Matt Johnson

Johnny Marr

IN CONVERSATION . . .

PART 4.

J: So you had a few things going on, you乫d come out of Infected, you wanted to change your lifestyle, you were going through a break up of

your relationship and you and your manager were separating. A lot of things were going on, so it was a period of regrouping as they say. Is

that when you moved into your building in East London?

M: Yes.

J: Which was above the studio that you used to like to work in

M: Which was a coincidence. I乫d always worked in that studio.

J: So did you feel like you were setting down some roots then?

M: Yeah, I loved it as soon as I worked through the door. When I first saw it, I just felt instantly at home. It ended up being a fantastic place

to write. I just absolutely love that place.

J: I乫ve often said to people it was like walking into one of your videos, it was amazing that you could live there all the time. It乫s a beautiful place ...

M: I Slept in a vocal booth for seven years, which was a bit weird.

J: Yeah (laughs) a soundproof, airproof booth. But it was very creative.

M: And there was no real darkness either because of the orange street lamps pouring in all night long. It really stirred up some deep memories

for me, like sleeping in my great Grandmother乫s bed a few days after she'd died and watching the patterns on the walls from the sodium lights

shining through the trees. After living above pubs all my life I found I was attracted to noisy environments, with traffic roaring and street lights

pouring in, so that was the ultimate place for me. Because the windows were floor to ceiling and huge and the way round. It was sort of light all

the time. That night we hooked up and decided to work together we sat up talking till the sun came up because it was just light the whole time

and we lost all sense of time.

J: We did that often didn乫t we? It was a really charged place and I'm sure you know you made it that way. It was a perfect place for you.

Obviously because I was involved I can乫t really think of the music you made as being divorced from your environment. You talked about living

above the pub but that sense of your environments really important for you to draw from isn乫t it? I乫ve noticed at all your places that there乫s

always an aesthetic that runs through it. I think you can say that for a lot of people but particularly so in your case.

M: I just think its really important to create the right environment, I乫m pretty picky about that.

J: But that place particularly.

M: Yeah, that was a wonderful place. Sadly that part of London has now been completely colonised by media brats and Hooray Henrys slumming it.

I couldn't live there now but it was great for me at that time because there were no neighbours around so I could play music really, really loud all

the way through the night. I could just work and work and work with no distractions. And because it was a large open space with lots of wooden

floors I'd just pace up and down listening to music for hours. There乫s really something about walking when you乫re working, it乫s like smoking a

cigarette or something ... it concentrates the mind, affects the way you think. So that enviroment coupled with meditating, exercising fasting,

magic mushroom teas. The album came out of that. There was still a slight connection with songs like Heartland. Beat(en) Generation ...

J: Right. Andrew was connected with the title of that song wasn乫t he?

M: Yes, he had a painting with that title. I thought that really summed up the way young people had become so politically apathetic. All hip and cool

with no substance at all. All icing and no cake.

J: Was that pretty much the basis of the song then?

M: Yes, when I wrote it although I recently played that song after some of the Globalisation riots and it certainly resonated with the audience.

Particularly now they乫re using live ammunition against these young protesters.

J: Sedate them with the gasoline fumes ...

M: And the satellites. The problem with Mind Bomb I think is that a lot of people found it too earnest, angst ridden, and bombastic, particularly

in Britain. It got a lot of flak from certain quarters.

J: Let乫s just go back to how that album came about. You decided on doing shows again. You decided on putting a band together. You乫d worked

with Dave Palmer during Infected, who was a phenomenal drummer. How did you know about James Eller the bass player? Was that through ...

M: Warne Livesey. Warne had worked with him, he'd produced Julian Cope and he told me there was this great bass player called James Eller.

J: And obviously you and I had met from back in the day and we met again backstage at an Iggy Pop gig and it was like BAM!. The band came together.

M: Very naturally, very quickly ...

J: One thing people don't realise is that the band were very close weren乫t we? We spent a lot of time together and we were as much of a band

as any band I乫ve ever been in.

