Johnny Marr wants to sell me his guitar—and, you know, I might just take him up on that.
It’s not that the friendly musician is going to have a boot sale when his tour bus pulls up behind the Commodore Ballroom this weekend. It’s more that after we’ve finished discussing Marr’s new album, Playland, we move on to talking about the two guitarists who made Television the most thrilling band of the 1970s. And from there it’s only a short hop on to Marr’s signature Fender, a short-scale Jaguar model optimized for rock.
“To end up having a Fender guitar with your name on it is possibly one of the greatest things that can happen to you,” he says, before heading off to sound check in Denver, Colorado. “And that journey probably started with Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd.”
Television-worthy guitar textures abound on Playland, but what’s most striking about the record is its energetic feel—no surprise, given that Marr built it with performance in mind.
“The main focus for me, musically, was that we recorded it in such a way that we wanted to put it in the live set straight away,” he explains. “That might sound really obvious, but you can go down a different road as a musician and use the studio in a more experimental way. Which is absolutely valid, and often has fantastic results, but I purposely tried to avoid that and make sure that we could put the songs I was writing onto the stage without extra musicians or laptops, in the way that bands were doing when I started out. That’s not really retro nostalgia or anything; it’s just that that kind of approach seems to suit my writing and the band I’ve put together. I guess the bottom line is that it’s the kind of music I’d like to go and see now.”
It’s also the kind of music that best suits Marr’s temperament. The guitarist, who aspired to becoming a soccer star before finding his true calling, is reputed to run at least 80 kilometres every week and shows no sign of slowing down now that he’s in his 50s.
“I try to find nobility in or kind of almost fetishize some mental states and lifestyles, and hyperactivity is one of them,” he admits, laughing. “I’ve been that way since I was 15, 16: my heroes were always little hyper guys, like Bruce Lee and Marc Bolan and Andrew Loog Oldham, who managed the Rolling Stones.”
With Playland, Marr notes, he was “quite deliberate about trying to be fast, although you don’t want to be too crazy. But it has occurred to me that a lot of it is about adrenaline.” Especially, he adds, the record’s fierce and gritty title track.
“Some of us still really believe in the power of what music does,” Marr says. “And that song is partly about the way I used to be about records before I went out to school in the morning, playing Patti Smith songs at deafening volume, trying to make them sink into my synapses so I could carry them around with me the rest of the day—this was pre-iPod days, of course! So that was the inspiration for that particular song—but I also wanted to make it be about sexual activity at the same time. I won’t lie!”
UPDATE: the Johnny Marr show at the Commodore Ballroom on Sunday (December 7) has been CANCELLED.