- 08 Jun 16
Indie superstar Alex Turner explains to Olaf Tyaransen why he felt compelled to return to TLSP, his mega-successful side project with Miles Kane.
"Hey, Oh-Laugh… are you still there, man?”
“Yeah, buddy. I’m here. Seriously. I’m listening to you.”
“OK. Sorry… I just need constant reassurance.
Ha, ha! Do you know what I mean, like?”
Alex Turner is talking down the phone to Hot Press from his LA home, but there’s a strange echoing delay on the line. Coupled with his slow and stoned-sounding Yorkshire drawl, the Arctic Monkeys frontman often sounds as though he could be calling me from outer space.
We’ve met face-to-face on a couple of occasions, and he’s not your ideal interviewee at the best of times. This writer has also been down this awkward telephonic road with Turner before (why does he only call me when he’s high?), so we’ll persevere and I’ll spare you readers the uncomfortable pauses, silences and non sequiturs.
So anyway… speaking of outer space, he was telling me that he was listening to David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ last night.
“Yeah, just last night I heard that song on the radio and sort of sat in the car after having come to a halt,” he recalls. “I think that says it all, really, when songs come on the radio and you’re driving and you’re at your destination and you sit there and, like, let it play out. You don’t do that with everything, but you do that for a lot of Bowie tunes.”
Turner only ever met Bowie once. It was a full decade ago, when the then-fledgling Arctic Monkeys played their very first, and massively hyped, shows in America.
“It was the first time that we played in New York, in the Bowery Ballroom, and David Bowie came to the show. I didn’t really know what to say to him, to be honest. I’m much more a fan of his work now than I was then, but even so… I hear people talk about being starstruck, and I think I was somewhere on the outskirts of that, certainly, with Bowie.”
Turner was just a fresh-faced 20-year-old at the time. “None of us knew what to do about him being there,” he laughs. “It was an alien situation to us. And I don’t know if I had met him again if it would have been any different, to be honest. Maybe even more so!”
Originally from Sheffield, Turner has now been based in LA for a number of years. “It’s really good here,” he says. “It’s been a few years, but I’ve been away on tour a lot of the time. I started to make some friends here around the time we did the third Arctic Monkeys album [Humbug]. And then we started to learn our way around a bit more, you know what I mean?”
Is he planning on staying there?
“Is it somewhere I’ll stay forever? I don’t know, but I’ll be here for… the next couple of weeks. Ha, ha!”
Turner is not wearing his Arctic Monkeys hat today. Rather, with that band on a brief hiatus, he’s promoting the just released sophomore album from his side project, The Last Shadow Puppets.
“With the Monkeys, there’s not a lot really happening at the moment... Matthew [Helders], the drummer, is on tour with Iggy Pop at the moment, it’s really something. I think we’ll get together pretty soon and start working, but there’s nothing concrete. Like, I can’t give you any dates just yet.”
Not to worry, given that there’s plenty to be getting on with. The follow-up to 2008’s The Age of the Understatement, the blistering Everything You’ve Come To Expect, finds Turner and his good friend Miles Kane reunited with James Ford (production and percussion), Owen Pallett (string arrangements) and bassist Zachary Dawes of Mini Mansions.
It’s been eight years since their debut (which went straight to No 1 in the UK), so when did the idea to reactivate The Last Shadow Puppets come about?
“Probably about two years ago,” replies Turner. “At that time, we felt we were writing Miles’ solo album, and then it turned into the Shadow Puppets about a year after that. We’d probably put it to bed a bit in our minds. Whenever we were asked about it – which was frequently – we’d say we’d like to do it again, but the chances of that actually happening seemed to be getting slimmer.”
It wasn’t until they were collaborating on a new song that the pair realised that they still probably had something to say together.
“The creative urge came when we were working on this song together, that was supposed to be for his solo album, called ‘Aviation’,” recalls Turner. “We experimented with a vocal harmony part towards the end of that track. It seemed reminiscent – obviously with the two of us! – of the last album, but also promising, in that it suggested there was somewhere to go with it as well. That tune had a similar mood to some of the stuff on the first album – it was pointing in an interesting direction.”
