Interview : David Sheppard / Translated by : Ms.fumu, banana co. & Makio

He's been blamed for destroying The Smiths. But Johnny Marr has never regretted leaving. Now he looks back at joy, Friendship and a secret reconvening in the '90s.

Is Johnny Marr of The Smiths a person you recognise?

Yes. My motivations have been consistent since I was 11 years old.It started even earlier with Marc Bolan and T.Rex doing Metal Guru on Top Of The Pops. It just had this kind of transcendent quality for me that could never be matched by drugs, sex or religion. From that age, searching for that feeling became my raison d'etre.I've been lucky enough to be able to conjure up those moments for other people-though primarily for my mates and myself. that's the Johnny Marr I was as a kid and that's the Johnny Marr I am today.

What would you say was The Smiths' biggest achievement?

Getting into the mainstream without compromising what we were, where we'd come from or our agenda as writers and musicians. Looking back, I think we definitely changed music, for the better. There were so many plaudits flying about at the time that it wasn't something I was ever particularly conscious of. The closest I got was knowing that other bands actually wanted to be us.That kind of ego-boost will fill you up plenty. But it's small change compared to the feeling of being in the studio at half-two in the morning when two chords suddenly crash beautiflly into each other, or an overdub creates some sublime accident and you're punching the air in celebration. That's a real sense of achievement.

It's easy to do rock with guitars, harder to do pop. The Smiths did both. How?

I consider myself a fan of pop, It's just that when I was 11 pop was invested with a different kind of energy. When you were watching Top Of The Pops you were seeing guys who looked like they hadn't been to bed for a couple of days. In the early 70's there were records in the charts like Wishing Well by Free, or Procol Harum's Conquistador, which was insane but still got played on the radio. I feel lucky to have grown up at that time because that Wagnerian sense of endeavour in the recording studio was at its height. It was something Morrissey and I always shared, the idea of pop records as these three-minutes symphonies.

You met Morrissey as a teenage and he was four years your senior. Did you really have much in common?

Yes. It felt like there was no one else on the planet that had the same reasons and values as we did when it came to music. We were both hearing little things in records that we imagined no one else would get-and that possibly weren't even there in the first place.

Such as?

Bob & Marcia's Young, Gifted And Black was one. It had this incredible sense of beauty and yearning, an emotional quality that was neither up nor down. We heard things like that in everything from Marianne Faithfull to Roxy Music and even Chicory Tip. Then there were the '60s girl groups. I was into The Ronettes and Shangri-Las and Morrissey was big on the Marvelettes and The Crystals. The girl groups became a really important bond. We'd got into them independently by reading what David Johansen and Patti Smith said about them in interviews. We approached music in odd ways like that.

Smiths lore has it that you went uninvited round to Morrissey's house in Stretford to cajole him into starting a band. Is that really how you first met?

No. We had been introduced, though we hardly spoke to each other. I'd stood with him and about four other people at a Patti Smith concert but I don't think he really noticed me, to be honest.

Talk us through the first meeting proper.

My first words were pretty much : "I've come to form the greatest band in the world..." I was deadly serious. I think it helped that I was wearing vintage Levi's and Wild One Motorcycle boots. Had I been wearing loon pants and a Wigan Casino vest it might have been different-or, then again, maybe not. He seemed interested but I wanted to know if he was serious, so I waited to see if he would call me the next day at the shop where I worked-and he did. The day after that he came round to my rented attic and we started writing songs.

What was the very first song you composed together?

The first afternoon we got together we wrote The Hand That Rocks The Cradle and Suffer Little Children.He had the lyrics typed up, so I played guitar with them between my knees. The chords just sort of poured out. Morrissey was smiling and nodding at every change. We were off then, we had a process. What Difference Does It Make, Handsome Devil,Miserable Lie and These Things Take Time were all written exactly like that.

If I'd asked you in 1982 what your band sounded like, what would you have said?

I'd probably have prattled on about girl groups, or Patti Smith, though in reality we didn't sound anything like that. That first demo was very slow and quite heavy, actually. I'd have invited you down to X clothes where I worked. I used to play it on a loop, very, very loud. I'd wait till the shop filled with all these Banshees fans and Throbbing Gristle devotees over from Sheffield for the day and just crank it up.

When was it first apparent that the band was destined for greatness?

