We’ve Got A File On You: Johnny Marr
We’ve Got A File On You features interviews in which artists share the stories behind the extracurricular activities that dot their careers: acting gigs, guest appearances, random internet ephemera, etc.
If Johnny Marr had retired after the Smiths broke up, he would’ve already been solidified as an icon. In that band, Marr became one of the architects of indie music as we know it — a wildly distinct guitarist who, beyond penning some of the most feverishly beloved songs of the ’80s, also stood as a major influence on generations of guitarists and songwriters to come. But Johnny Marr didn’t retire. Far from it.
In the decades since, Marr has been a prolific, ever-present fixture in the music world. After the collapse of the Smiths, he hopped around between respected contemporaries like Talking Heads, The The, the Pretenders, and the Pet Shop Boys, while forming a new band with New Order’s Bernard Sumner. Through the ’90s and into the ’00s, he popped up with session work, and then decided to join other, younger bands at will, leading to stints in Modest Mouse and the Cribs. That’s before you get to his pivot towards film work, and the way in which his work in the Smiths settled into such a hallowed position that Marr and his former bandmates exist in that rarefied space — not just creators of pop culture, but woven into the fabric of it themselves.
Along the way, Marr has also embarked on various solo endeavors. Especially in the last decade, he’s moved at a fairly prolific clip. Recently, he’s been gearing up for a new double album called Fever Dreams Pt 1-4. It’s due out in February, but before that Marr is rolling out segments of the album as standalone EPs. The first of those, Fever Dreams Pt 1, is out this Friday. Ahead of its release, we caught up with Marr via Zoom to discuss his new music, and all sorts of odds and ends from across his career.
Fever Dreams Pt 1 (2021)
You’re about to release an EP that’s really just the first entry in a double album.
JOHNNY MARR: It is the way it is because the title came to me first, Fever Dreams Pt 1-4. I stuck with it and liked it. I know myself well enough now that when an idea sticks, and it’s immovable, I then should explore it. The whole thing just sort of suggested a double album, and I’d never done one before. I immediately got quite a quick feeling that it would afford me the space to be a bit more expansive musically, not be so tightly edited. Do a few more songs, which inherently gives you the feeling of experimentalism. I was like, “What’s the parts 1-4 about?” It made me come up with a release schedule, where I release the music leading up to the album in parts.
All that stuff sounded retro, which I tend to not be, and incredibly current at the same time. It ticked a lot of boxes. When I told the record company I wanted to do it this way, they kind of thought I was a genius, like I’d been working on this concept for months. [Laughs] In fact, it was just following an artistic imperative, which is always a good sign. It works in a number of ways. Still get to put out the first track — whatever the fuck they call it these days, “single” in my terms, focus track, impact track, I think all these words have come and gone. But it’s your lead song.
The making of an album is always going to be structurally right for me. I don’t break it down into Side A and Side B but I definitely have a curve in mind. It feels like a collection, for all the reasons that will be really obvious. It feels like you’re coming in on a period of your life. Because I’ve been doing it so long, it’s in keeping in everything I’ve been doing since I was 18 or 19. If a visual artist is going to do an exhibition, you are thinking when you put your work up in terms of a space with 14 or 15 or 16 pieces. I don’t want that to go away. That all excited me, and then it was a matter of “Well that sounds good, what does it sound like?” Then you have to get down to work and, in my case, put everything in your personal life to one side for 14-15 months.
On “Spirit, Power And Soul,” you were talking about an electro influence. With the structure allowing you to spread out stylistically, does that continue across the EPs or are there discrete arcs or styles?
MARR: Not as much as “Spirit, Power And Soul.” I really put a lot of energy into making the first song out what I would consider an electro banger. I’m a fan of when that works. I put a single out a few years ago that was in a similar vein, “Armatopia,” and it went down well and was a good part of the set. From a musical point of view, I was excited about an industrial electro banger, but me being me it quite soon became more melodic than just a straight ahead industrial track. And that’s OK, it has to sound like you. “Spirit, Power And Soul” was written, in a way, as a comeback single, yeah.
