The same ...only different.
Matt Johnson & Johnny Marr in conversation . . .
J: Another striking thing from the early days was Andy乫s artwork. What was the sort of motivation there, other than
乬Oh, he's my brother - I'll do something?乭 Did Andrew's artwork already have that style? Because it's a very distinctive style.
M: Yeah it did. There was, for instance, the sleeve on 'Uncertain Smile'. Originally it was a painting of someone else, but I just
really liked the look of it so I just got him to repaint it with this distorted version of me in it. 'Burning Blue Soul' was a very
different type of sleeve that was sort of ...
J: Psychedelic ...
M: Yeah, the front cover was an idea that was actually suggested by Keith (ex-keyboard player) as a tongue in cheek reference
to the 13th Floor Elevators, who we both liked at the time. Andrew sketched the idea out for me although the finished version of
the cover was actually done by someone at 4AD. May have even been Neville Brody, although of course it included the portrait
that Andrew had done of me on the back of the sleeve, although originally that was intended to be the cover, so that was a bit
of an odd one. Although of course by now it has it乫s third sleeve and the latest one does feature a cover painting by Andrew.
I乫d always liked Andrew乫s drawings and the kind of stuff he was doing when we were younger. His illustrations, his paintings
and his ideas. So I thought it would be interesting to get him to start illustrating my songs.
J: His style is really unique.
M: Yes it is and this collaboration lasted for three albums and of course a whole bunch of singles as well as a couple of video
sleeves, t-shirts and posters. My favourite piece was the sleeve of 'Heartland', with the guy with the Union Jack in his eye and
the half drunk pint of beer, which is echoed by the recent press photo of me for Pillar Box Red. I just felt that summed up the
song, and the current state of Britain really well. Out of all the sleeves he illustrated, that's my favourite one.
J: Which is interesting really, its unusual. I don't think there are many examples of siblings doing sleeves specifically
for the artist.
M: No, I don乫t think so. Also the Infected 12乭 sleeve was great. A graphic painting of the masturbating devil, and he's
wearing the little marigold glove (laughs) I liked that little touch as well. That was an interesting little story too because
that sleeve had to be printed outside of the record company乫s manufacturing plant because the workers there threw a
bloody fit, when they saw it. They laid down their tools and point blank refused to have anything to do with it.
J: I loaned one of those T-shirts to a friend of mine when we were away somewhere. It was hours before he worked out
why people were looking at him in a really weird way (laughing) he had this big masturbating devil across his chest!
M: I don't think people would be so shocked now as times have really changed. Most people are numbed past the point of
J: I always really liked the sleeves, because as I got to know you, I got more involved and it seemed interesting to me having
somebody from obviously exactly the same background, who knew you really well because now and again the images were of
you, weren't they? And what was specifically going on in your life and going on in the song, so that worked really, really well
M: Yeah, I think it did work really well. His style was quite unlike anyone else at the time although over the years those sort of
raw, aggressive illustrations and paintings have become more popular, but you have to place things in context of their time and
it was very unusual and effective then. Although times change and though he wasn乫t involved with the Mind Bomb sleeve for
various reasons we decided to have another shot for Dusk but I wasn乫t happy with the first few ideas and so it took a lot
longer to get the kind of sleeve I really wanted. We both felt by the end of that project that it wasn乫t really working anymore.
It乫s probably not that easy working with your younger brother, particularly as I can be pretty picky and specific about what
I want or don乫t want and I do end up getting very involved in all the artwork and visuals. So we both just felt that it was
probably the right time to call it a day with that. When we were younger we乫d often sit in the bar after closing hours at our
parents pub and discuss our ideas long into the night and shared very similar view points on most things. He was a very
important figure in my career and I think the sleeves really stood out and gave the whole project a very distinctive feel
and atmosphere, particularly when you place it in context of it乫s time. Obviously since then other people have gone on
to do similar things.
J: 乫Soul Mining乫 has got an overall feeling about it, like all albums should have. It seems to me it乫s quite a hopeful sort of
record. 乪Uncertain Smile乫 particularly is a beautiful sentiment, isn't it really?
M: Well, unrequited Love. it was a very innocent song. It was written about somebody I was quite obsessed with at the time.
And it was completely unrequited and unfulfilled. Perhaps a lot of the best songs are like that in a way, you just have to find
a vehicle to contain all of this passion and emotion and if it can乫t be the person you really want to be with then the next best
thing is a song or a painting or something. As you get older, you find other places to put those feelings, rather than music,
and so there's a certain purity about those kind of songs. Its actually a really, really innocent song.
J: So did the music come first? Or did the music and words come tumbling out together?
M: I really can乫t remember, it was one of those things where I had so many different versions of that song, and worked on it
for ages and ages that to be quite honest I've gotten quite sick of it. Even though it乫s one of my most popular songs I just
hear the faults in it now. Even down to the key I'm singing it in.
