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Articles Home » Music Talk » Jag, Jazz, & Jangle! Interview With Ex-Smiths Guitarist Johnny Marr By Thomas Amoriello Jr.
Jag, Jazz, & Jangle! Interview With Ex-Smiths Guitarist Johnny Marr By Thomas Amoriello Jr.

Jag, Jazz, & Jangle!

Interview With Ex-Smiths Guitarist Johnny Marr

By Thomas Amoriello Jr.

Boston Rock Radio



On December 9th, legendary guitarist Johnny Marr of The Smiths fame will release Single Life, which is a collection of his first ten solo singles in a limited 7" vinyl box set.  Mr. Marr has always been an "outside" guitar hero to many favoring a wall of jangly chime-like guitar layers and other techniques over typical rock styling techniques. Hailing from Manchester, Marr is one of the original alt-rock pioneers with influences cited as Sterling Morrison (Velvet Underground), Chet Atkins, George Harrison, Phil Spector and more. His work with The Smiths is evidence of this as co-writer of 70 original songs recorded by the quartet during their 5 year existence.  Marr later went on to work with The Pretenders, Modest Mouse, The The, Hans Zimmer, Pet Shop Boys and other session stops and has led a solo career and band since the release of his 2013 debut The Messenger.  Boston Rock Radio would like to thank Johnny Marr for this exclusive interview.



Johnny and his Jaguar



From your autobiography, Set the Boy Free you state that, "People are often very impressed by guitar playing that shows off technical prowess, but I've always fallen for a guitar that goes 'da-da-da-da-da'.  It's primal and human, and avoids the ego trap that gets in the way of making a simple statement."  Having said that, are there any "busy noted" guitarists out there that you have admired not necessarily limited to rock or even the electric guitar?

I wouldn’t discriminate against a guitar player purely because they play in a busy style, it just often denotes things not to my taste.  If it’s good or to my taste then fine, it’s all about being appropriate to the music and the moment I guess. I hated metal and so called ‘shredding’ when I was a kid though, it didn’t sound like music to me. I like John McLaughlin’s early solo records and he can get really fast, no problem. I particularly like My Goals Beyond. Robert Fripp and The League of Gentlemen had some good moments; Thrang Thrang Gozinbulx is great. If it’s good it’s good. Slow or fast. 


Your passion for the guitar culture is still as enthusiastic as ever.  This is to be applauded as many artists get caught up on the business or stardom aspect of things.  Have you ever gone through a creative slump or dry spell for an extended period of time and what was something that brought you out of it?

I can’t remember going through any musical slump. I suppose I’m lucky. If life has been challenging for some reason then music has always been something that’s helped and has never let me down. If the business of being in the music business ever spoiled my love of what music does for me then I’d get a different job. I‘ve never allowed that to happen. I can’t imagine it. 


Your "chordal riff" approach to the songs that you composed with Morrissey was so refreshing at a time when most guitarists where using Floyd Rose tremolo divebombs, tapping and sweeping picking away.  Did you ever present something to him during the songwriting process that you thought was just ridiculous to the point of laughter? Meaning too busy?   

No. I like to have fun but I’m not interested in dicking about. 


Your use of the Capo and various placements goes beyond matching a key with a vocalist.  On a silly note have you ever accidentally applied one to the wrong fret for a particular song in a live setting and had one of those moments?

A couple of times, yes. I can remember a spectacular train crash into ‘There Is A Light’ at show with Neil Finn. I’ve become pretty vigilant with capos, but yeah, accidents can happen. 


You have worked with some great singers and lyricists such as Matt Johnson, Neil Tennant, Morrissey and many more…..What is one attribute that you sometimes channel from them as you now are the band leader writing lyrics, singing and strumming?

If I’ve written a good complete backing track then a big part of the job is done for both of us. You’d have to ask them I suppose. If we’re on to something I think is really great then I can be quite enthusiastic and make a positive job of finishing it. If there’s a new song happening it’s the greatest thing in the world to me. 


The warmth of your signature model Jaguar with the 11 gauge strings really has a beautiful tone that I am sure inspires you daily, how was your experience working with the Fender corporation when they were sending you prototypes?

I asked Fender to leave me to it and trust me and thankfully that’s what they did. They left me to it whilst providing support and help with parts and info if I needed it. They were true to their word, including keeping the cost of the guitar as low as possible, which not all companies would do. They’ve been very good to work with.

Image result for jaguar guitar fender marr"

After the Smiths you were experimenting with electronic sounds, (Electronic, Pet Shop Boys, The The).  Are there any new pieces of gear in the area of stomp boxes that have made you feel like a kid again recently?

Oh yeah, I love new gear. The Strymon stuff is quality and the new things Electro Harmonix have been doing sound very good; eh the Mod Rex. Boss making the GT1000 has been great for my live situation as it sounds really good and I can’t be hitting three pedals at once every time I go into a verse or chorus. It’s taken a long time for multi-effects to be right but the technology is there now and you can do whatever your imagination comes up with. When I was in The The I used to have to use a huge rack to do what I can do now with a cool little box. 


Do you demo record ideas the old fashioned way with boombox, 4 track or are you a pro tools guy? Perhaps all of the above?

I throw ideas onto my phone just so I don’t forget something then I usually make a demo on a laptop. Occasionally I know exactly what I need to do and I get the band in the studio and make the track. “Easy Money” was all done on a laptop on the back of the tour bus one night; guitars, vocals, keyboards etc. I re-did the drums when we got into the studio. It was the biggest song I’d had for years. You never know, although it was obviously quite catchy. You can do anything anywhere these days.  

Johnny Marr  - Easy Money



Though you have jumped on the stage from time to time with your childhood friend and The Cult guitarist Billy Duffy, Any chance of ever recording a track together?

I did a song with The Cult on a box set or something about twenty years ago. I forget what it was called. Maybe we’ll do something. 

The Cult featuring Johnny Marr, "North"



What are you currently brewing up musically?  Can we expect another solo recording or collaborations?

Both, my solo records and band have been my priority for the last eight years now, but I like collaboration too. There may be another movie at some point. It’s a nice contrast to being out front of a band. 


Johnny Marr Links






Boston Rock Radio Guest Contributor Thomas Amoriello is a heavy metal guitarist, educator, recording artist and children's picture book author who resides in Lambertville, New Jersey. You can learn more about Tom at  https://thomasamoriello.com

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