Following on from last year’s ‘Call The Comet’ LP and recent standalone single ‘Armatopia’, Johnny Marr has unveiled new single ‘The Bright Parade’ – a guitar-heavy thumper of a track, complete with cryptic lyrics about… Love Island?!
Well, not Love Island per se, but the former Smiths legend has been casting his wise eye over the current state of stardom and not entirely liking what he sees.
We caught up with ol’ JM for a quick chat about the release, tonight’s upcoming Meltdown Festival show and why his first band’s back catalogue still feels “right” to play.
Your last album ‘Call The Comet’ and recent track ‘Armatopia’ were set in these fictional places that felt like a response to our current societal shitstorm. Is ‘The Bright Parade’ continuing that idea?
I think this track is more of a story. ‘Armatopia’ was this kind of eco-disco and I didn’t want to hide that, but ‘The Bright Parade’ is more of a psychedelic musical track. Maybe I’ve been quite preoccupied with the cosmos over the last couple of years but it’s the perfect metaphor for the star system – whether that’s a rock star or a movie star or a reality TV star. I think half my mind was still in the cosmos and the other half was around these vacuous modern day reality stars. ‘The Bright Parade’ puts the two together and puts it on top of a psychedelic backing track.
But everything I’m doing as a musician and a creative person is some kind of reaction to what’s going on in the world, if only as a way to escape. The act of getting in a studio and recording and making music with a band does feel a necessary escape from what’s going on.
Do you watch a lot of reality TV?!
No, but you can’t help but catch snatches of ridiculous conversations on news items every now and again. I’m more than aware of it but I’ve got better things to do. If people can relate to super vacuous posturing then we’re in worse trouble than I thought.
Do you still feel the need to make social statements with your work?
Not so much statements, but songs have to have something that really snares my interest to write them. It’s not that I feel any responsibility to take any kind of position, but you wanna write something with some substance for yourself when you sing it. But songs aren’t supposed to be poetry. They have to sound right and get a feeling across. Some of the greatest songs are just abstract, but that takes a skill too.
You’ve had a big summer, playing these career-spanning sets at some massive festivals – does it still feel satisfying digging back into the catalogue?
I started off playing the old songs because I had so many new songs in my set that I felt like a box had been ticked where I’d established that I’m not just propping myself up with old stuff. You’ve got to give people stuff they know and I’m very happy to do that; I’m proud of those songs. If the old songs and the new songs are a repertoire, the hope is that all of them could have been written yesterday. It’s not about pulling out a golden oldie – whether it’s ‘Get The Message’ by Electronic, or ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, I just think, had I written this last week, would I put it in the set? And luckily for me, it all feels very right. I might be a good festival band, but that’s something that’s snuck up on me. That’s just happened.
You’re playing Meltdown tonight at Nile Rodgers’ request – have you got anything special planned?
I’ve known Nile for about 10 years now and he invited me to do it. I don’t know whether he’s around, but I’ll probably throw some odd cover in the set [anyway]. In a way, the shows are almost getting more like a play for me now. I’ve got the arc of it, and I’m just trying to top the energy every time.
Are these recent singles the beginning of a new record?
It feels like there’s a new way of doing things, [with artists] putting out standalone tracks, but in a way you can compare it to the early ’80s when you could just put singles out. Some of The Smiths’ better known songs were often not on LPs, they were just tracks we put out in between, so I’m used to that and I know the benefit of that. I’m quite happy about that development in the way people consume music; I don’t feel like I’m hankering after anything from the old days.
So that’s where I’m at at the moment, and I might put a couple more out before doing another record. I deliberately wanted to write something different after ‘Armatopia’ that was quite accessible and that’s something where, if you’re brave enough in this culture of just putting songs out, then you can go anywhere you want. If you’re obsessed with getting on the radio then that’s up to you, but I like surprising people with releases. I have absolutely no idea what I’m gonna do next.