mark Hedman on bass guitar and Matt Pence on drums, keeping the Centro-matic name. Choosing to keep things informal and in the moment, the band's first rehearsal was held after its second show. In March 1997, Scott Danbom joined the band on piano, fiddle, bass guitar and vocals. Though no one was ever formally asked to join the band, Centro-matic's lineup has remained intact since that time. The band has released ten full length albums, five EP's, a number of 7" recordings, cassettes, along many compilation and soundtrack appearances. Centro-matic continues to record and tour extensively in the United States and Europe. The band has worked with Jeff Powell, Anders Parker and Scott Solter. The full lengths Navigiational, Static vs. The Strings Vol. 1, and All The Falsest Hearts Can Try were recorded at Jay Farrar's Millstadt, IL studio. The band has otherwise recorded most of its material at The Echo Lab in Argyle, Texas.

South San Gabriel[edit]

Johnson, along with his Centro-matic bandmates formed the band South San Gabriel in the Spring of 2001. This was a result of Centro-matic wanting to collaborate with and include other musicians, while experimenting with a more spacious and atmospheric approach to writing and recording. There has never been a set membership to South San Gabriel, and the band has performed with as few as three, or as many as ten members over the years. South San Gabriel has released three full length albums since its formation.

Molina and Johnson[edit]

Molina and Johnson was a collaboration between Jason Molina (Songs:Ohia, Magnolia Electric Co.) and Johnson that was released on Secretly Canadian. The two musicians connected at SXSW in 2003 or 2004, on the corner of 6th and Red River in Austin. From 2007 they were in regular contact, and did the recording during a week and a half in winter-early spring of 2008.[1]

Johnson said of Molina, what resonated was Molina's dedication to songwriting and his work ethic, calling him a "whirlwind of dedication and activity."[1] There was discussion on doing another collaboration but it never came to fruition before Molina's death.[1]

Undertow Orchestra[edit]

Johnson has performed as part of the Undertow Orchestra with David Bazan, Vic Chesnutt and Mark Eitzel. In 1999, Johnson first met Chestnutt at the Gypsy Tea Room in Dallas. Chesnutt was a huge Eitzel fan, were friends for a long time.

Johnson's participation in the project started in late-2005. His manager Bob was managing the all four men. Bob had the idea to create the Undertow Orchestra and go on tour as a true band, per Johnson, "warts and all" while working hard to serve each other's songs. No solo songs, wanted to back each other, make it a true band, which Chesnutt was adamant about, which Johnson said shaped the band.[1]

Monsters of Folk[edit]

Johnson performed with indie supergroup Monsters of Folk as their touring drummer in 2009. The group includes Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes), M. Ward (She and Him), and Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes, Lullaby for the Working Class). The band toured the US and Europe, and performed on PBS show Austin City Limits in October 2010. Johnson was inducted as an official member of the band during that time.[3][4]

New Multitudes[edit]

From 2009 to 2012, Johnson collaborated with Jay Farrar (Son Volt, Uncle Tupelo), Jim James (My Morning Jacket, Monsters of Folk), and Anders Parker (Varnaline) on the Woody Guthrie archive project, New Multitudes. The project involved the four songwriters setting music to Guthrie's unrecorded lyrics, and was recorded in a number of locations. The full length record was released in 2012, with a small run of US dates to follow.


Johnson has collaborated and formed the band Overseas with David Bazan (Pedro the Lion) and Matt and Bubba Kadane (Bedhead, The New Year). There is a full length record set to be released in 2013.


