Heaven knows Morrissey was miserable for much of 2013.
Last year, the Mancunian music icon suffered a relentless series of personal tribulations and professional disappointments. Moz’s woes began when an unshakable bout of ailments – including double pneumonia, a bleeding ulcer, and a nasty gastrointestinal disorder known as Barrett’s esophagus – forced him to cancel most of his North American tour. In the summer, a much-anticipated South American tour was nixed due to lack of funding. And despite his nearly 30-year reign as one of the British indie scene’s most cherished talents, Morrissey had neither a publisher for his long-overdue autobiography, nor a record label to release the songs he’d penned following his last solo album, 2009’s “Years of Refusal.”
But as the year wound down, things began looking up. Last October, Morrissey’s “Autobiography” was finally released on the famed Penguin Classics imprint to much fanfare, topping the U.K. best-seller’s list for five weeks. On the heels of his literary success, Morrissey announced in January that he had signed a two-album deal with Harvest Records, and decamped to France to begin working on a follow-up to “Refusal.” And earlier this month, Morrissey announced a 25-date North American tour that will find him sharing the stage with renowned crooners Tom Jones and Sir Cliff Richard in L.A. and New York respectively.
Now that he’s found the silver lining to his black cloud, Billboard thought it was good time to pick Morrissey’s brain about his recent rash of success, his anticipated new projects, and the 30th anniversary of his first album with the Smiths. Fortunately for us, Morrissey thought it was a good time to answer our queries.
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Billboard: Hi Morrissey. Thanks for taking some time for us. Where are you right now?
Morrissey: I’m in France recording a new album. But surely you’d rather discuss the Smiths?
Well, since you mentioned it… Feb. 20 marked the 30th anniversary of the release of the first Smiths album. How did you mark the occasion?
Is it only 30 years? It feels like 60.
Last we chatted, you said you had “a better chance of being hit by lighting” than receiving a decent offer from an esteemed record label. You’ve now signed a two-album deal with Harvest Records, an imprint of Capitol. How did that deal come together?
Steve Barnett from Capitol Music appeared with a deal and said “let’s go,” so we did. It’s always so much more productive when people get straight to the point.
It’s been nearly five years since your last album. How are the trials and triumphs of the last few years influencing your new music?
The good and the bad must be documented. Life is a serious business, so why pretend it isn’t? I’m amused by modern pop artists who can only sing about s.e.x … as if nothing else mattered on the planet.
Speaking of triumphs, your much-delayed autobiography was finally released last year. It immediately became an international best-seller and is being translated into 14 languages. How surprised were you by its success?
I felt a bit rash hoping for a no. 7 position, so when it came in at no. 1 and stayed there for five weeks … I was breathless. It’s sold more than I ever imagined.
It’s been reported that you’re now working on a novel. Is that true? If so, what are you writing about?
I can’t christen the baby until I at least see its head. It’s bad form, somehow.
Video: Morrissey performs at the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize concert
In 2013, you endured a series of unfortunate maladies that forced you to cancel many tour dates. Are you still ill?
Well, I’m expected to see Easter. It was a bad year. I was in hospitals so frequently that the doctors were sick to death of me, and there’s nothing more ageing than lying in a hospital bed, trying to recover from hospital food. If your illness doesn’t kill you then the hospital food sees you off. That’s what it’s there for. Anyway, it was my time to go to pieces. Much overdue.
On your next tour, you’ve asked Tom Jones and Sir Cliff Richard to open for you in L.A. and New York respectively. What impresses you most about these veteran frontmen?
Veteran is a gentle way of saying “old,” isn’t it? Well, it’s only my view of course, but everything is a question of style, and Tom and Cliff qualify greatly in the style department, and age has nothing to do with it. There are millions of obese 19-year olds who only buy clothes that blend in with the couch.
Last year, you got the Staples Center in Los Angeles to go vegetarian when you performed there. Are you looking to strike similar deals with venues during your next Stateside visit?
It’s a standard requirement now when booking venues. It’s not as unusual as you might think, and the halls are very understanding. I think it’s generally accepted these days that meat is murder for the animals, murder for the planet, and eventually murders the consumer. Soon eating a cheeseburger will be as outlawed as smoking in church, and that will be a great day for civilisation.
Recently on the True to You website, you likened eating animals to pedophilia, a comparison some may find … extreme. Care to defend your point of view?
I don’t need to defend my own point of view. When you eat an animal you subject it to spiritual and physical rape, you eats its breasts … its rump … you cut off its genitals … whichever way you care to look at it, eating animals is violence at its most extreme.
You’re no stranger to controversial viewpoints. Is there anything you’ve said in the press that you’ve regretted?
I’m not controversial at all, and whatever I’ve said I meant. Amongst all of the people around me, my views are not special. They are only controversial if your brain is stuck in 1957.
Recently, the music world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ landing in America. Were you particularly influenced, musically or otherwise, by the Fab Four?
I thought four of their songs were magnificent, and if a band can give you four magnificent songs then that’s good enough for me. But was I ever influenced by the Beatles? No.
Despite your best efforts, many fans still hopelessly pray for a Smiths reunion. Are there any long-gone groups or performers you desperately wish would take the stage again?
I don’t know a single person who wants a Smiths reunion! But, no, there aren’t any bands I like to see again because your memory of them is how they were in their prime or at their best or at their most desperate, and you look to them to be someone that they no longer are.
Prince recently revealed that he’s an exceptional ping-pong player. What surprising, secret talent do you have?
I’m an exceptional ping-pong player.
What did you wake up worrying about today?
Ukraine. Why do news reporters call the people ‘protestors’? They are the people! It’s the government who are the rebels. Silly world, isn’t it?
Lastly, what’s one piece of advice you wish someone had given you in 1984?
You should always judge a book by its cover.