From Side to Frontman

Johnny Marr takes center stage on his solo debut album

The mystery of just where Johnny Marr might surface next has brought the English guitarist into the line-ups of a host of bands, including The The, The Pretenders, Modest Mouse and most recently, the Cribs.

It was only a matter of time that the English guitar gunslinger would end up on stage with another band, exciting fans with the collaborative possibilities.

Marr says that his M.O. had always been to move around and do different projects, so his fans always knew to expect him to pop up in seemingly unexpected places.

So when it came to this year's Coachella Festival, it was no surprise to see Marr up there on stage in front of throngs of fans. But this time, it was Marr stepping up to the microphone to sing songs off his new solo album, The Messenger.

"I confounded everybody by doing the obvious," Marr says.

The obvious was to finally write, record and release his first truly-solo album. It's a move that's brought Marr back to his teenage years, before he became the driving guitar jangle that helped propel the Smiths to indie rock prominence in the 1980s.

"I wasn't always standing at the side of the stage watching a singer wave his arms about," Marr tells the Reader.

His first band work involved him fronting bands and demoing his own songs on a two-track recorder as a teen. While he admits he wasn't too adept at it, Marr has never lost the songwriting bug working on material in side projects and even releasing a full-length band album Boomslang in 2003.

That 2003 album was billed as Johnny Marr & the Healers and Marr admits it was a band effort. The mindset was that the band formed first and worked on the material together.

"I'm a band animal by default," Marr says.

Marr says it served as a crucial step towards what he ended up doing on The Messenger. The big change was that when Marr started working on material, there was no band in place behind him.

Mostly Marr and album co-producer worked together, banging out songs that Marr wrote and recorded pretty much at the same time. It's a process that took him back to his first teenaged recording sessions.

"I needed to do the more adult version of that," Marr says.

The fluid and relaxed process clicked into gear pretty fast and after five or six songs, Marr was on a roll, he says. But instead of interrupting the flow to put together a band, Doviak and Marr decided the best choice was to keep the songs coming.

"Once I got my head around it, it did make the rest of the writing and recording feel more personal," Marr says.

The songs, which were tracked in Manchester and Berlin, had a very good vibe in the demo stage, so Marr says there was little reason to re-record later on. Only a few drum tracks, by band member Jack Mitchell, were tracked later.

"That worked out well because there's a spontaneity in it," Marr says.

Marr says he was especially happy to not fuss with the album on ProTools or other recording software, for fear of making the lively songs less so.

"It's not all airbrushed," he says.

Once the album was finished, Marr put together a live lineup to play, featuring both Doviak and Mitchell. Live, all members of the four-piece band sing on some of the songs

"That makes it exciting to me," Marr says. "I have a big sound."

Marr says the way both he and the band have operated too is a throwback to how he operated when he was in bands growing up.

"It didn't feel like the word 'project.' It felt a little bit more rooted in my background," Marr says of working on the album and putting together the current band.

Young bands get together and rehearse several times a week, but once success comes its harder to do that unless there's a tour or album recording session coming up.

Marr says even when it was just him and his co-producer in the studio, he tapped into the vibe of just playing for the love of playing music and writing songs.

"That's been very very gratifying," Marr says.

That's part of why Marr came back to Manchester to make an album, right after working on the Oscar-nominated soundtrack to the Christopher Nolan movie Inception.

Now, Marr says he's too excited to stop unless something new really excites him enough to take him away from writing and recording his own solo songs.

"I want to make a few albums at least," Marr says.

Johnny Marr w/ Alamar play the Waiting Room Lounge, 6212 Maple St., Monday, April 22nd at 8 p.m. Tickets are $22 in advance and $25 day-of-show. For more information, visit

posted at 07:44 am
on Tuesday, April 16th, 2013


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