As part of Monsters of Folk, Johnson participated in Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit (Bridge XXIII October 24 & October 25, 2009). The benefit was the first time Johnson reconnected with former babysitter and family friend, Sheryl Crow, who is also from Kennett, Missouri. Crow's mother taught Johnson piano, their families knew each other, went to the same church, Sheryl and her sister Karen used to babysit Johnson when he was four or five.[1]

Other activities[edit]

Paintings and baseball[edit]

Since 2008 Johnson has produced a number of paintings, mostly centering on the subject of baseball and its history. He regularly participates in group and solo shows. In 1978-1979, Johnson said he became an avid baseball fan when he was young, was an early St. Louis Cardinals fan. Ozzie Smith from the 1982 team was a favorite.[1]

Johnson said that the baseball painting came about in 2007 or 2008 when he moved into a new apartment on his own and not having much stuff to fill the walls. He said he wanted to pay tribute to some of his favorite players and favorite baseball stories -- especially some of the more unheralded players -- through folk art paintings. Then friends commissioned some of his work, which led to art shows.[1]


  • Centro-matic: Most Everyone Will Find (Munich 2000)
  • Centro-matic: Opportunity Split EP with Vermont (Quality Park 2001)
  • Centro-matic: Flashes and Cables EP (Misra 2004)
  • South San Gabriel: I Am Six Pounds Of Dynamite (Munich 2005)
  • Will Johnson: CDEP (Sixgunlover 2005)
  • Centro-matic: Triggers and Trash Heaps EP (Misra 2006)
  • Centro-matic: Operation Motorcide (Houston Party 2007)
7" Records
  • Centro-matic: Transistor EP (Automatic 1996)
  • Centro-matic: Forget The Sixth Step (Steve 1996)
  • Centro-matic: Tympanum (Transcontinental Recording Company)
  • Centro-matic: Split w/ Tripping Daisy (Good 1999)
  • South San Gabriel: Split w/ Okkervil River (Tight Spot 2002)
  • Will Johnson: Split w/ The pAperchAse (Idol 2004)
  • Will Johnson: Blackest Sparrow/Darkest Night 8" Lathe (People in a Position To Know 2007)
  • Will Johnson: Greater Southbridge (2003)
  • Centro-matic: "Fall To Grace" (Green Room Pictures 2005)
  • Will Johnson: Score for "Hill Country" Documentary (University of Texas 2007)
  • South San Gabriel: "Troubadours" (Downstate Productions 2007)
  • South San Gabriel: "Salt Creek County" (Downstate Productions 2008)
Compilation Appearances
  • Centro-matic: Dallas Observer Scene/Heard (1995)
  • Centro-matic: Band-Kits (Quality Park 2000)
  • Centro-matic: Oorgasm #4 (Oor Magazine Holland 2000)
  • Centro-matic: Awesome (Munich 2000)
  • Centro-matic: Electric Ornaments (Idol 2000)
  • Centro-matic: Esto No Es Un Cactus (Sinedin 2001)
  • Centro-matic: New Voices (Rolling Stone Germany 2001)
  • Centro-matic: Oorgasm #7 (Oor Magazine Holland 2001)
  • Centro-matic: Best of Americana (Uncut Magazine 2002)
  • Centro-matic: Just For Fun (Loretta Records 2002)
  • Centro-matic: Vital Idol - Idol Records Sampler (Idol 2003)
  • Centro-matic: De Avonden Christmas 2003 (VPRO Holland)
  • South San Gabriel: All Areas 41 (Visions Magazine)
  • Will Johnson: Lost Notes From Forgotten Songs (Suicide Squeeze 2003)
  • Centro-matic: New Noises 60 (Rolling Stone Germany 2003)
  • Centro-matic: Sounds-Now! (Musikexpress 2003)
  • Centro-matic: Already Gone - A Compilation of Texas Bands (2004)
  • Will Johnson: Songs For Another Place (Awful Bliss 2005)
  • South San Gabriel: Gimme Danger (Uncut Magazine 2005)
  • Will Johnson: Almost There Compilation (Almost There 2005)
  • Will Johnson: Across The Great Divide: Music Inspired by the Band (Uncut Magazine 2005)
