Republished interview originally conducted by Doug McCausland, Elias Fulmer, & Charles Peralo
Though he requires no introduction, Morrissey is one of the rock realm’s most influential figures of the past three decades, whether it be through his timeless four record run as The Smiths’ frontman, sprawling ten record solo career, or his continued involvement in political and social activism, vanguarded by his passionately strong belief that “meat is murder” and championing of the vegan lifestyle.
Here is our conversation with the legendary former Smiths frontman himself, one of our biggest interviews to date and kicking off ‘Morrissey Week’ on Alternative Nation. Morrissey, about to embark on a U.S. tour, touches on the various facets of his solo career and activism, updates his stance on Hillary Clinton and her 2016 bid for presidency, and recounts a humorous story in which Brandon Flowers from The Killers stalked him at a hotel years back.
You became a vegetarian at age 11. You’ve really hit a lot of awareness for animal rights and been perhaps the most vocal advocate ever for vegetarian/veganism. At age 11, when you were just a kid, did you have this same level of spirit on the issue? Would you be unhappy to see your school serve meat, or family members serving it?
I didn’t ever stay for school meals, so I was spared that poisoning. I very slowly edged away from family get-together’s because I just couldn’t stand to see bits of flesh on plates. It was like looking at small children being eaten. My mother and sister were also vegetarian, so I didn’t feel isolated, but there wasn’t any awareness in the 1970’s and you would find yourself avoiding any social gathering simply because you couldn’t bear the smell of dead pig.
My nephews are 32 and 24 and they have never tasted animal flesh or fish in their entire lives. People who feed their children bits of animal carcass are insane, and the issue of protein is a brainwashing myth. Chickens are 90% growth hormones, and this is what you are force feeding your children – not chicken, just growth hormones. How stylishly tasty! (sarcasm)
15 years ago, a lot of the marijuana activists made a goal list by the year 2020. That list, for the most part, has come to fruition, and it came from music and popular culture changing global perception. So the year is 2035: what achievements will the animal rights movement have over today?
I believe people will eventually understand that eating animals is as dangerous as inhaling tobacco. Many people in hospitals are suffering from disease related to eating animals, yet no one is suffering from disease relating to vegetarianism. I say vegetarian whilst also meaning vegan, but I use the word vegetarian because I see it as step one, whereas vegan is step two for most people. It is often too shocking to ask a carnivore to become vegan, but they will at least discuss the possibility of vegetarianism. I’ve been in Dallas for the last week and every single television commercial is either steak or chicken. It’s as if they want to wipe out the entire American population with bowel disease or cancer. And they are!
There’s been controversy on you bringing activism very close to concerts to the point they’ve been cancelled for this very reason. Would you defend this saying it’s just part of the brand and the message is just as important as the music?
I firstly find that a cancelled Morrissey concert gains more attention than any concert cancelled by anyone else, and it even gains more attention than it would if the concert were actually played! I often refuse offers because the venue will not go vegetarian, but the offers are refused before the date is announced, yet people get in a terrible stir about it. I think people enjoy the sense of continual drama. Following Morrissey is not like following Rush. The Morrissey hot-lines are always on fire with some daily controversy or other. It certainly isn’t boring. I was offered an arena date in China, but they refused to go cruelty-free for the night, so I said… goodbye, then. The same with Iceland. They just can’t get enough bloodshed. When I played in Goteborg, Sweden, they actually closed down the McDonalds attached to the venue, which was incredible! I thought, well, if this were achieved by any other artist it would be world news… but because it’s me, well … silence.
You’ve talked about American politics quite a bit before, but your music focuses on politics in the UK and that region. Do any politically-charged songs made in America really connect with you and bring your spirit into this country?
Of course there has been a great deal of rousing political songs about the American condition … most famously Buffy Sainte-Marie singing “Moratorium”, Bob Dylan’s “The Time’s they Are A-Changin’”, Edwin Starr singing “War”, Joni Mitchell singing “here in good ol’ God Save America / the home of the brave and the free / we are all hopelessly oppressed cowards “… bits of Melanie Safka I thought were very cutting, Phil Ochs, Billie Holiday singing Strange Fruit … and of course I’m not inspired by rap but I can see how ‘Fear Of a Black Planet’ or ‘Mamma, Don’t You Think They Know?’ jumps ahead with everything Nina Simone was doing with ‘To Be Young, Gifted And Black’.
I think rap has scared the American white establishment to death, mainly because it’s true. James Brown once sang “Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud”. No pop artist would ever be allowed to say that today … they’d be instantly dropped from the label. If Billie Holiday approached Capitol Records in 2015 they wouldn’t entertain her for a second. Also, yes, I feel that I bring my spirit to America, and I feel very much a part of it and I’ve played in most cities big or small. America has been so important to my musical life, and the audiences have always been incredible. I’ve always felt privileged even though I know I’ve been locked out of mainstream considerations. That’s life! Me and Billie Holiday, good company, at least.