J: So what I was thinking about was Soul Mining, the album as a whole. I remember the first time I came to stay at your place,
in Highbury, and when I arrived, I think the night before ...
M: I was putting the Arsenal scarves away.
J: Exactly (laughs) but you'd just finished writing This is The Day on the Omnichord and I remember we went out to the
Hammersmith Palais to see Marc Almond and the Willing Sinners, which was his little offshoot band, and Jim Foetus, who you
knew well, was there too, but we乫ll get on to Jim later, but as we乫re standing there Perfect came over the PA system and
there's harmonica on Perfect played by David Johanson from the New York Dolls. I was playing harmonica at the time so I
thought that was really, really cool. How did that happen?
M: I乫d been back to New York later that year, 1982, to record with Mike Thorne again, this time to do Perfect. David was a
friend of Mike乫s and was a fantastic bloke, really full of energy and full of life and a really nice guy to work with. He just
came down, hung out and played some harmonica. Unfortunately though, at that time I was a little bit worse for wear. Over
refreshed and emotional in the studio.
M: It was pretty bad around that time and I ended up abandoning the sessions for Perfect. Stevo and myself rented ourselves a
big old American sedan and went on our little Fear and Loathing trip to Detroit and Toronto. but not before smashing up our
hotel rooms in New York though. We were only about 21 at the time so we had to get it out of our systems I suppose, but I
just walked out of those sessions because I wasn't happy with the way the session was going with Mike. He wanted to use his
big expensive Synclavia system. He'd insist on using it and then you乫d find out you were actually renting it from him and
pushing up the recording bills. I brought a little Suzuki Omnichord with me, I think you can still buy them, which was a few
hundred pounds. Mike looked at it and said "I've got the Synclavia, we乫re using that乭 and I said "Well, no actually we乫re using
J: This is the band (laughs) meet the band!
M: Yeah (laughs) and Mike乫s face dropped and it was downhill all the way from there. There was a lot of tension in the studio,
and I was quite out of it most of the time and must have seemed pretty unprofessional. I remember bumping into things as I
tried to navigate my way round the studio (laughs) and Mike was getting a bit uptight about things, which to be fair, I don乫t
blame him at all in retrospect. But I realised then that I didn't really like being 乪produced乫. I thought I know how I want it to
sound and I just left the studio. Not before David Johansson had played though , which was the highlight of the sessions.
Anyway, I brought the tapes back and there was a guy that I乫d met a few times, that I wanted to work with called
Paul Hardiman, who was the engineer for Mike on the Wire albums. He was a great guy who has since gone on to become a
successful producer in his own right. So I chatted with him about him engineering for me and us co-producing together.
Anyway, we remixed, or I should say mixed Perfect. It was a round about that time I was writing Soul Mining, the time you're
talking about, I was living in a bedsit close to Highbury stadium - a bloody nightmare every other Saturday I can tell you. But
these early versions of Uncertain Smile and Perfect were completely independent of the Soul Mining album and so Paul and I
recorded a new version of Uncertain Smile with Jools Holland playing the piano solo in place of the sax solo. Now as for the
new version of Perfect it was never supposed to be on Soul Mining. In fact it wasn乫t乫 on Soul Mining until some thick headed
buffoon in the US division of Epic stuck it on behind my back as a stupid 乪marketing ploy乫. It乫s literally taken me almost 20
years to have the bloody thing removed. I was so upset about that. The album closed perfectly with Giant. Can you imagine
writing a novel and behind your back the publisher sticks on a discarded chapter onto the end? Jesus! So finally I now have
the album exactly how I want it and what a great marketing ploy for Sony - 乬Now reissued with 1 less track!乭 - Everyone
will be doing it soon. The good thing about 45rpm of course is that this is the only time those early singles have ever been on CD.
J: Great. Now, already here, you're starting to get into collaborations. You have David Johannson playing on Perfect and
Jools Holland appearing on a version of Uncertain Smile. I think this is very important, knowing you and knowing how you
work, I think it乫s a very important part of what you do, this idea of producing yourself or working closely with an engineer
as your co-producer, and all these collaborations. That was something you kind of seemed to have set out to do early in
TheThe. When I first joined TheThe, even though I乫d obviously met you years before, it was like, this isn't like your classic
band set up, this is something new and different even though there was a band name. You were writing everything yourself,
you were programming, some engineering, playing a lot of the instrumentation yourself, keyboards, guitars and stuff and
you were using collaborators as well, and that's something that went on for a long, long time. And the other interesting point
is that you didn't gig anymore. So am I right in thinking TheThe was like an umbrella organisation in a way? You wanted a
band name, but you were also
very open about working with lots of other people?
M: Well, in some ways, if I could go back in time now, I probably would just go under my own name, because I think it乫s all
just caused a certain amount of confusion. A lot of it was to do with shyness really. Wanting to hide behind something.