John Peel's reaction was one of the first confirmations that we had something special.The importance of The John Peel Show to The Smiths can't be overemphasised,actually. Around the same time Peel was playing Hand In Glove we did our second ever gig at the Hacienda, which got this manifesto-like review in the NME. Everything just fed everything else from there, really.

On a basic level, it must have been a hugely thrilling time...

Most days we'd jump in our little van and go off to do a gig somewhere, buying 100 quid's worth of flowers on the way. There'd be news everyday too - Seymore Stein liked the band, Sire wanted to sign us. Radio 1 were going to give us a daytime play, I was buying a Rickenbacker...Really fucking exciting. We all piled in a van, there were no windows or seats - just a mattress. We filled it full of fags, joints and laughter. We had the same humour, the same impenetrable lingo - this truncated kind of English made up of obscure bit of the Young Ones, Beatles documentaries and other nonsense.

It's difficult to picture Morrissey in that kind of enviroment.

People get the wrong impression. He was different, of course he was, but we were a real band. When you're driving back from Carlisle at half-five in the morning in a smelly van, day in, day out for months, It's impossible to remain aloof. We were all very tight as people, Morrissey included.

Your first Top Of The Pops appearance must have had real significance.

It was a really big deal. Though my memory of it is how cold, dark and scruffy the studio was and how laughable the audience was, doing this super-stylised BBC version of Morrissey's moves. One of my daily concerns at that time was to avoid falling over - all the gladioli made stages incredibly slippery and I was favouring these moccasins that had practically no sole whatsoever. If you ever see a tape of us doing This Charming Man you'll see I'm standing rooted to the spot.

What are your favourite Smiths' songs?

All the songs liked best would start with an outro and I would just build the song backwards from that. That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore was one of those. Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me is another. Shoplifters Of The World Unite was great - that was an interesting bombshell to drop. Bigmouth Strikes Again - I had to fight to get that released as a single. Shakespeare's Sister, cos it's insane. That was one both Morrissey and me really loved. My favourites are all the ones that did really poorly...

What about the first Smiths single, Hand In Glove?

That song came about when I was round my parents' house one Sunday evening. I started playing this riff on a crappy guitar I kept there. Angie - who's now my wife - was with me and she kept saying."That's really good!" I was panicking because I had nothing to record it on, so we decided to drive to Morrissey's, because he had a tape recorder.I sat in the back of the car playing the riff over and over so I wouldn't forget it. On the way, as is her want. Angie kept saying,"Make it sound more like Iggy". Iwas just hoping Morrissey would be in. Well, I Are knew he would be, he was always in. When we got there he was a bit taken aback, it hadn't been arranged and it was a Sunday night-unheard of! He let me in and I played the riff and he said,"That's very good". About five days later we were rehearsing and Morrissey wanted to play the song. When we heard the vocals to that we were all like,wow...From then on it was always going to be the first single.

Are there any of the songs that you particularly dislike?

Barbarism Begins At Home is a bit naff. I don't like the tune - there's no emotion in it. Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now is a period piece to me. It's probably a lot of people's introduction to this strange band with the flowers or whatever, but as a musical experience I'm not that keen on it. Ask is also a little slight.

Things seemed to get darker for the band after Andy Rourke's drug problems. Was the pressure mounting by then?

Yes, it got progressively heavier from Meat Is Murder onward. We were getting bigger with each release and there was more at stake. We'd started as this threadbare little DIY family and it was very handle-able, but by The Queen Is Dead we were a big deal. There was this ongoing conflict with Rough Trade that we didn't quite understand and a lot of expectation:bigger gigs, American tours and so on. Andy's problems were heavy but as a band I knew we were entering a new and very different landscape - which we probably needed to do at the time.

Morrissey made you fire a succession of managers, which ultimately led to the disintegration of the band. What was his problem?

I don't know exactly. It may have been a control issue, it might have been personal. I would always stand behind his decision. If he wasn't happy, he wasn't happy. And it worked both ways. One time I got absolutely soaked by a bunch of pillocks in the crowd at Reading and I said I'm never playing here again and Morrissey supported that completely. That's the way it worked.

You must have resented Morrissey's vacillations, though? You even ended up managing the band yourself...

I didn't resent it as such. I'd taken on the responsibility willingly. I did resent the guy at Rough Trade ringing up when I was trying to record Andy's bass overdub on The Boy With The Thorn On His Side, just to tell me that Salford Van Hire were about to sue us over an unpaid bill. I couldn't believe it;I'd composed the music, was trying to produce the track and all this shit is going on. I just went ballistic.

