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Exclusive Video Premiere: Centro-matic’s marching “Iso-Residue”

Exclusive Video Premiere: Centro-matic’s marching “Iso-Residue” (photo)

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“Iso-Residue” is the shortest song on the 10th album by Texas rock quartet Centro-matic by nearly a minute. In its 140 seconds, though, it covers both a lot of ground and, really, no ground at all. Its work is its swagger and pace, moving with a jubilance and conviction that’s enviable; like a perfect punk jam, it triumphantly plants its hook, takes a solo, restates it and gets out of the way. You’ll remember how it sounds. The lack of movement comes in Will Johnson’s lyrics, a look at two folks whose love for each other is causing them to grind their gears and get nowhere. But they’re trying, an aspect Johnson holds dear in his songs.

We caught up with Johnson in Tennessee to talk about life on the road and Centro-matic‘s great new album, Candidate Waltz. The album is out June 21st.

By this point, you’ve made a lot of solo records, a lot of Centro-matic records, and a lot of South San Gabriel records. What’s your favorite thing about leading the old rock band through a new album?

It’s more about exploring the relationship between songwriting and volume–more of a physical event writing Centro-matic music for me than writing for South San Gabriel or solo. That’s a little more subdued and a little more introspective. But writing Centro-matic songs, especially the songs for this record, it was a truly joyful, kidlike experience. I set up a bunch of gear in the kitchen in my old house in a small town in Texas, and I bounced from amplifier to amplifier. Much of it was written on an overdriven bass guitar, which is such a loud but joyous way to write. If I have to pinpoint what the writing is like for each project, I would say that the Centro-matic songs these days are real, front-of-the-brain, unbridled, childlike joy.

That said, a lot of those songs are still about doubts and uneasiness. What’s the balance like for you, between joy and worry, in rock music?

Maybe it’s just my little outpost, but that’s a lot of what life is about to me. It’s about keeping the negative and fearing the worst but hoping for the best. Sometimes, I think the songs harbor some of those emotions. The language or the overtones might feel a little bit negative or sad or sorrowful or even just suspicious, but at the same time, hopefully there’s still an element of hope and positivity. Without a doubt, that’s a pretty common thing about a lot of my favorite writers–not just songwriters, but writers in general. I try to balance those two a little bit and sometimes have them test each other, either through a scenario in a song or through characters or through a setting. I try to set them up against each other and test the limits.

“Iso-Residue” seems to be a song about two people stuck in a situation that’s not quite satisfying. So why turn it up and make it such a pop tune?

That song in particular deals with two individuals who are making do with one another at a certain stage. It’s got a little bit of a raised-eyebrow feel to it. There’s a little bit of suspicion between the two characters in the song, but ultimately, the characters only have each other. They’re figuring out how to proceed and how to make things better. There are clearly some communication problems between these two folks. At the heart of it, I really just wanted to write a quick, catchy pop song that I knew our band would latch onto pretty well and pretty quickly. While I have definitely discussed and analyzed that song as much as I ever have right here with you, at the core of it, I wanted to write a fun, bouncy pop song.

How did the band respond to that song, and, in general, what’s Centro-matic’s process of taking songs from your mind to the stage?

It’s different from song to song, but with a song like that one, when I was writing it, it was really easy for me to envision playing that one and getting it ready to perform very quickly. The instrumentation is not terribly complex. It’s not a heavily layered recording. It’s just a song that I pictured us playing pretty soon. And we did. We got right to it, started playing it out live almost a year and a half ago. We recorded it and then went out and started playing it live. It was recorded not even a month and a half after it was written, so there was a pretty quick turnaround from the writing to the recording. Six months after we tracked it, we were starting to play it live.

That short turnaround is notable here, because the video does seem to focus so much on your touring life–set lists and travel and backstage shots. When you wrote this song, did you know it was something you wanted to get onstage with the band?

Definitely. It’s a pretty quick and bouncy little pop song. That video comes from the soul and the eye of our drummer and recording engineer Matt Pence. He documented so much of this Spanish tour that we did back in November. He has such a talent for catching some of those moments on tour that a lot of people don’t necessarily get to see. Some of those moments are beautiful and serene, like when we have a little bit of time during one of the drive days and we get to the beach. It’s a spiritual hour, so to speak.

Others are your typical backstage settings where, frankly, you hang out and wait for the show to happen. You make jokes or play with food or read books. It’s a very appropriate document of our band’s life on the road during that time. There’s some other footage that he took from our New Year’s Eve show in Dallas at this old theater with our friends Slobberbone. It’s a little bit of a document that came out of a couple of months of our band’s life. A lot of our friends know that we go overseas to play shows, but they don’t know more than the stories we might come back with. To have a video souvenir of some of the daily life we experience on those European tours hopefully adds a little bit of dimension to our ongoing story as a band.

In Raleigh a few years ago, there was an art exhibit called 23 Hours, part of which focused on that idea for rock bands. You travel around, living your life, but you’re only judged for a very specific hour of each day by the public.

It’s easy for folks to forget that there are these other 23 hours of the day for a lot of maintenance–to keep the band afloat, to keep going. 2004 was a really have touring year for me personally. Just as a fun math problem, I added up all the driving mileages and the flights from that year. After adding it all up and averaging about 70 miles an hour or so, I calculated it to where I spent the first 71 days–if you started at January 1st, at midnight, and calculated it with a clock and a calendar–of that year driving or flying or riding, just in transit. You know how much time was spent on stage, actually performing? Just slightly over 10 full days. That’s just driving; that’s not waiting around in the club or any of the other killing of time that happens inevitably during your typical day. It was a pretty sobering realization.

How do you spend this free time on the road?

It gives me a chance to really concentrate on our music and to relearn old songs and to take some notes for some new songs, for sure. It’s a little bit of time to read and really just catch up with the guys. We haven’t done any significant U.S. touring now for years. To tell you the truth, it’s great to all get back together and catch up and tell a few stories and play music again. It’s pretty simple.

Your new role as a father probably figures into how you use your time with the band, right?

Definitely. It’s not a complaint. It’s just a fact of life, a product of evolving as an adult and as a parent. Having a child is definitely the coolest, greatest thing I could’ve ever hoped for. It definitely puts everything in perspective. It makes you realize how small some of things you used to fuss about truly are. That said, it’s definitely a lot of work, too. I’m definitely in full-time dad mode when I’m home. The writing doesn’t happen quite as whimsically or spontaneously as it used to. I really do have to make an effort to carve out the time. It’s a little different layout than it was a few years ago.

Do you ever think about the time your favorite bands spend away from the stage on the road? Seem exciting or monotonous?

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.