Guitarman moves centre stage

Johnny Marr now enjoys fronting a band instead of just playing guitar.
Johnny Marr now enjoys fronting a band instead of just playing guitar.PHOTO: JON SHARD

Johnny Marr, who used to play guitar for The Smiths and various indie bands, is now comfortable as frontman

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    Where: University Cultural Centre Hall, National University of Singapore

    When: July 30, 8pm

    Admission: $88, $108, $128 and $148 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

One of the most influential guitarists in the indie-rock world will be performing for the first time in Singapore next month.

British music icon Johnny Marr - once bestowed the title of Godlike Genius by revered music publication NME - will play his maiden gig here at the University Cultural Centre Hall on July 30.

The 51-year-old guitarist is best known for his distinctive guitar work with famed British rock band The Smiths in the 1980s, which has influenced many contemporary indie rock and indie pop bands today.

Marr, a Manchester native, is responsible for the jangly guitar melodies on popular The Smiths classics such as This Charming Man and Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now.

After the band broke up in 1987, he formed the band Electronic with Bernard Sumner, the singer and guitarist of iconic new wave band New Order. He has also played guitar in several other notable indie acts, including Modest Mouse and The Cribs.

In 2013, Marr, who is married with two children, released his solo debut album The Messenger. His second album Playland was out last year.

1. When The Messenger (2013) came out, you said it was an album that was consciously crafted for your old fans. With Playland (2014), what was the intention behind it?

The concept was even more so about living or experiencing life in the city, particularly in London at the time. The band and I had been out playing live quite a lot by the time I started writing Playland, so I knew what my shows were like.

With The Messenger, I didn't know what the live shows would be like. I wrote the title song Playland to open the new shows, and that's why it starts with drums and audio feedback. It's good getting into a record with a vision.

2. Are there plans to work on a new record once the touring wraps up?

I've got new songs and we may play some of them in Singapore, because I like working on new stuff all the time. I wrote the song Easy Money, for example, on a tour bus and sometimes, I'm working on movie soundtracks, and I have to travel back and forth on tour.

I'm good at multitasking, though it's a bit more difficult when you're a frontman... but I like writing on the road.

3. You mentioned in a previous interview that you disliked the role of a band frontman. Do you still feel the same?

No, I really like it now. You go through different chapters of your life when different things suit you. Not many people realise that I was often the frontman when I was in bands before The Smiths. I wasn't necessarily wanting to do that, but I had to do it if I wanted to be in a group and we didn't have a singer.

But if I wanted to play in a band now, I would feel a little bit restless and overqualified. I think I've played guitar in all the bands I wanted to play in.

4. You recently released a cover of Depeche Mode's I Feel You for Record Store Day. Does this song hold any special meaning for you?

Some songs are really good from a lyrical point of view and some are really cool tracks - I Feel You is a cool track. It's got a good kind of sexy atmosphere when you play it live.

I was playing a riff in a dressing room one day and I started to play I Feel You, and then the bass player joined in and it sounded really good, so we just played it that night. It gave me a reason to record it for Record Store Day.

5. In the last few years, there has been a sudden boom in indie electronica. What do you think of the phenomenon?

There's a kind of tendency now for a lot of guitar bands to have keyboards in them too, so they're not strictly electronic. There was a band I was listening to last night called Dive, and it would be considered dream pop or, like, American shoegaze.

That kind of music, I guess, is rooted in (British shoegaze act) My Bloody Valentine with the dreamy vocals, but there're always bands like that coming out of America. And you just don't know if they are a synth or guitar band.

6. Do you feel like guitar-driven music has been taking a back seat of late?

I think the appeal of having a band with three to four people, whether they're boys or girls, with guitars, is never going to go away.

For every kind of electronic band that crops up, you've got a band like Chastity Belt, those girls who are all about the guitar music. I always like it when there is a good band playing guitar music with girls in them. It shakes things up and makes things less usual.

7. Have there been any guitarists who have caught your attention in the past couple of years?

I still like Nick Zinner from The Yeah Yeah Yeahs a lot, and his solo stuff with the orchestra is very interesting. The guys from Mogwai too. I like a lot of post-rock guitar players.

I have to say, I think my son's (Niles Marr) band, Man Made, is really good. They play a kind of melodic Nirvana style. They sound a little bit like if (the late American singer-songwriter) Elliott Smith was a guitar hero maybe.

8. How would you like to be remembered?

I'd like to be remembered as a guitar player, simple as that.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2015, with the headline 'Guitarman moves centre stage'. Print Edition | Subscribe