You once were very critical of Hillary Clinton running for president and also said “God Bless Barack Obama”. Another American election cycle is happening, Obama is retiring, Hillary is running for president and no matter what a new president is getting in. Do you have any feelings on the election, Hillary over the years and have your feelings on Obama remained the same?
I criticized Hillary because she ridiculed Obama in the original election fight, and I thought that was quite low of her. I now think she is a definite for the Presidency, and really, she has no competition. When you look at other women in or around the American political circuit … Michelle Bachmann, Ann Coutler, Sarah Palin … they are all horrific spikes in the forehead, yet Hillary now seems calm and measured. But a female president won’t necessarily change anything because, as with Margaret Thatcher, if it goes wrong, the people would never again allow a woman to take the lead. Thatcher actually obliterated any hope for women in British politics, as recent history has shown, and of course, she was actually fired from her own position by her own party! If her own party couldn’t stand her then you can imagine how the British people felt about her!
People get elected almost by default because those who vote for all of the other parties are always larger in number than those who vote for whoever finally gets elected, so it’s a mistake to assume that anyone who becomes the Prime Minister or the President does so because the people like them. It’s all an optical illusion. There’s no indication that the people of Russia actually like Putin, but he knows how to juggle his way into the hot seat.
Obama has mystified me because he doesn’t appear to support black people when they need it most… Ferguson being an obvious example. If Michael Brown had instead been one of Obama’s daughters, I don’t think Obama would be insisting that the nation support the so-called security forces! How can they be called security forces if they make the people feel insecure? Obama seems to be white inside. There is an obvious racial division in America and it’s exploding and Obama doesn’t ever support the innocent black people who are murdered by white police officers who are never held accountable. You would expect him to be more understanding of what it means to be black. But so far, he hasn’t been. There’s no point in continually saying that we must support the police when it is obvious to the entire world that the police in America are out of control.
“How Soon is Now”, “Light that Never Goes Out” and “Suedehead” are very personal songs. How do you compare that with “Meat is Murder” or “Panic” where they clearly have a broader message?
“Suedehead”? Are you sure? Well, I think everything I sing has a broad message, but either it taps you on the shoulder or it doesn’t. Very few bands or artists have any message of any kind. I feel that I have a great deal to say … which scared Harvest Records to death.
With your motif of much loved cities throughout your songwriting career, like Los Angeles, Rome and now Istanbul, is there a new city on this lonely planet that you might just fall in love with? A new place to rouse a muse?
I’m pulled towards Poland, but I don’t know enough to sing about it as yet. I’m also always excited to be in South America, even though the last visit to Peru gave me food poisoning and I officially died for nine minutes. That was fun.
2015 marks 20 years since the recording and release of Southpaw Grammar, and the subsequent tour opening with David Bowie during his Outside tour, as well as the Boxers tour earlier in 1995. You’ve expressed before how much growing older has pleased you, but do you have anything memorable to recall during this time of your life and career at this point?
It was a difficult time … you won’t be surprised to hear … because I loved Southpaw Grammar, but there was no interest from the labels that released it: Reprise in U.S and RCA in London. I think it’s a criminally underrated album and the band were in full flourish. But when the album was released, I was already out of contract and I had no idea where my next 45 would come from. I thought the band were so fantastic that the world would open up and finally admit that the Morrissey band were a formidable force… but, no! Silence across the plains! An executive from Reprise even admitted to me that the label deliberately did not work the album. What can you do? Cry, perhaps.
Since the release of your best-selling and instant classic Autobiography, you sometimes bring up a novel that you have been working on. Is there anything you would care to reveal about the novel’s further development?
The book is with the publishers who are deciding on a date to publish. It could be tomorrow, it could be 2071. It’s all in the hands of the publishing gods.
With your departure from Harvest Records, you’ve released “Kiss Me a Lot” as a single on Atom Factory. How has Atom Factory been treating you? Was this a one off deal or do you have any plans to sign a longer contract with them?
I haven’t signed with Atom Factory. They have been good friends and were very supportive with the iTunes release of “Kiss Me a Lot’, but where it goes from here I have no idea.
Having completed your European and Australian tourdates for this year, how did everything pan out? Is the addition of Mando Lopez to the band working out with everything you look to accomplish?
Yes, Mando is excellent and very much a part of the family. The band are incredibly strong, and I’ve been singing well, so we have no problems other than the constant brick wall of the music industry. Australia was fantastic. The appreciation of the audiences was breath-taking… even now, after all these years…
On a sillier note… Brandon Flowers from The Killers recently mused over the fact that he found out you were a fan of his solo record after “stalking” you at a hotel a few years back.
The Killers covered one of my songs, “Why Don’t You Find Out For Yourself”, and I thought it was so magnificent and so carefully done, so I’ll be forever thankful to them for that, and Brandon always says good things about me in the press, which is a relief! Yes, I think he was stalking me at a hotel a few years back, but I could see him hiding and I knew what he was doing… which was quite funny. Well, to me, anyway.
Check AlternativeNation.net tomorrow for our next #MorrisseyWeek article! Thanks to Mike Mazzarone & Doug McCausland for booking this interview. You can follow AlternativeNation.net on Twitter and like us on Facebook
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