Salon: Playing by Johnny Marr’s rules: “I love living in the modern world, but I just don’t accept a

MrShoes

Make mine Mogatu!
Subscriber
http://www.salon.com/2015/12/04/pla..._dont_accept_a_laptop_as_being_a_band_member/


Playing by Johnny Marr’s rules: “I love living in the modern world, but I just don’t accept a laptop as being a band member”


As the legendary guitarist's solo and frontman career rises, he's found himself more comfortable calling the shots
ANNIE ZALESKI



Johnny Marr’s place in music history was cemented by his tenure in the Smiths, the influential ’80s U.K. rock band. However, since leaving that band in 1987, the guitarist has carved out a career driven by forward motion and progress. He toured with the Pretenders and The The (and played on the latter’s seminal LPs, “Mind Bomb” and “Dusk”), while also recording and touring with Electronic, his side project with New Order’s Bernard Sumner. More recently, Marr spent time as a member of the Cribs and Modest Mouse — and not coincidentally, each band released its best record when he was in the lineup: 2009’s “Ignore The Ignorant” and 2007’s “We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank,” respectively.

In recent years, however, the guitarist has embarked on a solo career, fronting a new band and releasing two fine, well-crafted studio albums, 2013’s “The Messenger” and 2014’s “Playland,” which are indebted to the entire continuum of U.K. rock — from the British Invasion on through punk, ’80s indie-rock and Britpop. Thanks to tireless touring, Marr and his band have grown into a formidable live act, something quite evident on the new live album, “Adrenalin Baby — Johnny Marr Live,” which is released this week in the U.S. As the title implies, the collection captures the ferocity of Marr’s concerts — check the marching “Generate! Generate!” and punk fury of “Boys Get Straight” — while including a generous number of Smiths songs and a barnstorming cover of “I Fought The Law” for good measure.

Marr checked in with Salon about his favorite live albums, how “Adrenalin Baby” came together and how his memoir is coming along.

It’s nice to hear a live record that accurately captures the energy and buoyancy of a live show. So many live records sound sterile, but this one emphasizes what you guys were going for.

Well, thank you for that. I am glad that that is what comes across, that was very important. That was the thing at the top of the list. I wanted it to feel like if you stood right in the middle of a hall — not necessarily an arena or a festival, but just like a good-sounding traditional theatre or hall — the record would sound like that. [It’s] too easy these days to make things too perfect. In our case, luckily, a lot of the gigs we recorded just came straight out of the speakers sounding good. But a lot of that has got to do with my band. The band is so good, and I really feel very proud of them.

We’ve played a lot over the last few years, so we were in the right space to make a live record. I guess a live record as a proper record on vinyl, double vinyl or CD or whatever these days, is probably somewhat unusual. But I’m happy about that. When the band are known for being good live, and they do a record, then I really like ’em. I grew up buying a few of those records, and then I would buy bootlegs of my favorite bands. Occasionally, I’d go through phases where I’d just listen to live records of The Only Ones, Wire, Jonathan Richman and David Bowie. There’s a whole list of them I really like. It is nice to get away from the illusion that the recording studio is able to bring. I’m a fan of live records when they’re a good listen.

Do you have any other particular favorite live records?

I always really liked the Ramones’ “It’s Alive” record. I stole that from a store when I was about 14, not expecting it to be particularly good, and I really loved it. And then there was one that I’ve always loved, which is “TV Eye” by Iggy Pop, from a tour he did in 1978, I believe, or ’79. I used to go see him at that time. As a fan, you really live the shows that you saw; that’s kind of a cool thing. I’d say really those two — and the Rolling Stones’ “Love You Live” record was a pretty key record for me.

When I saw you guys live, the crowds were so into it and it wasn’t a nostalgia trip. There was so much immediacy and modernity to the shows. Even the Smiths songs and the covers you did — that really stood out to me and really came through on the record too.

I like the idea of modernity. I feel quite lucky to have a back catalog that people like so much, but I wouldn’t really feel quite so good about it if those songs were propping up the rest of my live set. The solo tours took off in a way I wasn’t really quite expecting, and the audience was with me really straight away. You know, when you play 13, 14, 15 new songs, it’s then just really good fun to play stuff that people already know, love and that they’ve grown up with. As long as it isn’t a nostalgia trip, and it’s just more of a musical celebration, that really, in a way, gives balance to the fact we play so many new songs.

When I think of the live record, I do think it’s a document of where I’ve been at with my band the last few years, with some nice kind of sprinkles on top. And those sprinkles would be the old songs. It’s a little bit of razzle-dazzle — and why not, if you can do it?

Now that you guys have done all this touring and you’re two albums in, are you completely comfortable being a frontman? Are there still any adjustments you’ve working on making?

No, I don’t think so. I just think of where I’m going. Like any other frontman, really, I took to it without it being much of a big deal, mostly because I have a lot of muscle memory from when I was a kid. I used to front bands before I became known for being in The Smiths. I’m happy the way things have turned out, because I’ve got to learn about being on stage through the Smiths, Modest Mouse and the Cribs. I sang quite a lot in the Cribs, and that made quite a difference. I guess my guitar playing went up a few notches playing with The The. That band toured around the world a couple of times, and that was really, really a good live band. I was playing with some amazing musicians. I learned a lot about touring, and I needed to do that, because I was always so focused on the studio and making records.

