Australian Radio, 7th April 1985
Australian Radio, 7th April 1985
OK, We're in London talking to Morrissey of the Smiths. Welcome back to Australian Radio...
Meat is Murder, the latest album that's come out, quite dense lyrically, in keeping with the rest of The Smiths works and a very English of albums. Do you think that the fact that it's sort of quintissentially English. Is it that's gonna be, ya know, a hinderance to you?
"Well, it hasn't been because the LP has sold quite well almost everywhere which is quite curious to me because we've not really travelled much really. We tend to keep ourselves, quite wrongly I'll admit,deeply rooted in England.
"But, um, the facts are that the LP has sold, oh dear, and um so I don't see that as a problem in the least, no."
You're not worried about that...
"Well, I think I'd be worried if it wasn't selling in various places, that would worry me. But it is so I'm happy."
OK, um, your plans for the moment, I believe you're about to embark on a...
"Yes, we're about to leave for Italy and Spain and then America. Which is obviously a new adventure for us, we've never been to any of those places. So it's interesting, it's very fascinating. But we have very good reports from all those countries so it should be good."
Meat is Murder is a lot harder and more direct, why was that?
"Because I don't really think that you can write a song about... animal slaughter without it being quite strong. So it really had to be. But I think as individuals, when we came to record the LP, we were quite angered, we were quite, um, we were quite...distraught, about the way we had been treated by the music industry generally over the previous 12 months. so, um, I think we felt quite alone and quite in control so, it was good, I think."
Is the title of the album just your view or is it a group decision, you all decided on that?
"I decided it but it was... obviously behind the title was total unity but it was virtually my decision."
Again, some ambiguous lyrics, purposely so?
"Well, of course, yes I mean it serves to make people's lives slightly more interesting. Yes! I mean I don't want the words to be blunt, I don't want to be black and white really, People have to slip their own interpretations, hither and dither, so, I mean, life without ambiguity is quite boring don't you agree?"
"Oh no you don't, be honest..."
You write from both experience and observation?
"Yes, which um, covers almost all ground because one can observe almost anything."
Sure, OK, but do you think that your writing will move towards more observation if you..as you grow older,as you become more embroiled in the music?
"I don't know...I... no, I sincerely hope not. I don't think so, I have quite a stack of issues that have yet to be...that must be plowed through. I think when the time arrives when I've...when I'm stuck and I have to really sit down and think and say well, what on earth am I doing, I think I'll probably stop then cause I don't want it to be seen as a profession, as a... a cloak, it has to be real, it has to come from inside me, everything that I say, and if it doesn't then, ya know, away I go, and everybody sighs."
What with? With relief?
What are the things that make you angriest?
"Almost everything, I mean, you name it, it annoys me terribly. I suppose I'm quite easily angered and there's so many things certainly within the music industry but if you mean things outside, there's lots of political issues that irk me. I'm quite an irkable person. But I get angry by almost everything. Which is quite satisfying."
You don't think that could get to be unhealthy at all?
"Not really. Not really. I can't see how. I'm not doing so badly for somebody who's incredibly angered but obviously endlessly miserable. I'm doing OK."
You seem to be remarkably happy.
"It's only a facade. It's only a facade."
Quite a few violent themes...do you think you should meet violence with violence?
"Yes, I do, I mean life is quite violent, let's be honest, it wasn't meant to be a dance record. The whole thing was supposed to describe life as it is, life as it is lived, instead of, as most modern records portray life as it is not, life as we do not live it, so the record had to be, here we go again, life as it is lived, so I wanted to be very real and I think we just about managed that."
Could you give us a bit of background to the song Rusholme Ruffians ?
"Yes, um, It's about fairgrounds in Manchester, as a child, they were always an annual...of great annual importance...fairgrounds which would be erected on barren land and...very violent places where one learns a great deal about life. Very vicious places also. It seemed to be on this patch of land that everybody had free rein to be as wild and freethinking and naughty as was possible. It's very interesting. But they're obviously...this undercurrent of total violence on this patch of land where everybody gets together to have fun, generally. But on Manchester Council Estates certainly it placed Rushholme. It was the only thing that people had. It was the only distraction and the only pleasurable distraction people had and they turned it into a temple of horror."
Did you used to frequent these places each year?
"Oh, you couldn't keep me away from them."
What was the attraction?
"I don't know. I quite like the idea of seeing human beings living on the emotional edge and their emotions and... brewing beyond the brim, which is a hard thing to say. But it was quite interesting. Fascinating."
Such fairs, do they still exist?
"What, with me?"
No, physically, in Britain...
