Profiles

Johnny Marr on how he created the sound for "How Soon Is Now?" without effects pedals

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That rippling effect, layered effect and maybe tremolo effect you had on "How Soon Is Now" -- did you do that with multiple amps when you recorded it?

Yeah. The tremolo sound from the intro? That was four Fender Twin Reverbs. Myself controlling the speed of two of them and the producer controlling the speed of the other two. So two amps were recorded on one side of the stereo and the other two on the other side. I recorded the part on the tape without the tremolo, and then I sent the part from tape out to four amps, and he controlled two, and I controlled the other two.

And it took a long time because inevitably the tremolo would go out of time with the track because the tremolo doesn't stay in regular clock time. Also we would go out with each other's amps, so we had to keep looking up at each other after every fifteen second bursts and kind of fess up, "Oh yeah, mine kind of went out of time." It took long time, but I'm glad we did it that way because if we had cut and pasted two seconds of audio, it wouldn't have had the same dynamic quality throughout the six minutes of the song, or however long it is.

When you did that live, did you have to do it a different way, or did you have to strip it down?

When I was first touring it in '85 and '86, it was a difficult thing to do even with two guitar players. But now the band plays it very well, and I've learned over the years how to play it and how we make it work. I think of it like a boat riding through the sea, really. I have found a way that I can steer it.

The slide part on that track was quite difficult to simulate, but again, the guy I have playing in my band, that I've been playing with for a while, can do it, and he and my son are the only two guys I know that play it right. Recently, I had Ronnie Wood playing with me, and he did a good job with it. I think if you have your head on it, it can be done.

You recently released your debut solo album. What do you feel you were able to do with this album that you haven't been able to with your many and varied other projects?

I think singing with confidence without too much doubt was a satisfying thing. It was, artistically, very satisfying to be covering subject matter that means something to me. I think a little bit of that was getting to know yourself. And just the simple fact that I was ready to do it now. Everything else I'd done since going out on my own in '87 has been absolutely amazing to me, and I feel like the luckiest guitar player alive, and I am very grateful.

I've been asked why it took so long to make this record. Well, it didn't really take too long to make this record. It took six months to make it. What I'd been doing before that was hopefully a journey I can continue. I guess what we play is still indie or alternative, I don't know all the different terms these days -- I've kind of lost track about what label I'm supposed to be these days. But it's still the kind of music I started playing when I was a kid, really. I'm fronting a band I could have fronted at fifteen or sixteen, so that's quite cool.

Do you mostly play Jaguars these days?

I pretty much exclusively play a Jaguar. That's because I got to design it. So I'm kind of in trouble if I didn't get it right. The guitar that I designed took me a few years to do it and a few years of obsession and driving people around and nuts. I kind of get that way about things. Fender approached me about putting it out -- a signature model.

That was a great honor, and it turned out really well. I haven't met anyone who doesn't like it. Fender was really cool to work with. They just helped me out in whichever way I needed it. If someone gave me a lot of time to figure out how to make it better, I wouldn't know how to make it better.

What is it about that style of guitar that you appreciate?

I knew what it is that I need to do. The friend who worked on it with me said when we were finished, "Oh right, it sounds like all your records all put together." I guess that got the job down. Without getting too technical about it or elitist, it kind of does the job of a Gretsch, sonically, and a Rickenbacker, sonically, but I play it like a Fender. It's kind of handy, really. I used to it pretty much exclusively during my time with Modest Mouse. And totally exclusively during my time with the Cribs. I've used it nearly entirely on the new solo record.

Johnny Marr, with ALAMAR, 8 p.m. Sunday, April 21, Gothic Theatre, 3263 S. Broadway, $25-$28, 303-788-0984, all ages




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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.