My mate Marr-might
Ok, so that heading makes no sense whatsoever, but hey, I'm all for tacky Sun type headlines especially when they involve pitiful plays on words like that. Anyway, I'm all excited because I am shortly going to be interviewing one of my all time guitar heroes - founder member of storming new riff heavy semi-supergroup The Healers, session musician extraordinaire and erstwhile member-stroke-songwriting genius of The Smiths -the legendary Johnny Marr.
Coupled with this excitement is also a feeling of trepidation, thanks to things I have either read or been told about the man shortly before the time arrives. "He can be snappy", "He'll give you one word answers" and "He'll be really awkward with you if you mention The Smiths" were just a few of the choice phrases spinning through my head prior to our conversation.
Some people really do talk bollocks don't they?
For the record, Johnny Marr is as amicable, interesting and down to earth as they come. If previous journalists have been sent shuddering under their duvets upon mentioning the Smiths then it's inevitable that they have brought it upon themselves. Let's be honest here - how would you feel if the only thing people wanted to ask YOU about was your dead pet cat that was run over in 1987?
Believe me, Johnny Marr's a real nice guy...and that's even after I interrupted his sleeping pattern to accomplish this interview.
AD: How does it feel to be regarded as one of the kiggest cult icons in recent musical history?
JM: That sounds quite nice- what is it? No, really it's a nice thing. I don't really know why I'm seen that way; I just do what I do. For me, I grew up with the idea that it was a privilege to be a musician. I've always made sure I don't get too cynical about the business, because anything above and beyond just making a living is a concept I can't really grasp. I still have respect for other musicians. So I have no complaints at all.
AD: The Healers seern to be a kind of supergroup of semi-famous people (the band features Ringo Starr's son Zak Starkey and members of Kula Shaker and Proud Mary respectively?
JM: Well HALF of them are semi-famous...and half of them are a bunch of no marks! But they are fantastic no marks with their own history in private. At the end of the day they could have been people that noone had heard of or otherwise. The only criteria that was important to meet was that I could relate to them. Whatever they'd done in the past was pretty secondary really. I mean, I played with one or two musicians who were either too eager to get famous or too nervous or freaked out to play! We had a drummer at one gig and he was rubbish. I didn't find out until a few weeks later what the problem was when I saw him in the pub and he said "I was s`'nervous, I couldn't hold me sticks". So I said to him "I know. I thought you were crap!". He was like "Oh thanks. I feel much better now!" Most of all with the band though, I wanted them to have an interesting direction.
AD: And it certainly IS an interesting direction. We at Atomic Duster think that "The Last Ride" is the best single of the year so far...
JM: Oh that's great. Honestly it really is great to hear people like yourself saying that. Sometimes in the music business you need all the resolve you can muster and people think I'm nuts. But you have to try new things and cross your fingers. I haven't ever taken the easy route you see, - if I had I'd still be playing "This Charming Man" every night of the week.
AD: Funny enough, I haven't put any Smiths questions in this interview...
AD: Well, it's just that I thought you'd be sick of answering those questions by now. I mean, I used to be in a band with a lad from Lo-Fidelity Allstars and I wouldn't be able to remember much about it to be honest...it was that long ago.
JM: I have trouble remembering things from three years ago, let alone fifteen! But I've never refused to answer a Smiths question so if people want to know I can tell them straight. The trouble is that a lot of magazines fall into the same trap that the corporate wall created, and they assume that the public are less clued up and less discerning about music than they actually are. The Lo-fi's - they did some great stuff and that's actually a really good example of the temperament you can get into. With The Healers, we've really struggled for record companies this year, because they're all so wrapped up in what's going to sell that we were like "Well what happens to the records that aren't really supposed to compete?"
AD: Yeah, most records I like don't tend to get into the charts. AT least not very high anyway.
JM: Exactly. It's like record companies expect you to rustle up thousands of pounds and rely on your own resourcefulness.
AD: Is it true that when you met Zak, you had no idea who he was until he was in the band?
JM: I met Zak in New York and a good ten minutes had passed by before I realised who he was. It was really fortuitous and it was good that it happened that way. The one thing that told me this was right straight away was that we were both hugely into Marc Bolan and had a love of all things T-Rex.
