John Frusciante and Johnny Marr recall their collaborations on The Empyrean

John Frusciante and Johnny Marr
(Image credit: Jonathan Weiner / Joby Sessions / Future)

When John Frusciante made his 2009 solo record The Empyrean, he invited Johnny Marr to play on several tracks. From there, a deep connection was formed between the two musicians.

“It was really fun,” John recalls. “I got to see how Johnny’s creative process worked on the guitar. He’s very unorthodox: in The Smiths’ stuff, the guitar is often a thing blending in with the band, but when you actually see the way Johnny comes up with things, and the way he thinks through the instrument, it’s just totally unconventional. And it was amazing to see that creative process at work fitting into the context of a pre-recorded piece of music. 

“He’s is an extremely nice person as well: mild-mannered, no ego there or anything like that. When we were doing the mix of that album, it wasn’t like normal, when you write down what’s on each track on the sticker that you put on the mixing console – you write rhythm guitar, lead guitar, whatever it is. But with him, it’s just ’Johnny Marr!’ 

“It’s like a synthesizer or a sound effect or something. It doesn’t function in the mix in the way that a guitar usually does. It’s its own little universe coming out of that one track. It was really exciting to see it from that perspective. It just doesn’t fit into the mix in any kind of traditional way. You’ve just got to look at it as its own rule.”

Repaying the compliment, Johnny says: “Without being overly simplistic or corny, guitar players are definitely a breed, and John and I hit it off straight away. There is this obsessive thing with guitar players – whether it’s about sound or scales or models of guitar, it just seems to be part of the package. 

“John and I were recording in his house, which was nice. And with him, there was a quiet sort of intensity. There’s an almost zen-like stillness about his focus when he’s writing. There’s this underlying honour in what he’s doing. John has an approach to music which is almost sacred.”

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Jenna Scaramanga

Jenna writes for Total Guitar and Guitar World, and is the former classic rock columnist for Guitar Techniques. She studied with Guthrie Govan at BIMM, and has taught guitar for 15 years. She's toured in 10 countries and played on a Top 10 album (in Sweden).