Interesting Johnny Marr Interview from The Irish Times Today

Old Sib

New Member
Johnny take a bow
He's a legend with a dream rock'n'roll resumé. Former Smiths songwriter and guitarist Johnny Marr has taken 25 years to bag a chunk of a number-one album. He tells Brian Boyd how joining US indie outfit Modest Mouse has fitted him like a musical glove

IN A restaurant in Boulder, Colorado, Johnny Marr is ordering lunch. He asks for yoghurt, berries, granola and a smoothie.

"Christ, that's not a very rock'n'roll order, is it?" he says. "Don't tell anyone about that." Wouldn't dream of it, Johnny.

For all his guitar legend status - he was a member of The Smiths and played with The Pretenders, Bryan Ferry, Talking Heads, The The and Electronic - Johnny Marr is trying to get his head around the fact that he has just had his first No 1 album after 25 years in the business.

"It was such a trip," he says. "I really think I hit a creative ceiling with this one, and the last occasion I felt that was on The Queen Is Dead. I just didn't think interesting records made it to number one any more - The Smiths never had a number-one album - so to top the charts after all this time is a magical feeling."

The album in question is Modest Mouse's We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, which was released a few months ago to huge critical and commercial acclaim. When Marr was first asked to join the quirky indie-pop US band last year, he thought he would just be a guest guitarist and would do a few shows with them. But the creative partnership he enjoyed with lead singer Isaac Brock led him to becoming a fully-fledged member of the band.

"I've now done my 80th gig with them," he says. "I had known about them for quite a while. A friend used to put MP3s of their work onto my iPod and, when I first met up with Isaac, we wrote the single Dashboard on the very first night. I'm full-time with them now, but the have-guitar-will-travel period of my life since I left The Smiths is something I'd recommend to anybody. It's a great way to play with people you admire."

Perennial indie outsiders, Modest Mouse have been releasing albums since 1996, but only came in from the margins when the song Float On from the Good News for People Who Love Bad News album was a surprise hit two years ago.

"The call to join them just came at the right time. The sort of sound they have really suited where I am at now as a guitarist, and I like working with Isaac. I like intensity and I like people who have got strong opinions and strong direction. I've been quite lucky in that the partnerships I've formed have all been with people who are distinctive."

Marr's decision to join the band came just after he had turned down a staggering $10 million (€7.3 million) for The Smiths to reform and play just three outdoor US shows.

"I'm not rich enough to turn that sort of money down," he says. "But it would have been morally wrong - and corrupt - to have done it. Unfortunately, with the four members of The Smiths, there is no friendship there any more. We don't hang around together and we haven't seen each other for years. How can you play with people under those circumstances? The other thing is, I didn't get into this for the money, so it would have been morally wrong to do those shows just for the money."

Marr is now cited as one of the most influential rock guitarists of the last 20 years. He puts his distinctive guitar sound down to a mix of "1960s-era Rolling Stones, Phil Spector and The New York Dolls", though they weren't his biggest influence.

"People always put me down as a punk or post-punk guitarist, but the man who changed my musical life was Rory Gallagher. I picked up a guitar because of him. I used to love the sound of his name and the way he looked on his album sleeves. He had real cred, and the first time I saw him live he just blew me away. He was the first musician I followed around; I used to sleep in bus shelters following him around on tour.

"I think the main attraction was that even when I was 14, I wanted to go my own way and like somebody different. All my friends were into the same bands, but I wanted someone of my own - and found that someone in Rory."

Marr is now based in Modest Mouse's hometown of Portland, Oregon. He surprised himself by how quickly he took to the city. "I think it's because Portland is well away from the fashionable urban centres, just like Manchester is. And, in that sort of environment, you tend go get more of an off-kilter, experimental sound. For a variety of reasons - price of housing, etc - I always prefer second or third cities in a country to the capital city."

He does find it a bit odd that Modest Mouse are now picking up so much more press attention on this side of the Atlantic simply because he's in the band.

"I think the rest of the band don't like it that much," he says. "After all, they were going for years and making great music before I joined and they did have their breakthrough song before I joined. At the same time, they are realistic about it and they do know about The Smiths' legacy, so they do understand."

He is looking forward to Modest Mouse's appearance at this weekend's Electric Picnic festival.

"Well, I am Irish. My parents are from Athy in Kildare and I was the first one in the family born in Manchester. Just like Morrissey will tell you, growing up in an Irish family in Manchester in the 1970s you did feel at a bit of a remove - all those snide comments about Irish people and all of that. It's something I've got in common with Noel Gallagher, because his parents are Irish also. I still look at the Union Jack flag and think: 'that's nothing to do with me'.

"And I always remember the Irish gigs. I remember the time The Smiths played the SFX in 1984 and the time The The played The Olympia in 1990."

Marr has toyed with the idea of changing the spelling of his surname back to the original Maher.

"I am a Maher, but there are two reasons why I switched the spelling to Marr. First, the drummer with The Buzzcocks when I first started was called John Maher and I didn't want to be confused with him. Second, the English could never pronounce my surname properly; it would come out as Meyer or something like that. So to make it easier, I just used the phonetic spelling.

"Yeh, I have been thinking about going back to Maher. The only problem is that I'd have to get the gold registration plates on my gold Rolls Royce changed as well!"

The Mouse that roared

Before Johnny Marr joined the band last year, it would be fair to say that for a lot of people on this side of the Atlantic it was a case of "Modest who?". The band were formed in Washington State in 1993 by lead vocalist and key songwriter Isaac Brock. Their wide-ranging sound has always made them exempt from musical classification but "quirky indie" seems to be a useful operational definition.

