Marr: Pharrell is our Stevie Wonder

Johnny Marr, former guitarist for The Smiths
Johnny Marr, former guitarist for The Smiths
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Johnny Marr was formerly guitarist in The Smiths, before leaving in 1987. He’s since joined several bands, but went fully solo in 2012 to release The Messenger. He headlines Deer Shed Festival which takes place in Yorkshire, July 25-27 ( – his only date in the north this summer. Here, he chats about loving Spiderman and why timing is everything

You’ve been touring a lot this year. What are you doing now you’re back home?

I’m in the studio again, recording my new album.

I was working on it before I went away and now I’ve got six, seven or eight weeks left to do on it.

It sounds like a lot but it’s not, I have a lot to do.

Do You Like Having A Strict Deadline?

It has to be that way, if I want to have it released before the end of the year. It’s always been that way, ever since I can remember.

If you’re in an indie band, it’s kind of pointless putting out a record at the very end of the year, they get swamped by big pop acts and compilations for Christmas.

I want it out before that window closes, so September hopefully.

You’ve recently been involved with the soundtrack for the Amazing Spider-Man 2

Yeah, it was a lot of fun. It’s very different too.

We performed the soundtrack, and there were 12 of us on stage; me, Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Alicia Keys and a load more.

It was quite something. I like moving around like that, I don’t like knowing who I’m going to be working with from one year to the next.

Collaboration is a really big deal for me, and for years and years I felt like I had to earn the right to collaborate, but now I’m solo, everyone wants to collaborate.

For a while I just wanted to concentrate on my own band, but I get offered the most unusual things that are sometimes too interesting to turn down.

Spider-Man was one of those.

I love working with Hans, as we did on Inception, and I love Spider-Man.

He’s the only comic book character I was into.

And Alicia and Pharrell?

Alicia is amazing. She’s part of the great tradition of RnB singers, one of the great American singers, and if she’d been around 30 or 40 years ago, she’d be singing with Etta James or Aretha Franklin.

She really knows about arrangement, she directed the whole thing.

Pharrell, well, he’s our generation’s Stevie Wonder.

We talked about the opportunity of working together again, but we’re both serial workaholics.

If we can make our paths cross again though, then we’ll do it.

We’re cut from the same cloth, which you might not think because we have such different backgrounds, but we both love disco and we have Nile Rodgers in common.

You’re headlining Deer Shed Festival in July

Yes, the second night. British Sea Power are headlining the day before.

Being asked to headline a festival must be a confidence boost?

Yes, it really is. When I made my album I made it primarily for fans.

That’s not to say I wanted to sell it at car boot sales, but the main criteria was to please the people that’ve liked what I do throughout my career.

I had a really clear idea of how to do that. I didn’t overthink it, and it took off.

The same thing happened in America, where the record has done well and we’ve played some big gigs.

I’ve spent the last year or so being surprised and bemused. I don’t think it’s not earned, but for my first solo album, it’s been great.

How do you know if it’s been a good gig?

I’ve been a bit spoilt by how well my recent tours have been going, but basically, unless I see people leaving the venue covered in sweat, hugging and saying what a great time they’ve had, it’s been a bit of an off night.

I want the audience to be wrecked by the time we finish.

Will you be playing new songs at the festival?

I might play a couple, yes. We did a small tour in the UK before we went to South America and we played some new songs on that. They went down very well, and it keeps the loyal fans happy, the ones that keep coming back.

You have toured all over the world almost constantly for the last two years. Why?

That’s how I wanted my solo career to go.

It’s based on the ideas and principles of the bands I saw when I was a kid.

They were always playing.

Always. I’m almost wilfully ignoring the modern idea that you go away, create or design some ‘campaign’ and then execute it.

I think words like campaign, execute and project are too corporate, and I don’t want to think like that.

So instead, I just play and play and play.