How long is this process of unveiling the album going to stretch out?
MARR: Until February. First and foremost, it is an album. It’s a double album, almost working backwards. The thing about the parts that was fun — when I had a bunch of songs and some needed background vocals and some needed a verse fixed, I had multiple plates spinning. I had these big whiteboards in the studio for each. Going, “If I finish that song, that’ll make Part 1 as a side work, OK, I’ll shift that around.” I had fun with that process, and then once we were getting that together it revealed to me how I would like Side 4 to play out. The last bit won’t be an EP. If you buy the record, you get the whole thing. I don’t want to just have a collection of EPs, because I’m an album guy. It’s a bit like having my cake and eating it, really. And a certain kind of impatience. I don’t want to wait until February to just have three songs out. I want people to hear a lot more, quick, because it’s been 14 or 15 months of solitary work.
Playing In The Pretenders (1987), Joining The The (1988-1994)
I wanted to jump back to the years immediately after the Smiths, when you began playing in other bands. You were temporarily a member of the Pretenders. And I didn’t entirely realize the length of time you were in The The — it’s really about as long as you were in the Smiths. What were those days like, as you were adjusting to that collapse and sliding in other people’s worlds?
MARR: You might imagine, on a human level, your band breaking up so publicly and with such acrimony: It felt like, I wake up in the morning and it was like being in an earthquake. Buildings falling around all over you. Then at the same time, you’re getting a call from a mutual friend saying, “Hey, listen, the Pretenders’ guitar player quit and they got a whole lot of dates in America and Chrissie would love for you to come over.” I go, “Well, I really want to get the fuck out of here, and I want to play the guitar, and I like the Pretenders songs.” I was never one for sitting and working out many other people’s guitar parts. I used to work out records, T. Rex songs and stuff, when I was young. But there were a few records I worked everything out on: Bert Jansch’s L.A. Turnaround, the Stooges’ Raw Power, Rory Gallagher’s Deuce, and the other was the Pretenders’ first album. I kinda knew the way those songs went.
It was really weird. As I said, this earthquake was happening and someone pulled me out. If you’re going to be pulled out of an intense life situation, you could do a lot worse than Chrissie Hynde. It’s a situation with a lot of intensity on a daily basis, friendships breaking down. I’m suddenly partnered up and in a close friendship with someone with someone where two of her band members have died. Try that on for size. It was amazing for me to be with an adult who everyone knows as ballsy, strong, opinionated. She was like, “Boo hoo, two of my fucking band died, try that on.” That was the vibe. I got out of the country, and the next thing I was concentrating on was walking onstage opening for U2 at the Olympic Stadium in Los Angeles and other places like that, because they were on the Joshua Tree tour. Now, I’m 24, and I haven’t walked onstage to 100,000 people before. That was really good to distract me from the fact that my closest friends were all talking about lawyers, and shit going on in the media. Around that same time, almost in the exact same week, I got a call from Paul McCartney’s office asking would you like to come over jam. That’s pretty surreal.
Like everything in life, when shit goes down, you find out who your friends are. Luckily for me, my friends were Matt Johnson, and Bernard Sumner, and Chrissie Hynde. And they were all like, “Hey, now you’re free, come and play!” The backstory to The The was before I formed the Smiths, Matt Johnson and I wanted to be The The together. It was just a matter of teenage economics. I thought they were doing incredible stuff. I started playing with The The as a sort of session. Chrissie was in a place with the Pretenders where she’d been touring a long time and she had small children. She needed a break from that. And The The were like a gang of guys on a mission. It was Ocean’s Eleven or something. There was no way I was going to be allowed to not be involved in that, from Matt. It was a strange, personal story that I only ever really got to explain when I wrote my book.
