Johnny Marr is still going at it.

Courtesy: Pitchfork

Johnny Marr came to prominence in the 80s playing guitar in a little band called the Smiths. When that little band broke up, he went on to work with the everybody from the Talking Heads and Pet Shop Boys to Beck and Oasis. He founded Electronic with Bernard Sumner and released a solo album with his band the Healers. More recently, he joined the Pacific Northwest indie powerhouse Modest Mouse.

The latest notch on Marr’s resume came when he joined the brotherly Brit-punk band the Cribs, playing on their new album Ignore the Ignorant. This summer, we talked with Cribs bassist/vocalist Gary Jarman about what it’s like to have a legend in the band. And earlier this week, we got Marr himself on the phone to talk about everything he’s been up to lately.

A word of advice: don’t ask him about the Smiths.

Pitchfork: You live in Portland, Oregon and Manchester, England right now. You have a knack for picking really rainy cities.

JM: I know. I don’t know what the hell that’s about. Well, I like places where there’s a good creative atmosphere. I’m sure the rain has got something to do with it, although Americans make a really big deal about the rain in Portland. Compared to Manchester, it’s like Hawaii.

Pitchfork: Do you think that everyone staying inside contributes to creativity?

JM: Yeah, it’s got to have something to do with it. It’s got to have some impact on people’s minds. I know it did when I was growing up. I think humans need some color, sometimes technicolor. If you’re not getting it from the outside world, you have to create it yourself. I think that’s got something to do with it. I don’t see that many great groups coming out of Bondi Beach these days.

Pitchfork: How does it feel to be a Crib?

JM: It feels just like the way I usually feel, except I’m playing some songs that I wrote last year and that are in my life now. That’s what I’m playing to people, but I was pretty much always the same. That’s probably why it works– because I didn’t really have to change one bit.

Pitchfork: What attracted you to this band?

JM: I heard them and was really knocked out by their song “Hey Scenesters!” I actually had one of those moments I’ve read about, where I heard the track in the car. I didn’t actually need to pull over to the side of the road and get oxygen, but I was really knocked out by it. I immediately downloaded the rest of the album when I got home. And then I listened to that record for a while. For the longest time, when I was asked about what bands I like, it was the Cribs, and they got to hear about that.

I just fell in love with the music first, which I was really happy about. I hadn’t read about them, and I didn’t really know about their reputation. I just made some assumptions that were all positive, and they turned out to be true. I’ve been surprised, actually; since I’ve been playing with them, you go out and you sit in front of people with microphones and tape recorders or whatever. And there’s this dimension that I heard in the band’s music that kind of doesn’t really get addressed. I’m having to deal with this reputation they’ve gotten. I found that to be quite reductive. The point is, I’m really glad that I came to the music first rather than the story first. The music tells a bigger story, I think.

Pitchfork: What do you think is the quality that doesn’t get addressed?

JM: Their intelligence. They’re smart people. I heard really smart people making smart music, and that was done with some deliberate idea in mind and somewhat of an agenda, if not manifesto. I was crossing my fingers when I first got into this band. Often these days, you hear a track, and it’s a great track, but there’s not really a lot else going on with the band. I like liking bands, so it was nice to be a fan for a while and to just discover this music. So that intelligence– and good tunes, great riffs, and all of those things. To be able to kind of enhance it and take it somewhere is exciting.

Pitchfork: A couple of times now, you’ve come and just joined bands that already existed as established units. It’s got to be a lot of fun, to join a band that you already know you like.

JM: Yeah. Well, I don’t make assumptions that it’s going to work. Modest Mouse and then the Cribs, you know, it’s serious business. It’s anything but party time, if you think about the principles and the people involved in those bands. It’s all well and good being friends and having things in common, but you don’t have to join a band to have them in your life. Joining it is a very different matter, and it’s quite a serious undertaking. I’ve been making music as my living since I was 18, I’ve had that opportunity a few times, and I’m always really knocked out when I’m invited. That’s the thing, you know– I do get invited. People do have a say in it. Hopefully, we’re not people that take ourselves so seriously, but we take what we do seriously. I take what I do seriously, and I respect the bands that I’ve joined. I have absolutely nothing but respect for them, quite rightly. So to make it work is serious business.

Pitchfork: All the other members of the Cribs are brothers. How does it feel to enter into a dynamic like that?

JM: Well, at first I thought it made no difference and there wasn’t any significance in it. But in truth, there is. I’ve got to say, it’s all pretty positive. Occasionally, I’m asked about being in a band with brothers, and there’s an expectation that I’m going to possibly raise my eyebrows and roll my eyes, that it’s like a boxing match going on. But these guys have all got a really great understanding and a good way of working together. It’s not explosive or uptight or anything like that.

