Rock singer Morrissey is no stranger to shocking people. His views of music and modern life, especially those concerning veganism, have been causing controversy for decades.
But one of his most shocking moves musically in recent years was to play a Waylon Jennings classic, “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?,” as part of his live set. Morrissey the country star? You never know.
When asked in a recent interview with Australian website Faster Louder how he perceived his relationship with country music, he said: “Intimate. I love the dramatics of Hank Snow - ‘There’s a little box of pine on the 7:29 - or Tammy Wynette singing, ‘I’ll just keep on falling in love till I get it right.’ But this all harks back to an era when songs had to be ‘about something’ or say something, whereas now modern radio is radioactive seepage or idiot laughter.”
The ever-opinionated Morrissey, with twang in tow or otherwise, makes another stop in Reno for a Friday show at the Grand Theatre. Known for his droll delivery and cool stage persona, the singer told Faster Louder that he does still get a thrill from live performance.
“It was always somehow inevitable, even though I didn’t seek any glamour and I didn’t imagine myself to be an object of anyone’s desires, but most of the things of interest to me were not being said in pop music, so this is why I felt I needed to say them,” he said of his reasons to become a singer.
Steven Morrissey started his journey in music with the Smiths, a British indie-pop band who started in 1982 and released its self-titled debut in 1984. With a lot of attention for Morrissey’s literate and often witty lyrics, the Smiths was an immediate success in the U.K., earning top 10 placings for all of its studio albums.
On the Australian leg of this year’s tour, Morrissey has been playing up to three songs from the band’s U.K. No. 1 album “Meat is Murder” from 1985: the title track, “What She Said,” and “How Soon is Now?” which was the band’s best known hit in the U.S.
Morrissey’s success continued after the Smiths split up in 1987. His first solo album, “Viva Hate,” went to No. 1 and also sold a million copies in the U.S. From this point to 1997, Morrissey had hit songs such as “Suedehead,” “Interesting Drug,” “We Hate it When Our Friends Become Successful,” and “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get.”
Starting in 1998, Morrissey did not have a record deal, but continued touring internationally. His comeback album in 2004, “You Are the Quarry,” has started a second phase of his solo career, which has included three top 10 albums in the U.S. as his following grew. His best known recent songs include “Irish Blood, English Heart,” “All You Need is Me,” and “Kiss Me A Lot.” Morrissey also wrote an autobiography that became a No. 1 bestseller in the U.K. in 2013, while his first novel, “List of the Lost,” was released last year.
The road to survival
Even with this comeback, Morrissey also had a serious setback that gave his fans pause. He was diagnosed and recovered from esophageal cancer two years ago. He told Isreali magazine Walla earlier this year that the cancer did slow him down considerably.
“The combination of doctors and hospitals and medicines accelerates the aging process in a certain way,” he said. “These things can be more debilitating than the medical problem itself. I think if I would be asked to do a blood test (again), I'll explode.”
When asked by Faster Louder if he saw himself as a survivor, both in health and as a musician with a long career, Morrissey answered in the affirmative.
“That’s if anyone took the trouble to chart my personal journey since The Smiths ended,” he said. “But few do. Factually, I would trade the entire Smiths catalog for (his last album), ‘World Peace Is None Of Your Business,’ but it’s also true that you are continually seen as however you were when you first appeared.”
And yet, Morrissey is on the road again and working on new music, according to his interview with Walla. “The new album is already written, but I need to find a distribution contract,” he said. “It’s impossible to find a record deal, so we’re going to record the album ourselves once we find someone who will disseminate it and make it accessible worldwide.”
Working as an outsider
This led to a follow-up question that was intriguing: does Morrissey think the Smiths would be able to fit into the high-tech music business of today.
“I do not,” he said. “There is now heavy censorship. If you look, for example, at the rise of the Sex Pistols, you can see that no one thought the band would reach its success. The industry did not believe a band like the Sex Pistols would be popular, or that it could even exist. Nowadays, everything is controlled and monitored so there is no chance of a singer who wants to expose his political opinion. The result is clear. The charts of today present music that doesn’t represent the feelings and needs of true music lovers.”
At the same, Morrissey told Faster Louder that he doesn’t really fight for his own freedom in terms of the decisions he has to make as an artist.
“It’s because the music industry has nothing to do with me, nor I with it,” he said. “On a touring level, I can cast my net as I wish to a healthy degree, but, of course, it’s important when to know where to close the curtain.”
On those tours, it’s well known that Morrissey has to fight to uphold a meat-free menu at the venues on his tour. He said that it’s not a chore to uphold this insistence on veganism.
“It is liberating but never, ever tiring,” he said. “These recent years have seen an enormous swing in favor of change and suddenly everyone wants to know about the vegan lifestyle. At the major festivals in the U.K., the queues are lengthy for the vegetarian outlets, yet minuscule for the flesh food. The killers have had their day.”