On the latest episode of our podcast, Rolling Stone Music Now, former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr stops by our SiriusXM studio for a discussion ranging from his formative, pre-Smiths years to the band’s break-up to his time with Modest Mouse to his well-received new solo album, Call the Comet. A couple highlights are below; to hear the episode, press play below or download and subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.
Finding his guitar style before the Smiths
“It would almost be easier to say what I rejected. If something sounded too bluesy, it sounded just too elemental to me. It didn’t have sensuality in it, it didn’t have eccentricity in it, it. We tried to seek out the things that weren’t elemental meat-and-potatoes, earnest, regular-guy rock, which was the staple that was being fed to boys who were interested in playing the guitar of my my era, just before punk. I also found out about where the music comes from, so when I got into Neil Young, the next step was to go deeper, find out about Bert Jansch from Pentangle. That spoke to me, got really into that. Go deeper, find out about [English folk artist] Martin Carthy, find out about [English folk group] the Watersons, just go as deep as you can until you just get to the bottom of it, absorb what you can. So a big part of my guitar technique is folk music, some of my acoustic playing is psych-folk. I got that from spending maybe a three month period absolutely absorbing myself in Bert Jansch and Roy Harper. So everything is fair game for me as long as it isn’t straight.”
Recording “Nothing But Flowers” with the Talking Heads just after the Smiths’ break-up
“That was a fearful situation partly because I was so young. But I think it was a healthy, creative moment of fear, ’cause it was just a bass line and a drum groove, and I think “blank canvas” was the phrase that was used. I was just buzzing about being the lead guitarist on a Talking Heads song. So I just froze, right? I was like, “Oh shit. Yeah, shit. Shit. I’m not hearing anything. Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn,” and I just went for a walk around the block, and I thought, “Oh, man. I’ve lost it. I’ve lost it. It’s finally coming out at the grand old age of 23. I’ve lost my mojo,” and then I just kind of just plugged in and decided to just be myself. I was being too respectful in a way. I was being too humble, almost. There’s a lesson for you. Don’t get too humble, folks!”