Record Mirror, September 1984
A GOOD NAME, SMITH
Record Mirror, 8 September 1984
A good name, Smith. Maybe not as good as Jones, but pretty good all the same. With half a dozen singles and a fine LP under their belts, the Smiths are again waltzing out into the charts. William, It Was Really Nothing is a further installment in their wistful saga of six-stringed unrequited love, and gives Morrissey, Marr, Joyce and Rourke the key to the city. Boys, can you do no wrong?
It would have been difficult three or four years ago to think that anyone could get away with covering themselves in flowers and talking about self-inflicted celibacy, but today The Smiths have made it - BIG.
Morrissey is, as usual, both aloof and as candid as possible, Marr is the effervescent enthused pop fan, Joyce is the rock-steady kid with a glint in his eye and Andy Rourke plays the bass guitar. Casting the trash to the side of the road, The Smiths are singlehandedly taking a torch through the tunnel of love, and coming out the other side with inspired, willowy and hummable tunes that keep the tradition of joyous, tongue-in-cheek, romantic pop singles (like the Kinks, the Buzzcocks and Madness before them), firmly in the public eye. The Smiths are a law unto themselves.
What prompted you to actually call your group The Smiths?
Because it occurred to me that nobody could put any possible connotations on the name and I really like that because it came at a time when group names were vastly important, were biblical, were monstrous and had a great deal to say. They were very long and were in themselves a lifestyle. I wanted to get rid of all that kind of rhetorical drivel and just say something incredibly basic. The Smiths to me sounded quite... um... down to earth.
Now that the Smiths are established, do you feel at one with the people in the business?
Most of the people that I come across in the whole industry I have no real desire to form any friendships with - which is quite unsettling. I still feel quite angry about most things and I still feel on the outside. Though we've had some degree of national success it doesn't really change to me. For some naive reason I thought that it would. The music industry is just like anything else in life. Nobody loves everything.
Do you have many friends?
No, I don't.
Those that you have - are they in the music industry?
They're in the group... in The Smiths.
Does that sadden you?
It does, but it's something that isn't new to me. I don't mind because in The Smiths I'm getting exactly what I want. I'm writing and people are paying some degree of attention, and for me that's everything. There's nothing worse than writing and letting everything just rot in the bottom drawer.
The press does appear to be particularly fond of you - does that please you?
Well... I do read the music press so it's very nice to have that media approval. But it doesn't determine the way I write. I never sit down and say, well I really have to do this because otherwise such and such a paper won't like me very much. That doesn't happen. But it is very good to get the support of the music press. I can't deny that.
Things have changed slightly now with all the music press, though. And I do get the advance chill of a backlash. And it's bang on time. And it's really quite... um... expected.
Are you ready for it?
Yes, largely. I mean, I think we're quite indestructible in many ways. But I'm not saying that I'm terribly happy about it. For instance, quite recently we played Belfast - two and a half thousand people in a sell-out concert - and it was really quite hysterical, quite wonderful. We did four encores and everybody was enormously receptive and then I read this review which implies that the whole thing was entirely damp, entirely forgettable, and nobody cared. And then I read another review by a person who saw a concert in Sheffield and doesn't mention the event in any vague detail - simply analyses my character and destroys it. It does seem quite hateful and quite destructive, and I don't understand it completely. But ultimately I'm above it, so it doesn't really matter.
What ambitions do you have for your music?
Not the traditional ambitions within music, we don't have them. I mean, going to Yugoslavia, to America, touring the world - that doesn't appeal to us in any small degree. We just can't kind of jump into the... er, rock 'n' roll treadmill.
What about outside music?
I do want to write - I still do write. And I would like to be successful in that area.
What would you like to write - books, plays?
Yes I would. I'm very interested in this particular screenplay that I'm blustering through at the moment, but to talk about these things seems incredibly pompous and ostentatious. It almost sounds entirely careerist.
Are you using The Smiths then as a springboard?
No, not to any vague degree. I can't use, I can't be that type of person. I can only do things if I really want to do them. I was never the type of person that could exploit a situation. Quite the reverse. No. Everything I do within The Smiths I do because I absolutely want to, and when things go wrong it's really quite crippling because I don't look upon it as a job, as a profession, as some way to get attention. It really is intolerably serious to me.
You're a vegetarian. Does that ever pose any problems for you on the road with the other Smiths? Are they really into booze, birds and burgers?
All at once. Yes!
If they're your only friends, that must create problems?
It does, and they know how I feel. But I don't stand on the table and say you can't possibly eat that piece of meat, and go into a long monologue about the piece of meat. I don't do that. I don't try and inflict the way I feel upon other people because that's quite boring. People know what meat is.
So are they more keen on the rock 'n' roll lifestyle than you?
Umm... if I said yes that would sound quite ungenerous and almost like a slur. It'd make them out to be just incurable heavy metal addicts, which they're certainly not. They're quite sensitive people. But they are more... er, traditional musicians than I am.
So they like to party a lot?
Yes. As often as they can.
Just how easy is it to write the music around Morrissey's often esoteric lyrics?
The lyrics nearly always follow the music, which obviously makes it easier for me. Occasionally we've done it in reverse, but it still works. When we're on the road Morrissey is always furiously scribbling down notes and writing lines for songs. He saves these things up until I give him a tune. He can also come up with lyrics right on the spot, which is easy for when we're recording.