M: It was also just the amount of fun we had in the studio. As well as it being a very intense album it was also a lot of laughs making that record,

which unfortunately doesn't come across. The positive atmosphere it was all created in was just fantastic.

J: Well, positive for nearly everyone. We burnt quite a few people out on that record didn't we?

M: Yeah, at least two engineers had nervous breakdowns. Actually, Warne had a nervous breakdown too. Remember when he thought he had

red spots on his hands?

J: Yeah (laughing) that was my first day! He was the producer and the guy sat on the sofa at the back of the room going "look at my hands,

look at my hands, they're all red" and you're going "Shut up Warne, there乫s nothing wrong with your hands ... anyway, carry on" and I'm sitting

there thinking isn乫t anyone going to help that poor man? I don't know whether you actually did it but you considered doing all red ...

M: Yeah, we did it. Me and Felix the engineer drew red spots all over our hands and waved them in front of him until he went home. Poor Warne

had to have a month off after that session. He had a breakdown. He did a great job for me on the two albums he worked on though. And then of

course Felix had a breakdown later in the album. Might have had something to do with the fact I put him on a grape diet too. And the guy we

replaced Felix with had a breakdown as well. We went through a lot of engineers on that record (laughs)

J: We had a hell of a lot of energy though, didn't we? We were really on a mission. You've got a lot of energy though haven't you?

M: Did have (laughs)

J: You do in the studio.

M: Well, attention to detail.

J: And you're very patient. You get yourself ready and if you乫re not ready to make the record then you don乫t make the record do you?

You make sure you get yourself psyched up to do it. But the themes you were dealing with too. You said earlier that your interest in philosophy,

spirituality and religion were rekindled. Was it something you were always interested in?

M: Yeah, but it乫s one of those things that .. perhaps it乫s like that with most people ... it乫s really on and off. It乫s very hard to sustain 100%

interest in those things because it becomes very engulfing. I think its very important to remember that you乫re living in the material world.

You乫ve got to keep your feet on the ground whilst you poke your head up through the clouds. Otherwise I think you can get really, really lost

in a lot of that stuff. And so it ebbs and flows with me really. Throughout my life, there are periods where I get into it quite deeply and other

periods where I just want to be able to touch things around me and feel grounded. But the song Armageddon Days I was particularly pleased

with. I felt that lyrically it was was very strong. That was scheduled to be the first single from Mind Bomb. The trouble was that the week

before it was due to be released, the whole Salman Rushdie Satanic Verses controversy exploded ... and the fatwa.

J: Do you remember when he moved above my flat? When he went into hiding above my flat. Do you remember that?

M: Did he!?

J: Yeah! I乫d go and get the mail in the hallway and I乫d see all these letters for S. Rushdie, and I乫d think shit, he乫s got to have a few words

with his friends. When Noel Gallagher lived there afterwards, he was still getting mail for Salman Rushdie. Anyway, Armageddon.

M: I suppose people have forgotten by now how serious that whole situation was. There were even death threats against newscasters that dared

make any comment on Islam. Armageddon started to pick up radio play and at least one station got a phone call from someone. Basically, don乫t

play this or else. It was a really strange time the few months around that. So we decided to put that to one side and went with The Beat (en)

Generation instead. People were very surprised about that because, coming after Infected, it sounded quite gentle, skiffle like, even country,

although the lyrics were fairly hard. Whereas the album as a whole was quite powerful I think, particularly songs like Good Morning Beautiful,

Violence of Truth and Armageddon Days, but because we went with The Beat(en) Generation it gave quite a false impression. Not only that,

but at that time there was a bit of a backlash occurring against me because Infected had been extremely successful, and as you know,

in England, once you have a bit of success then it seems to irritate a lot of people.

J: Yeah, and unbelievably now looking back on it, but there was some strong resistance towards me and you working together wasn乫t there?

M: Yeah, I remember that. It was very peculiar. I guess certain journalists who were massive Morrissey fans resented you for leaving the Smiths

or something. It was a double backlash.

