Ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr titled his debut solo CD “The Messenger” for good reason. He’s on a mission to make records that make people feel good in the daytime for four minutes. He says he has always admired people who wrote songs “that made you feel good on the way to school, or good coming home from school or work. And as a writer, to do that is the challenge.” A winner of NME’s Godlike Genius Award in February, the guitarist is comfortably stepping into the spotlight again after years working with The Cribs, The The, Bryan Ferry, Modest Mouse and Bernard Sumner. Also, the busy musician isn’t considering the idea of a Smiths reunion.
There’s an old adage that says you can accomplish anything you want in life, if you’re willing to let others take the credit. Is that your creative credo?
Ha! I’ve never heard that one. I’ll meditate on that and see if it works for me. But I like to work, you know? And I like what I do, so I don’t have too many complaints. But I also know that — and here’s one for you — Picasso once said that inspiration does, in fact, exist. But it has to find you working. So I believe in that one, too — roll your sleeves up, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get lucky.
But that concept implies a rarer trait — humility. Aren’t you happy being everyone’s go-to guitar guy?
Well, I don’t think that there’s anything particular to gain from having your name any bigger. I’ve always wanted to make great records. And at the same time, I wanted to be a great guitar player. And what 45s did to me as a little boy was some mystical process, so I had an obsession with guitars and everything they did — they were my first toys. How certain records sounded, how chord changes made you behave, how sounds came together — all this was, and is, like a science to me. So if somebody had their name in larger type or is louder coming through the PA than me, I don’t care, you know? I’m OK being a team player.
You were living in Portland, so naturally you ended up with a cameo on “Portlandia,” right?
I lived there from 2005 to 2010, and I came back to the U.K. and Berlin to write “The Messenger.” And then to the Pacific Northwest I shall return. And Carrie [Brownstein] and Fred [Armisen] just contacted me, and invited me down to “Portlandia,” and it was difficult not to wreck my scene by laughing out loud at both those guys — I tried my hardest not to blow it for everybody!