Recorded at Rick Rubin’s Shangri La Studio in Malibu, Everything You’ve Come To Expect is a far more open and expansive work than its predecessor. If TLSP’s debut wore its Scott Walker, John Barry and Ennio Morricone influences proudly on its sleeve, this one is more obviously enamoured with the likes of Paul Weller, Ned Doheny and Todd Rundgren.
“I think we can call it a ‘project’ now that we’ve done a grand total of two records,” laughs Turner. “It’s a thing now. On both occasions, it’s provided me with a chance to experiment. The first album really opened my mind to all sorts of different approaches. The studio could be a place where I was comfortable, and up until that point I didn’t see it like that. It taught me to try and sing in a different way too. Really just to consider singing for the first time...ever.
“So the first record served as a splash of water in the face,” he continues. “It created what I went on to do then with the Arctic Monkeys, and this time it’s all those things and more. And it’s not just that I would advise anyone to experiment, but that is at the heart of it. The moment that you recognise that it’s the other thing. A certain freedom comes with that. And also working with Miles, it comes very much from my heart. You know, with such a close friendship we have. Wanting to work together, it brings something else. I haven’t done too much with other people… he’s kind of the only one.”
Given that he’s the Shangri La key-holder, was Rick Rubin around during the recording of this album?
“No, Rick Rubin was not around – only James Ford. We just used his studio. If you get in real trouble in Shangri La, there’s an emergency number you can call and Rick kind of gets lowered down from the ceiling. But luckily, we didn’t have to do that. It was all smooth sailing with James.”
They’ve been out touring the album for the last couple of months.
“Doing the Shadow Puppets tour has been a hoot, actually,” enthuses Turner. “We just got to the end of the first run and it was really good. The band are all terrific players and terrific people to be around and so, yeah, it’s been wonderful. We had a wonderful show in Mexico City last week. A lot of these places, we’ve never been to before with the Shadow Puppets. Like, last time, we only did about 15 shows or something like that – mostly in Europe – so it was really brief. This time, we got to go to a few countries we didn’t go to before. We just got back from Japan the other day, which was terrific. With the Mexican show, I think we’d be very lucky if we got a reception like that anywhere else on this tour, it was really special. So yeah, man, I’ve not got any complaints at the moment.”
The cover of Everything You’ve Come to Expect features an old shot of a dancing Tina Turner. Obviously she’s no relation, but what was the thinking behind it?
“Well, that’s a photograph I’ve had a print of for a few years,” explains Turner. “I’ve had that on my wall for a while, and it’s always been something I’ve thought – were there to be a second Shadow Puppets album, it’d be a great cover for it. It was almost like that was the first part of the puzzle that we had in a way. It evoked something for me. That photo captured what I’d like the music to evoke in the listener, if you like. That’s all I’m ever trying to do with a record cover. On this occasion, it’s a pretty good match.”
The phone line seems to be getting worse and Turner starts to sound somewhat discombobulated.
“I think the fact that it’s Tina Turner… Like, I wasn’t really expecting those beans to get spilled but… because you can’t really tell… unless you are familiar with her thighs… Hello? Are you there?”
“Yes, I’m still listening…”
“Yeah… that was a full stop after THIGHS, Oh-Laugh!”
“Yeah. I said you’d only recognise it if you were over-familiar with her thighs. Ha, ha! There are more familiar ones of her… um… torso. But… anyway, go on.”
Probably best to go. But before I hang up, I ask Alex Turner if there are any plans for a third album from The Last Shadow Puppets?
“Uhm… yeah” he responds, after a painfully long silence. “It’d be nice, but maybe if we did it 15 years later… like The Godfather III. It’s kind of a bit… unnecessary. Haha! I don’t know. There’s certainly a start of something like that, but it won’t be for a long, long time, man.”
Everything You’ve Come To Expect is out now on Domino Records