Photo Credit: Matt Pence
There are two typical ways a band ends, as enumerated by a 1979 Neil Young song: It either burns out or fades away. After releasing Take Pride in Your Long Odds this past summer, the members of Denton, TX-based rock and roll group Centro-matic began to take stock of their storied career. They soon decided neither option would be appropriate.
“[The decision to disband] was made right around the same time [as the album's release]. It was pretty simultaneous,” says Centro-matic singer and guitarist Will Johnson. “We came to the conclusion that this December tour was as celebratory as we could make it, as opposed to just going away, like a lot of bands do.”
Centro-matic will end its nearly two-decade run with humility. Rather than an extravagant tour that hits every corner of the country, the group will embark on a short run this month, reaching a handful of the band’s favorite cities, before concluding with a three-night residency in its hometown.
The farewell tour will make a stop in Athens at the Georgia Theatre, a venue familiar to the band.
“Athens has always been a bit of a musical mecca for us,” says bassist Mark Hedman. “The chance to make friends there over the years and get to know the town a bit has been a great joy to us. We've always appreciated the way folks there made us feel right at home.”
Centro-matic has always faced some realities as far as how the ambitions related to our personal lives, and trying to make a living out of music.
Johnson says his appreciation for Athens developed in tandem with a budding friendship with Drive-By Truckers frontman Patterson Hood and others from the local band’s camp.
“The lyrical approach may differ, [and] there are certainly some very obvious sonic differences here and there," says Johnson. "But, by and large, the two bands have spoken a very similar language with respect to performing live and making records [that] capture an immediate spirit and an energy."
During breaks in Centro-matic's operations over the years, Johnson appeared on Hood’s solo records, while multi-instrumentalist Scott Danbom contributed fiddle tracks to Truckers songs. Hedman remembers a “a bleary-eyed breakfast” at The Grit where Hood explained his band’s plans to record Southern Rock Opera. “Kindred spirits were out there trying to tell stories that mattered to them as powerfully as they could,” says Hedman of DBT’s ambitious double-album about the cultural and political history of the Deep South.
The admiration is clearly mutual. Hood, a self-described Centro-matic “super-fan,” who jokes that he is advocating for the group to announce a reunion tour the day after its final show, will open for Centro-matic in Denton on Dec. 21.
“I remember the first time I heard Centro-matic,” says Hood. “It was a feeling that I’ve only gotten a handful of times with a handful of musicians. I felt like I was hearing something [that had been] in my head before, but I had never been able to quite put my finger on it."
The respect Centro-matic has garnered over the years extends well beyond the Truckers camp. New West Records President George Fontaine has been a Centro-matic fan since 1996’s Redo the Stacks, the band’s debut, re-released earlier this year on vinyl.
“I consider Will Johnson to be one of the most respected and well-loved artists in the music business,” says Fontaine. “There is not a pretentious bone in his body. I love him dearly, and my only regret is that we never got to work together on a recording project… I still hold out hope that we can collaborate on something down the road.”
Although Centro-matic will technically call it quits after this tour, new music down the road isn’t out of the question. South San Gabriel, the band’s sister project, will likely continue in some form. Johnson also says there are songs in the Centro-matic vault for possible future release. “There’s definitely some unreleased stuff,” he says. “There’s just a lot of four-track songs from over the years that never saw the light… There’s other material that has floated around at least on the periphery over the years.”
Presently, though, band members have this final run on their minds. Asked how the band is preparing for its swan song, Johnson jokes that he hasn’t even considered rehearsing.
“I just panicked for a second. I thought [the first show] was supposed to be the rehearsal,” he says, laughing. “We are going to come in at different trajectories as far as our instruments are concerned… I have not played an electric guitar in a very long time,” adds Johnson, who has spent much of 2014 touring as part of Undertow Music's Living Room series.
"We are one of the least-rehearsed bands you’ve ever seen,” adds drummer Matt Pence, who also doubles as the band’s recording engineer. “It is sincerely something that we don’t do very much. We rehearse for one day before any tour, if that."
As celebratory as these final shows will no doubt be, the members of Centro-matic are bracing for some inevitable bittersweet moments, too.
“It’s a hard thing, because it’s something we all love. I think Centro-matic has always faced some realities as far as how the ambitions [related to] our personal lives, and trying to make a living out of music,” says Hedman. “We all love each other, and I think we’ve made a couple of really great records… I mean, I’m really proud of everything we’ve ever done.”
Check out five essential Centro-matic recordings on Homedrone.
WHO: Centro-matic, Dead Confederate, Thayer Sarrano
WHERE: Georgia Theatre
WHEN: Friday, Dec. 5, 8:15 p.m.
HOW MUCH: $10