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Interview: Johnny Marr On ‘The Messenger,’ Morrissey & Writing For Teenagers

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(Courtesy of ADA Music)

(Courtesy of ADA Music)

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Former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr was lauded by NME this year as a Godlike Genius, but he considers himself more of a “messenger” to aspiring artists.

Marr started playing music around his native Manchester at a very young age, getting into mischief with Smiths bassist Andy Rourke.

“Who I am is the product of having been a musician since a teenager onwards,” Marr said in an interview with KROQ. “I just wanted to say from my vantage point: I can recommend that it’s a great way of life. I try to be a bit conscious of what I’d like to hear if I was that age. I think I would have liked to hear, ‘Don’t give up.’”

Marr himself didn’t give up when he was rejected during an impromptu audition for English new wave band The Only Ones, where he performed their only hit, “Another Girl, Another Planet.” One of his most memorable mischievous moments alongside Rourke, the two snuck into the band’s dressing room while The Only Ones’ guitarist was in the bathroom. Marr thought, “Now’s my chance to join the band.”

“Andy was always very good at sort of encouraging me to do stuff and then conveniently disappearing once he set the wheels in motion,” Marr said.

How did he do on the audition? “They should’ve hired me,” laughed the guitarist. “It might have been a good idea to wait until I was out of school uniform and my voice had broken.”

Decades later, Marr, who has played with many other bands including Modest Mouse and The Cribs, brings some of that teenage rebellion into his new solo album, The Messenger. Marr said that he didn’t want the new album to feel “pompous” or unrelatable to younger music fans.

“I tried to write from a place and perspective that meant a lot for who I am now but that was still coming from a place that younger people could relate to,” Marr said. “That’s not to say that I’ve got an interest in being young or anything, but I wanted to make sure that my perspective on the songs came from a place that it means that same thing as when I was younger – that common ground we have that you don’t necessarily have to lose. In some ways, I guess it’s about spotting bulls*** and not being ground down by it.”

 

Most of Marr’s lengthy career has been spent as a guitarist and in fact, The Messenger, is technically his first-ever solo album. But that’s not to say Marr is uncomfortable playing the role of a frontman vocalist.

“It’s fun to sing on this kind of music that I’m writing at the moment,” he said. “I think like a band animal, it just happens to be fronted by me now, and I’ve just happened to be pushed to the forefront now. There’s no great mystery to it, really. And it doesn’t feel weird or anything like that.”

As most know, the early part of Marr’s career was spent accompanying Morrissey’s signature vocals with equally iconic guitar lines. These days, however, the two have been known to trade barbs. Despite this, Marr seemed to have Moz’s back when asked what he thought of his former bandmate’s recent drama with Jimmy Kimmel. The ardently anti-meat Moz canceled his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! earlier this month because he would have been appearing alongside guests from the hunting reality show Duck Dynasty. Moz told Kimmel he’d appear if he ditched Duck Dynasty, a demand Marr – himself a vegan – told us sounded “reasonable.”

Marr seemed to also agree that musicians need not kowtow to the status quo.

“I do feel like sometimes I kind of explain that we’re not all in these convenient boxes or I’m not in a convenient box, you know?” Marr said. “There just seems to be a lot of rules and you end up having to explain assumptions that people make because of age-old archetypes. What’s wrong with drawing your own map?”

- Nadia Noir, KROQ Los Angeles

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