The many musical inspirations of Johnny Marr make Fever Dreams

Guitarist Johnny Marr performs a career-spanning set on tour with The Killers.


johnny marr

When: August 19, 7:30 p.m.

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Where: Rogers Arena, Vancouver


Fever Dreams Pts. 1-4 is the fourth studio album by English guitarist Johnny Marr.

Released in February, the album reached number 4 in the UK album charts, the highest of any of his solo outings. Initially released with the 2021 release of Pt. 1 period. 2 EP, the latest double album clocks in at 74 minutes. It’s easily the 58-year-old ex-Smiths guitarist’s most adventurous work.

“I started writing it as a double album, which gave me more scope to make the songs longer, the arrangements different, and generally more expansive,” Marr said. “The EPs that came out gave meaning to the title. But it was really one of those moments where art gives you a concept that you have to make sense of, and you end up with the finished work.”

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Fever Dreams is the first album created entirely in Marr’s Crazy Face Factory studio. Located in a warehouse area in his hometown of Manchester, the studio space is named after him in tribute to the Crazy Face street-style clothing line launched by Joe Moss, the late former manager of The Smiths and Marr. The space was first used on Marr’s 2018 solo record Call the Comet.

“Something about going to an old factory that’s been there for over 100 years makes me think of industrial music and puts me in a laborious mood,” he said.

“I am a workaholic by nature, but pandemic being what it meant, I was getting in there, I confess, illegally and my Mini Cooper was often the only car on the lot. If Call the Comet was a largely nocturnal affair, this was the complete opposite, which is why I took the album cover photo alone in this vast space with the blue sky behind me making music on my own.”

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The environment has always played a role in Marr’s music production. From dark and rainy East London sessions with The Smiths to Los Angeles recordings with Modest Mouse and the Pretenders, he feels he can hear his surroundings in the resulting sounds. Fever Dreams Pts. 1-4 is also imbued with that, but disagrees with many critics that this must have played a role in the strength of the vocals on new tunes like the first Receiver single, the Tenement Time stadium. or a folk album closer to Human.

The lyrics of this last melody make reference to the “fever dream” of the title.

“No, the vocals come from playing hundreds of big arena shows where you have to project more and hopefully get better,” he said. “I have more and more control over what kind of melodies I want to sing now, what suits my voice and the right attitude. You can create the most beautiful McCartney-esque tune that’s amazing, but if it doesn’t fit your vibe, it won’t work. Maybe I’m getting there now.”

By any other measure, it is well beyond “getting there”. But coming from something as seminal as The Smiths with their one-of-a-kind frontman is always going to draw comparisons.

On Fever Dreams, his celebrated guitar prowess pairs perfectly with confident vocals on songs like Hideaway Girl. To hear Marr say it, this song was an example of her goal of uniting the Pentangle crowd of guitar legend Bert Jansch with the irrepressible bounce of 1960s girl groups. Hideaway Girl was one of the first songs written for the new album.

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“One of the best things about being in my own band now is that I can write things around a drum beat if I want to, whereas when I used to write for different singers, whoever they were, it was more like a lottery. said Marr. “The rhythm suggested something like Queens of the Stone Age, and I jumped from my somewhat glam rock singing to something incongruous and interesting, a real show-starter. That’s what it eventually became, too, and it was very well received.”

Marr’s backing band, consisting of keyboardist James Doviak, bassist Iwan Gronow and drummer Jack Mitchell, has been together longer than any other group he’s been in. He maintains that this consistency played a key role in the experimentation found in the new album’s 16 songs. While he tends to bring almost finished pieces to players, Marr knows he can trust them to add missing essentials to the mix.

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“We just built momentum from the first album and I knew we’d be good live because I know these three guys can play and they’re all really good singers,” he said. “I am very proud of them. Also, having them all living here in the city was a big boost for me, so we could get together and play whenever it was. Aside from the pandemic, we’ve been pretty prolific for 11 years and we have our own sound.”

With his solo work solidly in place and ready to hit the road opening for The Killers, Marr still has time to collaborate. Since The Smiths disbanded, he has amassed an impressive list of credits, including performing guitar duties on No Time To Die. The 2020 theme song for the James Bond film of the same name performed by Billie Eilish was the singer’s first UK number 1 and won an Academy Award.

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“When you collaborate, it’s strange how little one’s background and cultural foundations come into play, because they’re all there for the same reason,” he said. “For that Bond song, you had a very young, current and immensely talented pop singer-songwriter, her slightly older pop musician brother, a middle-aged indie rock player from Manchester and a celebrated German film composer all come together. and it was instant. a smooth ride I’ve been very lucky that all my studio collaborations have been a good experience. To use old rock parlance, you have to know if you can hang up, and Billie really can. She is as impressive as everyone says.”

No Time to Die is playing when Marr’s band hits the stage for most recent shows.

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His set lists have showcased a career-spanning selection, including Smiths classics like Panic, This Charming Man and Bigmouth and Getting Away With, a 1989 Electronic hit. This all-star duo with New Order singer/guitarist Bernard Sumner released a trio of albums that included contributions from Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, and former Kraftwerk member Karl Bartos, among others. Marr says that the band’s version of him is very different from the original, but has proven to be a hit with fans.

He says he’s in a lucky position to be able to take something from the past and turn it into something the audience can enjoy as it moves forward.

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