How Soon Is Now?

"I had an impression of what Creedence were supposed to be about, partly because I had already gotten into The Gun Club and heard 'Run Through The Jungle' from their second album. It triggered off some echoes of what I'd heard of Creedence. So I made this demo, 'Swamp', trying to capture the same vibe. It didn't have the tremelo figure on it, but it had the slide part in regular concert tuning. It was quite a pretty figure, but only hinting at what it became. It was still quite passive, nowhere near as intense as it got. I remember us playing it for a while and me really hoping that we could make it sound like a Smiths track, because the chances were it might not have. We kicked it around until it did feel like us, but I could tell that it had something lacking. So I saw my opportunity to throw the tremelo part down that I'd been looking to use for quite a while."

"It was my boyhood love of 'Disco Stomp', Can's 'I Want More' and then tying the whole thing together with the Bo Diddley bow, as it were. That was the whole thing."

"I wanted an intro that was almost as potent as 'Layla.' When it plays in a club or a pub, everyone knows what it is."

"I've actually started using a digital delay line, just because for one song in particular I needed to use it. I just sent the effect straight through the Fender twin. The song is the 'B' side of the twelve-inch 'William, It Was Really Nothing' and it's called 'How Soon Is Now?' which is a 'Bo Diddley' thing, so I had to have the vibrato. I sent all the signal through the Fender twin and just put straight guitar through the Roland. I just stuck a slide on and it worked. I was a little bit worried because it was difficult to play. For the first time I'd done something really tricky in the studio which I had to reproduce live. We've done lots of things which I'd never be able to reproduce live just because there are more important things going on. The songs have never suffered because I normally tend to play them the way they're written live and if an overdub turns out to be an essential part of the song maybe I'll switch to that. 'How Soon Is Now?' is quite a difficult one as there are two completely separate guitar parts that can't be played at the same time. What I do is change to a guitar which has the bottom four strings tuned conventionally, but the E string is tuned a third above the B. I play into the digital delay and put it on hold to play over it. I just take the hold off when we get to the other chorus bits and I can play that with the bottom four strings and then the hold goes back on. I had to send the signal through the Fender twin because of the vibrato. The only difficulty with using vibrato all the way through a song is that you've got to really get it in time and Mike the drummer has got to ride the beat. I was really panicking before the gigs but it turned out OK. It doesn't sound exactly the same live as on the record but it is still as powerful and still as atmospheric so I'm happy with it."

"'How Soon Is Now' was in F# tuning. I wanted a very swampy sound, a modern bayou song. It's a straight E riff, followed by open G and F#m7. The chorus uses open B, A, and D shapes with the top two strings ringing out. The vibrato sound is fucking incredible, and it took a long time. I put down the rhythm track on an Epiphone Casino through a Fender Twin Reverb without vibrato. Then we played the track back through four old Twins, one on each side. We had to keep all the amps vibratoing in time to the track and each other, so we had to keep stopping and starting the track, recording it in 10-second bursts. I wish I could remember exactly how we did the slide part -- not writing it down is one of the banes of my life! We did it in three passes through a harmonizer, set to some weird interval, like a sixth. There was a different harmonization for each pass. For the line in harmonics, I retuned the guitar so that I could play it all at the 12th fret with natural harmonics. It's doubled several times."

"In ‘How Soon Is Now’ the harmonic lick is from Lovebug Starski: that was me getting one up on the journalists, putting a lick from a hip-hop record into a Smiths song. "

"'How Soon Is Now?' was the one, though. I wanted to write a track with an intro that you couldn't forget, something that you knew straight away was The Smiths. In that regard it was very "worked on". I arrived at the studio with a demo of the whole thing, apart from the tremolo effect - though that was bound to surface on a Smiths track sooner or later, 'cos at that time I was playing Bo Diddley stuff everywhere I went. I wanted it to be really, really tense and swampy, all at the same time. 'Layering the slide part was what gave it the real tension. As soon as I played that bit on the second and third strings, John Porter put an AMS harmoniser on it. Then we recorded each individual string with the harmoniser, then we tuned the B string down a half step and harmonised the whole thing. The tremolo effect came from laying down a regular rhythm part (with a capo at the 2nd fret) on a Les Paul, then sending that out in to the live room to four Fender Twins. John was controlling the tremolo on two of them and I was controlling the other two, and whenever they went out of sync we just had to stop the track and start all over again. It took an eternity. God bless the sampler, 'cos it would have been so much easier! But it was just one of those great moments. When Morrissey sang the vocal it was the first time we'd all heard it. John Porter said, 'Oh, great - he's singing about the elements! I am the sun and the air...' But of course it was really, I am the son and the heir/of a shyness that is criminally vulgar... A great track."

