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Daniel Day-Lewis spoke with poet, Eileen Myles in this 2002 interview. Photography by Terry Richardson.
 

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  JERRY HALL
STEPHANIE SEYMORE
MARC JACOBS
  ASIA ARGENTO
DENNIS HOPPER
ABEL FERRARA
BRIAN WILSON
WILL OLDHAM
DJ SPOOKY

Morrissey, 2004

WITH TIM GOLDSWORTHY AND JAMES MURPHY
PHOTOGRAPHED BY WOLFGANG TILLMANS





Love him or hate him, Morrissey's enduring influence on modern pop cannot be denied. His sardonic, evocative lyrics for The Smiths elevated the humdrum of working class life to a thing of beauty, and inspired a generation of musicians to wear their roots on their sleeves. Interviewers James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy are the cofounders of the New York record label DFA. Their bass-heavy disco-rock sound has attracted such bands as The Rapture and The Juan Maclean to their young, yet increasingly acclaimed label. Late last year, James and Tim made a pilgrimage to the Elizabethan manor house-turned-recording studio in the Oxfordshire countryside where the master was working on a new album.





JAMES: Did you go to a lot of shows as a kid?
MORRISSEY: I began going to concerts by myself at an early age. I loved and still love the Velvet Underground. I saw Lou Reed touring behind his first album when I was twelve.

JAMES: I have found a certain glamness in both your solo work and the records you did with The Smiths. Were you into other glam music besides Jobriath?
MORRISSEY: So completely. I caught all of that — I saw T. Rex in '72, and Roxy Music twice that year. I had a ticket for a double bill with Roxy Music and the New York Dolls in '72, but the Dolls didn't show up.

JAMES: T. Rex and Roxy Music were really anarchic, but their music is so beautiful.
MORRISSEY: My mum's two favorite bands are Johnny Mathis and Roxy Music. That speaks volumes about them. And I saw Bowie in '72, on the Starman tour.

JAMES: '72 was a year for you!
MORRISSEY: It really was. I saw all the right things at the right time. But there aren't any pop stars now like Bowie was then. You have to remember his age — he was only twenty-three. Marc Bolan, too — I don't think there is anybody like him.

JAMES: When I was young I don't think I completely got your lyrics. To what degree are your songs governed by irony?
MORRISSEY: Well, I think humor is a part of it, but all my life I've believed that I am a real person. When some people go on stage, they move away from how they are in their lives. But, really, there's no artifice with me! It's all true.

TIM: Maybe that's why you can write pop that also has depth and content.
MORRISSEY: Well, I want to use pop music to say something intelligently and memorably. That was very unusual when I started out. Musicians who considered themselves intellectual didn't expect to be popular, so they purposely made music that wouldn't get radio play.

JAMES: Was it a surprise when you found yourself massively relevant?
MORRISSEY: Well, The Smiths were never played on daytime radio.

JAMES: But still...
MORRISSEY: Yeah, I suppose that we were, yes.

TIM: You were on John Peel's show and Janice Long's Evening Session — that was about it.
MORRISSEY: Of course, those were different times — radio stations were playing this expensive ultra-pop, whereas we had a slightly ragged sound. I think programmers had a very strong idea of what sounded professional and what sounded amateur. And The Smiths sounded amateur.

JAMES: When I first heard the 12-inch of ?This Charming Man,? it sounded really rough and punk. But listening to it now, it's actually rather beautiful.
MORRISSEY: These days, we're used to things that sound really batty. But nobody else was remotely similar to The Smiths at the time. We were far from accepted, so the fact that we were successful was itself punkish.

JAMES: What were you up against?
MORRISSEY: We were considered obnoxious, snooty, rude, dull, depressing, and sarcastic.

JAMES: Do you think you were misinterpreted?
MORRISSEY: Not at all. [laughs]

JAMES: You were on Sire Records for a while, both as a solo artist and as —
MORRISSEY: — a trapped artist.

JAMES: — and as part of The Smiths. But you had a lot of difficulties with them?
MORRISSEY: The reality of being with Sire was our begging them to release a single from the album. It was humiliating. They never did any promotion. It's the same old story. The Smiths released ?How Soon is Now?? and it got a great reception, but Sire just could not get a single in the charts.

TIM: It must have been strange not getting airplay, but having fans who were utterly devoted.
MORRISSEY: Well, The Smiths became popular simply because of our songs. That doesn't seem to happen anymore. I never just hear a song. Everything that's released has weeks or months of promotion behind it.

JAMES: You're working on a new album now. Who's producing it?
MORRISSEY: Jerry Finn. He's produced Bad Religion, Green Day, Blink 182.

JAMES: How did you two get together?
MORRISSEY: His manager approached my manager. It doesn't matter to me that the music he's made is very LA, for want of a better description. Often producers are desperate to break out of what they've been doing.

TIM: What do you look for in a producer?
MORRISSEY: It's important to be able to speak openly without measuring your words. And I'm not the type of person who hangs around in the studio and jams. I won't sing just any old thing, because it feels too personal. I'm nervous about what's going to come out. It's important for the producer to understand that I'm not a technical singer. But I'm not precious — I don't spend a great deal of time doing take after take.

JAMES: Are you hard on yourself?
MORRISSEY: You have to be. It helps to be your own worst critic.

JAMES: When you're working on an album, do you worry about how it will be received?
MORRISSEY: Well, I've never made music in order to please. It's always been a very personal thing, and it still is. I know I don't fit in — nothing has changed for me in that regard. I don't fit, and I don't want to.

JAMES: Yet you still make records that other people want to hear.
MORRISSEY: By some quirk of fate, a lot of people like my music. Lots of people want to talk about it and talk to me. But I've never even remotely tried to court publicity.

JAMES: Do you ever think that you should?
MORRISSEY: No, morally, I couldn't do it. Every artist being marketed now is a ?ground-breaking, earth-shattering phenomenon.

JAMES: But that hype creates performers who sell millions and millions of records.
MORRISSEY: They're reaching the nonthinking people who will just buy any CD that's familiar to them. All they're buying is the picture they remember seeing. When I see a huge billboard while I'm driving along Sunset Boulevard, I'm instantly turned off.

JAMES: Are you still living in LA? I heard you moved there in the early '90s.
MORRISSEY: Yes. I know what you're going to say before you even say it — and you're absolutely right.

JAMES: That it's a weird place?
MORRISSEY: Yeah. People always say it's a very peculiar place, and I agree — but it has its good qualities. It's very glamorous visually, which is always inviting. In LA, you can choose which elements of city life you wish to take part in, whereas in New York you have no choice, really. I back away from practically everything. I find the whole idea of celebrity terribly embarrassing.

JAMES: But Los Angeles itself is a hugely embarrassing place, where celebrity is valued above all else.
MORRISSEY: It's disgraceful. Celebrities' opinions on everything count, even if they clearly have no viewpoint whatsoever.

JAMES: But isn't that just part of the modern obsession with fame? People want to know everything about a famous person. You can log onto an artist's website and read what he ate for breakfast.
MORRISSEY: I feel sad that there's so much stuff that I've theoretically ?signed? on eBay. And you can watch the bidding climb and climb.

JAMES: You're in a position where you can refuse the trappings of promotion. You can say, ?No billboards, please.? You have fans who are waiting to hear your next release.
MORRISSEY: Well, there's generally an extreme reaction when my name is mentioned. Thankfully, enough people buy my records. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here — I'd be working at Kingdom of Leather.


 
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Morrissey by Wolfgang Tillmans, 2004
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Morrissey by Wolfgang Tillmans, 2004
 
 
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