The work’s the thing, the joy, the end in itself. Triumphant, defiant, sprawling, content but never complacent—Centro-matic’s latest album is yet another bold statement in the ongoing dialogue between these four musicians and their supporters. The band’s members are all in a solid place both creatively and personally, some married, some with children, and, after 17 years, they’re still driven to mine new territories and make a beautiful racket together. Rock & roll veterans now, they know—as the title of their new album advises—to take pride in their long odds.
This championing of tireless underdog determination is a key element of the band’s hard-rocking 11th studio LP. “If there are entities telling you that you can’t do something,” singer-guitarist Will Johnson says, “that there’s no way something is gonna happen for you—take pride in your work and prove them wrong. If it’s worth it to you, you shouldn’t give it any less of a chance because of what someone else says.”
Through all the years of touring and making records, the members of Centro-matic are still thick as thieves. It’s something rare and beautiful considering how few bands who’ve been together this long have their original lineups intact. “It’s always been my hope that our connection and care for each other translates through our music, ” Johnson says. “It’s driven things since the beginning. Centro-matic is an excuse to keep hanging out and getting together as our lives unfold. We became adults together in this band, and it’s still exhilarating and rewarding to be in one another’s company.”
Consistently delivering inspired live performances for their loyal fans at iconic clubs and theaters across the U.S., Centro-matic have become cult heroes of American indie rock. They’re a band’s band—making music for the love of it, amassing nearly two decades worth of critically celebrated material in the process, and sticking to their ideals all the way.
Centro-matic began with blessedly little intention back in the mid ’90s as the four-track recording project of young musician Will Johnson (then drummer for Denton, Texas, band Funland). But the stakes were upped when, in December 1997, future Centro-matic drummer Matt Pence teamed up with Johnson to record what would become the band’s 1997 debut LP, Redo the Stacks. Though largely a Will Johnson solo record, the album—about to be reissued as a limited-edition double vinyl with bonus tracks—featured violin from soon-to-be-bandmate Scott Danbom, and of course, the invaluable sonic guidance of Pence.
“I was on break from college, and I would meet Matt at his house each morning, just down the street from my house. We had this tradition where we’d go to the Texaco station and get these powdered hot drinks, these giant banana-nut cappuccinos. We lived off those things—that and Zesta crackers and Chunky soup. I was crammed in a tiny room with the drums and amplifiers. Matt’s control room was on the second floor, so he had all the wires running down the stairs and through the ceiling. I remember it being very cold. Most of the town had emptied out because Denton is a college town and it was Christmas. Each day, we’d record as much as we could, as fast as we could until Matt’s roommates came home.”
In the end, they cut nearly 30 songs, and settled on 23. “We weren’t trying to make anything polished or stylized. We were just trying to get these rock and pop songs down in a very believable, warts-and-all kind of way. With Redo the Stacks, I was learning how to write songs—learning by doing.”
It was this album—and a desire to perform it live—that led to Centro-matic as we know it today. Right before Stacks was released, the band just sort of fell in together. “There was never a formal asking for anyone to join,” Johnson says. “It was just like, ‘Hey, man, do you want to meet down at the rock club and play a show?’ That’s what happened in February of ’97, and that’s what we’ve been doing ever since.”
Just shy of a dozen records and 17 years later, Johnson, Pence, multi-instrumentalist Danbom and bassist/guitarist Mark Hedman holed up at Pence’s Argyle, Texas, studio The Echo Lab and began tracking Take Pride In Your Long Odds. While the following description doesn’t exactly capture the complexities of their roles and relationships within the band, at a glance, Johnson and Danbom are two eccentric, melody-obsessed peas in a pod. They operate on instinct, harpooning passing inspiration. Pence, on the flip side, is the recording and production wizard—a technical mastermind who spends incalculable hours honing sonic minutiae, which lets Johnson and Danbom more freely chase their muse. Level-headed and laid-back, Hedman bridges the gap—he’s their anchor, their big-picture guy. “This band couldn’t exist without each one of us,” Johnson says. “Nobody is expendable.”
Lending a helping hand on this new record is close friend and producer Scott Solter, who also provided essential guidance on the band’s previous album, Candidate Waltz. Johnson had met Solter 10 years prior while opening a string of shows for John Vanderslice (with whom Solter was playing at the time). “We enjoyed working with him so much on our last record that we invited him back for Long Odds,” Johnson says. “We all respect and appreciate his vision and humor. We feel like we’ve finally found our guy. His incredible input, and the presence of his mind and ears—he’s a very intelligent, gifted engineer and producer.”
“Solter isn’t interested in treading water,” Pence adds. “He wants to take the band and the listener to a special place neither party has been before. And that’s exactly what Centro-matic has been trying to do our whole career. We’re striving to create something unique for ourselves, and the people who are drawn to it. Solter works tirelessly, with an intensity and a grace, both musically and personally, to help us navigate to that uncharted region.”
Beneath all the gorgeous noise damage, fuzz riffs, swirling synths and pounding drums of Long Odds is a profound set of songs shot into existence by a band of wizened veterans living out a dream that’s still as vibrant as when it began. “From the start,” Johnson says, “Centro-matic had a desire to make records exactly the way we wanted. I feel lucky that we’ve gotten to do that, much less do it for so long. It’s been gratifying for all of us, and such an educational course for life.”