And I was a kid, you know. Anyone whose band breaks up, if you form that band, it’s heartbreaking. All this incredible, exciting stuff was going on, but to be honest with you — whilst it was happening, my heart was broken. It was a tricky time of life, but I look back on it with amazement that I was strong enough to do it. I wouldn’t want me own children to go through it. But if they did, I’d be very proud of them, you know?
Electronic – “Getting Away With It” (1989)
One of the friends you mentioned was Bernard Sumner. In the late ’80s, you started a band with him, Electronic. You know, when I was first getting into a lot of the classic alternative bands from the time, it still seemed tribal. Like, “Oh, well the Smiths are the beginning of indie rock and it’s the antidote to ’80s synth-pop.” Then you link up with Bernard and make this dance-pop song. Was that something you were always interested in and hadn’t had the space for?
MARR: The thing with synth-pop, it was all about who was making it. In the hands of the obvious subjects, ’80s technology was vapid. But in the hands of New Order, Cabaret Voltaire, Bobby O, Pet Shop Boys, it was great. The first time I ever met Bernard Sumner, the Smiths were making their first album. He asked if I’d come play guitar on a record he was producing for Factory. I walked into the control room and he was finishing a mix of a song called “Looking From A Hilltop” by Section 25. It just blew me away. I don’t care what it’s made on. If it’s pop music, I like for it to be clever and heady. Sometimes the cleverness or the subversion or the interesting aspect of it is provided by the lyric. Neil Tennant was the master of that.
Oh, no, I was digging it. I couldn’t wait to be working with the machines. I knew the Smiths were never going to make music like Kraftwerk. In my own way, going into that last Smiths record — I’d hired an Emulator II. I couldn’t buy one, they were so expensive then. I’d fallen back in love with David Bowie’s Low. I got this emulator, and I was thinking, OK, this is a way me and my band can pull ourselves away from this kind of reductive ghetto the music press were trying to create. This anorak indie thing. Luckily we’d managed to stay ahead of it. I’m aware when I talk about this, it’s incredible musical snobbery, but, hey, it had to be that way, you know? That fed into my love of technology. It was a small leap from working with an emulator on those last two Smiths records to wanting to know exactly how a DMX worked.
The situation for me is, I became an archetypal guitar player to a lot of people. The archetype doesn’t do that. The archetype stays in the same jacket for 40 years with the same people. But if you look back to the few interviews I did in the ‘80s, I used to mention Nile Rodgers. That wasn’t purely because of his guitar playing, I sensed a similar MO. Now that he and I know each other quite well, we know that about each other. He was working with Bowie, and INXS, and Duran Duran. We’ve just got this insatiable enthusiasm for putting our guitar in places it might not have any business being. It’s the modern way of advancing the role of the guitar player. We love playing the guitar, we love making records, so believe it or not Nile and myself have a lot in common. I was reading to make that leap. “Getting Away With It,” I wrote the music for the chorus and the verses I’m just doing Chic all the way through it, and I made no secret of that. It all makes sense to me, you know?
Playing On Talking Heads’ Naked (1988)
MARR: Working with Talking Heads was unsurprisingly very creative. I was brought in to cut a few specific songs from the floor. They were waiting for me to play [for material like] “Ruby Dear.” “Cool Water,” they had already cut the backing track and that was something just David and me worked on. I was given free rein. They already had a very healthy attitude towards collaboration, I guess from working with Brian Eno. They were like, “What’ve you got? Play whatever you want, and if you can, make it sound like you’re not in the group.” They really wanted me to be an outside agent.
We all got along great. Tina is curious and surprising, Jerry is very thoughtful, Chris is really solid and steady, and David was full of surprises and pulled me in quite a few directions, particularly on the song “Cool Water.” I remember a really productive couple days where we threw lots and lots of stuff on it. I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity. That was one of the many nails in the coffin of the Smiths, that I’d been asked to do that. It was just something I was not going to turn down.
