As an artist who tours the world constantly, Johnny Marr sees the change in it constantly, city by city.
The co-founder of The Smiths (and guitarist at times for The The, Electronic and Modest Mouse) insists his new solo album, Call The Comet, is resolutely anti-political, escapist even, yet it still speaks of the times.
“It’s a strange time in the world,” he says down the line from Los Angeles. “It’s big stuff and big subjects and I didn’t want to address those directly in the songs. I’m really glad I didn’t, because I wanted to escape from these issues directly, but I think, overall, now that I’ve had some time from the record being finished, there’s an underlying feeling I have and that’s inevitably gone into my new music that reflects this.
“So without the drag of calling out these political figures and issues, I’m a person feeling stuff that a lot of people are feeling and I’ve hopefully found a way of not necessarily expressing it, but just kind of navigating things. Hopefully I’ve made a record that if all it does is just entertain then that’s fine, but perhaps it’s to bring a bit of escape even if it’s just through entertainment.”
Call The Comet comes on the heels of not only Marr’s autobiography, Set The Boy Free, but his work on The Priest, a short film about homelessness. Out of a period of intense self-reflection followed by an immersion in the plight of the less fortunate across the globe, his third solo LP comes from a unique place in the mind. Recent shows in Europe and the US have seen Marr performing almost the whole album to great response.
“The shows have been great,” he says, clearly pleased. “We’ve been playing nine new songs and I think that’s plenty – nine songs that weren’t actually out yet. That’s a lot of songs, a lot of new stuff and they’ve gone really well. I think something’s happened where the older songs we do seem to fit better with this collection of new songs, for some reason. It maybe something to do with the direction of the record, I don’t know… but they go down very well. I don’t know if I’ve ever played so many unreleased songs before, so that’s a surprise.
“I’ve really had a lot of fun playing these new songs because this is where I’m at right now, to state the obvious. The real proof of any kind of art - if you’re looking for proof or validation when you’re doing it for the public - only happens when you get it out in front of the public. Otherwise something that makes entire sense to you emotionally and is great can be just an entirely subjective thing. It’s validation when you get it out in front of an audience and whether it has hit the mark or not.” Luckily, everybody gets it, and everybody seems to really like it.”
Which is a good thing, given the amount of interest still out there for a band that Marr hasn’t been in for over three decades. While he claims to blissfully ignore any of the more outlandish comments made by Morrissey these days, there’s still a passionately strange need held by many for The Smiths to reform. Given the response to his contemporary work, Marr remains unmoved.
“There’s plenty of people out there who actually don’t want me to reform The Smiths,” he notes. “With good reason and for quite a few reasons. So obviously I’m pleased by that, the main reason being that they really like the music that I’m doing now, and they don’t necessarily see why I would need to do anything else. Me and those people are on the same page, and I always say, ‘what’s wrong with doing new music?’ The new stuff I’m doing is as good as anything I can imagine right now. That’s more than enough for me. A lot of people are of that opinion. That’s very, very gratifying.
“It’s all about the music. It’s beyond me feeling like I need to be adored or anything… I’m a little bit past that (laughs). Me and the fans are onto something pretty nice, I think.”
Call The Comet is out now through Warner.