Off the Record
Some Kind of Monster
Will Johnson is the Swiss Army knife of indie rock. During rare downtime between his bands Centro-matic and South San Gabriel, the prolific local songwriter is taking a backseat to the Monsters of Folk – Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis, M. Ward, and Jim James of My Morning Jacket – on a national and European tour, following the release of the quartet's eponymous debut Tuesday. "I play [drums] as much as I'm allowed on recordings, but it's been a little while since I've played live," says Johnson, who last gigged behind the kit with Jandek in July 2007. His return coincides with the November release of Jason Molina & Will Johnson (Secretly Canadian), his debut collaboration with the Magnolia Electric Co. frontman, which Johnson describes as "a pretty subdued listen." Here's the real bombshell, though. Alongside Jim James and Anders Parker, Johnson is also taking part in Jay Farrar's version of Mermaid Avenue, recording original music based on unpublished Woody Guthrie lyrics at the behest of his daughter, Nora Guthrie. While no details have been confirmed as far as a release date or label, the album, which was recorded in New York in March, is currently in the mixing stage. "Jay sent me a priority mail package full of the lyrics, and I opened it at 4:30 in the afternoon," Johnson recalls. "Within 17 minutes, I had already documented this one called 'Chorine My Sheba Queen' to the recording machine. That speaks far more about the song than anything I did. The lyrics struck me in a way that the music sounded automatic. It made such sense to my soul and my spirit. It's got an empty and regretful tone but in a very beautiful way. I just latched onto it."
As the vitriolic health care debate continues in Congress and across the nation, Health Alliance for Austin Musicians beats its drum a little louder. The nonprofit remixes the traditional model, circumventing insurance companies to connect local musicians directly to medical (Seton Family of Hospitals), dental (St. David's Community Health Foundation Dental Program), and mental health services (SIMS Foundation). HAAM has assisted more than 1,600 artists to date and is currently operating at capacity with 1,000 members, roughly one-eighth of this city's working musicians. "It's a blessed thing," stresses longtime scene photographer and sideman Todd Wolfson, who enrolled just three days before his bicycle accident in July that left 16 pins and two plates in his arm. "Without it I'd have been paying these bills off the rest of my life and couldn't have afforded to go through the physical therapy."
The fourth annual HAAM Benefit Day on Tuesday is a town hall rally with a soundtrack provided by more than 90 Austin acts across the city. HAAMbassadors will be stationed at each show collecting donations that will be matched (up to $25,000) by the Topfer Family Foundation, while local businesses, ranging from presenting sponsor Whole Foods Market and new underwriter ThunderCloud Subs to Twin Liquors and Waterloo Records, will donate 5% of their Sept. 22 sales and/or make a cash donation to the local nonprofit. Nearly 40% of the organization's operating budget comes from this day alone, thus all the more reason to dine out at such participants as Romeo's, Amy's Ice Creams, Shady Grove Restaurant, and Jo's Coffee. Above are a few highlights from the day. For the complete list of participating businesses and the music schedule, visit www.myhaam.org.
HAAM Schedule Highlights
7am: Ian McLagan at Whole Foods Cafe (525 N. Lamar)
11am: Aimee Bobruk at Pita Pit (619 Congress)
Noon: John Gaar & the Hopeful Souls at ProntoWash Eco Auto Spa (the Domain, Parking Deck A, Level 7)
12:50pm: No Show Ponies at City Hall (301 W. Second)
5pm: Bob Schneider at Waterloo Records (600-A N. Lamar)
5:30pm: DJ Chicken George at Birds Barbershop (2110 S. Lamar)
6pm: Colin Gilmore at Phil's Icehouse (5620 Burnet Rd.)
6:45pm: The Band of Heathens at Whole Foods Cafe
8pm: Charanga Cakewalk at Momo's (618 W. Sixth)
10pm: Uncle Lucius at Saxon Pub (1320 S. Lamar)
Across a Wire
At a time when the old guard stands poised to picket outside KUT and Clear Channel continues to flip formats like Eastside property (105.9FM is back to the Beat), Woxy introduces a fresh alternative to Austin's dead air. After moving its operations from Cincinnati, the longstanding FM-turned-Web radio station, presently marking its 27th year, began broadcasting live from the ME-TV studios on South Congress last week. For those yet to tune in online, Woxy is the preeminent transmitter of modern indie rock (with the noted exception of OTR's Daily Dose on 101X), programmed almost entirely by the station's three principals – general manager Bryan Jay Miller, program director Mike Taylor, and music director Matt Shiv. "It's different from something like Pandora in that we might take our listeners a bit out of their comfort zones," relates Shiv, who's been on board since 1998. Remodeling ME-TV's studio for its acclaimed Lounge Acts sessions, which will be documented in HD beginning in October, the station recently released an iPhone application for mobile streaming and added four new specialty shows, most notably the Pampelmoose New Music Hour, hosted by Gang of Four's Dave Allen. "We're here to embrace the Austin scene," stresses John Mascarenhas of Future Sounds, the multimedia PR company that acquired Woxy last year and hosts a weekly segment under the same name. "There are so many bands we're ready to get behind and broadcast to a national audience."
• After negotiations with a potential investor fell through, Room 710 went into default on its lease earlier this month. "I am permanently out of the nightclub business and really haven't been Downtown since moving my stuff out of 710 Red River," says former owner Asher Garber, who hopes to eventually move to Israel. According to Garber, the lease on the property has been acquired by Elysium owner John Wickham, who didn't return calls. As for Room 710's staff, most seem to have rebounded over to the new club Mixx (612 E. Sixth).
• Local indie Chicken Ranch Records (see "Chicken Ranch," Oct. 19, 2007) is digitally reissuing the catalog of Austin's Knife in the Water – 1998's Plays One Sound and Others, 2000's Red River, and 2003's Cut the Cord. Vinyl versions are in the incubator for next year.
• Attention night owls: Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears make their national television debut Monday night on The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson, shaking their collective tail feathers to "Sugarfoot."
• "We're here to work," Jet's Nic Cester quipped this time last year while slumming outside of Beauty Bar. "That's why we're drinking." The Aussie lads spent more than three months tracking their latest, Shaka Rock, with producer Chris "Frenchie" Smith at the Bubble. Troupe Gammage of local teen-pop outfit Speak, which is now in the same studio for its forthcoming debut, I Believe in Everything, contributed keyboards to three songs on the album, the follow-up to 2006's Shine On.