Being in a band is such a personal thing and so intense, and the most important overriding part is knowing the other members are as passionate as you are about music, and knowing what aspirations they have. There's a lot of dealing with personalities involved and a lot of teamwork. I can be difficult myself sometimes, as I'm sure Bernard Butler will tell you, when I'm sitting there freaking out at 5:30 next morning because the fade out's two seconds too short! It's always been a kind of mystical process for me. That's the important thing that Morrissey and I have in common. We're very different as people, but in a band, it's not the background or the temperament that matters. We both studied records - like, I would always notice after hearing a record once if there was an extra chorus the next time I heard it.
As pretentious as it may sound, it became like a Heavenly entity. I was freaky man!
AD: The band name was inspired by Helena Blavatsky's "The Secret Doctrine". How spiritual a person are you?
JM: Oh I am an INCREDIBLY spiritual person man. I'm interested in things that fall loosely into a category that I suppose most people would term as esoteric. I mean, I'm not interested in many things outside of music, but I AM into things like theology and psychology and other things ending in "ogy". But I'm more interested in the way religion has affected not only the world but the PEOPLE of the world too. People like Karl Jung, Aldous Huxley and Madam Blavatsky are just fascinating.
AD: Talking about spiritual things, did you ever hear about the curse of Marc Bolan's car? I read this when I was about twelve so it's probably bullshit, but apparently the wheels of the car were sold and the bloke who bought them was also killed in a car crash. Then the frame of the car was supposed to have collapsed on someone while it was on display in a museum, killing them as well.
JM: No way, that's amazing. That's one cursed mini man!
AD: Yeah it's probably bollocks though...like I said I was only twelve! Anyway, moving on, you've been with your wife Angie for 21 years now. How did you handle the superstar status when it came, within your relationship?
JM: I was really young then, and I think if you asked most of my mates, they'd say that she was the one thing that stopped me going nuts. The Smiths were without a manager at that time and to have that kind of success so quickly - and it really DID come quickly - and to sustain that success for 5 or 6 years was pretty weird to deal with. It is a young age for dreams to come true, but I have to say that if ever a l9 year old was ready for it, it was me. I'm not blase though, and if I read interviews from that time I don't really recognise that person from when I was a youngster. I don't know - I suppose emotionally and psychologically if I'd been a few years older I would have handled it better, but I knew the score you know? I'd been working to support different bands I'd been in and I knew the score with working, drugs and the whole scene, and that helped.
AD: I'm 31 and still trying to make it in a band. Is there any hope for me at that age?
JM: Oh yeah man! There's still hope. Things have changed since the late eighties. People of my generation grew up under the shadow of punk rock, which was fiercely political, and there'd been nothing like it before or since. Whereas now you can buy a hook with the last 35 years of history and that's just what all music becomes in the end...and if you lived through them, the parameters of punk were really brutal. It all changes after 10-15 years and the times have gone where you had to be under 25 to get anywhere. Actually, it seems that few people under 25 are trying to do anything challenging anymore and it's been left to the older artists to do the experimenting. People like Radiohead and the Pet Shop Boys.
AD: You recently played at Bolton Wanderers' Reebok Stadium. So what are the chance of you playing at Filbert Street?
JM: Ha, we'll play in the canteen maybe, depending how the record does. Mind you, if you don't get your shit together soon I might be playing in your midfield! What's going on there?!!
Playing Bolton was just one fantastic weekend, and it was great just to be performing on such a big scale again. I saw people there I hadn't seen since '85. I felt like I was on "This Is Your Life".
AD: Finally, what did you think of Liam Gallagher's latest comment that Victoria Beckham "can't chew gum and walk in a straight line at the same time"?
JM: Really? Well let me tell you something. I've seen Liam drunk, and he has trouble just chewing gum!!
And at around about that point we are asked to wind down the interview, seeing as I have overrun my allocated time by about 15 minutes. The thing is, talking to Johnny Marr in an interview is just like talking to him over a pint down your local boozer and it's easy to get carried away.
Shame we had to end the conversation when we did. I had about 15 questions left to ask. So I suppose I started something I couldn't finish. Bugger, there I go again. If I'm not careful, I'm going to end up writing letters to Richard Whiteley using hilarious puns about Countdown.
The Last Ride by The Healers is out now in any half decent record shop.
Interview by Tone E
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