Johnny Marr & the Healers Biography
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Throughout a career often described as "legendary", Johnny Marr has proven himself impossible to pin down. In The Smiths, he was guitarist and fifty percent of the hallowed song-writing partnership: Morrissey (words) and Marr (music). Since then, he has recorded three albums with Bernard Sumner as Electronic, and as a member of the musically eccentric social commentators The The, he’s made two albums and toured extensively. He’s also played with artists as diverse as Beck and Talking Heads, and donated his guitar to Noel Gallagher so he could form a band called Oasis.
What Johnny never did was the one thing everybody most wanted him to, which was to form a band of his own after The Smiths. "If I'd tried to form a group in the environment of The Smiths split, it would have been so loaded with significance and judgement that the music wouldn't have stood a chance, and The The was the band I would’ve hoped to form anyway,” he says. . However, now that the dust of The Smiths split has settled as much as it’s ever likely to, Marr is here in the here and now with the Healers, a band who will build on his legacy while exploding in entirely new directions.
Although on the Healers thunderous debut, Boomslang, you never quite forget that you’re listening to the same songwriter responsible for “This Charming Man”, “The Queen Is Dead” and “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” it should be noted that initially Johnny envisaged a "collision in the Arizona desert between T.Rex, The Stooges, Eno, Beck and The Wailers,” ("I'm glad if it seems that way to people," says Johnny of Boomslang. "I don't mind that it might sometimes sound like The Smiths, the way the music comes out is just how I sound these days.")
Getting to how he sounds these days has taken Johnny along some interesting paths. The seed for the Healers may have been sown when he first heard T.Rex as a youngster, or possibly when he began an adulthood journey into the transcendental. He devoured everything from books about dreams to19th-century spiritualist medium Madame Blavatsky's book The Secret Doctrine (who co-incidentally donated the Healers’ name). For practical purposes, the Healers have their roots in a late 1997 meeting between Johnny and Zak Starkey. (At the time of the meeting, Johnny had no idea who Zak was.) Johnny was looking for a drummer but, as he now says, laughing, was “fed up with rehearsing with people who couldn't hold their sticks properly because they were so nervous." With Zak, the awe flowed the other way as the pair bonded over Marc Bolan. "It was when he said he'd been on the set of ‘Born To Boogie,’” says Johnny. "I just thought, "Oh my God!".
In 1999, after Johnny had finished with his Electronic commitments, work started on the Healers. Armed with a bundle of songs that Johnny had written, Johnny and Zak were joined by Alonza Bevan (ex-Kula Shaker), and various other musicians. Lacking a vocalist, Marr became the de facto interim singer, fully intending to replace himself when the right person came along, until the rest of the band quietly took him aside. "They said 'We only want you to sing. Your voice sounds right’,” he remembers. “I was a bit stunned but I agreed to give it a go." Thus, Johnny Marr, guitar legend became Johnny Marr, the singer. "It feels pretty natural,” Johnny says now of his strident vocal. "Once I identified my sound I was able to see where I could or couldn't go.”
At this point, the Healers were a six-piece: "a tribe,” in Johnny’s parlance. Ultimately, six minds in one band proved a little unwieldy, and thus Johnny slimmed the Healers down. In the meantime Johnny was doing live shows with Neil Finn, producing and playing on Haven's album and writing songs with Beth Orton and Liam Gallagher, work which benefited the band indirectly. "It was good for me and good for the songs that I was able to do other things," he says, "I was able to get a different take on them."
In 2002, he reunited with Smiths manager Joe Moss and an old friend, Marc Geiger, who, through the iMUSIC label, offered Johnny the opportunity to release Boomslang with full creative control and an unconventional business model that Johnny describes as "a bit like the classic independent way, although it's now seen as revolutionary.” Convinced that he had the right people around him, Johnny Marr + the Healers crafted their debut album in Manchester.
The album soon came together. “Long Gone” was inspired by a surreal experience where Johnny was all but kidnapped by "crazies" in Los Angeles; it also makes provocative points about the culture of dumbing down and the obsession with the notion of celebrity. “Something To Shout About”' was inspired by wandering in the Arizona Mountains. “InBetweens” is about being outside of the cultural stereotypes that are forced upon people -- a similar sentiment to those once espoused by The Smiths. I think the things that first hit you are always there somewhere,” he says. “They come out even if you don't particularly try." Meanwhile, 'Down On The Corner' is "a bit Smithsy."
The 21st century Johnny Marr is a very different character to the 20th century boy. Johnny's constant appetite for new things is currently leading him towards "bugged out electronic stuff" and idea-oriented bands like Boards Of Canada and Godspeed You Black Emperor. He's mad about the internet, MP3s, computers, downloads and still reads avidly about everything from Hinduism to mysticism to Aldous Huxley. Once the archetypal rock n' roller, nowadays Marr only half-jokingly says he prefers "a good seance to an aftershow" and has embraced the esoteric. (Although, Johnny’s belief that desert boots are the ultimate sartorial statement is equally important: "I'm shallow like that!”)
There's one thing left to clear up. What exactly is a ‘Boomslang’?
"I had a dream...Yeah, I know, here we go." laughs Johnny. "But it's true, this snake began to talk to me and said "I'm Boomslang, I'm Boomslang".
This is Bloomslang: The journey continues here.