Music News

Johnny Marr on the importance of developing his personal style

Johnny Marr is best known as the Smiths' influential and inventive guitarist. Since the band's split in 1987, Marr has kept himself busy playing with some of the more high-profile acts of the modern era, like Modest Mouse. Marr's clean playing style and simple yet intricate melodies have made him a massive asset to any project in which he's taken part.

This year, Marr put out his solo debut album, The Messenger, signaling yet another chapter in the career of one of the truly noteworthy talents in rock music from the past few decades. We spoke with the gracious and humble Marr ahead of his current tour about his new record and the importance of having developed his own style before delving headlong into technological enhancements.

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

Johnny Marr: 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've done since going out on my own in '87 has been absolutely amazing to me.

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.

You started playing guitar before there were a lot of pedals around to process sounds. Do you feel that helped you in some ways to develop your own style rather than having to rely on those options for a signature sound?

Absolutely. Whatever bit of advice and guidance I could get from anywhere, whether it was rare books of interviews with Chet Atkins, or I remember John Lennon talking about being a rhythm guitar player and how important that was — all of these little snippets of wisdom and information, I just took on board.

I remember some guitar player saying it was better to learn on acoustic and that that would make me better. That was advice I took and I've always given when I've been asked. I was aware at the time that if I got good on acoustic that electric wouldn't be a problem. But that's not necessarily the case the other way around.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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.