Johnny Marr chooses “the greatest lyricist I’ve ever worked with” – and it's not Morrissey

Johnny Marr
(Image credit: Brian Rasic/Getty Images)

Johnny Marr has paid tribute to the songwriter and former bandmate he thinks is “the greatest lyricist I’ve ever worked with”. It's Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse; the band Marr was part of from 2006 and 2008, playing on their 2007 album We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank.

Marr has reflected on his time in Modest Mouse during a new interview with Stereogum looking at the bands and projects he's been involved in during the 34 years after The Smiths split, including The Pretenders, Hans Zimmer and Electronic

In 2003 or 2004, I thought a lot of British rock guitar music was shit

"In 2003 or 2004, I thought a lot of British rock guitar music was shit," Marr reveals, explaining what attracted him to the Portland band.  "A lot of acoustic troubadouring. It was the fallout from OK Computer. I love OK Computer, but I thought there were a lot of not very good versions of Radiohead around. I met Elliott Smith when I was in California and he talked to me about Portland and Built To Spill. All roads led to Modest Mouse. I started listening. I loved The Moon & Antartica. 

"The thing about it was, I couldn’t fathom where this band was coming from," adds Marr. "I just liked it. That was new to me. Because we’re all experts and we’re all fucking smartasses. We always think, “That’s trying to sound like that.” Modest Mouse was just this very inventive thing I couldn’t work out but I knew I liked it."

After receiving a call from Brock, asking if he'd like to join the band, Marr initially decided to join them in Portland for a 10-day experiment to see where it went. 

"A few days into the playing, I was stood in a jam session playing with the strangers, and it reminded me of being a kid, because I was like, 'I don’t know what this music is,' marvels Marr. "I’m there then. I don’t give a fuck whether they’re a big band or a small band. That’s what I’m about. Me and the guys then just became really tight. To have bailed would’ve just been really weird. 

Modest Mouse

Modest Mouse in 2007 (L-R): Jeremiah Green, Joe Plummer, Isaac Brock, Johnny Marr, Tom Peloso (Image credit: Mick Hutson/Redferns)

"I stayed in the band, and I loved being in the band," continues Marr. "There was a brotherhood that is there to this day. Probably the best time of my life. Some supernaturally good shows. I liked my role. It’s just a thing that happened in my life that I’m eternally grateful for. And Isaac Brock is the greatest lyricist I’ve ever worked with. I’ve seen him write an amazing song, and then make it better, and then make it better again."

More Marr

The guitarists also spoke to Stereogum about his forthcoming double album Fever Dream Pt 1-4 being released as four EPs, staggered until February. 

"First and foremost, it is an album," says Marr. "It’s a double album, almost working backwards. The thing about the parts that was fun — when I had a bunch of songs and some needed background vocals and some needed a verse fixed, I had multiple plates spinning. I had these big whiteboards in the studio for each. Going, 'If I finish that song, that’ll make Part 1 as a side work, OK, I’ll shift that around.'

"I had fun with that process," he adds, "and then once we were getting that together it revealed to me how I would like Side 4 to play out. The last bit won’t be an EP. If you buy the record, you get the whole thing. I don’t want to just have a collection of EPs, because I’m an album guy. It’s a bit like having my cake and eating it, really. And a certain kind of impatience. I don’t want to wait until February to just have three songs out. I want people to hear a lot more, quick, because it’s been 14 or 15 months of solitary work."

Read the whole interview at Stereogum. Fever Dreams Pt 1 is released on 15 October. 

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.