Photo: Gerhard Krejci

Lowering the Boom: An Interview with Boz Boorer

Although an acclaimed collaborator of Morrissey's and Adam Ant's, Boz Boorer still has a focused solo career, and speaks to PopMatters about Age of Boom, his latest salvo.
Boz Boorer
Age of Boom

British guitarist Martin James “Boz” Boorer had already established a name for himself before joining ex-Smiths frontman Morrissey’s band in 1991. His status as a co-leader for the rockabilly band The Polecats was the springboard that got him working with one of Britpop’s most iconic vocalists.

Since then, Boorer lent his talents for performing and arranging to the likes of Edwyn Collins, Adam Ant, and Kristeen Young. Boz Boorer has gone from strutting Polecat to serving as a hub for various strands of Britpop. Being a musician who thrives on collaboration, Boz Boorer couldn’t just make a solo album this year — he wanted a little help from his friends. “I think the sum is greater than the individual parts,” he explained to PopMatters when preparing for the release of the album Age of Boom. “I can plan a track around a vocal style or embellish a track after someone has sung on it, it can only be advantageous.”

The name Age of Boom refers to a baby boomer who has nothing to offer but empty nostalgia. Says Boorer in the album’s press release; “‘Age of Boom’ is a true story about an old bar fly who sits in a pub all day talking to anyone who will listen, and often to no one at all. He was one of the boom babies, borns in the ’50s, but now with nothing better to do than to reminisce about a bygone age that has passed us all by.”

Considering that Boorer and the likes of Morrissey share a common interest in rockabilly, it can be difficult to reconcile a love for the old with a desire for the new. How do we avoid the nostalgia trap? Boorer’s attitude is simple: “The young [need to put] their own indelible stamp on things. Embrace nostalgia but put your own stamp on it, make it your own, onwards and forwards!”

This time around, Boorer’s own indelible stamp came in his mental approach to Age of Boom: “I had done the last record as a collection of tracks I had lying around so I thought it was time to plan it out a little more, the only difference really was that each song was approached as an album track and not an individual piece of work. I think [the tracks] are all individual, the thread I think is the fact that all of the basic tracks and mixing were done in Portugal, in my studio with the same outboard equipment.”

If you are a rabid Morrissey fan, and I’m sure you are just one of many, you are probably already aware that Boz Boorer owns a recording studio located in the mountains of Portugal. As stated, most of Age of Boom was recorded there, and when I asked him to sell me on the idea of recording/working in such a remote area, he simply said “[It’s] up [in] a mountain, complete tranquility, fantastic weather, always warmer than London, local people are lovely, [food] and drink are great, views are to die for, local hootch is lethal!”

Age of Boom‘s guest roster is something to behold in size alone. There’s Eddie Argos from Art Brut, Tom Walkden from Wolventrix, James Maker, Georgina Baillie, Sarah Vista, Tracy Vandal, Ben Mark, hip-hop artist Alex Lusty, and Tupelo Chainsex frontman “Limey” Dave Dahlson. Does Boorer select his collaborators based on his listening habits or it is all based on who he thinks would be a good fit for his songs? “Anyway works,” he stated matter-of-factly. “I’d love to do some recording with Richard Hawley but we haven’t been in the right place at the right time.” Thinking that he was after Hawley’s sonorous voice, Boorer threw me a curve. “I think I would give him a basic track that he could play guitar on.”

Boom is a lively album. What it lacks in artiness or unpredictability it makes up for in the Just Plain Fun department. Dahlson’s grimy underbelly performance to “Chasing the Devil” stands in a stark contrast to Sarah Vista’s peppy reading of The Polecats cover “Make A Circuit With Me”, and Alex Lusty’s incantation of “shut your cakehole, don’t make a sound” on the loungey “Noizey Fryday” doesn’t sound nearly as menacing as the rapper’s appareance may suggest. “My fave hip-hop songs are varied, starting with ‘Nobody Beats the Biz’, ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ and even as far as Onyx’s ‘Slam'”, admitted Boorer.

When asked about what he feels are his greatest accomplishments are as a collaborator, Boz Boorer reached back in time only two years prior for his prime example: “[T]he string arrangements on “Scandinavia” [a bonus track to Morrissey’s World Peace is None of Your Business], I charted the whole string part. It’s very rewarding, the same as when I did the quartet arrangements on the Vauxhall and I album and the Southpaw Grammar sessions.” This opened the opportunity to ask about his relationship with Morrissey. For instance, does the singer focus only on the lyrics as he did when he co-wrote the songs of The Smiths with Johnny Marr? “As the years go by he has had a much bigger influence on the arrangements and formats of the songs. Most recently the arrangement of ‘Istanbul’, it was completely rearranged.”

Speaking of arrangements for Southpaw Grammar, whose idea was it to jam over a Shostakovich symphony for “The Teachers are Afraid of the Pupils”? “It was a piece of music I had studied for A level and I though it would be interesting to put on some distorted guitars over a hip-hop beat, I loved the way it came out.”

And is that him playing the nylon string solo at the end of “Staircase at the University”? “No Gustavo [Manzur] is an accomplished flamenco player he rose to the mark when he played the outro. I did give him 3 shots of Chivas regal as he was doing it!” Not exactly local or lethal, but the anecdote of an individual who is out to highlight the fun aspects of pop music.