J: It didn't bother us though did it? Not in the slightest. In fact it made us a bit more tenacious about everything. I also remember you were

quite clear about having pretty much half the album as songs you乫d written; The Beat(en) Generation, Armageddon Days, August & September,

Beyond Love, and the other half you had these ideas for tracks but you wanted the band to create a certain sound. Do you think we were

successful in doing that?

M: Yeah, I was very happy, particularly a piece like Good Morning Beautiful, which I think of as almost like a sonic sculpture really. There was

a lot of synchronicity and happy accidents going on at those sessions. Fiona, My girlfriend, had been away to Indonesia and she brought me back

a cassette I asked her to tape of some Islamic voices, and I put it in the cassette machine and it happened to be in the same key as

Good Morning Beautiful - F sharp - My favourite key. It fitted straight in. So lots of little things like that were happening all the time on

Mind Bomb. I just remember the sound, as we were working on that song as brilliant. Just what I had in my head. A lot of credit has to

go to Warne and Felix our engineer as well as the band of course. Everyone did a fine job.

J: Well we乫d just had some chemical refreshment and as I started playing guitar I remember you saying to me 乭Johnny, just make it sound

like Jesus meets the Devil乭 and I was thinking 乬Right .. er .. that乫s a new one乭 but it worked didn乫t it?

M: Yeah, it was fantastic the sound of that song. It even won an award.

J: An engineering award?

M: Yeah Sir George Martin gave us the award.

J: I know you乫re not big on awards but that must have pleased you because, without taking anything away from the other people who

worked on the record, that says really more about you than it does about anyone else.

M: All that attention to detail paid off. I think it sounded wonderful and had a beautiful big glassy sound.

J: What was your approach to putting the band together. I know we were all very tight and it was very much like a gang.

It was almost a little bit like you were a director in a way. Did you just continue that method where you know exactly how the record is

supposed to sound? Putting a choir on Armageddon Days for example, which is not really the done thing in rock music, but the way you

directed all the musicians, even though you were working with people who had very strong roles to play, did you see yourself in that kind

of role, more like a director?

M: I suppose so. But the important thing is working with people you trust in the first place, people you know are going to really come up

with what you want. Also having a strong idea from the outset and staying true to it. You乫ve got to be flexible as well though and as little

accidents happen, move with them, but I think it乫s important to have some idea of where you乫re going. Its all very well setting off on a

journey but you乫ve got to have some kind of destination in mind otherwise you can end up drifting in circles. I think all of that stayed pretty

consistent from the start to the finish of the album. I remember at the end of it all, we乫d just finished mixing, it was at Air Studios and it was

late at night and we took all the windows out of their frames and turned the lights off and there was this lovely breeze drifting in and all the

streetlights from Oxford Street below were making patterns on the walls and we all just kicked back and cranked up the album at full volume

and enjoyed all the hard work we乫d put in. It was a wonderful moment.

J: Yeah it was. What criticisms were levelled at it, as I remember, is that I just don乫t think people were expecting anyone to take on some

of the themes you were taking on. Religion, holy wars, war generally, spirituality. Armageddon, Violence of Truth and Good Morning Beautiful

were very big concepts.

M: But there were all those love songs as well.

J: Well I was going to say ... in hindsight you乫ve got Beyond Love, August & September ...

M: Kingdom of Rain.

J: Kingdom of Rain. There was still that intimacy.

M: Yeah, half the album. Some of the criticism was that it was too much about religion and war but half the songs on the album were love

songs. Beyond Love I still think are some of the best lyrics I乪ve written.

J: But also, did it ever occur to you, I may be wrong about this, but if you乫re using lyrics like 乬Drops of semen and clots of blood乭 but you乫re

a ghettoised artist who only sells a few records then you乫re able to do that but, in your case, you're a big selling artist. There was still always

that link from where you came from which was the underground which, as we spoke about has shrunk and shrunk and become ... nowhere now.