"Oh good heavens, they do now yes but now they're not just restricted to fair grounds - which is the big moral modern dilemma - they're much more widespread now."
Nowhere Fast, almost some elements of humor there?
"Yes, almost, if you dig deep enough."
Dropping your trousers to the queen?
"Well, she probably wouldn't find that humorous."
Lots of other people would I'm sure.
"Yes, I'm sure they would...yes, must I explain this?"
Ya, of course.
"Dropping one's trousers to the queen...happens to be the new movement, is what I think. I don't like royalty and I wanted to write some... make some anti-royalty statement but really when they have been made on the very bleak, isolated cases of the past, they've been too...they've been quite intangible, if that's the word, it probably isn't, and a bit too shallow and a bit too brutal and a bit too overtly political. I wanted to say something that was very strong yet with an undercurrent of absurdity about it. But in a way it's not absurd, I mean, the way I feel about royalty, is that I really don't even want to discuss it. I just drop my trou...well, maybe not...let's move on..."
OK, in what way do you think this album is an improvement over the previous two?
"Initially, well, foremost because we produced it ourselves and that was a very important decision for us to make. For the first time we were on our own and we had... we were...devoid, if you like, of any other influence, or participation which I think is a quite an extraordinary situation for a group to be in because groups are so used to being pampered and being told and being surrounded by, ya know, lots of...people. But for us, we were on our own in the studio and it was so easy. It was so easy that the first one, was very, very difficult to make for the opposite reason; so, we could see things quite clearly and we knew what we had to do, and we did it."
The Smiths in tour?
"I don't know, I mean, believe it or not, I'm sure... I've been asked this question before and I don't really know how to answer it. I think that, I always say that The Smiths speak for everybody. People don't really seem to believe me when I say that but that is...that's the standpoint. We try to reach and speak to, for everybody. It's sounds quite a mammoth task, well it is actually."
OK, I'll just change the topic completely. Pete Burns appeared on stage with you, why did that come about ?
"Well, I still...I don't really know if...suddenly he was there, no, it was quite planned, he popped up out of a trap door...he was there throughout the day and we just thought well, this was the last night of a very long tour and we wanted to do something different, something with a twist and... a twist, literally, so we just twisted him... so he just came onstage and it was dramatically under-rehearsed and incredibly clumsy as I'm sure you noticed but, so what, it was quite topical anyway."
"Everybody hates us now. Which is quite a rue."
Would you ever consider working with Sandy Shaw again ?
"Yes, we might be doing this in a few weeks. We've written a song which we want her to tackle and hopefully she'll tackle it in a few weeks."
Looking back on her version of Hand in Glove, how do you feel about that in retrospect?
"In retrospect, I feel...I've got two feelings, I think from a recording point of view it was a tremendous success. I think from a sales point of view it wasn't, I mean in this country it was a hit, it did quite well, reached 27 I think but it should've done much more and I feel slightly angered because of that. But these things are trivial really, I still adore the record and I still play it endlessly. So that, I suppose, is the only success that we really need to care about."
When you first started, what was it about Johnny Marr's music that attracted you?
"I think...it was still...there was such...I think music was being drenched by the classical rock guitarist again, even though it was 1982 and we had been through various anarchic movements, to avoid a certain word. The very classical rock guitarist still kind of hung heavy, as it were, over the general flow of music in this country and he wasn't like that. His music was very...well, I'm hesitant to use the word 'rudimentary' because that sounds as though he couldn't actually play his instrument, which he certainly could, I mean, he's hugely underrated ... but it was very simplistic and it was very emotive and to me very heartfelt. Those are the things that I saw in it. But I must say, I do think he's cripplingly underrated. Certainly in this country. They do have a different opinion of him in America and of me of course."
What do they think of you in America?
"They think I'm just some disturbed hag which, of course, is completely wrong."
Well, there was that quote in, what was it, ("Here we go, here we go...") Rolling Stone, that you were gay or something like that.
"Yes, I know."
That kind of a...you being picked up on by the gay movement. I mean, in retrospect a...how do you view that?
"Well, I just think it's all so untrue and I think it's so unfair, I mean, obviously, any kind of a tag, I'll dodge. I'll really dodge any kind of a tag, whatever it is. But... I don't want to be shoved in to a box and put on...put in a category. That's not the whole point but, I mean, that person said that I was gay, and he'd never asked me, he never approached the subject and he himself was a very loud and strong voice in the American gay movement and I think it was really just wishful thinking on his part but ultimately people will see what they want to see in the whole aspect of what I do and my motivations. I'm not embarrassed about the word 'gay' but it's not in the least bit relevant. I'm beyond that frankly."
