In The Works – Johnny Marr

The Smiths guitar legend talks solo album 'The Messenger'

A thirty-year career that began as a teenager with The Smiths has seen Johnny Marr develop as a six-string for hire with – among many others – Talking Heads, Electronic, The The, Oasis, Modest Mouse and The Cribs. But his new album ‘The Messenger’, previewed for Clash at Abbey Road studios, will be the first to bear his name alone.

“I hadn’t really decided on a fixed line-up until near the end. I didn’t want to put it out as if it had a band vibe, because it’s more personal than that. It’s just me really,” says Marr.

His last solo effort in 2003 was ‘Boomslang’, as Johnny Marr And The Healers, which received a mixed response. “I didn’t really know what I was doing then, but I was speaking collectively for the others. On this record I’m speaking entirely for myself. It feels totally different, like the start of a few solo records,” the softly-spoken Mancunian adds.

Mixed by Frank Arkwright, with whom Marr remastered The Smiths discography for re-release last year, the tracks seem steeped in influences from the bands that Marr has worked and written with. ‘European Me’ is threaded with Smiths-esque fingerpicked guitar, the opening chords of the tender ‘New Town Velocity’ recall Electronic’s ‘Get The Message’ (one of Marr’s favourites), while ‘Sun And Moon’ rocks the lo-fi attack and snarl of The Cribs, sounding like a strong single.

But they’re also very much pieces of Marr, as songwriter and singer. Lyrically the album swings between political and social comment and tales of youth and devotion: “If anything the narrative through the record is about growing up in this country. I think ultimately it’s quite hopeful because I’m that kind of person.”

But while bandmates Zak Starkey and Edgar Summertyme (with a little help from Ms. Hynde) may have managed to strong-arm Marr into taking vocal duties, he’s not going emo: “I’m absolutely not interested in being the frontman in a band that bares my soul or feelings in song. Siouxsie Sioux, or Ray Davies, or Howard Devoto don’t sing from some weird, shlocky, sentimental place. What’s wrong with singing from the brain?”

Words: Michael Parker
Photography: Mark Kean

ALBUM TITLE: The Messenger
RELEASE DATE: February 2013
RECORDED: Berlin and Marr’s own studio in Manchester
SONGS INCLUDE: ‘The Right Thing Right’, ‘European Me’, ‘The Messenger’, ‘Upstarts’, ‘Sun And Moon’, ‘New Town Velocity’
FACT: In 1988 The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde told Johnny that if he didn’t sing he was “a chicken” – better late than never, it turns out.

Join the Clash mailing list for up to the minute music, fashion and film news.