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24 September 2014

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Johnny Marr
Johnny Marr

Johnny be good

There are few musicians that have had as diverse a career as Johnny Marr. As a compilation of Electronic’s best tunes hits the shops, we spoke to him about revisiting his time with Bernard Sumner, working with big names and constantly moving forward.

Why now for the Electronic Best Of album?

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"That’s a good question. I’d have been totally ok if it had come out a few years earlier. It was prompted by the record company. They put it to us 18 months ago that it would be timely and could we start working on the running order. So I made a list of the tracks that I thought should be on it, Bernard changed it, and then I changed it behind his back and I won!"

It’s seven years since the last album was released. Was it good to revisit those tracks?

Johnny with Bernard Sumner
Johnny with Bernard Sumner

"Yeah, it was, because I’m always more concerned with what I’m going to be doing next week or next year really. I don’t listen to anything once it’s finished. I’ve always been that way, even in the Smiths days. By the time you’ve run everything through the mill, scrutinised it and heard it over and over again, that’s when you know you’re done, because you don’t want to hear it again.

"So I’m a great believer in leaving things in the past. However, over the years, if I’ve been in a shop or a club, and I’ve heard, say, Get The Message or Forbidden City, it’s always sounded good and almost undervalued.

"When I started finding all the tracks to assemble them in the studio, I got a little bit of a kick out of it. It didn’t sound stale. There was a playfulness about some of the tracks and a joyous aspect that brought back a lot of good memories. Our stuff doesn’t sound super-laboured, which is amazing considering how long we spent doing it."

Somehow, Electronic seem to have become Manchester’s great lost band of the 90s. Why do you think that is?

Electronic in 1999
Electronic in 1999

"We were overshadowed by The Smiths and New Order, which is not such a terrible thing, but it is inevitable. The satisfying thing about putting this together is that it does validate what we were doing as a singles band and as a innovative pop group.

"With The Smiths and New Order, you’re dealing with legacy and mythology, and there’s not very much you can do about that, unless one of us had thrown the other one off a building. Unless we’d kicked up a media storm, the music is just going to be the music. There seems to be a lot of great lost records by bands that didn’t really create that much of a fuss."

It says in your album notes that you were always in search of the ‘upbeat beautiful track’. Do you think you succeeded in that aim?

"I either don’t do anything because I’m waiting to be excited by something or I’m very excited and I want to make it happen right away."
Johnny Marr explains his unique work ethic

"I think we did, but I’m only able to say that in hindsight, which is ridiculous because it was easily number one on our agenda. That pursuit of the beautiful track is what was going on 95 percent of the time without either of us discussing it.

"Probably the other five percent of the time is what we remember most, which was us trying to be innovative and new, and not trying to be New Order or The Smiths, just trying to do something that had the spirit of our influences.

"Looking back on it and listening to it, more importantly, we were looking for a great intro riff or an outro that made you want to play the track again. Those were our concerns on a daily basis. You can hear it in Vivid, Forbidden City, Get The Message and several others.

Electronic in 1991
Electronic in 1991

"I’m okay with that, but I was probably trying to drag an In A Lonely Place out of Bernard and he was probably trying to drag a How Soon Is Now? out of me, but along the way, we did Getting Away With It, Get The Message and Forbidden City, and that’s not bad."

You worked with so many people; it’s staggering the number of big names attached to Electronic. Was that an easy thing to bring together?

"It wasn’t too difficult because Karl Bartos, Jimi Goodwin, Neil Tennant, Chris Lowe, people like that are great people and accommodating people who are into what they do. So on a personal level, we were working with people who weren’t going to cause us a problem.

"It was informal but serious. For example, if you’re dealing with Neil Tennant, there’s an underlying ambition in the session because he wants to do something great which normally in Neil’s case is going to go top ten. Everyone we worked with were serious about their music but not about their celebrity. Cool people, in other words, and not arseholes."

last updated: 22/09/06
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