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'I feel like I've been had': Morrissey's collaborators respond to his politics - The Guardian
The former Smiths singer’s new album features guest spots from Billie Joe Armstrong and Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste. Are they not put off by his increasingly unpleasant right-wing stance?
As US music magazine the Fader asked: “What possible reason could any of these people have for lining up behind Morrissey now?”
Droste declined to comment. The only artist willing to speak with the Guardian was Canadian vocalist Ariel Engle, who performs with cult indie outfit Broken Social Scene. She received a call from the American producer Joe Chiccarelli asking her to contribute backing vocals for a cover of Joni Mitchell’s Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow. “I thought, ‘Oh the Smiths, sure’,” she says. “It was $500 for two hours’ work.”
Engle says she didn’t become aware of Morrissey’s political views until the album was announced and a friend emailed to question her involvement. “It’s a very weak argument to claim ignorance,” she says, “but it is my argument. It’s not an excuse but it happens to be the truth.”
Morrissey’s manager, Peter Katsis, says he is unaware of statements made by any guest vocalists, but that the intention of the covers album was supposed to be fun. “This is where his head is at,” he says. “Maybe enough has been said with the last few albums being political.” Of Morrissey’s political views, Katsis says: “I manage his artistic career and sometimes I have to deal with things he says, but it’s not for me to comment.”
Chiccarelli echoes Katsis’s sentiment. “I can’t speak to Moz’s politics,” he says. “I’m a record-maker. I’ve known him 10 years and he’s been a gentleman and a pleasure. I consider him a friend.” When asked about the far-right figures for whom Morrissey has expressed support, Chiccarelli says: “I’d really have to research it and see if it crossed a particular line for me.”
Engle says that learning of Morrissey’s political opinions has left a “bad taste”, and that she stands in opposition to his views. “The inflammatory things he says are not my politics. I think he’s completely out of line. I grew up around multiculturalism and I am the product of multiculturalism and immigration. I feel like I’ve been had, but it’s my fault.”
The American singer LP offered a statement through a PR representative: “As I’m a huge fan of his music and poetry, I was honoured to be asked to collaborate on the album.” Representatives for Lydia Night of California band the Regrettes offered no comment, but the 18-year-old told punk magazine Kerrang!: “I’ve grown up loving the Smiths – my cat’s name is Morrissey!” Representatives for Armstrong said he was in the studio and therefore unreachable.
The guest stars on California Son are all North American, suggesting a difference between perceptions of the former Smiths frontman in the US and UK. Katsis, who is American, sees the critical focus on Morrissey’s politics as a British preoccupation.
“I don’t think they know enough about it to care about it,” he says of Morrissey’s US fans. “I don’t feel knowledgable enough to comment on British politics, therefore it’s probably not as important to me or the international fans as it is to UK fans. This whole thing has had me perplexed. The subjects are very complicated and dividing.”
The figures bear out Morrissey’s enduring support across the Atlantic. He ended 2018 with arena shows in North and South America, and has announced his first Canadian tour in 20 years for this April. In November 2017, Los Angeles City Council declared 10 November “Morrissey Day”.
“In America, he tends to be seen as the rock star who sang about queer life and spoke openly about feminism when nobody else did,” says Rolling Stone critic Rob Sheffield. “These two images define him, and he’s still seen in terms of his pioneering place in history. His grumpy old age is not really held against him. Americans tend not to follow UK politics very closely, so when he makes mind-blowingly offensive statements there might be outrage or humiliation for a few days, or hours, but then it’s back to listening to The Queen Is Dead”.
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