Right. What do you think you've achieved so far with The Smiths?
"A tremendous, a great deal because in England at any rate, a great deal, The Smiths are critically important, they're important because of reasons that I think I've stated in other interviews. We've never done a video, we've never used any mode of advertising, apart from interviews, it was the only mode of self-promotion that we've ever used. And the fact that we can become so successful, using no tools or props what-so-ever, really says a great deal about the foundations of commercial success in England. [It really] questions many things. And there are many programs that we won't do, there are lots of things that we won't do and this makes us very problematical and very difficult, it seems. But I think we've challenged the music industry and we've won, which is quite remarkable because although the music industry in England still say 'no' to The Smiths, the people say 'yes' and that's more important to me. I mean obviously the LP Meat is Murder went to number one after three days of release here. Which is quite remarkable because we didn't spend a solitary penny on promotion. I think it questions a lot of the cemented ethics that so many middle aged music corporates still insist are quite crucial in music today."
So in that way, do you feel any kind of empathy with that particular movement of a few years ago that...you had mentioned?
"I do, I do. I do feel empathy, but I think I just feel anger, because it was so short lived and it was so unmemorable. I mean, I can't remember any of the songs that counted. I think it was just...I think really in retrospect people were just so shocked that there was any kind of mobility and there was an uprising regardless of what it was doing or saying. Just the fact that there was some kind of a movement and an uprising was enough to make people get...people gazed at it very, very fondly. In retrospect of course, most of the records were absolute bosh. But...it was fun. Why didn't it last and why did things go back to...as they had been? I don't really know. Do you? Do I have to ask Arthur C. Clarke ?"
Does success for you equal power?
"Yes it does, but this word power of course is quite flexible. It means several things: not for facist reasons, I mean, not yet anyway, I mean I 'm not somebody...I'm not Hitler or whatever. But power to be seen and to be heard. The very kind of fundamental things. It just means that obviously you can...persecute more people for instance. So I'm not interested in power for a stately home or so that I can have a television channel or anything like that."
Do you need to feed off that to a certain extent?
"Feed off what?"
The power. The feeling that you can actually...have your voice heard?
"Well, it doesn't make things more difficult, put it that way. No, it does make things easier I must say."
What would you most like to do with it?
"Well, there's a great deal to do. Obviously we haven't covered as much ground as is possible. We have to visit other countries, I mean, things as basic as that. Which takes time and is quite...tends to corrode the health somewhat so it is very time-consuming, it's very taxing to do those kind of things. And obviously because we're on an independent label it's much more difficult because we have virtually no facilities whatsoever to do anything, so just really arranging a trip to Spain is...takes up a full year. Almost."
Right...to digress again...I don't know if you've heard that Mick Jagger is being cast as Dorian in the Hollywood production of 'Picture of Dorian Gray'. What's your opinion on that?
"Well, I'm totally speechless. I mean if you told me that Bugs Bunny had been cast in the part, I would be less shocked. Mmmm. I think it's the Dallas mentality really, let's get as many famous faces in here as possible regardless of what happens to the script."
OK, getting back to The Smiths, do you think you'll get sick of the standards like vocals, guitar, bass , drums, like that and want to go into... ("opera ?") no, no, I mean, bring in some keyboards or some more strings or something like that?
"Yes, yes we want to do that. We want to do that, yes and we will do that on the next LP."
Why was Shakespeare's Sister not on Meat Is Murder ?...commercial reasons?
"No! no, no, no, no, it happened after Meat Is Murder. We just walked into the studio one day and it just simply appeared and the LP had already been released. So it was quite impossible to get it on."
Why not release something off the record?
"Well, that's a good question. That's a very tricky question...it all boils down to record company politics. I think finally something is about to be released. A track called That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore. A little late, I realize, but it's not about [?] anyway so...But I must say I think something should have been released much earlier, but at the time when the LP came out, Rough Trade were quite adamant about an older track, How Soon Is Now ? being rereleased in this country, as an A side, and it was and of course it was much to be regretted because it didn't really do anything substantial."
Still a fine song though.
"It's not bad, it's not bad."
Does it worry you that you've got so much influence, as it were?
"No, I mean, would it worry you? No, It's nice to have influence, if obviously everybody thought I was a total simpleton, I'd worry then, no, influence is quite a nice thing to have. Better than having acne or something."
How will you know when you've come to the end of your... useful ...
"I'll probably be lying on the middle of the floor and I'll probably weigh a stone, probably. No I think I'll know, I mean one just instinctively knows these things. There's a little bell inside one's head that rings a danger bell, rings occasionally, I'll know. When I start grappling and when I start stuttering and really being hesitant about what I'm trying to do and then I'll just jump out the window, probably."
