Like many of his fellow British musicians, Johnny Marr has very strong opinions on recently deceased British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. “My thoughts are that if you see the word ‘Thatcherism,’ it’s not a word that stands for something good,” Marr told Rolling Stone when we met him in his trailer backstage at Coachella. “I don’t think there’s any getting around that.”
The guitarist was particularly put off by praise from the current regime in England. “I thought that the British government’s statement that she made Britain great again was false and really arrogant because everybody knows, left or right, that Margaret Thatcher didn’t make Britain great,” he said. “If that was the case then why isn’t it? I felt like that was very, very disrespectful to generations of families who have never recovered from her legacy.”
Marr’s views were similar to those of ex-bandmate Morrissey, who called Thatcher “barbaric” in an open letter. And of course at Coachella time, where a Smiths reunion is the indie music dream that won’t die, the thoughts of Marr and Moz are as prevalent as Daft Punk sightings.
Speaking of his new critically acclaimed album, The Messenger, Marr’s first proper solo record after years either in bands, fronting the Healers or doing other work, Marr admits there are things he learned from working with Morrissey, as well as so many other great frontmen like Matt Johnson from the The, Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock and New Order’s Bernard Sumner.
“I think the thing I learned from working with a lot of different lyricists is everybody has their own way,” he said. “And I know that sounds like a little bit of a copout, but it was very useful, because Isaac has his way, almost drafting and drafting, then putting it through the ringer again to bring different layers and dimensions to what he’s already written, and that was very interesting to me. Matt would turn his mind inside out and his life inside out and put himself in different physical spaces to do the words. Morrissey was always working on the next thing and collecting his concepts. Bernard Sumner had to be engrossed in a pretty much finished record. Now these are very, very different approaches and that helped me because my approach is different from all those, too. And in some ways having that experience made me realize as long as what I’m doing is good and connecting with people, then how I actually go about it is my own unique way.”
He was reminded, being onstage at Coachella on day one, that the music is indeed connecting with people. “We had a really fun time playing the set. Right from the word go, the crowd were really behind me and it felt like there was a sense of expectancy to just have a good time for an hour,” he said. “It just clicked and as I say, the crowd were great.”
Buoyed by the response at shows like Coachella as well as his new backing band, Marr promised more solo material. “I like working in this group. It is solo and it is my group, but the situation is such it’s not like I’m doing a record that is really sparse or Spartan. I’m fronting a good group,” he said. “My name might be over the door, which makes sense, and the concepts are coming, but I’ve got a good sounding group that can play songs that I want to write.”