It stood up very well, you know? I was 23. It was quite scary. I learned a lot on that session that, artistically, stayed with me. Patience. Being brave. Being experimental. Always keep the tape rolling. Not surprisingly, you knew they were working with a group formed at art school. There was no stopping for beers.
Playing On John Frusciante’s The Empyrean (2009)
You mentioned earlier, this notion that you have this archetypal role as a guitarist. John is another iconic guitarist from a very different realm. What was it like when you got together?
MARR: John, he mentioned me in a few interviews which was very nice, and we had a mutual friends. With a lot of situations, you tend to find your assumptions about musicians are usually right. I assumed that John Frusciante, because of his guitar playing — particularly on the Blood Sugar Sex Magik record — was a deep-thinking musician with an agenda. Therefore, I assumed he’d be my type of person to hang out with. I could tell he was a guitar freak. There are people you kind of feel are the real deal. They may be hugely successful, but you know they live it. Beck’s another guy like that. You don’t need to be told twice that they mean what they do. I always assumed John was like that and I paid a lot of attention to what he was doing.
He found out I was in town and invited me over. I really liked his first solo record a lot. I thought it was very brave, and very authentic. I liked his vocal melodies. So I would’ve been surprised had we not clicked. What I found, particularly at that point in his life, was somebody who was really inspired. He couldn’t get his ideas out quick enough. He was playing in conventional tuning, and almost every song I tried to put the guitar in an almost unfathomable tuning. So I would bring to it this second guitar that wasn’t tuned like a regular guitar. I remember him being quite surprised by that. You have to be OK with screwing up and sounding bad whilst you’re flipping around for ideas.
I’d come a long way from the Talking Heads thing where I was half-scared-to-death at first, to get to the point where I was comfortable enough and sure enough of my musicality that I could be like, “Hey, I’m going to sound like I don’t know what I’m doing for a while, but I think the end results might be worth it.” I’ve been very lucky to collaborate with some great people. Essentially what you’re doing is, when you’re in the control room, the speakers are your horizon and you’re both in a rowboat, and you’re trying to get to that horizon. Egos and management and all that shit don’t come into it. Ever.
Playing With Modest Mouse (2006-2009)
So, you’re a kid when you are brought into the Pretenders, the Talking Heads. Then, when you’re older, you start collaborating with younger bands like Modest Mouse. What did you see in them that made you want to be a part of it?
MARR: Really simple. When I was 14, 15, 16, I was in quite a few different bands. I lived in a very working class neighborhood, musicians were everywhere. In the mid-’70s, playing guitar was very de rigueur. Before punk, everyone was very interested in the Deep Purples and the Jimmy Pages and the Jimi Hendrixes. When punk happened everyone needed to know about Tom Verlaine and whoever. It was that kind of environment. I didn’t come from a wealthy family, if someone had a Telecaster… It was the brother of someone who went to my school, it wasn’t a friend. They lived many miles away, but I got two buses and turned up at his family’s house and knocked on the door at dinner time and said, “I believe you’ve got a Telecaster, can I see it?” This older guy is like “Who the fuck is this?” And the younger brother said “He’s a kid in my school.” That’s what I would do, you know? I was invited to be in bands by, usually, older people, and if they were happening or interesting I’d jam at a few practices.
What happened with Modest Mouse was the grownup version. Maybe I’d had success or a career for 20 years. In 2003 or 2004, I thought a lot of British rock guitar music was shit. A lot of acoustic troubadouring. It was the fallout from OK Computer. I love OK Computer, but I thought there were a lot of not very good versions of Radiohead around. I met Elliott Smith when I was in California and he talked to me about Portland and Built To Spill. All roads led to Modest Mouse. I started listening. I loved The Moon & Antartica. The thing about it was, I couldn’t fathom where this band was coming from, I just liked it. That was new to me. Because we’re all experts and we’re all fucking smartasses. We always think, “That’s trying to sound like that.” Modest Mouse was just this very inventive thing I couldn’t work out but I knew I liked it.
