For Will Johnson, the veteran singer-songwriter and longtime leader of Centro-matic, his union with Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster, of Water Liars and Theodore, fits a pattern. In his work with South San Gabriel, Monsters of Folk, and Overseas, collaboration has long been the cornerstone of his creativity. Like his other endeavors, Marie/Lepanto was born out of a musical kinship and personal respect. "I've been a huge fan of Will's writing and singing playing, admired him from a far for a number of years," says Kinkel-Schuster. That admiration grew closer and became mutual after Water Liars toured with Centro-matic during the band's farewell run in 2014. "Water Liars kinda became a soundtrack for me during that time," adds Johnson.
The turning point came when the pair stopped in Memphis to see producer Jeff Powell (Big Star, The Afghan Whigs) and tour the famed Sam Phillips Recording studio. Powell had previously worked with Centro-matic and mixed Kinkel-Schuster's solo debut. After Powell casually suggested they all cut something at Phillips, "it became very obvious that this should be it," says Johnson, "that we should meet in Memphis and make a record together." The Austin-based Johnson and the Arkansas-based Kinkel-Schuster did just that in the fall of 2016, traveling to the Bluff City to record with Powell, resulting in the 10-track Tenkiller.
The intimate sessions found Johnson and Kinkel-Schuster sharing writing, playing and vocal duties, yielding an album that falls in the great tradition of indie rock team ups – from Nikki Sudden and Dave Kusworth to Vic Chesnutt and Lambchop, Peter Buck and Kevn Kinney to Kim Gordon and Lydia Lunch. Tenkiller evinces both the individual identity of its authors, as well as the alchemy of their union. The haunting harmonies of opener "Patient Man" ushers in an album of beautiful laments and finely-etched narratives. Offering a darker more austere vision of Americana, the record moves between the widescreen majesty of the waltzing "High Desert," the discordant guitar crunch of "Inverness" and the meditative melancholy of "Rest Be Mine" with a seamless grace.