Though Johnny Marr’s Neumos show Monday is scheduled to start at 8 p.m., you get the feeling that if it were up to Marr it would begin earlier. In a wide-ranging conversation last week, Portland resident Marr talked about his long legacy in music — from the Smiths to Modest Mouse — but also said he likes making music that can be enjoyed in sunlight.
“I really wanted to do something that sounded good in the daytime,” Marr said of his new album, “The Messenger,” his first solo effort in a three-decade-long career. “That might sound like a funny thing to be focusing on, but it’s quite a challenge, given that rock ’n’ roll music should sound good at 9:30 on a Saturday night.”
Marr has always been a bit left-of-center. His playing in the Smiths was influential to an entire generation because he showed how you could be emotional without being flashy. He brought that same subdued but powerful guitar to Modest Mouse, which he joined in 2006.
He was already a superstar by then, but moving from the U.K. to the Northwest was a music-driven decision. “You get a notion where you want your music to go, and your life follows that,” Marr said. “I’ve been doing that from when I started, when I’d take two trains across the country to see a band I’d never heard of before. I followed the same concept to Portland.”
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Marr also found himself attracted to the idea of “the second city,” a town that isn’t the media center, and as a result generates art. “It’s a city that is away from the media activity, not where the television shows are made, and where you find the mindset of great creative people.”
To craft “The Messenger,” he returned to his original “second city,” Manchester. And while most of the songs on the album would be at home on a Smith’s record, his lyrics are stridently political on “Upstarts” and “Lockdown,” and more reminiscent of the Clash than Morrissey. It’s an ideal Northwest record as a result — melodic but consciousness-raising.
Marr said he found many similarities between Seattle and Manchester. “There’s the weather, of course,” he said, “and the musical revolution that happened in both cities. But it’s more than just gray skies and rain — it’s attitude. It’s an indoor culture, which is perfect for music.”
Johnny Marr may be new to the Northwest, but whether it’s 2 in the afternoon, or 2 in the morning, he gets us.
Charles R. Cross: firstname.lastname@example.org