Do you consciously analyse everything you do and the direction you're going?
"Yyyyes, I do. I do indeed, it's just a matter of being thorough really. because there's so many persuasive influences that surrounds you in this businesss. So many people who are dying to get you into a Salvation Army suit or something, or whatever or dress you up as an orange, it's quite frightening, so you have to cling to your principles."
You've got quite a fascination with films from the 60's, [?] and so on, ("Yes, indeed.") What is it about them that you like?
"I'm afraid that they probably remind me of my childhood because I lived in lots of those circumstances and I also think that...I gaze upon it fondly because it was the first time that in the entire history of film where regional dialects were allowed to come to the fore and people were allowed to talk about squallor and general depression and it wasn't necessarily a shameful thing. It was quite positive. I mean if you notice films, British films, of the late 1950's even, films which deal with army themes, or war themes or the people who were in the army or whatever, all have wonderfully crisp theatrical voices, but yet from, I think, 'Room at the top', '39th', 'Sunday morning' onwards, people were just allowed to be real instead of being glamorous and Hollywoodian, if that is a word and I sincerely hope it isn't. Sounds awful."
OK, the New York Dolls, what was it about them that you liked?
"I still haven't a clue. I'm still trying to wipe that one out. Well, the music industry hated them and that was good enough for me. I thought well, yes, that's the group for me. The music industry couldn't wait to get rid of the New York Dolls, they were quite clamorous and raucous so many people said they couldn't actually play, which was not entirely true. But you must remember throughout the periods of '73 and '74 when they existed, they were quite dank times and they were very...they were quite stylish times almost in a... offensively stylish, should I say, and the New York Dolls were just the antidote to everything we find and I thought that was wonderful."
Have you ever met any of them?
"Um, yes I did, I met the drummer and the guitarist a long time ago and they were completely unfriendly."
Why did that infatuation end?
"I think...well they broke up in 1975 and after that there wasn't really anything to retain one's interest apart from the two LP's that they had made. So, ya know, they just faded really, and I still have vague fond memories but it's not really terribly important to me . I think they were the single most important group to me as an adolescent."
Do you look back on your adolescence with fondness?
"No, it was a dreadful time, It was an awful period. I certainly can't deny that it was quite...very difficult, very isolated, very alienating, all those usual things that teenagers complain of. But I certainly complain of them now."
Your interviews are all very honest. Especially the early interviews that you read, ya know, they get right down to tin tacks as it were.
"Well you could put it that way, yes."
And then you had it thrown back at you and people labelled you as being sort of arrogant and concieted.
"It's really unbelieveable, yes it's shocking. People find me quite uncomfortably honest. But this is only because they're used to quite cold individuals dominating the music scene, for want of a better term, and if you really want to talk quite openly and drop your defences, as it were, it seems to be quite unnerving because people just simply aren't used to it. It's like if somebody sits next to you on the bus and says 'I really like your jacket or your trousers', you immediately run away, which is the wrong thing to do. But it's the same way within music, you know, people are just so used to this glossy nothingness, and also if you have a degree of intellect, you actually run the risk of making your critics generally seem quite dull in comparison so they don't like it . Fools, fools, fools."
Well, you've got somebody from the AME waiting so you can...("Oh yes indeed.") ...do battle with them.
Do you celebrate your birthday?
"Well. it's in a few days and...I cetainly do not, no, I never have, I never have, it's just, you know, it's just another day, really."
What purpose did the time when you were, shall we say, reclusive, what purpose did that serve?
"A tremendous purpose, in quite a perverted way because, for me it was almost like being in the army, I don't know why I'm laughing, because I'm sure the army isn't a very pleasurable experience ... it was like being in the army, it was like going through this..like training for the Olympics, almost, going through these years of preparation and I think that because those years existed, I now can cope with what's happening to me quite successfully. And I'm not easily tripped up so, yes it was like a period of long intense self-development and I'm glad it happened for those reasons; I don't think I would be glad if I was still there now but I'm not, so I'm chuckling."
You've not done any videos at all. You're not even interested in doing just like a live...some live footage and just touting that around?
"No we haven't done a thing. In America, the record company put a video together and released it and naturally it's quite abhorrent and extremely bad taste; but it's nothing to do with us, we'll never do that kind of glossy promotional video. Now having said that, it would be nice to tread into film somewhat, but only in a very intelectual way, not in a commercial...not as a sales tool...something quite artistic and quite intricate really, I'd like to do. I'd like to meddle with film somehow. You know, mess all the film up."
