Johnny Marr Recalls What RHCP’s John Frusciante Was Like to Work With

Johnny Marr, legendary guitar player and songwriter for the Smiths, sat down for an episode for the Broken Record Podcast to discuss his work and career. Among other things, Marr also reflected on his work with Red Hot Chili Peppers legend John Frusciante on his 2009 solo record “The Empyrean.”

When reminded of his prolific career and doing so many different things over the years, he said (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“I’m glad that I’ve done all of that stuff, obviously. But I did a couple of tracks with Beck, then I did maybe four or five tracks with John Frusciante, and then I popped up on records with all these different really cool musicians.”

How Soon Is Now - Johnny Marr Live At The Crazy Face Factory

Going more into his collaboration with Frusciante, Marr expressed how fond he was of this music and how it all came to be. He continued:

“As I was doing it, I was thinking, ‘Oh, man, I love this music, and what a cool thing.’ So when John Frusciante invited me over when he was working on ‘The Empyrean’ [John’s 2009 solo album] and is like, ‘I’ve got these tracks, take your pick’, and he played me the track and I said, ‘I think I can do something on that band.'”

“And he played me another track. ‘Oh, I’ve got an idea for that band.’ And then a couple of days later, you kind of go, ‘Well, that was a nice experience.'”

Audio interview with John Frusciante (about The Empyrean)-Part 2

But most importantly, Marr adds that this wasn’t planned at all. And these spontaneous moments is how the best music happens anyway, right? He continued:

“So I think what I’m saying is, none of it is planned, it’s all this kind of — I’m going to say it — a journey. I’ve been a musician, and been very, very fortunate that people were doing cool things and have invited me to do cool things with them. It’s never been planned.”

Going more into the matter, Marr was also asked to share some more details on what it’s really like to work with someone like Frusciante. When reminded of how unique Frusciante’s approach to music is (that he’s “almost like a computer”) and prompted to weigh in on this, Marr replied:

“Well, there are a couple of things that come to mind when you say that. I think you’re absolutely right about John and there are a few other people I know like that. I think people who are great, whoever they are — in my field it’s musicians — they are experts, absolute experts.”

John Frusciante - The Empyrean (Full album) 2009

To draw a parallel, Marr then brought up Bob Marley as another example, pointing out how difficult also must have been to record stuff with limited resources in his day:

“And that might sound obvious, but there’s this famous story about when Bob Marley first went in to record — it was like some little four-track, and he was sixteen, seventeen, or something. I think it was with Coxsone [record label].”

“And if you hear enough about those stories, you know he was kind of a pain in the ass because he would be like, ‘The backing vocals are too loud! Backing vocals are too loud!’ because he’d studied The Coasters, he’d studied The Drifters, he’d studied Curtis Mayfield, and The Impressions, so he knew how the backing vocals on those… This was when he was a kid. Right? But you could go right across in sports, I’m sure in business, too. People who are great are real experts. I guess it’s not a surprise, because it’s your passion.”

Johnny Marr - Spirit Power and Soul (Vince Clarke Remix) (Official Audio)

Going back to Frusciante, Marr also praised the Red Hot Chili Peppers axeman how he’s able to fuse different elements and create unique music:

“And then the second thing you’re talking about there, like with John [Frusciante], is  — and other people like that, as a lot of musicians are — they take all of these different elements that only to them make sense, and then it comes out. But when you hear it, you go, ‘Oh, yeah, it sounds like them.'”

Marr then also recalled his time in the Smiths, saying that his approach has been pretty similar, combining a variety of different guitar players:

“So for example, in my case, for four years, I didn’t really do a lot of interviews in the early Smiths days, but when I was asked about guitar playing, when asked to really nail it down, I was like, ‘Well, Nile Rodgers, Bert Jantsch, and James Williamson from The Stooges.'”

Johnny Marr - Spirit Power and Soul (Official Video)

“Obviously, I love what Rory Gallagher was doing, I love John McGeoch from [Siouxie and] the Banshees, and Will Sergeant from [Echo &] the Bunnymen. I mean, there are hundreds — I could stay just giving lists and lists of amazing guitar players, obviously. But at first, people were like, ‘Huh? Come again? What, Nile Rodgers influenced The Smiths?’ But over time now, people know that some of the songs like… I go, ‘Well, listen to the second verse in ‘The Boy With the Thorn in His Side.”

“And there’s a famous story about how ‘Hand in Glove’ just started out as a Chic riff. So point being that it made total sense to me.”

“But you put it all through a funnel, it comes in through your own mind, and then it comes out and people go, ‘Oh, yeah, sounds like Johnny Marr’, right? But to me, if I told you what I was thinking of when I was trying to come up with some of these riffs, you’d go, ‘Wow!'”

Johnny Marr - Rise (Official Audio)

Photos: Liliane Callegari (Johnny Marr @ Lollapalooza 2014 (13706004915)), Hel Davies (John Frusciante (52278979556))

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.

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