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Johnny Marr on Singing Smiths Songs, Learning From Hans Zimmer

On the Rolling Stone Music Now podcast, Marr explains how he grew comfortable singing songs by his old band

Johnny MarrRiot Fest, Douglas Park, Chicago, USA - 16 Sep 2018

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Johnny Marr covered a lot of ground when he stopped by our podcast, Rolling Stone Music Now, for an in-depth interview, from the break-up of the Smiths to his excellent new solo album Call the Comet. To hear the entire interview, press play below or download and subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

More highlights from the conversation:

There’s a genuinely spooky song on your new album called “Walk Into the Sea.” Where did that come from?
Well, the thing with the record was that I was really led by my emotions. I was following how I was feeling, and I didn’t want to directly discuss Brexit or Donald Trump or anything like that. But I was feeling kind of emotionally fairly shell-shocked, and so as I was writing music I was unintentionally making music that felt that way, and “Walk Into the Sea” is one of those tracks. And I was reading about this baptism and so the idea of rebirth was in my mind. So I just decided to come up with a narrative bout being reborn – ’cause I realized afterwards that it  looks like a suicide note, but in fact what it is, the story is of me diving into the sea in the hope of being reborn. It’s a very dramatic song.

The sound of that song reminds me that you collaborated with film composer Hans Zimmer in recent years, including on the Inception score. What did you learn from him?
I learned to  be totally okay with the most melodic and dramatic and emotive things that I do. That’s what Hans brings me in for. I trust him enough that I think “if that’s what he thinks is the gold in me as a musician, then I’ll go with it.” And that’s where he influenced “Walk Into the Sea” – people have asked me about it because it has strings on it and it’s orchestral and sounds dramatic and cinematic but that’s been the biggest influence that Hans has brought to my career, that he’s trying to get that out of me all the time. If it’s sad, it’s really sad, if it’s uplifting, it’s really uplifting. I’ll just get off on some new wave kind of art-rock thing every day, all day long if I can, but he’s wanting me to play emotionally all the time.

Your biggest hit in America was actually 1989’s “Getting Away With It,” a song with your supergroup Electronic. What do you remember about that song coming together?
I remember probably the three or four hours that it came together, because it was me and [New Order’s] Bernard Sumner and Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe [of the Pet Shop Boys] in a room, and it was the first time we’d met. It’s just like if you meet interesting people in a bar or restaurant or at a gig or whatever, you remember that, but we happened to be writing a song whilst we were meeting. It was one of the rare occasions when the musicians are working in the studio with a window in it, and it was a summer’s evening, so it was a sun-filled room with this really great, beautiful, excitable atmosphere. We were about to go out to the Hacienda on a Saturday night, and we’d just written this hit. So that was a good moment.

You’re singing lead vocals on Smiths songs on your current solo tour. Was there any psychological barrier that you had to overcome  to get comfortable with the idea of that?
In the early 2000s, Neil Finn invited me over to New Zealand, and he just assumed I was gonna sing “There is a Light That Never Goes Out,” ’cause it was a big song, right? Now, I arrived there with all of this Smiths baggage, which a lot of people still seemed to still be carrying around that weren’t even in the group.  I barked at his suggestion, and he looked at me a little quizzically,and I realized that I was just being too precious. It’s music.  I sang it,  and the audience reacted in such a beautiful way, and  I’ve got Neil to thank for that, ’cause he gave me that gift, really. It just punctured that nonsense.

Download and subscribe to Rolling Stone Music Now, hosted by Brian Hiatt, on iTunes or Spotify, and tune in Fridays at 1 p.m. ET to hear the show broadcast live on Sirius XM’s Volume, channel 106.

In This Article: Johnny Marr, The Smiths

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