Johnny Marr Discusses the Alienation, Detachment and Loneliness That Inspired 'Playland'

Johnny Marr Discusses the Alienation, Detachment and Loneliness That Inspired 'Playland'
After decades of being the indie world's go-to collaborative guitarist, Johnny Marr has issued just his second solo album ever, Playland, via Warner Bros. Records. Marr recently told NME that he recorded the album in London deliberately because of its "frenetic atmosphere," but in an interview with Exclaim!, he's careful to elaborate why England's biggest city was the perfect spot to lay down his new LP.

"There is a narrative that I've tried to have running through most of the record," Marr says on the phone from Manchester. "I'd say that's imagining the concerns and preoccupations of people as they move around cities. London is probably the best example of people trying to coexist, and an interesting mix of us all chasing things."

Playland is about that chase: "I wanted the record to be about the preoccupation with chasing consumerism, entertainment, sexual activity, distractions, altered states of mind (either through alcohol or drugs) and wondering if we do those things because of paranoia, anxiety, boredom and tension, or maybe all of those things are actually caused by that chase. Maybe we're living in a sort of loop — the pursuit of money to buy the new phone is the thing that's causing us anxiety, in pursuit of distraction [from that anxiety]. It's causing the alienation, detachment and loneliness. Perhaps we get so bored when we don't do these things."

Still, Marr is careful to make distinctions and is aware that commentary can easily come off as soapboxing.

"It's important for me to comment and make observations without criticizing too much. A song like [first single] 'Easy Money' is, in a way, me lampooning that preoccupation with money and our need for money, but at the same time, I'm aware that, to plenty of people in society, money is not a subject to be lampooned. I tried to honour those people in the lyrics, whether they're homeless people who walk the streets or people in destitution or people trying to get money together to go to college. I didn't want it to just be a one-way street, or overly glib."

On Playland, he says, "I'm just trying to get good at finding a balance, and writing something that goes with the music and that I think people who like what I do will relate to, and stand by it at the same time. I think that's important."

The new record has a more live sound than 2013's The Messenger, which Marr attributes to having toured more.

"When I was writing Playland, we were touring a lot and we never really stopped, so I had to — the singing on Playland is more like I sing live. I've tried to be a little more gutsy with the melodies, and I think that's the shows giving me a lot of juice. The band are tight as friends and tight as professionals now. All that energy and traveling has gone into Playland, and it kind of sounds like a live band."

Marr is still collaborating, but for his newest project under his given name, he had to build the band around him instead of finding one readymade.

"I had what I thought were good ideas for songs and there was lyrics that I wanted to write and there was a band that I wanted to be in — I didn't want to join someone else's band, but there was a certain type of band that I wanted to be in, so I decided to form it myself. All of those things just added up to making my own record. It wasn't a matter of me always wanting to do it but never getting around to it or anything like that.

"Everything I've done, I'm really happy about the collaborations and all the bands that I've been in. I like to think that I probably wouldn't be doing it right unless I had lots of experiences, anyway."

Marr will head out on tour starting in mid-October, a week or so after Playland's release. You can find those dates below.

Read our recent Questionnaire with Johnny Marr here.

Tour dates:

10/13 Lincoln, UK - The Engine Shed
10/14 Southend, UK - Cliffs Pavilion
10/15 Bexhill, UK - De La Warr
10/17 Wolverhampton, UK - Civic Hall
10/18 Cardiff, UK - Great Hall
10/20 Bournemouth, UK - O2 Academy
10/21 Cambridge, UK - Corn Exchange
10/23 London, UK - O2 Academy Brixton
10/24 Bath, UK - Pavilion
10/25 Manchester, UK - O2 Apollo
10/27 Glasgow, UK - O2 Academy
10/28 Newcastle, UK - O2 Academy
10/29 Leeds, UK - O2 Academy
11/01 Amsterdam, NL - Paradiso Noord
11/02 Cologne, DE - Luxor
11/03 Paris, FR - La Maroquinerie
11/09 Washington, DC - 9:30 Club
11/10 Philadelphia, PA - Union Transfer
11/12 New York, NY - Gramercy Theatre
11/14 Asbury Park, NJ - Stone Pony
11/15 Brooklyn, NY - Music Hall of Williamsburg
11/16 Boston, MA - Paradise
11/18 Clifton Park, NY - Upstate Concert Hall
11/19 Montreal, QC - Corona
11/20 Toronto, ON - Danforth
11/22 Columbus, OH - Newport Music Hall
11/23 Detroit, MI - St. Andrews Hall
11/25 Chicago, IL - Vic Theatre
11/26 Kansas City, MO - Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland
11/28 Englewood, CO - Gothic Theatre
11/29 Aspen, CO - Belly Up
12/01 Missoula, MT - Top Hat Lounge
12/03 Edmonton, AB - Starlite
12/04 Calgary, AB - Republik
12/06 Victoria, BC - Sugar Nightclub
12/07 Vancouver, BC - Commodore Ballroom
12/08 Seattle, WA - Neumos
12/10 Portland, OR - Wonder Ballroom
12/11 Eugene, OR - Wow Hall
12/12 Sacramento, CA - Ace of Spades
12/14 San Francisco, CA - The Independent
12/15 San Francisco, CA - The Independent
12/16 Pomona, CA - Glass House
12/18 Solana Beach, CA - Belly Up Tavern
12/19 Los Angeles, CA - El Rey Theatre
12/20 Los Angeles, CA - El Rey Theatre