I got a message from management, the record company, that Isaac Brock wanted to give me a call. So Isaac called me up and, being the devil he is, said, “Why don’t you come and join my band?” I was like, “Uh, thanks, who is this?” We had a really long talk and I was none the wiser about the guy. If anything, I thought this was more intriguing and peculiar than I’d first imagined. We arranged to have a 10-day experiment. He said, “Why don’t you be involved in producing the album or helping me write it or you join the band.” I said, “Well, I don’t know you but I like your music, so I’ll come over and I’ll see what’s up.” Then what happened, that people don’t ever expect — and this is what happened with the Cribs, similar to The The. If I get involved with people, I’m loyal. A brotherhood happens. You go in the trenches with people, and you have these intensive days where it means a lot and there’s a lot at stake.
First off, I fell in love with Portland. I called my manager and said, “Hey, listen, I’m going to stay out here for a few weeks, this is really interesting.” A few days into the playing, I was stood in a jam session playing with the strangers, and it reminded me of being a kid, because I was like, “I don’t know what this music is.” I’m there then. I don’t give a fuck whether they’re a big band or a small band. That’s what I’m about. Me and the guys then just became really tight. To have bailed would’ve just been really weird. I stayed in the band, and I loved being in the band. There was a brotherhood that is there to this day. Probably the best time of my life. Some supernaturally good shows. I liked my role. It’s just a thing that happened in my life that I’m eternally grateful for. And Isaac Brock is the greatest lyricist I’ve ever worked with. I’ve seen him write an amazing song, and then make it better, and then make it better again.
Working With Hans Zimmer On The Inception Score (2010)
MARR: I went to see Kick-Ass with my wife — which I thought was a great movie, still do. When we were sat waiting for it to start she was like, “There’s a new Christopher Nolan movie coming out, the trailer looks amazing.” Then the trailer comes on. I watched this like, “Holy shit, that looks trippy.” We watch Kick-Ass, we went home, literally haven’t taken my jacket off and the phone went. Eleven o’clock on a Saturday night. “Hello,” this voice I vaguely recognize, Hans Zimmer on the phone. Hans can get anyone’s number, so I didn’t even worry about that. He’s a very charming guy, and he said, “Listen, we’re doing this movie and we’ve got these guitar ideas and we’ve realized what we’re trying to do is you. We keep trying to do what you do, so we thought why don’t we just call up the guy.” I said, “What’s the movie?” He said “Inception.” I didn’t know how movies worked then. I was like, “I’d just seen the trailer for this.” That was the temp soundtrack. So he said, “How soon can you be here?” I said, “Tomorrow.”
I went over. The first thing I had to do was sit with Hans and Christopher Nolan watching the movie. I can kind of hold my own with anyone, but when you’re watching someone’s film with the director, and the film is as confusing as Inception, and the director’s Christopher Nolan, and then he turns to you and says, “What do you think the movie’s about?” You’re kinda like “Okaaaay.” I said to him I thought the film was about redemption. Apparently that was nearly entirely right.
The thing about it was… I didn’t realize at the time, but guitar had become almost a no-no in the film industry, because of what had happened in the ’80s. There was a lot of what had become considered very corny, outdated guitar stuff from these big movies in the ’80s. Hans told me he’d go, “I’ve got an idea for putting some thumb piano on this,” and the directors would go, “Great, anything but fucking electric blues-rock processed guitar.” It was quite a big leap, and their idea was to get me on it.
I spent a couple weeks, every day, intense long days, super jet-lagged, trying to stay awake playing along to these cues of people sleeping. The it’s 3:30 in the morning and I’m like “Hans I’m ready to go! I got this great idea!” Hans told me from then on guitar was popping up on more movies and posh television adverts. It’s a source of pride for me. Not for Johnny, but for the guitar. I’m kinda like, “Hey, we did it.” I was very pleased with that. I didn’t see that coming. That’s how I got involved with Hans. Like I said to you about John Frusciante, Hans is a great example of someone I always assumed would be a really interesting person. Now I think this is the fifth movie we’ve done together.