Using my brother乫s artwork in place of photos. An anonymous band name in place of my own name. I didn't really want to
be known I guess. Fear of success wrestling with fear of failure. But also from having been in bands from a very early age,
you know yourself just how difficult it is to maintain an agreeable and positive dynamic, its really hard work. And having
been through a few bands at an early age I just felt I'd really just rather be by myself and only work with people until we
don't get along anymore and then bring in new people. The idea of being stuck with the same people in a band for 20 or
30 years always filled me with claustrophobic dread.
J: That was a really unusual idea at the time.
M: Although it's become quite
popular now hasn乫t it?
J: Yeah, in the Dance arena and all the fragmented parts of the music scene where people are using technology that idea
became commonplace, but you seem to have done it in reverse really. You started off as someone who was a one-man-band
kind of studio guy using the technology of the day and then ended up heading in the opposite direction to everyone else.
M: I suppose I have in a way but I just really loved being in the studio in those days. Before I discovered the delights of the
road and performing live with other people and seeing the audience face to face.
J: So has that sort of inspiration always been in you from being a kid?
M: This stuff is just instinctive, like when you go to certain notes or chords and you can乫t explain why. You just sit and play
and the body of the guitar resonates through you and it just feels good and seems to express how you really feel. I乫m sure
there乫ll eventually be a scientific explanation but in the same way you乫ll sit there writing words and some will connect and
light something up inside. You can乫t help it. It乫s instinct. The subconscious just forcing it乪s way into the light. Themes
inevitably run through though and there乫s an interconnectedness throughout all the songs.
J: Yeah, that's the interesting thing, that you can be saying something in the work. Heartland is a great example. Heartland
is so obviously a song with a strong political message and that is the impression that you get from the song, but the chorus is,
乬Here comes another winter of long shadows and high hopes乭 I get this thing from your songs, this idea of change. Of
something changing. Your life changing. 乪This Is The Day乫. 乪Waiting For Tomorrow乫. You've got Heartland, which is quite
obviously about the state of the UK and the cultural colonisation of the UK by the US, but at the same time you're still not
getting away from that imagery of shadows, light, hopes and twilight. So your stuff is nearly always couched in your
immediate environment. In many ways, with This Is The Day a first impression of it, because the music is plaintive yet uplifting
and very sweet, is that this really is the day your life will surely change, but beneath all of that it乫s actually quite a
melancholic sort of song as well isn't it? It seems like in a lot of your songs, and particularly that one, that you're waiting for
change, for your your life to change, for the world to change and the interesting point is that at that time you'd just signed a
record deal with a major label after many years of trying.
M: Yes, that乫s a good point. My life had just changed dramatically and would never quite be the same again. Just 21 years old
and writing a song about money not being able to buy back time. A sweet and sickly nostalgia sickness pervades, even from
such a young age. It乫s very odd. I can乫t remember the first time that I started feeling that, but that's a personal dilemma of
mine. Really trying to live in the present but trapped between fantasising about the future and dwelling on the past. It乫s
certainly more relevant to me as a 40 year old than when I wrote it at 20.
J: Why did you want things to change?
M: Well, I was a melancholic kid I guess. I do remember feeling quite nostalgic for periods of time that had just recently passed.
Fascinated by things that had happened and that would never happen again. The restrictions and the illusions of time.
Definitely an odd little song to write for a 20 year old with the world at his feet.
J: Do you think you're attracted to melancholia?
M: Attracted to it? I乫m addicted to it. I'm a paid up member of Melancholics Anonymous (laughs).
J: But also this nagging sense of yearning. Unrequited is something that crops up in your songs, and in your conversation,
quite a lot. And the yearning, melancholy notes of the music. It乫s quite an interesting thing this isn't it because - we乫ve
talked about this many times before - but melancholy is a real emotion, unlike depression. Depression is just an emptiness.
M: Absolutely. Melancholia is a sweet sadness. It can be very life enhancing and productive whereas depression is a sickness,
a disability. You can't move, you can't function. I think people that have experienced neither tend to confuse the two.
J: Melancholy can be really beautiful.
M: I think it heightens the senses. I think you really do notice things during those periods. For instance after a relationship
break-up, after the initial trauma, there can really be a sense of feeling fully alive. You know, you really notice sounds, images,
music, colour and people more. It heightens and tightens the strings of the nervous system. Paintings glow, music pulsates,
attractive members of the opposite sex seem more vibrant and alive. I really think that positive melancholy is a wonderful
thing, and a lot of fantastic music and art is created in that spirit, and enjoyed in that spirit. I think it乫s really easy for
critics to dismiss stuff as depressing. But for me, virtually every song I've ever written is in a minor key, which I didn't
realise until some journalist in Italy pointed it out. "Really, you sure?" I said to her happily. 乬Well, I乫m just a minor key
kinda guy乭 (laughs)
J: Same here (laughs) ..
End of part 2