Will Johnson Premiere

Lo-fi bard borrows kids’ keyboard for ambient composition

On latest track “Small Leads,” Will Johnson lays down his pen and portrays a melancholic mood instrumentally. A lonely bassline, pulsing under a flood of mournful keys, conveys stillness and tension. Imagine it the soundtrack to a cloudy afternoon spent sitting on a swing set with no one to give you a push.

Photo by Jesse Johnson

As such, consider it another curveball for the ultra-prolific Texan, whose songwriting drove Centro-matic, South San Gabriel, and Overseas, and whose drumming anchors Monsters of Folk. His handful of solo releases include masterful 2015 LP Swan City Vampires and April’s Record Store Day single “Inclined,” which Johnson’s label Misra received word is on a Grammy nomination short list for Best American Roots Performance. The Recording Academy makes its annual announcements next Tuesday.

In crafting his latest composition, Johnson appropriated an unlikely piece of music gear.

“My kids use this cheap Yamaha synth in the garage to entertain themselves sometimes, and I borrowed it and wrote ‘Small Leads,’” he explains. “There are some organ and string sounds in there that I like.”

The three-minute track, B-side to acoustic confessional “Nervousness Fangs,” demonstrates the Austinite’s growing penchant for ambient and instrumental music transmitted via workmanlike lo-fi production.

“These new songs were written during a late-summer writing binge around home,” reports Johnson. “I set up a mic or two in the middle bathroom, maybe an amp in the hall, and tracked both of those songs to a Tascam 424.”

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Will Johnson, Centro-Matic, South San Gabriel, Overseas, Monsters of Folk

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