Working On The No Time To Die Score (2021), Performing “No Time To Die” With Billie Eilish (2020)
Which was the next thing I wanted to ask you about. Getting to do a Bond movie is kind of a whole other thing.
MARR: Well, again Hans called me up late on a Saturday night. [Laughs] He said, “I’ve got two questions. One, should I do the Bond movie? And two, would you play guitar on it.” So the first one, as a friend, I was like, “Well, yeah, I think you should Hans.” The second question, friendship had nothing to do with it. Yeah, I’m all over it. It’s funny man. The only time it ever occurred to me to play the thing from James Bond was probably when I was nine years of age and just playing guitar for the first time. Like most people playing guitar for the first time, that’s the tune you try and play. Almost 50 years later, in front of an orchestra, it suddenly becomes probably the hardest guitar part you’re ever going to play. Man, that is not a time to overthink shit and fuck it up. [Laughs] I was like “Oh god, not now, not now.” It was a moment.
Because of the process we have now, the thing with me and Hans, sometimes he’ll get me in the room he’s in and he’ll play the chords or the score, and he’ll break it down, and I’ll plug the guitar in and I’ll play and he’ll go “OK, nice, I think I have an idea for that.” Other times, he sends me off into my own little studio and says “I’ve got seven things that aren’t working, make them work please.” Experiment, and all that. Other times, I just sit with him, on his shoulder a few feet away. I’ll sit real quiet and let him do his thing for hours, and if he changes key, I’ll put a capo on or tune the guitar really quiet. I’m just waiting for him to pass the baton and go “Mr. Marr, have you got any ideas?” And I’ll go, “Yes, I do,” because I’ve been shadowing him. I feel very privileged to do that. I think he thinks I’m a genius and these ideas just come to me straightaway, but I’ve been listening really carefully. Maybe if he reads this interview he’ll now know what I’m doing. [Laughs]
With the Bond movie, I sat with quite an elaborate guitar setup. On this film I’m doing a lot of sound design with the guitar. I’ve done it on quite a few of the movies, where you wouldn’t even know it’s guitar. But I’m very proud for the guitar that I’m able to do that. With a looper and feedbacks. Soundscape-y things. Early on in the process, he said to me about the film — “I think they’re asking Billie Eilish to do the song.” Straightaway I was hearing it and was like “That’s a fucking great idea man.” Because I imagined what it might be like. I felt there’d be some interesting sonics in it, and it’d be modern, and it’d have a femininity to it. I’d seen a couple Billie shows, and I was really interested in Finneas’ process. When I heard the song, I was like, “This is a no brainer, this is great.”
Because of the scenario, because it’s a Bond film, there was a lot of debate and discussion about the orchestration. Ultimately, though, for my part, I had to do very little than not do too much. I did play a bit more than what ended up on the record, and it was reduce, reduce, reduce, because the power is in the composition and Billie’s delivery, really. Not surprisingly, it should sounds like a Billie Eilish track. You don’t want it to sound like an Adele track or a Shirley Bassey track or a Duran Duran track. The power of that song is in its subtlety. And anyone who disses it is, I think, missing the point. Everyone’s allowed their opinion, but it’s a good piece of music. Luckily, not only talent but good thinking prevailed. That goes right up to Daniel Craig. I had little to do with it besides a few guitar licks.
