VIDEO: Johnny Marr Talks Songwriting and ‘Fetish-izing’ Over the Guitar

Johnny Marr - Photo by Phil King
Johnny Marr - Photo by Phil King


Johnny Marr, one of the world’s most successful musicians, said it’s always been in his bones to “fetish-ize” over the guitar and received his first guitar at five years old.

In the Fender-produced video “In Conversation with Johnny Marr,” the Smiths songwriter told about his love of the guitar.  Over four decades, Marr has also collaborated with musicians including Hans Zimmer, Bryan Ferry, Modest Mouse and others. His new album, Call The Comet is set for a June 15 release.

“Believe it or not as a five-year-old …  there was a little wooden guitar in the window of this shop, a toy guitar that I was completely, utterly obsessed by and I just bothered my parents until they got it for me,” Marr told interviewer Shaun Keaveny in the video produced and posted by Fender last week.

Carrying the Toy Guitar to School

“Then I used to carry that guitar around then like my mates would carry toy cars or someone would carry a football around, I used to take that guitar with me everywhere.”

Marr who has played with a range of musicians including Modest Mouse, Paul McCartney and The Pretenders, plays Los Angeles in June. He said he was innately attracted to the guitar.

“I had no idea what the attraction to the guitar was paraticularly but that was my first guitar was a little wooden thing,” he said. “And I painted it. A year or two later when I started watching a lot of guitars on television and all of a sudden they had buttons and switches I painted this little thing white with household paint, got paint all over the place and put beer bottle caps on it. I was about six or seven when I did that.”

He said he wrote the intro to “This Charming Man” on a 1954 Telecaster. “Dashboard” the Modest Mouse song, was written on his 1963 Fender Jaguar.


Johnny Always Had a Rule About Buying Guitars

Marr said he had a rule about buying new guitars.

“When you actually pick the guitar off the wall and bring it down you sort of know whether that guitar is right for you or not,” he said.  “I used to have a rule — we weren’t making that much money, were an indie band and spending 700 quid on a guitar was an indulgence — I had a rule I would have to write a song on it. ”

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Marr is ‘Addicted’ to Melody

Marr said that for him, being addicted to melody and a guitar’s capabilities are the factors in a good song.

“It’s coming from being addicted to melody and also what the guitar can do,” he said. “I always use the guitar as a … I never forget it’s for me it’s the greatest machine to make pop records on. I like that idea more than almost anything … I’ve got it in my bones it’s a beautiful instrument that I want to fetish-ize, there’s no getting around it, it’s inside of me,  but intellectually I want to honor it’s an electronic machine to make records on.”

Johnny Marr was awarded an honorary degree in 2007 - Photo courtesy of University of Salford Press
Johnny Marr was awarded an honorary degree in 2007 – Photo courtesy of University of Salford Press

Johnny Marr: Unusual Tunings Make New Music

Marr said taking risks with unusual tunings is a good exercise that can bring out new sounds. He said he wrote “Headmaster Ritual” that way.

“The guitar is hands down the coolest and greatest instrument to do anything on, I think.”

Marr wrote his autobiography, “Set The Boy Free,” in 2016.

He will be playing two sold-out nights at the Teragram Ballroom on June 5 and June 6.