But to answer to your question, it felt natural because I had done it. It was forced on me somewhat in my teens. And I knew about fronting a band as a guitar player; I knew about the technicalities of it. When I think about where we’re going next, I do feel like the leader of the band. So, I guess I’ve made that transition very much so. I only really consider a song done when I have a title for it and most of the lyrics. Whereas when I was just playing guitar in people’s bands, or in my own band or the Smiths, when I’d done an instrumental backing track, I just considered that the song. And it was a matter of the singer putting something on top that either complemented it or took it in a different direction. I considered an instrumental track to be finished, whereas now, I need to know what the song is about in my mind at least, before I consider it presentable to the rest of the band.

So, yeah, I guess the transition’s been well and truly made. I like it when I’m on stage. I think the audience knows what I do now, and they know the kind of performer I am. I do think of myself as a performer. That’s an okay thing to be. All of those reasons kind of make me a front man. I’ve also developed a very worrying habit of being late for most things.

You’re totally a frontman now.

[Laughs.] I never used to do that until I started fronting this band. It’s annoying.

They can’t start until you show up. They’re beholden to you.

[Dryly.] Oh, that’s what it is — oh, dear me. I’ve just thought it was because I had to wait for my nail polish to dry.

Get your hair fluffed up, get your outfit ready…

I’ve always done that. [Laughs.]

Are you already thinking about new music? I read something last year that Hans Zimmer said that you guys might be collaborating on some music. Is that something that’s going to happen?

We’ve got one more show to play [this year], and then I’m going to get into writing some new songs. If I get the right songs together, I’ll rope Hans in, because he’s been kind of calling on me for the last few years to work on some movie soundtracks. I think I need to drag him away from the orchestra and get him on a disco song. So I’ve been threatening to do that for about a year now. I’ve got a couple songs that I need to finish that I’d like to get Hans on. He’s a really incredible electronic musician, that’s kind of what people sometimes overlook. He started out as a synthesizer player who just happened to have a knack for being a genius composer.

I’ve worked with him a lot when he’s been just even fooling around on synthesizers. He’s an incredible electronic musician. So, I’d quite like to get that on the next record. He’s a really, really neat, f***ing cool best friend, you know.

That would be very interesting. It’s cool to bring in and incorporate different textures and approaches to things. That’s very freeing.

The thing with the live record is that I planned on it being somewhat of a document for this period of my life and what me and this band sound like on any given night. It was more work than I initially imagined, because we recorded a lot of shows, and the temptation to fix things up or make it a little clever was always there. I had to stay focused and keep to my original intention for it.
 

Uncleskinny

It's all good
Subscriber
Hans Zimmer? Wow! As important a figure as Ennio Morricone. Can't wait to hear the next phase of Johnny's musical adventures.

best
BrummieBoy

My son and I got lucky with front row tickets for Hans Zimmer in Hammersmith a couple of years ago. Johnny came out and played on a few songs. And Pharrell Williams. It was quite something.
 

Detritus

Teenage Lightning
"I just don’t think there’s anything sexy about two people standing there without bass and drums. Or someone with a kind of willfully crappy acoustic sound, and their partner playing some ironic bullshit on a little keyboard."

This sounds bizarre coming from a man who has closely collaborated with the Pet Shop Boys for years.

Also slightly disappointing that he comes off like one of those "old guard" rockist types intimidated by the democratization of music writing and performance enabled by computers and software.

Regardless, an interesting interview. Thanks for sharing.
 
Last edited:

Ketamine Sun

<><><><><><><>
"I just don’t think there’s anything sexy about two people standing there without bass and drums. Or someone with a kind of willfully crappy acoustic sound, and their partner playing some ironic bullshit on a little keyboard."

This sounds bizarre coming from a man who has closely collaborated with the Pet Shop Boys for years.

Also slightly disappointing that he comes off like one of those "old guard" rockist types intimidated by the democratization of music writing and performance enabled by computers and software.

Regardless, an interesting interview. Thanks for sharing.

Far as the duo with keyboard and that's all statement, I agree... Except I always thought Suicide incredibly sexy.
 
A

Anonymous

Guest
"I just don’t think there’s anything sexy about two people standing there without bass and drums. Or someone with a kind of willfully crappy acoustic sound, and their partner playing some ironic bullshit on a little keyboard."

This sounds bizarre coming from a man who has closely collaborated with the Pet Shop Boys for years.

Also slightly disappointing that he comes off like one of those "old guard" rockist types intimidated by the democratization of music writing and performance enabled by computers and software.

Regardless, an interesting interview. Thanks for sharing.

Agreed. It must be this year's trend for him.
 
A

Anonymous

Guest
Hans Zimmer? Wow! As important a figure as Ennio Morricone. Can't wait to hear the next phase of Johnny's musical adventures.

best
BrummieBoy

Johnny has a soundtrack album out with HZ at the moment. It's called Freeheld, but it hasn't come out in the UK. So Johnny is actually a real film composer now. I believe the film is so-so, though.
 
Top Bottom