Playing On Noel Gallagher’s “The Ballad Of The Mighty I” (2015) And Oasis’ Heathen Chemistry (2002)
MARR: The thing about Noel and I — OK, he’s a well-known public figure. I’m known to a lesser extent, and we’re good friends. When he’s talking about me playing on a record, he knows I know he’s fucking serious. I played on his second solo record, “The Ballad Of The Mighty I.” This last one I played on, “If Love Is The Law.” I’ve never played on a song like that before, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a pop song like that before. It sounds like it’s Ennio Morricone. I don’t know what it sounds like. It certainly doesn’t sound like Oasis.
We have an understanding. We’ve been friends now for something like 30 years. I’ve seen his life journey, if you want to put it like that, through navigating insane national fame over here and all the things that that brings. He’s a hell of a lot more than meets the eye, Noel Gallagher. He’s very disciplined. He’s one of the most disciplined people I’ve ever worked with, without a shadow of a doubt. Maybe even the most disciplined. Incredibly industrious. Then there’s the other side of his life. He can’t walk 100 meters around the British Isles without people stopping him for selfies, and he’s not insane. [Laughs] I would be, without a doubt. I only have to get stopped five times and I go into a meltdown about culture. He’s a very impressive dude.
The Smiths And Johnny Marr Permeating Pop Culture (1980s-Now)
It’s kind of funny you went in that direction with it. One of the last things I wanted to ask you about is: There are bands that have big songs, and become famous. But there are bands that become ubiquitous pop cultural touchstones in of themselves. First of all, there’s a bunch of songs named after you. There’s a Carol Pope song called “Johnny Marr,” the Brian Jonestown Massacre have a song “Johnny Marr Is Dead” —
MARR: Yeah, they’ve still yet to explain that to me.
Clear had one too. And then you have something like 500 Days Of Summer, with “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” being such a focal point of the plot, or how “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want,” in various forms, was wrapped up in the John Hughes soundtracks of the mid-1980s. So to be a part of something like that, that turns into this more universal thing — is it hard to process that?
MARR: I can’t really think about it that way. I’m reminded of it often, to be completely honest. But I guess, for me, it’s very helpful that I’m so distracted by the actual business of playing the guitar. Whatever my personal obsessions in life are tend to drown all of that out. Ultimately, the message I get from all that is, “How the fuck did that happen?” [Laughs] I focus on how much I like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. How much I like Joan Didion. How much I like meditation.
When the Smiths came out, there was always more going on in that band in the culture than just the music. I think we wore that pretty well for young men, myself and Morrissey. There was gender politics in there, there was ideological politics in, there was politics politics in there, there was subversion in there. We kind of built all these elements in and poured petrol on it, and the important thing, I guess, is the songs kept getting better and better. The records, we kept this momentum of improvement, I think. Looking at it from outside — or I think while I was in it we knew that. No one had to tell us to raise the bar. No one had to tell us to make something more intense. No one had to warn us to take our foot off the gas. We were kind of already a couple steps ahead of everyone. Trying to be one step ahead of ourselves all the time.
The important thing is the material stands up. I think there’s a reason why “Please Please Please” or “There Is A Light” are revered. I genuinely think there’s a component that I’m not able to put my finger on — at least one, maybe many components. I think it’s healthy for me. Not only do I not know, I don’t want to know. It was intense enough for me carrying that chord change around, that string line. That was enough for me. The thing you’re asking about, I think it would be falsely modest of me to say I don’t recognize it. I do. But it’s a mystery to me, and thank god it’s a mystery. It’s the way the culture works. A whole lot of things happen that are out of your control, I’m glad to say. I think you’d be a complete egomaniac if you thought it was all down to your own brilliance. It wasn’t by design. We designed a lot. We invented, as a group, a lot. We aspired to a lot. But the way it all played out to be in movies and to become what it is? It’s completely out of control.
I will say this though. When I did “How Soon Is Now?” that night and I left the studio about 7AM, the sound that was going around my head that night — I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever heard. I’m glad that all these years later, the sound of it blows people away.
Fever Dreams Pt 1 is out 10/15, with subsequent releases leading up to Fever Dreams Pts 1-4 on 2/25.