Cakes, Brexit, and country music: We chat with Morrissey

Thirty-five years into his musical existence – 28 of which as a solo performer – Morrissey is a lot of things to a lot of people. Icon. Poet. Pin-up. Author. Provocateur. Wordsmith. Dude who wrote the Charmed theme song. Hard to define, impossible to ignore. But what is Morrissey to Morrissey?

It’s established that Morrissey is someone who operates on their own terms. His insistence that venues, and festivals, be meat-free when he performs – as they will be during his imminent Australian tour – is well-documented. As is his adamant stance that The Smiths, a band decommissioned from action three decades ago with nary a sign of resuscitation since, will never reunite – despite insurmountable demand from fans and promoters.

Recent years have seen Morrissey release the largely well-received (but not entirely) studio album World Peace Is None Of Your Business, which saw release in spite of a tumultuous turn with label Harvest Records. He also penned a widely derided fiction novel in List Of The Lost. Morrissey crusades on. Morrissey is Morrissey, even when confronted with mortality.

As he touches down in Australia, we sent Morrissey a range of questions. He dutifully responded. Enjoy.

FL: You’ve performed a brilliant interpretation of ‘Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way’, faithful to the original. How do you perceive your relationship with country music?
Morrissey: 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.

Do you still have to fight for freedom in terms of your decisions as an artist and as a touring performer?
Not really because the music industry has nothing to do with me, nor I with it. 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.

“What could be more grotesquely stupid than the Clinton-Trump coverage?”

Following on from that, is it tiring to fight to uphold the meat-free policy of the venues on your tour? I once tried to hold a strictly vegetarian birthday party, but my mum was adamant meat would be served and I had to concede.
It is liberating but never, ever tiring. These recent years have seen an enormous swing in favour of change and suddenly everyone wants to know about the vegan lifestyle. At the major festivals in the UK the queues are lengthy for the vegetarian outlets, yet minuscule for the flesh food. The killers have had their day.

How does the current Brexit political climate compare to that of the ‘80s? Do you feel progress is being made, or does a sense of hopelessness pervade?
The British political class has never quite been so hopeless, but the same can be said for the USA. What has happened is that news media can no longer attach any nobility to old-style politics because although politicians do not and cannot change, the people the world over have changed. What could be more grotesquely stupid than the Clinton-Trump coverage? As for Brexit, the result was magnificent, but it is not accepted by the BBC or Sky News because they object to a public that cannot be hypnotised by BBC or Sky nonsense. These news teams are exactly the same as Fox and CNN in that they all depend on public stupidity in order to create their own myth of reality. Watch them at your peril!

Is performing music a thrill for you? Do you enjoy thrill-seeking activities?
It was always somehow inevitable even though I didn’t seek any glamor 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.

Meat-free food technology has evolved to allow a tremendous amount of options for vegetarian meals – do you ever indulge in meals as vice?
Do you mean… as in cakes? Well, I have dangerously low sugar-levels and virtually zero salt levels so I’m encouraged by my doctor to go mad and attack as many desserts as possible. Strange advice, I suppose.

What is your biggest fear?
As Oscar Wilde said: “It is what we fear that happens to us”.

“Factually, I would trade the entire Smiths catalogue for World Peace Is None Of Your Business”

Do you foresee your legacy? While The Smiths were a relatively brief part of your life, it will likely be a large part of your legacy, does that sit right with you?
I’ve taken the position of serious analyst on this issue for quite some years and I now think that The Smiths are listed as, for example, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominees, because people generally think that The Smiths also covers Morrissey – which it doesn’t. Consequently we have PJ Harvey as a Hall Of Fame nominee yet it can’t be argued that she has ever meant more than Morrissey in the USA, and needless to say I have never been a nominee.

Not to frivolously conflate mortality and artistry – but do you see yourself as a survivor, both in health and as a musician with a long career?
I think it’s already happened if anyone took the trouble to chart my personal journey since The Smiths ended. But few do. Factually, I would trade the entire Smiths catalogue for 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. That’s life. That’s death!

Lachlan Kanoniuk is the editor of FL. Follow him on Twitter.

Morrissey 2016 Australian tour

Saturday October 22 – Festival Hall, Melbourne VIC
Wednesday October 26 – Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide SA 
Friday October 28 – Royal Theatre, Canberra ACT
Saturday October 29 – WIN Centre, Wollongong NSW
Monday October 31 – Civic Theatre, Newcastle NSW