I think that with brothers, with maybe one or two exceptions, there’s a refreshing lack of neurosis. Often– and I’m not just talking about one particular group, I’m talking about almost every group– there’s a neurosis. They’re quite paranoid. There seems to be not so much of that with the Cribs. Everybody keeps each other in check, and there is sort of an innate understanding between the three of them. That saves a lot of bullshit. I don’t mind if things are good or bad as long as everybody understands what’s going on in the dynamic of the band, and it just saves an awful lot of nonsense. There’s just an assumption that everything’s okay, and if it’s not, then it just gets brought out into the open. It’s very healthy, you know. And then it’s just down to people’s own tension with themselves to keep things from getting too easy. But that’s all right, too.

Pitchfork: I picture them getting into big, long conversations about the cartoons they watched when they were younger or what their mom used to cook for dinner.

JM: Yeah, that does happen. But it’s always like a great, fascinating story. Plus you’ve got the dynamic of Gary and Ryan being twins, so a lot of their experiences are shared. It’s interesting; it’s just another interesting experience for me. Because they’re gentlemen and gracious guys, they’ve always done as much as possible to make me feel at home. The two families kind of merged, anyway. The band was living wherever I was for the first year– except for Gary, because he lived in Portland. But Ryan and Ross were living with me in Portland, and then we all lived together in Manchester at my studio for quite a few months. The rest of the time, we’ve been on the tour bus together. I don’t feel like an outsider unless I want to.

Pitchfork: Musically, they’re a more straightforward bash-it-out band than any of the groups you’ve been in before. How do you feel like you’ve changed their sound?

JM: I can only really just say, with the way I play guitar and the way I think, some of the chord changes that I sometimes use. They’re all really good musicians, though. If they were going to bash something out, that’s a very deliberate kind of intention. Ryan’s a really unusual guitar player, and I love playing with other guitar players. The sound of two electric guitars is great to me, and maybe because of that, Ryan is thinking like a two-headed beast with me on that. So maybe that has changed things somewhat, because it’s giving Ryan someone to bounce off of a little bit. He’s smart; he’s managed to maintain a lot of his own thing while he’s backing me up at the same time. He and I just do this thing where we work as a duo. Quite often in bands, the guy who wrote the song will just strum some chords, and the other guy will do the fiddly bits. We’re not interested in that at all; we never do that. We’re into it being a twin guitar attack, so I think that’s one aspect where the band has maybe taken off on this album. The other thing is that I have some lyrics that I wrote for them. We all have lyrics that we write for songs; all four of us write songs together. None of us brings in a complete song because we know that the band is going to make it better. That’s a really good position to be in.

Pitchfork: Are you still a member of Modest Mouse?

JM: Well, Modest Mouse are out on the road right now with my friend Jim Fairchild [All Smiles, ex-Grandaddy] standing in for me. So as of this moment, Jim Fairchild is occupying the place I was occupying. But there’s no final fallout. There’s just no finality about me and Modest Mouse. Isaac [Brock]’s approach has always been that the door is always open; he leaves the door open to create partners and to ensure that none of us wanted to get in the way of something good happening. We’re all friends together, and something was happening, so we’re all happy to make it happen. I played on the new Modest Mouse release and wrote some of that with the guys. And I see the guys and hang out with the guys and keep in touch with them. So that’s kind of the way it is. We’re all very grown-up about it and very supportive of each other.

Pitchfork: That’s a really good position to be in.

JM: Yeah, that’s right. It is really good. Because none of us is stupid.

Pitchfork: With the Cribs, do you think you’ll be able to jump in and out of the fold the same way?

JM: It’s not really come up. That’s not really on the agenda. We’re only just on tour with this record, so we’re being a group, and I’m the guitar player in the group. So that’s a little bit theoretical, really. Right now, I’m just out of soundcheck, about to play a show. Today, I’m the best guitar player– and friend– in this group that I can be. And tomorrow, I’m going to be exactly the same. Probably the day after that, too, I guess. That’s the way I live my life, and that’s what you see when we’re on stage. So I kind of don’t think about it, to be honest with you.

Pitchfork: You also played on the recent 7 Worlds Collide record. In the documentary about the recording of it, you looked like you were really enjoying yourself.

JM: Yeah, that was funny. I think that documentary got made to be very lighthearted, you know. In between fucking around, I did manage to play a lot of guitar and write a couple of songs. It doesn’t tell the entire picture. But yeah, it was a fantastic feeling being there, and why sit around being po-faced all the time? There’s a time to be serious, and sometimes you can have a really good time. But everybody there was really fucking cool. I always love hearing Lisa Germano sing vocals on songs and being around Sebastian Steinberg and Ed O’Brien, people like that. Getting to know the Wilco guys. It’s just a fantastic time. Neil [Finn] is quite an amazing songwriter.

Pitchfork: You said in a recent interview that you and Morrissey aren’t feuding, and that you email with each other. Is that true?

JM: I’m done talking about that shit. Who cares?

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.