So you always seemed to have that attitude of being unaware that you were going to be in the top 10. The charts had no bearing on any of the

stuff you were writing, particularly lyrically. I think looking back on it, that has a part to play in it because you just don乫t get artists in the top

10 of the album charts writing those kind of lyrics. But it just never bothered you any of that stuff, you just stuck to what you were doing.

You were very unusual in that regard.

M: Maybe. I just wish more people would write lyrics with some bite but almost died out nowadays hasn乫t it? Apart from some of the stronger

rap artists, lyrics seem to have really taken a back seat to the groove.

J: Maybe now in 2002 globalisation will be touched on in a pop song, but that was then. So maybe it might just be one of those things of being

ahead of your time.

M: It ain乫t much use being ahead of your time (laughs) You乫ve gotta be on time!

J: There is a real intimacy in those lyrics.

M: An important thing for me when I乫m writing lyrics is that they read well, and that they stand up as - not as poetry - but as self contained

lyrics. I really think lyrics are wonderful in their own right without having to compete with poetry and I think if you can write lyrics that are

as good to read as to sing then you乫re doing your job. Of course it乫s vital that you feel passion and enthusiasm for what you乫re writing about.

In August & September for instance I wrote a lot of that on the island of Crete ... or was it Corfu? Anyway, it was literally torn from the pages

of a diary I was writing about my relationship break up. It certainly was not written with a view to writing a song, it was just that at that time

I was keeping this diary to keep me sane. A while later when I went through the book it just struck me with it乫s honesty and power.

It was such passionate writing that I just extracted some of it and shaped it into a song. Some of the words, some of the phrases on it like:

"Was our love too strong to die or were we just too weak to kill it?" and "I pushed out my tongue for you to see, that I was dying of a thirst

for your company. And then you quenched my loneliness with your tears and our clothes fell away as we rolled back the years". I still think

are really resonant. I乫m proud of those words because they were torn straight from the heart and I feel that they stand up to be read.

Of course there are many songs I乫ve written and I乫ll look back and think "Oh dear, I really could have improved this乭 and I get a bit annoyed

with myself for having rushed things but luckily there are some that I think to myself 乬I really did the best that I could and I did my job well.

That乫s all you can really do isn't乫 it?

J: Certainly. I think those elements of intimacy you have going through your work have been really overlooked. In hindsight we can see it.

M: A lot of women talked to me about some of those lyrics, just saying Kingdom of Rain, Slow Train To Dawn and December Sunlight

expressed the way they felt about their relationships.

J: When we went out and did the tour, I was very pleasantly surprised that there were so many women in the audience.

M: Very cute as well! (laughs)

J: I hadn乫t noticed (laughs) particularly. I had been in a couple of other bands where there were mainly guys in the audience but of all the

bands that I乫ve ever played with there was more good looking women in the audience with TheThe. A good balance.

M: It乫s a nice feeling if you乫re writing from a female perspective and women come up and say 乬That乫s exactly how I feel.乭 But sexual politics,

lack of intimacy, fear of intimacy, intimacy issues between people of the same sex and of the opposite sex I find really, really interesting. It乫s a

slight twist on the normal songs you get about relationships. The standard fare tends to be fairly harmonious and straight forward but I just

like to put a little twist on things.

J: Yeah, that乫s always been there throughout all your stuff. Anyway, you were listening to a lot of classical music in those days. Do you still do that?

M: A lot of the time I just like random classical music. I'll put on a classical station on my short-wave receiver without even knowing what or who

it is, and it乫s just in the moment, you乫re not possessing the music, you乫ve no idea who it is, you may never hear it again, you乫re just enjoying it.

I also really like a lot of Eastern music, Chinese music, Japanese music, Indian classical music. Stuff without words most of the time and of course

just pure silence.

J: I remember a review of Mind Bomb that said there were too many long musical bits! That there was actually too much music. I suppose

that was quite unusual at the time because guitar music was getting quite poppy and tight. Dance music was getting a bit more abstract.

