You can listen to the entire album at TEAM COCO

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New Multitudes Video Preview

February 10, 2012

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I did the math and I’ve been a fan of my fellow collaborators here for a collective 49 years. The friendship tally isn’t all that far behind at a sturdy 36. Before this New Multitudes project, Anders, Jay, Jim and I had forged connections through touring, collaborating, producing, and performing together at various stages of our musical lives. We’ve all had our own bands for years, but a good deal of camaraderie and miles had been rolled up together even still, thanks to the circuitry that continued to bind us. Safe to say that we’ve learned from each other, often from afar, and have consistently looked forward to whatever it is that might enable us to hang out again. So when the idea started to take shape that the four of us would not only finally work on something together, but have the opportunity to work on sacred and historical ground like this, I felt a humbling shockwave that I’ll carry for life.

I had just checked into the LaQuinta Inn in Tuscaloosa, Alabama on a cold, mid-January night in 2009 when Jim’s email came through. He’d written to ask if I’d like to come play some drums and write some music to some of Woody Guthrie’s archived, unrecorded lyrics. There were beers in the ice bucket after the thirteen hour, eastbound drive from Denton, and our band, Centro-matic was headed to Athens for some shows. I sat there at the desk, looking around the room in a road soot kind of haze as the heater huffed, and huffed more. I tried to recall if I ever had experienced quite such a jolt of privilege in my musical veins. I realized that I had not.

The Priority Mail envelope arrived from Jay the next week. I opened it at the mailbox and found about fifteen photocopied pages of Woody’s handwritten or typed lyrics, verse, daily notes, diary entries, and one-verse songs. Some of the writing was orderly and metered, and some of it was free form. There were coffee cup stains, math equations and small notes in the margins, and Woody sometimes wrote explanations of the lyrics beneath the date and location at the bottom of the page. I could quickly tell the ones he’d written closer to the end of his life. The handwriting was so shaky, but the conviction and fearlessness was still very much present. It became clear to me that he wrote until the very end. I was only at the mailbox and Woody was already teaching me something, showing me something about fortitude and the bigger picture. The song that was on the top of the stack was called Chorine. I read it carefully as I walked back up the sidewalk to my little apartment.

There was a cadence, a mood and an energy that seemed to jump off the page. As I read it I could immediately hear a tempo and melody. I could hear what Anders, Jay and Jim might contribute, and envision what it would become. I wondered if their experiences with Woody’s lyrics had been similar to this, and I started to understand and experience firsthand the power and timelessness of Woody’s writing. I was holding something that had been written sixty years ago, but it felt as vibrant and valid as if it had been written that afternoon.

I couldn’t get to the recording machine fast enough.

Within twenty minutes I had the first demo of Chorine tracked to the Tascam 424 that sat next to the stove in the kitchenette. Things didn’t change much between the two demo versions I cut and the final version we worked on together. When I felt good with where those were sitting I looked further through the stack and found a couple more songs that became immediate in my head. I could hear chord structures forming as I read the words. Something I thought was going to involve a dose of intimidation, labor and even second guessing was coming together more naturally than I had expected. It was another testament to the weight of Woody’s writing, and the notion that in a situation like this you don’t always choose the songs. The songs choose you.

Being a part of this, and witnessing the assembly of this record has been one of the finest life honors I’ve experienced. It’s been a history lesson, a surreal and exhilarating musical journey, and a conduit that has brought me closer to my friends here. It is offered with incalculable reverence and respect. As with many other Woody-related releases and books over the years, hopefully it can contribute to informing a new generation on the importance of what he gave the rest of us humans. He’s one of our country’s greatest treasures, and in my opinion, the first punk rocker. Hopefully in some way this record can help pass the word along and further celebrate his legacy. It has again shown me that even after all this time, his voice continues to guide so many of us through the fog. Onward, and onward still.

-Will Johnson
Austin, TX
February 9, 2012

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New Multitudes Tour Dates!

January 17, 2012

Will Johnson (Centro-matic, South San Gabriel), Jay Farrar (Son Volt, Gob Iron, Uncle Tupelo), Yim Yames (My Morning Jacket, Monsters of Folk), and Anders Parker (Varnaline, Gob Iron) have announced they will tour in support of their album New Multitudes this upcoming spring. The album is a Woody Guthrie tribute, which will be released the album on Feb. 28 via Rounder Records to coincide with Guthrie’s 100th birthday celebration.

Tour Dates: March
6 – San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore
7 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Mayan
9 – Portland, OR @ Crystal Ballroom
10 – Seattle, WA @ Showbox
12 – Alexandria, VA @ The Birchmere
13 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
14 – New York, NY @ Webster Hall
16 – Boston, MA @ Paradise

More details on the tour dates page.

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New Multitudes Release Date

January 6, 2012


Like a cadre of musical brothers finally coalescing after years on the road apart, Jay Farrar (Son Volt, Gob Iron, Uncle Tupelo), Will Johnson (Centro-matic, South San Gabriel), Anders Parker (Varnaline, Gob Iron) and Yim Yames (My Morning Jacket, Monsters of Folk) gratefully deliver New Multitudes, an intimate interpretation of American icon and musical legend Woody Guthrie’s previously unrecorded lyrics.

Set to coincide with the centennial celebration of Woody Guthrie’s birth year, New Multitudes will be released February 28 on Rounder Records as a 12 track release and a 23 track deluxe, limited edition. The limited edition features original Guthrie lyric sheets, the 12 track release, and 11 additional compositions recorded by Farrar and Parker. The album will also be available on vinyl.

Under the invitation of Nora Guthrie, Woody’s daughter, to tour the Guthrie archives, each of the four songwriters were offered the chance to plumb and mine the plethora of notebooks, scratch pads, napkins, etc. for anything that might inspire them to lend their voices and give the words new life.

“These guys worked on an amazing group of lyrics” says Nora. “Much of it was culled from Woody’s times in L.A. Lyric wise, it’s a part of the story that is still mostly unknown. From Woody’s experiences on LA’s skid row to his later years in Topanga Canyon, they are uniquely intimate, and relate two distinctly emotional periods in his life.”

The spirit of Guthrie may have been involved in more ways than one, as all four songwriters mentioned the immediate connection to the songs they chose, or as they would suggest, “chose them.” The writing came together quickly, as if the mischief muse who originally penned them latched himself to each writer’s grey matter upon first contact.

Musically, it is this sense of collaboration that makes New Multitudes not just another trite and traditional acoustic regurgitation of back porch blues. From the ragged jangle of its opening track, “Hoping Machine”, the loping lilt of “Fly High”, the floorboard stomp of “No Fear”, to the lush warmth and sudden sonic gut punch of “My Revolutionary Mind” the cohorts deliver a lesson in discovering a song’s sweet spot. It’s the function and preparedness of each artist’s dogged work ethic gleaned the old-fashion way; veracious songs, road weary odometers, and sweat stained live shows, all attributes of the man they are honoring.

New Multitudes track listing:

1. Hoping Machine
2. Fly High
3. My Revolutionary Mind
4. VD City
5. Old L.A.
6. Talking Empty Bed Blues
7. Chorine
8. Careless Reckless Love
9. Angel’s Blues
10. No Fear
11. Changing World
12. New Multitudes

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