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Johnny Marr doesn't feel the need to talk about the Smiths these days. "It just sounds like an old subject to me, that's all," he says bluntly.

The guitar hero and co-leader of the great Manchester band he founded with a chap called Morrissey back in 1982 isn't being rude, it's just that Marr likes "moving forward" and doing different musical projects.

Even back in his Smiths days his work with other bands and musicians bugged Morrissey, and was one of the main reasons the band split after Marr left in 1987.

Both Marr and Morrissey have always written off the idea of a reunion, although there has been some talk of it in recent years. Still, on the phone to TimeOut from Melbourne this week, Marr's not giving anything away and only says the Smiths' name once during the interview - and even then he trails off and doesn't finish his sentence ("And when the Smiths took off ...").

While his legacy as a guitar great stems from Smiths' songs like There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, his reticence is understandable because the band ended so long ago and he has done a lot since.

"I like the idea of evolving and moving on. I really hope I'm not the same person in two years' time as I am now. And with my musical lifestyle I'm the sort of person who says, 'Why the hell would you want to spend time with the same guy for 25 years if you don't have to'. I don't get that. I'd rather go out and play with my favourite band if I can."

It's clear that his current favourite band are melodic, uppity and intelligent British bashers the Cribs, which he joined in 2008.

The Cribs are here for two shows next week, playing a MySpace secret show on Tuesday and then the Juice Bar at the Windsor Castle in Parnell on Saturday.

Marr, who first came to New Zealand in 1989 with The The, is making a habit of coming here and was last in Auckland for his mate Neil Finn's Seven Worlds Collide concert series early in 2009. He was also part of the first incarnation back in 2001 ("There was something in the air that time, and a lot of musical connections were made.")

He's proud of the fact he's worked constantly, and been in at least one band continuously, since the Smiths' split. He started out with a short stint in the Pretenders; then The The (including playing on the excellent Mind Bomb album from 1989); in the 90s he teamed up with Bernard Sumner of Joy Division and New Order in Electronic; in the early 2000s he formed Johnny Marr and the Healers; from 2006 he has been in American oddball band Modest Mouse; and now, it's the Cribs.

He says the Cribs latest album, Ignore the Ignorant, which came out last year, is "as good as anything I've done". A bold claim considering the Smiths 1986 album The Queen Is Dead is among one of the best albums of all time, and songs like There Is A Light, How Soon Is Now and Girlfriend In A Coma remain timeless.

"Yeah, yeah, but I don't really talk about my work like everybody else does," he offers.

"So for me I think both Modest Mouse records were pretty good, and obviously I love everything I've done, but you know I don't talk about my stuff like everybody else would, that's impossible. I just really enjoyed recording these [Cribs] songs and playing them live - and I doubt I'll stop liking them," he laughs.

For the 46-year-old, being in the Cribs - also made up of twins Gary and Ryan Jarman and their younger brother Ross - takes him back to when he first started playing in a band.

"We're cut from the same cloth really. We have similar ideals, and we believe that it's a special thing to be in a band. We do, we really believe being in a band is one of the greatest things. They have this ambition to be great, not necessarily to be big, but great."

The Cribs were well established before Marr joined, having released three albums, with the second, The New Fellas from 2005, a standout - and the one Marr knew them by ("I thought the lyrics were very very smart.").

He first met bass player and singer Gary in Portland, Oregon, in 2007 where Marr was playing with Modest Mouse, and the two hit it off. He also got along with Jarman's brothers and officially joined the band in 2008.

"We have the same values, and mine haven't really changed since I first started out, and when we got together to play it just sounded like a group straight away. And they take the business of being in a group very seriously.

"The band take rehearsals as seriously as if we're headlining Reading."

Yet not to the point of being earnest, and the Cribs live show is by all accounts a brazen and rowdy experience.

And yes, Marr's distinct guitar sound - that powerful, spirited and sometimes noisy jangle - comes through in the Cribs, especially on songs like the angluar Hari Kari and the breezier Last Year's Snow.

As a guitarist he reckons he's gotten better over the years, even though "there's still a big gulf between where I am and where I want to be".

"Hopefully I'm less cavalier about what I do. I think I'm a lot more natural really now, and to be boringly technical about it's just that I've got 20-odd years of making records and 10 years of sitting in my own recording studio getting into guitar sounds. When you're younger you just put your head down and a whole bunch of stuff just comes out. But these days I've just got infinite options."

When he was young he knew he had a talent, but he didn't realise how unique his playing was - something that has prompted blokes like Noel Gallagher of Oasis to say "You can't play what Johnny Marr plays".

Marr is typically coy about it: "To be perfectly honest it was just people telling me that I had a good thing going. It started off with my friends making a big deal out of me being able to work out how to play Rebel Rebel within three minutes, whereas it would take them three weeks," he laughs.

And, back then, as far as he was concerned this talent "got me out of the housing estate".

"These days though," he says, "I'm definitely good at what I do and I could play rings around young me. I play the guitar all the time and the more I play it the more I enjoy it."

LOWDOWN
Who: Johnny Marr, formerly of the Smiths, now of the Cribs.

What: Guitar hero

Key albums: The Smiths - The Smiths (1984), Meat Is Murder (1985), The Queen Is Dead (1986); Strangeways, Here We Come (1987), The The - Mind Bomb (1989), Electronic - Electronic (1991), Johnny Marr and The Healers - Boomslang (2003), Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (2007); The Cribs - Ignore the Ignorant (2009).

Where & when: Juice Bar, Parnell, Feb 27. Also Myspace secret gig, Tues, see myspace.com/secretshowsnz for details.