"If you were to play 'How Soon Is Now?' on piano or acoustic guitar, it wouldn't have the same impact as the finished article – the power of the record has a lot to do with the sound and the instrumentation and not necessarily the words and the chords. That's very satisfying for me because 'How Soon Is Now?' is built on the guitar – unlike poetry, sound is something that's beyond intellectual ideas, it's primal and otherworldly. But I was ecstatic when the words came on top of the music. They are actually quite brilliant. The contrast between the two worlds that Morrissey and I lived in worked especially well on 'How Soon Is Now?'. That's what made our songwriting partnership so interesting; the intellectual, self-conscious analysis, and the streetwise druggy exuberance."

"As a kid I was fascinated by Hamilton Bohannon's 'Disco Stomp' and 'New York Groove' by Hello, and I wanted to make something with that stomp. The first decent amp I got was the Fender Twin because the Patti Smith Group used it, and it had this amazing tremolo. Later when we'd had a few hits, a review of What Difference Does It Make said I'd written a riff that was instantly recognizable, which fascinated me. One night I was playing for my own pleasure and I suddenly got the riff. It all came together - the tremolo and the stomping groove - for what became How Soon Is Now, although my demo was titled Swamp. Because it was a groove track it originally appeared as an extra track on a 12-inch, but popular clamor forced its single release. I remember when Morrissey first sang: 'I am the son and the heir...' John Porter went, 'Ah great, the elements!' Morrissey continued, '...of a shyness that is criminally vulgar.' I knew he'd hit the bullseye there and then."

"'How Soon Is Now' is a great phrase. Because it's obviously 'I Want It Now'! How fast can you do it?... That was a very important song for us. It was an important song for me because I have two very strong influences pulling at me, both ways. One is as a guitar player and the other is as a writer. And 'How Soon Is Now' satisfied both elements. Perfectly for me, while still giving something to Morrissey which he could really work on and add his fifty percent to."

- Johnny Marr

Here are some great videos of Johnny playing the song:

I have uploaded a Guitar Pro tab file here, right click to save as.

Here are the tabs from the Singles book:

Here are the scans from the Complete Chord Dictionary:

Daniel Earwicker's is the only version that comes close, and yeah... it comes really, really close!

kfb76 does a cool version of the rhythm part on acoustic:


Laurent said...

amazing amazing amazing

it's cliché but I gotta say that words don't do justice to how cool your page is. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING THIS!

Thom said...

Thanks for the kind words, I really appreciate it. ;D

davemccully said...

This is a great site. I havent come across one as detailed as this. Great work mate, great site.

Anonymous said...

Just recently came across your site and I must say it is utterly brilliant. Thank you so much for the time and effort.

Anonymous said...

send this to everyone you know and get them to join up and download How Soon Is Now from 00:00hrs on Jan 31 2010 through to 23:59 hrs on Feb 6 2010 times are GMT - the aim is to get How Soon Is Now to number one in the UK.

Full details from the Facebook group below..happy downloading.
FB group

Anonymous said...

The videos are great. If you really want to get the right tremolo sound, though, you need (at least one) twin reverb. I use a silverface twin, and then run an electro harmonix tremolo pedal in unison. You can also A/B the two. Also, single coil pickups help get the right sound. I have a cheap epiphone les paul jr. copy that I have put TV Jones pickups in, and that gives a very jangly, Marrish tone. Much cheaper than a Rickenbacker.

AFA Will said...

Hi, It is really great to see a top artist share with the world there passion and insight in what they do. Thank you for generously spending your time on this blog.

Sam said...

Hello Thom... i love this site!!

The link to the Guitar pro tab is not working...

Please, please, please fix this link and let me get what i want...!!


Thom said...

Fixed the link, Sam. Thanks!

Sam said...

Thanks thom... now i can check out the wah-waah!!

Seraphim said...

And a proto-How Soon Is Now riff:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great info share my band Revelin Sky is going sound a shade more Smithsy now.

I look forward to soundchecking my guitar with How Soon is Now. You know that's gonna be a head turner!

Thanks again

Benny Butcher

johnny6666 said...

What an exceptional blog. Your passion for Marr's work comes through clearly, and this site is simply an amazing education in the sound of The Smiths. Bravo!

martin samuels said...

Does anyone know how to get the waling slide part to sound right? I know you have to tune the G string to G# and slide from the 13th fret to the 12th on the B and G# strings but what effects are used? There is a lot of talk about reverese reverb but I'm not sure that's right (especially for live renditions). There's a great version here:
Can anyone have a stab at what the 2nd guitarist is doing?

eddie lasowsky said...

johnny playing the riff up close