What inspires you to write?
Sometimes I wake up and I say to myself - today I have to write a song, because I might not have written one for two or three days. It's good to do that as a discipline, to prove to myself that I can still write great pop songs. Sometimes it only takes me four minutes to write a song.
Don't you think that the lyrics to "William" could be construed as being overtly gay?
I haven't managed to work out his exact angle on that one yet. Usually his lyrics are very much black and white to me, but this one is taking a little bit longer. "William" is quite a whimsical song really. I don't think it's broken all the rules in pop music, but to start a song with a short verse and then follow it with three choruses is quite good.
When we first started The Smiths, I always used to think about Morrissey's lyrics, in fact initially I thought it would be good to play up the ambiguity of them. But not as a new messiah of the gay movement or anything like that, I just thought how lucky I was to be involved in a band that wrote gentler songs. It wouldn't upset me if tomorrow Morrissey wrote a boy meets girl type song, but it's good to have songs that cater for no gender specifically. One of the reasons our records are timeless is because the lyrics are so good, and whatever gay overtones are there I endorse 100 percent.
What's so important about the guitar in this day and age?
There're only so many things you can do with six strings and a piece of wood, and I don't think I've been particularly revolutionary with my guitar, maybe I just brought it back into vogue a little bit. I don't want the guitar to become a gimmick. We are not out to be like Level 42, the Emerson, Lake And Palmer of the Eighties. We just want to play our instruments as well as we can.
What ailments and illnesses can a Smiths record cure?
It can ease the paranoia of being celibate.
Who is The Smiths' favourite fashion designer?
Every Perry Boy who's ever walked around the centre of Manchester. They are really important to me. When I went to France and New York and all those places, I expected to see all these amazingly dressed people but, honestly, the Perry Boys in Manchester have got so much more class than anybody else in the world. I stole all my fashion ideas from them.
What is the worst insult that's ever been inflicted on a Smith?
Green called us white middle class guitar thrashing racists... that's pretty good.
Why did you join The Smiths?
Like Morrissey, I feel that my life was leading up to Hand In Glove, and from then on things began to happen. My life began. That record set the standard. When Johnny played me their first demo tape, I thought it was the best thing I'd ever heard, both musically and lyrically. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and too good to miss, so I leapt at it as quickly as possible.
Do you agree wholeheartedly with the lyrical content of The Smiths' songs?
One hundred percent. One of the wonderful things about being in The Smiths is when we actually get the track down and we hear the lyric for the first time it's just incredible, so powerful, and always right. There is a very strange communal feeling within the band and no pretentiousness at all.
Why do you think that in this age of superbland pop, hard American dance music and the general consumption of anything electro, The Smiths have acquired such a loyal and wholesome following?
Because what we say is quite basic, it is truthfulness, and it's deeper than just the music. It's four minutes of feeling and conviction. We are a very modern band. People write to us and say that they have to listen to The Smiths every morning before they can do anything - that is marvellous. We want to get that feeling across to as many people as possible. Communication has got to be the most beautiful thing in the world. I think we are powerful in the same way the Buzzcocks were. John Maher used to be my favourite drummer, and maybe I borrowed some of his style. The Buzzcocks were triumphant, they used to make me cry. The only music that makes me cry these days is The Smiths' music, it's beautiful. I want to play forever and just go on and on and on.
What about these fast cars, expensive hampers of cooked goose and buckets and buckets of money - will success spoil The Smiths?
It hasn't affected us so far. I think we've got our heads on our shoulders, not up our backsides.
What do you say to all the people that call you wimps and born again hippies?
Come round for tea!
With all the attention that he gets, do you think Morrissey is being regarded with more importance than the rest of the band?
When it comes to interviews, Morrissey's the only one who's got anything to say, because the rest of us are musicians. Morrissey expresses himself through his lyrics and we express ourselves thorugh our music, it's simple. What he says is good, and he handles it very well. We've know each other for ages, in fact I've know Johnny since I was at school and we all get on very well. We know how to handle each other. Morrissey can get on with anybody. He's so good at getting our views across that we don't need or want the exposure. This is the first interview that I've ever done. None of us have ego problems.
But surely Morrissey has got an enormous ego?
Yeah, but it's an admirable one.
How good do you think The Smiths are?
We are the best band in the world, there's nobody better. We have potentially vast amounts of status and we're getting better all the time. We are all very good at what we do. I've been playing guitar since I was nine, but when Johnny started getting good on it, I switched to bass and now I'm very good indeed. The Smiths are following their natural path...
Why has there been a total absence of Smiths video?
We don't have a definable image, and we don't play up to that image. You shouldn't let musicians become film actors because they're not very good at it, and they shouldn't do it in the first place. The Smiths will never make a video because our music speaks for itself. I think that by now people have accepted the fact that they are never going to see us in a video - ever.
What is the single after this one called?
That's not definite at the moment, but we recorded the next three singles in two days flat. We work fast. Of all our singles I think I like This Charming Man best, just because the rhythms are so infectious. Smith music really moves me.
What would the rest of the band do if Morrissey suddenly decided to go solo?
We'd go solo as well...