In the course of a career-spanning interview on the latest episode of our podcast, Rolling Stone Music Now, Johnny Marr takes on a thorny subject: the break-up of the Smiths. To hear the full interview – which also includes talk of his strong new solo album, Call the Comet, his time with Modest Mouse and much more – press play below or download and subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.
One narrative suggests that the Smiths’ breakup started with false reports that you left the band, and the resulting miscommunication prompted you to actually leave. That doesn’t seem to make much sense.
You’d really need to have an entire book that was just dedicated to the breakup of the band, and I ain’t gonna do that, and who wants… Well, I guess there are some people who’d wanna read that.
I think actually there’s a lot of people who want to read that.
A lot of people have had a go at it without knowing what they’re talking about, so yeah. I mean the miscommunication is just one facet of it, though, isn’t it? You know, the band wouldn’t break up just because of miscommunication. It has to be, you know, the end, you know? ..I wouldn’t have left my own band that I formed and put my life into just because of a misunderstanding, you know? It was untenable. And I felt like I was left no choice, and that’s fine. That’s absolutely alright, and yes, it was very sad, but it was meant to be.
Why was it untenable? I mean, you were doing so much work. Sometimes that makes other members resentful.
Yeah, well, maybe that was the case, you know? I don’t know about that. There was probably a time in my life when I would have felt that. I don’t really feel that now. I just feel like, you know, as an adult now, I kind of feel like when things are meant to come to an end, all kinds of mad shit happens, you know? People will know what I’m talking about with relationships and with jobs, and even if you wanna move out your apartment, you just start turning against it, you know? So, things kind of start breaking down when they’ve run out of shelf life. As a mature adult, that’s the way I see things happen. When things aren’t meant to be, they just break down like cogs in a machine stop working. They stop being harmonious. It’s the same in bands as it is in relationships, and as it is in jobs. It’s facts of life, I think.
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So was it a personality thing, or was it just…
Oh yeah, it’s all of the above. Yeah, all of the above, just different people, you know? The differences in personalities are what often make for interesting chemistry, and inevitably the differences in personality comes a point when those things are gonna stop forward motion, I guess. I suppose as well, me and Morrissey just saw our futures differently.
Well, I just didn’t see my future being in that group anymore.
That is a very circular statement!
Well, I mean, you what, I got to get to a soundcheck. I don’t want to be here for the next five hours. [laughs]
The issue of you doing outside projects with people like Bryan Ferry was, in your telling, not a big deal at all. And yet it seems to have been very hurtful to Morrissey, apparently.
Ah, well, you’ll have to ask him about that.
But anyway, that’s his account…
Well, maybe so. I’m not gonna disagree with it if that’s what he says, I’m not gonna disagree with it. Fine. So what?
Anyway, it’s so hard to imagine a better outcome for someone who lost their amazing band at such a young age. You were what, 23? You’ve had this amazing career.
Thank you. Yeah, I didn’t know it was gonna work out that way, but I didn’t really feel like I lost my band, because somewhere along the line, and you see, that’s a sort of projection that people kind of put on the Smiths, because a big part of what was inside me was…I probably knew that I always wanted to work with a lot of different people. That was certain. Before the Smiths‘ first record came came out, I did a session with Bernard Sumner, so there’s a clue right there, and that was because I’m a musician, and in some ways, I’m sort of an almost archetypal musician, in that I like to play with people. I like to learn. Me working on other projects, that’s my vision, you see. I’m sorry if, you know, some people 35 years later go, “Yeah, but you were supposed to stay stuck against the wall with the same haircut as the other guys.” Maybe their vision needs to sort of, widen a little bit and [they need to] start thinking a bit more like a musician.