So again, it was a bit ahead of it time. I'm really proud to have been on it.

M: In America it was considered my best album at the time. It got amazing reviews everywhere except Britain, but that's just one of those things.

You have to quickly move on.

J: Now, what about the tour. TheThe versus The World?

M: Well, you were a really big help to me during that because I hadn乫t toured before. You had a lot of input on that. It was really exciting.

My one regret I suppose, is that as it was such a fantastic four piece band on the album, and there乫s a sort of magical symmetry about

that when it comes to a band playing music together, but when we added other elements, even though they were great people we brought in,

I felt it diluted things. It would have been nice to have kept it as the four piece that we had in the studio and on the album. It was so simple

and powerful.

J: But it was your first tour so you had to reproduce a certain amount of the records. Were you surprised that all the concerts around the

world sold out so quickly even though it was your first tour?

M: Yeah, I was surprised. Even the warm ups we did in Portugal, when we thought no-one was coming. It turned out to be 5,000 people with

almost as many locked out. Every show. A really positive experience, and a great laugh with a great bunch of people. I suppose after it all I

sat and wondered why I hadn乫t done it before. I should have. It probably would have made me a better singer/songwriter. But you can乫t be

too regretful in life. I spent my time in the studio honing my licks on the equipment.

J: Do you remember that gig we played with The Cure, I think it was in Austria, a massive outdoor gig. We went on before the Cure and

although there were a lot of people to see us it was also a sea of Cure fans. The black hair all stood up, all the lipstick, the makeup.

Anyway, into about our fourth song, it started to pour down with rain, and we weren乫t really digging the gig that much anyway, it was

daylight and we weren乫t really used to that. So by about four songs, after the rain started pouring down, you looked over to me and I looked

out at the audience, and all the audience are just covered in make up, their make up running down the faces and all their hair all over the place,

and we just looked at each other and (laughing) ...

M: Well (laughing) there were a few moments like that. You乫ve just got to concentrate ..

J: you were doing a hell of a lot of interviews during that tour I seem to remember

M: I usually do on the road. It is a bit tiring because I乫m not only doing the shows themselves and of course all the travelling, but also five or

six interviews every day, phone interviews, face to face interviews, meetings with record company people and dealing with the politics of the

band and crew members and trying to keep the atmosphere buoyant and of course all the other phone calls with management and accountants

telling you how much money you're losing and not to mention all the personal phone calls with family and friends and dealing with some of that

stress so ... phew ... yeah, it does get a little bit tiring sometimes (laughs).

J: Again, you were very open about that as always you were very honest about what was going on with yourself at that time.

M: As you know yourself, you can be a bit too honest with journalists sometimes. Journalists are sort of like policemen aren乫t they?

You just can't really trust them (laughing) .. everything you say will be taken down in evidence and used against you at a later date.

J: Yeah? Well, wait till you see what's going to happen with this baby! You were talking a lot about the middle east, globalisation, religion and

the other stuff that was on Mind Bomb. Did you come across many people that you thought really got it?

M: Oh Yeah, just some of them didn乫t like it! but in countries like France, Germany, America and Australia you get some great journalists and

you can have some fantastic conversations. People who recommend books, music and films and stuff. People that are just very encouraging to

people who are trying to create something and express themselves. People with no preconceived ideas, hidden agendas or axes to grind.

A lot of journalists were actually really good, nice people. It's just there are certain countries, and I乫m really, really sad to say it but Britain ...

not all British journalists of course, as there乫s some really decent ones there too, but there's that awful little element that have grown very

spiteful and bitter. God knows why. They乫ll just try to shoot you down regardless of what you say. They know what they乫re going to write

about you before you've opened your mouth. It's quite difficult to deal with sometimes because obviously they have the last word in the piece

they're writing so if they turn round and knife you in the back you've just got to take it like a man, or as Alan Bennett once said,

乬Like a woman i.e. without complaint.乭 (laughing) The only real defence though is just not to read your own press.

