Will Johnson (musician)

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Will Johnson
Born (1971-03-23) 23 March 1971 (age 44)
Kennett, Missouri US
Genres Indie rock
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter
Years active 1988-present
Labels Undertow Music Collective
Idol Records
Quality Park Records
Rounder Records
Steve Records
Munich Records
Misra Records
Cooking Vinyl
Houston Party
Secretly Canadian
Navigational Transmissions
Associated acts Centro-matic
South San Gabriel
Undertow Orchestra
Monsters of Folk
New Multitudes
Website will-johnson.com
Notable instruments
Guitar, drums

Will Johnson (born March 23, 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 American indie rock",[2] Johnson has also released solo records, and is a member of the bands Monsters of Folk, New Multitudes and Overseas, and has also performed as part of the Undertow Orchestra.[3]

Early life[edit]

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

Johnson attended the University of North Texas where he was involved in Denton's active music scene. He double majored in English and elementary education.[2]

Music career[edit]

Early music[edit]

Johnson began playing drums, piano and sang in his church choir at an early age. After moving to Killeen, Texas, from Kennett, Missouri, he was a founding member and drummer for jangle-rock band The Benjamins. They released two cassettes in 1988 and 1989 before Johnson left to attend the University of North Texas. While there, Johnson played in bands such as Polyester, Salt Lick, The Dooms UK, and was a founding member of Baboon.


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


Main article: Centro-matic

Centro-matic began as a four-track cassette project when Johnson returned to college in May 1995. It was the first time he had written and sung songs, and later that year saw the release of the cassette Non-Directional Jetpack Race. A handful of 7-inch releases followed, and Johnson began playing live under the Centro-matic moniker in March 1996 as a solo performance with electric guitar and vocals. In December 1996, Johnson recorded the first Centro-matic full-length album, Redo The Stacks. Johnson played all the instruments except violin (Scott Danbom) and cello (Lindsay Romig), with longtime friend Matt Pence engineering the lo-fi record.

In February 1997, Johnson started performing full-band Centro-matic shows with Mark Hedman on bass guitar and Pence on drums. Choosing to keep things informal, the band's first rehearsal was held after its second show. In March 1997, Danbom joined the band on piano, fiddle, bass guitar and vocals. Centro-matic continued to record and tour extensively in the United States and Europe under the same lineup until deciding to disband in 2014.

The band released ten albums and five EPs, plus several 7-inch recordings, cassettes and compilation and soundtrack appearances. The band worked with Jeff Powell, Anders Parker and Scott Solter. The full lengths Navigational, B-sides compilation Static vs. The Strings Vol. 1 and All The Falsest Hearts Can Try were recorded at Jay Farrar's studio in Millstadt, Illinois. The band subsequently recorded most of its material at The Echo Lab in Argyle, Texas.

South San Gabriel[edit]

Main article: South San Gabriel

With his Centro-matic bandmates, Johnson formed the band South San Gabriel in the spring of 2001. It resulted from Centro-matic wanting to collaborate with and include other musicians while experimenting with a more spacious and atmospheric approach to writing and recording. South San Gabriel has a fluid lineup, with the band performing with anywhere from 3-10 members. South San Gabriel has released three full-length albums, plus EPs and singles.

Molina and Johnson[edit]

Main article: Molina and Johnson

Johnson collaborated with songwriter Jason Molina for the joint album Molina and Johnson, released on the Secretly Canadian label in November 2009. They met by chance at the SXSW festival in Austin in 2003 or 2004. They recorded the album over a week and a half in early 2008.[1] Johnson describes Molina as a "whirlwind of dedication and activity".[1] Another collaboration was discussed but it never came to fruition before Molina's death in 2013.[1]

Undertow Orchestra[edit]

Main article: Undertow Orchestra

Johnson has performed as part of the Undertow Orchestra with David Bazan, Vic Chesnutt and Mark Eitzel. Johnson first met Chestnutt in 1999 in Dallas.Chesnutt was a fan of Eitzel's music, and the two were long-time friends.[1]

According to Johnson, Bob Andrews, the manager for the four musicians, had the idea in 2005 to create a band called the Undertow Orchestra from members of the Undertow Music Collective. Johnson said Chesnutt was adamant that the shows not feature any solo performances, with the members working to play each other's songs as backing musicians.[1]

Monsters of Folk[edit]

Main article: Monsters of Folk

Johnson performed with indie supergroup Monsters of Folk as the drummer on a 2009 tour. The group included Jim James, Conor Oberst, M. Ward and Mike Mogis. The band toured the US and Europe and performed on PBS show Austin City Limits in October 2010. Johnson became an official member of the band during that time.[4][5]

New Multitudes[edit]

Main article: New Multitudes

From 2009 to 2012, Johnson collaborated with Jay Farrar, Jim James and Anders Parker 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 tribute album was released in 2012 with a short US tour following.


Main article: Overseas (band)

Johnson formed the band Overseas in 2009 with David Bazan and Matt and Bubba Kadane. An eponymous album was released in 2013.


As part of Monsters of Folk, Johnson participated in Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit in 2009. At the benefit, Johnson reconnected with former babysitter and family friend Sheryl Crow, who is also from Johnson's hometown.[1]


An avid baseball fan as a child, Johnson roots for the St. Louis Cardinals. Since 2008 Johnson has produced a number of folk art paintings, mostly centering on the subject of baseball and its history. Commissions from friends eventually led to his work being exhibited in group and solo art shows.[1]


  • April 2009: Cactus Music/The Record Ranch
  • August 2009: Good Records - Joint show with Matt Pence
  • 2010: IF+D Gallery, Austin, TX - Solo show
  • 2010: Bottletree, Birmingham, AL (2010) - Group show with Elliott McPherson
  • 2010: The Downtown Gallery, Tuscaloosa, AL - Group show
  • 2010: Bergino Gallery, New York, NY - Group show
  • 2011: The Meme Gallery, Denton, TX - Solo show
  • 2011: Lancaster Museum of Art, Lancaster, PA - Group show
  • 2012: Webb Gallery, Waxahachie, TX - Group show with Jad Fair, David Fair, Tim Kerr and Dan Phillips
  • 2012: Team Love Gallery, New Paltz, NY - Solo show
  • 2013: Yard Dog Gallery, Austin, TX - Solo show

Personal life[edit]

As of 2013, Johnson currently lives in Austin, Texas.[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
  • 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)


  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. Retrieved 7 November 2013. 
  3. ^ Langer, Andy (November 2012). "Six Degrees of Will Johnson". Texas Monthly. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  4. ^ "Lounge Act Recap – Will Johnson". WOXY.com. 25 January 2010. Archived from the original on 7 November 2013. Retrieved 7 November 2013. 
  5. ^ "Will Johnson – WOXY Lounge Act (full session download)". WOXY.com. 25 January 2010. Archived from the original (Audio interview - mp3) on 7 November 2013. Retrieved 7 November 2013. 

External links[edit]