Listen to Austin 360 Radio

A Monster gig for Will Johnson

Peter Mongillo

Collaboration is king for Will Johnson. The Centro-matic frontman is involved in two projects with other musicians this fall: an album (out now on Secretly Canadian) with Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia and more recently Magnolia Electric Co., as well as a high-profile gig as the touring drummer with Traveling Wilbury-esque Monsters of Folk, the indie-rock supergroup consisting of Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes), M. Ward and Mike Mogis, who will appear tonight at Stubb's.

A look at Johnson's musical résumé reveals that this is nothing new. In addition to fronting Centro-matic, Johnson is involved in South San Gabriel (which includes members of Centro-matic and others) and has released several solo albums. Johnson talked with us by phone from his home in Bastrop last month as he prepared for the tour with M.O.F.

How did you get involved with the Monsters of Folk?

It came about a couple months ago. Jim and I have been friends for a good number of years, since about 2001. We've toured together quite a bit and made some recordings together, and it turned out they were looking for someone to sing and play drums, and he knew that I played drums. I took a look at my recording schedule and the touring schedule coming up with Jason, and basically the whole thing fit by about 48 hours.

Monsters of Folk has been hitting the late-night circuit, including `The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien.' What was that like?

It was fun, kind of like career day or something like that. They had video feed throughout the entire building. It was neat to see him (O'Brien) interacting with his writers and testing jokes out and things like that, sitting there with his guitar in his lap. It gave me a new appreciation for how a show like that comes together over the course of a couple hours.

How did your collaboration with Jason Molina come about?

About two years ago I went to see Magnolia at Emo's and we ended up talking at the merch booth a couple minutes before they were due on. We had met several times before and didn't know each other terribly well, but I think there was kind of a mutual admiration thing in place. We weren't even talking about music; we were talking about our favorite kinds of hats and we were talking about pumpkins. It sounds silly, but that's what we were talking about. At the end of the conversation, he mentioned we should make a record together, and I said, "That'd be great; let's stay in touch."

A lot of times those conversations kind of fall by the wayside, or it's years by the time the idea actually comes to fruition, but I think within 48 hours or so I had an e-mail waiting in my inbox saying, "Hey, let's talk about that record." We blocked out our schedule and booked time at the Echo Lab outside of Denton, where our band does all their recording, and made us a record in about 10 days or so.

How did you split up the writing on the album?

We each came in with a handful of songs, but really a majority of stuff was written on the premises. Which was kind of neat - it gave it something of a workshop-type feel. Some of the stuff we wrote together, and some of the stuff we would head off in our own directions and then come back in later in the afternoon and start in on whoever was feeling the most anxious or ready to get to recording.

It being Denton, Texas, a hotbed of good musicians, we wound up calling in a handful of friends (including Brian VanDivier, Sarah Jaffe and Michael Kapinus from Magnolia Electric Co., among others) to play instruments or sing, so inevitably a few more people started coming around, which was great. It kind of gave it a full collaborative style over the course of the 10 days.

Monsters of Folk play tonight at Stubb's, 801 Red River St. Doors at 7:30 p.m. $36-$38. stubbsaustin.com