Born in the city of Manchester, self confessed Man City fan, Marr played in many bands including the Smiths, The The, The Cribs, Modest Mouse among others and collaborated on the soundtracks for the 2010 film Inception and on the blockbuster movie the Amazing Spiderman premiered back in 2014. In February 2013, Johnny Marr released his debut album "The Messenger" and just 18 months later, he released his second solo album "Playland".
In this exclusive interview with Johnny Marr, he discusses his solo career, playing in South America, working on a new album, the likelihood of forming a band with friend Noel Gallagher, being in a Manchester band for 20 minutes and more.
KB: Thank you for doing this interview. So what's it like to be back in Buenos Aires?
JM: You're welcome, thank you for asking me. Well, you know, we were really looking forward to it. We had a good time last time. This club has got a really good kind of intimate rock 'n roll feeling to it. It gets crazy sometimes. Last time we played here, it was insane. So, me and the band, when we left, we went "We've got to come back". It was my first time in Argentina. I never came before with The The or The Smiths or Modest Mouse but my friend, Alex Kapranos, from Franz Fredinand told me "Man, you've never been to Buenos Aires? What are you doing? You've got to get out, you'll really like it". "Oh, really?", I thought. So, when I formed my own band, I came out straight away.
KB: When you came here last year, you came to present your debut album "The Messenger". Now you've come to present your second solo album "Playland". Has the recording process been easier or more difficult than the first?
JM: The recording process was a little different because me an the band were already touring "The Messenger" while we were recording "Playland". I was on the road writing "Playland" when we were doing "The Messenger" tour. That's really good for the kind of music that I make because some songs, I was literally, I still had the ringing in my ears from the show that night. "Easy Money", for example, I recorded it on the tour bus after a show going from somewhere to El Paso and I had this riff in the daytime and then played the show and when I got on the bus, I had this tune. I didn't have the lyrics, though. We recorded it overnight on the bus, so "Playland" had this energy of shows, had the energy of the audience, had the energy of sounchecks, had the energy of travel and I wanted to develop what I had done on "The Messenger". "The Messenger" was like a collection of songs that I had poured out of this enthusiasm I had for this new sound. So it was different with "Playland" because we were already on the road.
KB: I was here last time and you'd just released your first solo album and it was funny to see that you played a new track "Candidate" that night. Do you keep writing songs all the time ?
JM: Yeah, that's right "Candidate" and the song just came out today. Well, regarding songs, yes, I keep writing songs and because it was here, I was gonna play a new one tonight. Maybe I'll throw it in tonight.
KB: The fact that you keep writing songs means that there might be a third album soon then?
JM: Yes, I'd like to do a third album. I have a strange thing with "Playland" now. Because in some places in the United States and in the UK, the media are like "you made it too quick, we cannot put you on in this magazine because your album only came out last year" and I was thinking "What kind of bullshit is that?". I thought people would have given me a pat on the back for making a new record so quick because I come from that culture, you know. The Smiths used to make record so quick. It's 30 years later now, you have to give people a little bit of a break from your face but that doesn't mean that I had to stop writing songs.
KB: What's the reaction been like to the new album?
JM: It's been great. I wasn't expecting the solo stuff to go down so well. I think the important thing when people come and see us now, is that me and the band are a good night out. I don't mean that to sound offhand or casual because I think that's one of the things a band should be. I think I wanna be a really great performer and me and my band, it may sound a bit juvenile, but we wanna be the best band in the world, the best live band in the world.
KB: Does it surprise you that you draw such a young audience? It's not unusual to see 18-year-old kids or some people in their early 20's at your shows. How does that make you feel?
JM: It's an amazing thing to be playing to a young audience. It's kind of not what I expected really but I don't know why it is like that. I've no idea why it is. But I think one of the things is maybe that the new stuff has got energy in it. There's an idea maybe around some of my peers that when you get in your 30's, early 40's, you start making music when you are just fucking around with loops and it all gets a little mellow and even if I was playing slower music, I think music has got to be intense. All the bands I have been in and the soundtracks I've done recently have all been pretty intense, even "The Spiderman" soundtrack, if you listen to that just as a piece of music, it is pretty full on and Modest Mouse was intense and The The was very intense as was The Smiths stuff. Maybe that is what young people are relating to but particularly my solo stuff is fast.
KB: Speaking of bands, you've played in many but is it true that you were in a Manchester band for just a few minutes? Is it true that you almost got kidnapped by The Happy Mondays? Do you regret not having joined them?