  • South San Gabriel: Comes with a Smile 14 (2005)
  • Centro-matic: Live at Austin City Limits Music Festival (2006)
  • Will Johnson: Live at KDHX Vol. 4 (2006)
  • Centro-matic: Do It Again: A Tribute To Pet Sounds (Houston Party 2006)
  • Centro-matic: Great (Misra/Absolutely Kosher 2008)
  • Centro-matic: A Splash Of Sunshine Vol. 2 (679 Recordings 2008)
  • Will Johnson: Are You Still With Me? A Tribute To Huey Lewis and the News (2008)
  • Will Johnson: Of Great And Mortal Men - 43 Songs For 43 Presidents (Standard Recording Company 2009)
  • Will Johnson: Weary Engine Blues: Crossroads (Graveface Records 2013)
  • Austin Collins: Roses Are Black (2008)
  • Telegraph Canyon: The Tide and the Current (2009)
  • Collin Herring: Ocho (2009)
  • Austin Collins: Wrong Control (2010)
Touring or Guest Musician
  • Funland: Drums, Vocals 1991-1996
  • Varnaline: Guitar, Vocals Winter and Spring 2002
  • Jay Bennett and Edward Burch: Drums, Vocals 2002
  • Undertow Orchestra: Guitar, Vocals, Drums 2006
  • Son Volt: Drums, October 2007
  • Jandek: Drums Summer 2007 and Spring 2008
  • Monahans: Guitar, Vocals Spring 2008
  • The New Year: Guitar, Fall 2008
  • Patterson Hood and The Screwtopians: Guitar, Vocals. Summer 2009
  • Monsters Of Folk: Drums, Vocals Fall 2009
Guest Musician/Vocalist on
  • Little Grizzly: Please Let Me Go, It Wasn't Meant To Be (1999)
  • Little Grizzly: I'd Be Lying If I Said I Wasn't Scared (2001)
  • Deathray Davies: Return of the Drunken Ventriloquist (2001)
  • The pAperchAse: Hide The Kitchen Knives (2002)
  • Drive-By Truckers : Brighter Than Creation's Dark (2008)
  • Austin Collins: Roses Are Black (2008)
  • Patterson Hood: Murdering Oscar And Other Love Songs (2009)
  • Telegraph Canyon: The Tide and the Current (2009)
  • Collin Herring: Ocho (2009)
  • Monahans: Dim The Aurora (2009)
  • Craig Finn: Clear Heart Full Eyes (2012)
  • Patterson Hood: Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance (2012)
Film Appearances
  • Salt Creek County (Downstate Productions 2008)
Art Shows
  • Cactus Music/The Record Ranch (April 2009)
  • Good Records (Joint Show with Matt Pence - August 2009)
  • IF+D Gallery - Austin, TX (2010). Solo show.
  • Bottletree - Birmingham, AL (2010). Group show with Elliott McPherson.
  • The Downtown Gallery. Tuscaloosa, AL (2010). Group show.
  • Bergino Gallery. New York, NY (2010). Group show.
  • The Meme Gallery - Denton, TX (2011). Solo show.
  • Lancaster Museum of Art. Lancaster, PA (2011). Group show.
  • Webb Gallery - Waxahachie, TX (2012). Group show with Jad Fair, David Fair, Tim Kerr and Dan Phillips.
  • Team Love Gallery - New Paltz, NY (2012). Solo show.
  • Yard Dog Gallery - Austin, TX (2013). Solo show.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Gibbs, Otis (November 6, 2013). "Episode 56: Will Johnson" (Audio interview). Thanks For Giving a Damn with Otis Gibbs. Nashville, TN - Tracy Thomas' house: Soundcloud. Retrieved 7 November 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Deming, Mark. "Will Johnson | Biography". Allmusic. All Media Network, LLC. Retrieved 7 November 2013. 
  3. ^ "Lounge Act Recap – Will Johnson". The Futurist: The Independent Rock Blog of Woxy.com. Woxy.com. January 25, 2010. Archived from the original on 7 November 2013. Retrieved 7 November 2013. 
  4. ^ "Will Johnson – WOXY Lounge Act (full session download)" (Audio interview - mp3). Lounge Act Recap – Will Johnson. Woxy.com. January 25, 2010. Archived from the original on 7 November 2013. Retrieved 7 November 2013. 

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