Johnny Marr on The Morning Mix


Brian Siewiorek recently had a chance to talk to legendary musician Johnny Marr. Marr is a groundbreaking musician that is probably most well known for founding The Smiths, and has been a member of other bands like Modest Mouse. Also, Marr has played with many others including Talking Heads, Billy Bragg, Tom Jones, and Kirsty MacColl. But in all the time he’s been playing music, he has only just recently released a solo record. Called The Messenger, this album was both written and produced by Johnny Marr.

“The song “Words Start Attack” was the first song I wrote for the album. That was me getting a little bit of a notion about technology and how we communicate through screens these days, and how friendships can be broken through an email,” said Marr. “When I was writing the record, that sort of became the concept.” Another track on the record, “I Want the Heartbeat”, is about a man that wins the lottery and trades his wife for a heart monitor, which Johnny Marr says could one day be “the ultimate technological fetish.”

While the concept behind the lyrics of The Messenger is related to technology’s negative impact on communication and interpersonal relations, the album is a fast paced electric marvel. Marr said he wanted this album to have “high energy tunes that sound good in the day. That makes you want to put your iPod on in the car on your way to work or back from school, or whatever.” The album has lots of energy, and as Marr warns, “I’m not making music to pour a glass of wine or kick back with a joint after a stressful day. I’m making music that makes you excited in the day time.”

Brian asked Johnny what his songwriting process is like, and Johnny says there are a few ways he comes up with songs. “The way I write for myself is I kind of tend to hear the whole tune in my head. I just sing it into my phone or a recording device. If I get a notion, if you like, about the world or about things.” Marr was able to tell us exactly how he wrote the title track. “The song “The Messenger” came out like an electro sort of 80s thing. Came about from me messing around on an old 12 string acoustic, and it was almost like a sort of folkey thing.”

Marr has been producing music since all the way back in the Smiths era of his career, and he’s done it frequently since then. “On The Messenger it wasn’t something that I asked for. I got to go into the studio and everyone’s looking at me saying, ‘what microphone are we going to put on the tom toms?’ I’m like, ‘oh right.’” Marr says that he was grumpy about producing the album for about a month before he finally got in the groove of things, but he would love it if he found the right producer for his solo stuff.

Marr says he already has 8 or 9 songs written already for the next Johnny Marr record, and he's working on the soundtrack to the next Spiderman movie with Hans Zimmer and Pharell Williams. 

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