Dear reader: I've done you a great disservice. When I was offered the opportunity to interview Johnny Marr, I leapt at the chance—I was certain my rabid admiration made me the best candidate to relay Marr's current opinions on the state of the world. Instead, my fanaticism turned into sheer nervous terror, giving me the brilliant idea that I should ask him a bunch of questions about shoes. And weed.
Johnny Marr is a legendary rock guitar player and songwriter, known mostly for his integral role in the Smiths. He's managed to stay relevant throughout his entire career, playing in too many bands to count. In the late 2000s, Marr spent a great deal of time in the Pacific Northwest as a member of Modest Mouse. He'll return on Monday, April 15, to play Neumos, supporting his latest solo LP, The Messenger, which was released in February.
I wanted to congratulate you on your NME Godlike Genius award. How does a thing like that make you feel? You know, you can't take that kind of stuff too seriously. The award made a lot of fans happy, though, so that was nice. A good thing about that one is that it's kind of tongue in cheek, it's not too serious.
You used to reside in Portland, and you still have a home there. Are you fond of the Pacific Northwest? Have you been able to explore the area very much? Quite a bit, yeah. I took to it straightaway. Mostly the mentality of the people I found myself meeting—it was nice to discover that there are a lot of liberal and creative artistic people there. I spent a lot of time hanging out in bookstores, meeting other musicians, and writing a lot of songs with bands like Modest Mouse. After a while, I started to explore the things that people who live healthier lives do. I've explored the Columbia River quite a bit, but I find Portland very pretty and quite inspiring, so I didn't really need to get out of town too much. I went to Salem, just because that's where John Fahey spent most of his time.
Manchester and the Pacific Northwest are both known for their constant drizzle. What type of shoes do you like to wear when it's damp? Well, you know, I'm completely impractical. It's all about wearing the appropriate shoes that go with my trousers, I'm afraid. I'm pretty shallow that way; I always will be. I end up going through way too many pairs of suede shoes. Very impractical, but they look right onstage. Hey, I'm a professional [laughs]. I always put my job first.
I'm aware that the music for the Smiths song "A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours" was borrowed from a song called "Shoes," by Reparata. How were you introduced to that song? It was inspired by that, yeah—the bulk of that tune I kind of remembered from being a kid while it was on the English charts. I liked the electric piano—it stuck in my subconscious. It's funny how these things come out.
In 2009, you told the Observer that you got into running in the 1990s. Do you still run regularly? Yeah, whenever I can. It's the best way to see a city and get lost. I've seen more of the world in the last seven or eight years than I ever saw in the years before that, y'know? It's a good thing to do when you're jet-lagged. In fact, Seattle is a great place for running, along those freight train tracks by the waterside. I have good memories of quirky parts of cities that I would normally have never discovered.
Do you have any particular shoes that you like for running? Nah, I don't pay too much attention to those kinds of details, really. I care more about trying to find the time to get out there, to be honest.
Are you a fan of marijuana? Do you have any thoughts about the legalization of marijuana in a few states here? Like pretty much anything, you could use it or abuse it. I'm of the very obvious opinion that I generally see worse behavior on alcohol, but I don't think excess is good no matter what you do. These days, I don't really bother with anything that's going to slow me down—I like to keep busy and not be confused, y'know? I stopped caring about drugs a long time ago. Even back in those hazy, crazy days when I used to smoke pot a lot, you couldn't be as prolific if you were too preoccupied with that stuff. It's a fun thing to do when you're young, but when you get to a certain age, it's not too cool to be messy.
What new music do you love? I like Howler from Minneapolis. I think they're a pretty good band. I also like Hooded Fang from Toronto—they're musically quite clever and exciting. I also like a band from Milwaukee called Jaill. They're great. Whenever I'm invited to play tunes on the radio, I always play their track "The Stroller." I know that's an old tune for them, but I figure that's the one English rock audiences are going to go for. I'm surprised more people don't know them, y'know?