What was the final nail in the coffin of The Smiths?

There wasn't one incident. The band had burnt inself out, musically and personally, by the end of Strangeways... When the friendship goes, that's it. Game over. The end was in sight when we were booked to start shooting this video in Brixton and Morrissey failed to show. Had he phoned me and said,"I'm not into doing this", then it might have been different. But he didn't. I'd been thinking about leaving the band for a year or more. Morrissey had intimated something similar when we were touring the US - saying how we were already bigger there than Roxy Music or T.Rex had ever got and that he felt uneasy about it. I talked to Morrissey and said if we stop, even just for a break. I could see a huge weight being lifted from our shoulders. I meant it as an act of love - I would never just do a bunk on my mates. In the end it simply boiled down to them not letting me have a holiday, which is pretty fucking stupid.

If your current(and Oasis) manager Marcus Russell had managed The Smiths, might the band still be together?

No. In truth, after 70-odd songs, hundred of gigs, countless amaging highs and a few low-to-middlings, it had just run its course. The friendships had all become very weird by the end. It was absolutely right time to split up. The Smiths are a band that people hold in tremendous affection but would they if we'd carried on? There was a huge chunk of music that came after us that was utterly necessary that would have made us look like The Beach Boys in our blue and white striped shirts. As I said to the band in the last weeks, it really felt like we needed to rethink what we were doing.

Did you have any idea how the band might have developed?

I wasn't trying to turn us into Kraftwerk! I remember thinking I wanted to do something that was vaguely Scott Walker-ish. Something that we touched on in Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me - something removed from the rock'n'roll combo type thing.

What are your thoughts about the 1996 cort case now?

It was horrible. I didn't even respect my own side. No one came out of that as the moral victer, really - and it just compounded the dysfunctional reputation of the group. it just guaranteed that all the great stuff about the band would be pushed further into the background - which is not how it should be.

Do you keep in contact with morrissey?

Not much. There's not really been any need to. We communicated a fair bit last summer, by fax mostly. I've no idea where his head's at corrently, to be honest. I still have a lot of respect for him but we live completely different lives. what's often overlooked is that Andy Rourke and I were actually best mate for years - I knew him from school. Obviously Morrissey and I were partners and we had the more intense relationship, but Andy and I were very close and the fact that I don't communicate with him anymore is pobably the more mournful situation.

Is a re-formation completely implausible?

Morrissey asked me to do a farewell gig at one point, but I said no. It just seemed like a bad idea. I did get us together before the court case, but not becouse of it. It was Chrissie Hynde's recommendation, becouse she's smart and she thought a relationship that had been so important shouldn't be left unresolved. We actually got together a few times. We went for a walk in the country, we went out to dinner one night and later we just went for a long drive. It was really good to see each other away from any scenes. Like everyone, in private we're quite different characters. I know the real Morrissey and he know the real me. Musically, of course. we were in completely different places by then. I was doing Electronic and our mutual points of reference had gone, or been put away for a bit, at least.

What did you think of "Viva Hate"?

It was weird for me to hear something that sounded like what we were doing but without me in it. I didn't think it was that great, nor was it awful. Frankly, I just didn't want to hear that kind of music at that particular time. I was more likely to be driving around in the sunshine listening to Donovan. I wasn't poring over the lyrics or playing it backwards for hidden messages.

Knowing what you know, what would you have done differently?

I would have got a signed agreement from the word go, so we were all aware of the financial situation. Apart from that, I wouldn't have changed anything. All the drama simply informed the music. And even when things were incredibly fraught, there were always amazing highs in between. It was all part of this feeling of walking three feet off the ground - something Morrissey and I had been doing since we'd met. I wouldn't want to go back and change any of that passion or energy.

What was The Smiths' legacy?

We difinitely changed people's lives - I've seen the evidence; people who've come over to England from Japan because of The Smith, people who've found the confidence through our music to become photographers, writers or whatever. All that's beyond my comprehension, to be honest.You have to remember that my initial ambition was to get a 45rpm record with my name on the label; from then on I didn't have a map. I know we made a huge impression on the next generation of musicians. Ed O'Brien from Radiohead sat me down a couple of years ago in a barn. on top of a moutain in New Zealand and played me the then unreleased Knives Out. It was an unbelievable experience; I was beyond flattered and quite speechless - which takes some doing. He explained to me that with that song they'd tried to take a snapshot of the way I'd done things in The Smiths - and I guess you can hear that in it.