Their earliest work was released on the Sub Pop label, but it wasn't until 1997's The Lonesome Crowded West album that they made any sort of breakthrough.

They've been releasing consistently interesting work throughout their career but only really broke out of indieville when their single Float On from 2004's Good News for People Who Love Bad News was a surprise hit. The current album, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, is by far their biggest-selling record.

The band's name comes from a line in a Virginia Woolf story, The Mark On The Wall. "And very frequent even in the minds of modest, mouse-coloured people . . ."
 

Maurice E

Junior Member
had a quick skim through and, yes, it looks a bit more interesting than the average JM interview.
but I'm pretty certain Meat is Murder went to number 1 i.e. The Smiths did have a number one album...
 

Spicer

Has Forgiven Jesus
"Yeh, I have been thinking about going back to Maher. The only problem is that I'd have to get the gold registration plates on my gold Rolls Royce changed as well!"

Ummmmmmmm..... :eek:

If that was my only problem, I'd be a very happy carton of milk!
 

Slip-In

Junior Member
Interesting interview, :)

I think Johnny is referring to The Smiths not having a number one album in America, he wouldn't have forgotten about Meat Is Murder going to number in the UK, would he?

Anyhow, I still find it very interesting how they all claim not to wanna have any to do with The Smiths' Legacy and what not, YET they all mention the band every chance they get, even Moz :cool:
 

Maurice E

Junior Member
Interesting interview, :)

I think Johnny is referring to The Smiths not having a number one album in America, he wouldn't have forgotten about Meat Is Murder going to number in the UK, would he?

Anyhow, I still find it very interesting how they all claim not to wanna have any to do with The Smiths' Legacy and what not, YET they all mention the band every chance they get, even Moz :cool:

Ah yes, I think you're probably right.
There's goes me and my anglocentricism; getting me into trouble again!
 
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Dave

Guest
If it's not number one in America it's not number one. ;)

But also The part about how it would be "immoral" to reform for three shows for the money, makes me think we ALL take the whole thing way too seriously. That doesn't qualify as immoral to me, maybe unethical, but then, the ethics of rock and roll might be hard to codify.
 

Amy

from the Ice Age to the dole age

vicarinatutugal

can't reMember
If it's not number one in America it's not number one. ;)

But also The part about how it would be "immoral" to reform for three shows for the money, makes me think we ALL take the whole thing way too seriously. That doesn't qualify as immoral to me, maybe unethical, but then, the ethics of rock and roll might be hard to codify.

immoral? who cares! it would be a chance to see the Smiths or at least JM and himself, em actually I don't know if that is what you are talking about!
 

faroffplaces

How I feel in my mind
Very nice. Interesting to see Morrissey flirting with "Steven" in the L.A. times, and now Johnny sighing over "Maher." ...'course, I'm pretty sure he'd be leaving his wife and kids in the cold then, they've all taken "Marr" as well!

And I love how Johnny makes these shout-outs to Portland, my adopted hometown. While they were recording "We Were Dead..." I made sure to plan my "chance meeting with Johnny Marr" line upon walking into most public places. Just in case. Much later I learned they did most the work at Sweet Tea in Mississippi, but whatever.
 
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kissmyshadestoo

Cheeky Defendant
Marr's decision to join the band came just after he had turned down a staggering $10 million (€7.3 million) for The Smiths to reform and play just three outdoor US shows.

"I'm not rich enough to turn that sort of money down," he says. "But it would have been morally wrong - and corrupt - to have done it. Unfortunately, with the four members of The Smiths, there is no friendship there any more. We don't hang around together and we haven't seen each other for years. How can you play with people under those circumstances? The other thing is, I didn't get into this for the money, so it would have been morally wrong to do those shows just for the money."

So does this mean a Smiths reunion IS out of the question?
 
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Dave

Guest
immoral? who cares! it would be a chance to see the Smiths or at least JM and himself, em actually I don't know if that is what you are talking about!

Did you read the article? Johnny said that playing three shows for $10 million would be immoral. I didn't say it. I'm saying they need to get a grip.

Personally I don't care if they play together again or not or whether they do it for the money or not, although, I think for Morrissey it would be a huge step backwards. If "The Smiths" came to an auditorium near me, I'd probably go see it, out of curiosity, but I really think that's over. The only way it would be "The Smiths" is if they reformed for a new record and did a tour. Those four people are no longer "The Smiths" in my opinion, even if it was all four of them, and if it was Johnny and Morrissey and two others, that's just a night of nostalgia.

I loved The Smiths but that time has passed. Even Jimmy Page and Robert Plant called it Page and Plant when they reformed, not Led Zeppelin.
 
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Danny

Senior Member
If something is against your personal code of morals then it is immoral to you. Don't see anything wrong with what Johnny said.
 
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Dave

Guest
I'm sorry but to me immoral means being a hired arsonist or murderer, not a hired guitarist.
 
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Dave

Guest
of course there is no right or wrong answer to this one, but I still say, relax. If you agree with him, I'm not trying to change your mind, but I don't and that's my opinion. It's not something I thought about that much, I just laughed when I read it.
 

I am a Ghost

New Member
It's actually me who posted it, M23.
I was in work when I read it and am not registered in there, couldn't remember the password, hence the new name.
I was supposed to be going to MM last night, but in the end couldn't :mad:
Such is life....
 
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