J: America was starting to get what you were about then.

M: Yes, we started to go down pretty well there. America though, by and large is pretty insular and inward looking although things are

perhaps slowly picking up. And in spite of most media outlets now being controlled by a handful of vast unaccountable behemoths, there乫s

a lot of interesting independent publications and Internet sites trying to break through the shit. The message that there is a downside to

globalisation is starting to finally get through ... to some people at least. There are some interesting things happening from a certain segment

of the population in terms of protest although unfortunately there乫s another, smaller element that just loot and undermine and seemingly want

violence. It乫s really overshadowing the majority of the peaceful protest that乫s coming from all corners of the world. Normal working people

saving their money to go on long journeys to the other side of the planet and stand in solidarity with one another. Just to try and make their

voices heard. It乫s really inspiring stuff. And then the evening news comes on and all you hear about and see pictures of are the people going

round in masks, smashing everything up. If you were paranoid you may wonder if the people in masks weren乫t actually working for the huge

corporations. But then I乫m not paranoid (laughing) But if they were to ask themselves 乭How the hell do we nullify these globalisation protesters?

They乫re really gathering steam all over the world.乭 Well, I know what I乫d do. Black Ops. Discredit the movement. Tar them all with the same

filthy brush as just a bunch of violent anarchists trying to undermine our cherished 乬Freedom and Democracy乭.

J: Propaganda isn't it?

M: Well, propaganda flourishes because you can乫t get hold of any real news. Corporate control of democracy has been brewing up since

the end of the second world war. You know, governments have been ceding more and more control to big business for years now and much

of it is led by the United States through their proxies at the World Bank, IMF, WTO. Over 60% of the 100 biggest economies in the world are

now corporations not countries! That乫s an incredible figure.They are answerable to no one but their own shareholders, who in turn are

answerable to no one but their own impulse of greed.

Totaliterinism is not just about .... but in teh dictionary actually means ...

America doesn乫t seem to have a deep rooted democracy any more, just vast amounts of cash swilling through a putrid system.

Everything can be bought and so everything is. Big business pushes forward two pre-screened and neutered candidates every four years

and they call it the greatest exercise in democracy on the planet. But I really don't know whether these sorts of observations are relevant

for pop songs. You just end up coming across as pretentious, preachy and bombastic. People don乫t really want to hear about it. Radio stations

won't play it and journalists certainly don't want to hear about it. Of course there is a small element of the audience that are interested

but that's just preaching to the converted anyway. I just don乫t know if it乫s the place for it any more, whether music has just ...

J: It乫s never stopped you though, has it?

M: No, and it probably won't but I don乫t know what affect, if any, that it has.

J: At the end of the tour we played those three concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, That was great fun wasn乫t it?

M: Fabulous.

J: It was funny because I乫d played there before and I know one or two other musicians that have played there before and when you said

you wanted to do the Royal Albert Hall, I was thinking 乬Oh, God!乭 because it乫s famous for out of body experiences. Its really quite a

disorientating venue to play. But what we did was just rocked it for three nights didn乫t we? We had the giant screens up and did

we have incense going?

M: We had these gigantic bowls of cathedral incense. We changed all the house lights to dark red, we had two gigantic 60 ft screens

either side of the stage with projections of my brother乫s paintings plus we had another gigantic projector showing the Mind Bomb videos

on 35mm and of course Tim Pope and his film crew running around. We turned it into a cross between a cathedral and a giant bordello.

Wonderful shows packed out every night and a great way to end a few year乫s hard work. Back at the hotel after the last night I remember

just lying back in a gigantic hot bubble bath. I was really exhausted after being on the road for a year but I just sat back with a nice

contented feeling of a job well done.

J: Yeah, it was a great time that wasn乫t it. There was a lot of affection I remember from people in the audience. Maybe they

thought it was never going to happen. I think it was really good for you put faces to all those people who'd been buying your records for all those years.


End of Part 4

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