Tell us a funny story about Morrissey.

I remember one time - the only time actually - I made a quizzical comment about Morrissey's lyrics. We were driving back from Amazon studios in Liverpool, having just finished recording The Headmaster Ritual.I put it to him that the line, "Bigger than dinner plates" should really be, "Big as dinner plates". An eyebrow was very definitely raised at this point and he went away to mull it over. When we reconvened 24 hours later he said he'd given it a lot of thought and was very impressed with my observation. Of course, he then proceeded to do sod all about it! I suppose, in a way, we both got to win. Read into that what you like...




ああ、11歳の頃から僕のやるぞという気持ちはずっと一貫してるよ。Top Of The Popsでマークボラン&T.Rexがメタル・グルーを演奏するより早かったね。それはドラッグや性的な事や宗教なんかじゃ絶対に得られない、僕にとってはまさにこれぞ!という性質を持ったものだったんだ。その頃からその感覚を探す事が僕の存在理由になったよ。そういう瞬間を他の人に呼び覚ます事が出来るなんて、僕はずっとラッキーだった。第一に自分の仲間とか自分自身の為だけどね。ジョニー・マーはまるでキッズのようで、そしてそれは今日のジョニー・マーなんだよ。








ボブ&マーシャの”Young, Gifted And Black”とか。それは凄まじいほどの美と切望の感覚とアップでもダウンでもない情緒ってやつを持っていたんだ。僕達は同様にマリアンヌ・フェイスフルからロキシーからチコリー・チップまで聴いていた。で、60年代のガール・グループさ。僕はロネッツとシャングリラズに夢中で、モリッシーはといえばマーヴェレッツとかクリスタルズの大ファンだった。ガール・グループは重要な結束力を生んだね。僕達は独自にデヴィッド・ヨハンセンやパティ・スミスのインタビューなんかで彼らの事を知ったんだ。そんな風に奇妙なやり方で音楽に取り組んでいたんだ。




僕の最初に言った事はだいたいこんな風かな:「世界一素晴らしいバンドを作る為に来たんだ」って。死ぬ程真剣だったよ。僕が着てたのはリーバイスのビンテージものとWild Oneのバイカーブーツだったんだけど、それに助けられたなと思う。もしWigan Casino上着とちょっとまずいズボンを着ていたら違ったかもしれないし…だけどまあわからないな。モリッシーは興味を持ったように見えたけけど、僕が知りたかったのは彼がマジなのかどうかだった。僕は、彼が電話してきて次の日僕が働いている店に来るかどうか待ち・・・で、彼はそうした。その翌日にもモリッシーは僕の借りていた屋根裏にやってきて、それから曲作りは始まったのさ。








大抵、僕らは小さいバンでギグに乗り込んでいった。道すがら、100ポンド分の花を調達してね。毎日なんらかのニューズがあって − サイアのセイモア・スタインは僕達を気に入って契約したがった。レディオ・ワンは昼間ギグをやらせてくれたし、僕はリッケンバッカーを買っちゃった。マジで腸エキサイティングだったな。窓も椅子もなくマットレスだけのバンの中で、バンドやアクタモクタ取り巻きたちが皆積み重なるようにしてたよ。僕達はわけわかんないような同じユーモアを持ってたんだよ。この、ビートルズのドキュメンタリーやなんやらみたいな馬鹿馬鹿しさの切り詰め感コトバが若者特有って感じの曖昧さを形成しているな。






あらゆる曲で好きなのものは皆アウトロからスタートしていて、僕は曲を後方から組み立てて行ったんだ。”That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore”はその一つだったな。”Last Night I Dreamt 〜”だってそうさ。”Shoplifters Of The World Unite”はもう最高だしあれは興味深い問題提起だったっていえる。シングルのリリースで奮闘しなくちゃいけなかった”Bigmouth Strikes Again”も。”Shakespeare's Sister”は正気の沙汰じゃない代物だった。モリッシーにも僕にも本当に愛されてたナンバーだったね。僕の気に入ってる曲はどうも皆セールス的にイマイチだったな・・・。
































special thanx : Ms.Fumu&banana co.