JM: (Johnny laughs as he hears the question) That happened, yes...no, I certainly don't regret it. I respect them a lot but that was a bad idea right from the off. There were some guys standing there at the door, like security guards and they were there to not let me out and these were guys I knew, I just couldn't believe it. That was funny. That was a strange episode. That was before they did this album in Barbados. But it was really the right decision, yeah, man. I wouldn't be here right now. I would either be dead or I would be sat on top of a cave somewhere rocking backwards and forwards.
KB: You are friends with Noel Gallagher, he recently said in an interview that if he even had the slightest, one percent thought that you would join his band and play guitar, he would fucking get on his knees and beg you to do it. If you didn't have your own solo thing going on, would you ever consider that?
JM: (Johnny laughs once again when he hears Noels comments) Yeah, I'd work with Noel, sure. Because he's still ambitious. I think he's ambitious to make really good records and that's what it's about and also we can relate to each other so yeah...I could see that. The only problem is that we both like to be in control but write a song with Noel, yes, sure. But ...what me and Noel need in our lives is to be in a band with each other where we can fight everyday because the two of us have not had enough of that in our lives. (Johnny says smiling).
KB: In May 2012, Man City gained premiership over Man United, what did that mean to you? Were you there? and what was it like when Agüero scored the third goal?
JM: Well, for a start, even beyond football, the narrative of that, for anybody who knows about it or not, it's an insane narrative. It's 30 years of divide between families in almost like a religious way in cities, divide between workmates, divide between friends. One side of the city blue, one side of the city red, and the dominance of one team over the other, but that changed in a really dramatic and unpredictable 3 minutes. It was so crazy dramatic. There isn't an opera been written that is as histerical and is as highly emotional. So having been involved in that drama was really crazy, literally with Manchester United a hundred miles up the road ready to have the cup and whether you are a sports fan or not, that was a pretty crazy story. Over the years I understand why people say football is bullshit, I totally understand it. Most footballers in the UK are idiots so I don't try to convert anybody to football at all, but the culture that I grew up in, the guys who really liked Joy Division, the guys who really liked David Bowie, they also liked Manchester United and Manchester City so it's not true all football fans are stupid.
KB: Speaking of football, were you ever related to the football casuals, the football casual scene and the subculture surrounding football?
JM: When The Smiths started I thought football was bullshit in the early 80's myself, but the casual thing, yes I was out doing that on stage because the casuals before that ... they were called the Perry Boys and that was very much a part of me and my friends, and I tried to bring that into what I was doing with The Smiths in terms of ideology and obviously to do with the clothes but you know, this is one of the things that maybe I want to address when I write this book I'm gonna do next year, explain the relationship between my life in music and my life in not just football, but street culture because I think you can be an artist and be from the street and you can be an artist an be working class and this was one of the great things about what pop culture used to be. I don't know if pop culture is the same now, I guess it still is.
KB: Was it tough times growing up in Manchester then?
JM: I had a great time because I was a very inspired person. I was frustrated but the whole story of The Smiths living in a little two-bedroomed house, with no money and a toilet outside. That was MY story. That wasn't the rest of the band story. I was the only one who lived like that.
KB: Do you still live in Manchester Johnny?
JM: Yeah, I do, but I'm in London most of the time and Berlin sometimes and New York.
KB: Has Manchester changed much?
JM: Yes, a lot, economically it is a very modern city. The architecture is very modern. The parallels are like Seattle, Washington. You know you have a very big musical explosion and that gives the city a very strong identity but it's a great place to come from. I'm not nostalgic but I live there because it's a cool place to be and I like not living in London but the UK is so small you can be anywhere anytime.
KB: And now Johnny, speaking of the UK, you're travelling back to London to play BST together with The Who and Paul Weller, do you think fans might see a supergroup on stage...The Who, Weller, you on stage?
JM: Well, those things never really work unless you really rehearse properly. But if it's gonna sound good, I'll do it.
KB: Would you like to collaborate with Paul Weller?
JM: Me and Paul have been talking about that for years, we are trying to get around to it but I've got a lot of respect for him. When I was in school, he was The Man. He was streetwise. He comes from a similar kind of background to me and he projects his musical vision coming from the same place as I do. We don't sound the same but we have a similar world view, I think, and he's very idealistic about what rock music can be so I can relate to him.
KB: Thank you for your time, Johnny.
JM: Thank you and see you tonight.
TXT: Daniel Rodriguez
PH: Warner Music
Special thanks to Dave and Johnny Marrvellous!