Any particular ideas?...
"Yes, I've got many..."
Do you want it to be a story line with Morrissey playing the lead acting part?
"Well, yes that would be nice wouldn't it? Not really. Yes, I do have few ideas. I think to reel them off now would be quite pretentious because I really firmly don't believe in talking about things until they're almost happening, because it's quite fatal, because if they don't happen, you're left to answer for them. A lot of bleak moments in your life. But I think, video, yes we've outlived that, I think."
Australia, are you ever likely to tour there? Is that part of your plan?
"Oh, God, good grief, yes and most definitely. The only problem is really actually getting there because it's so far away and as you might not know I do have a fear of flying. It's almost embarrasing to utter those words, it sounds so absurd. I mean, I've tried to be hypnotised and silly things like that, really, basically, hasn't worked. But I'm trying to figure this one out if I can like go to perhaps Singapore, and then on to, you know, Mauritius or somewhere, just land in Australia somehow. As you can see, it's still a very embryonic situation. I'm trying to work it out."
How far ahead do you plan?
"About 3 or 4 months really. Not terribly far."
So The Smiths Corporation doesn't have your movements mapped out for the rest of this year?
"No, there isn't a Smith's Corporation, which makes things easy and difficult, becasue it's really largely left down to Johnny and I; so it's just really just finding time to sit down and say, well what exactly should we do next? But there's certainly no corporation."
No? Do you feel under pressure constantly?
"Yes, I do, I do, constantly."
How do you cope with that?
"I don't know, I mean you just have to learn to deal with it really. It can't really be conquered I don't think because, like it or not, things are there to be done, and of course these are the complaints that most people don't really like to hear about. But, I can't deny that it's very, very difficult to keep on top of the situation. But, I try."
What devices do you use to...
"I unplug the telephone, I disconnect he bell on the front door, I close the curtains and I just simply lie on the bed and listen to a Walkman or something. You seem very bored with that reply."
No, no, I...
"I expect these little bits will get chopped."
OK, well, why do interviews at all? I mean, surely you should... if you're going to take the line you're not going to do much other promotional stuff...?
"Well, because I take that line, interviews are necessary, because without interviews we wouldn't have any sense of presence what-so-ever, because we avoid so much television and radio and all other aspects of the media. But if we don't actually do interviews, where on earth are we? Like the uninitiated working woman in the street doesn't really know that we exist..."
Unless she hears it on the radio...
"Well, exactly, yes, but radios are so rare these days. No, we have to do interviews and I quite like them, sometimes."
What are you doing with all the money you're making?
"Well, I'm trying to find it, that's what I do with it. Next question. Oh, do I have to elaborate? I'm certainly not rich by any means, I think I'm much poorer than other people of my status for unknown reasons. We're a little bit poorer than most I think. Why is it always so embarrasing talking about money?"
People have this thing about not knowing what other people get, earn, I guess.
"I wonder why though. Can you answer that?"
Maybe they feel some...jealousy or...
"Oh well that's OK then. As long as it's that."
OK, can you answer it?
"No, I can't answer that question, I don't really know, I mean, people are so [?], I mean people never talk about money, it's like when you first come into the music industry, you're never allowed to ask 'well, am I still getting paid for this?'. You're supposed to be so humble and artistic you'll accept anything but of course, I never was. But I think alot of people are but...I'm quite comfortable, I can't deny that. I'm certainly not poor but I'm certainly no threat to royalty at the moment."
Does your mother still take as close an interest as she did on your last [?] here?
"Yes, yes, she certainly does, yes, even closer in fact, she's quite...she's concerned in every way."
Is she still entirely supportive?
"Absolutely entirely supportive. Which is a great help."
Has that been essential, do you think?
"Yes it has, it has for me because I live with her mainly and for that reason it helps. I think everybody ultimately needs somebody, some sense of reassurance from obviously the peple who are close to them. So I think if she was disinterested or if she found the whole situation awkward, it would be quite hard."
Your professed celibacy, no doubt, has been the subject of many letters from people. Have you had lots of advances?
"Only hand written advances. Which of course are meaningless really. I find that when I'm out and about that people, quite regrettably, tend to... they approach, but they keep a particular distance. People are quite wary for some reason, they find it quite unbelievable, I think it's quite difficult for people to understand, especially me, I might add, but yes, I've had lots and lots of obviously, not obviously, but absolutely cases and cases and cases full of letters from people saying well I'm here, come and get me. I'll be waiting tonight, I'll be lying on the setee covered in feathers. Which is quite worrying when it comes from the woman next door."