It’s cloudy and cold. Big raindrops are hitting the windows of the posh Soho House in Berlin. Alex Turner’s look outside the window over the cold and grey German capital is a mix between thoughtfulness and indifference. ‘Yeah, we would love to stroll around the city’, he mumbles, ‘but there’s never enough time.’ I can’t really sense whether it’s true melancholia or just jetlag speaking out of the ARCTIC MONKEYS leading man. Yes, Turner is tired and so is his companion Miles Kane who is anywhere but near his musical partner when I approach Turner. ‘He’ll be back in a minute so you have to stick with me’, explains Turner with a whimsical smile. He just turned 30 and the fact that he’s already been in the business for over ten years is just an in impressive reminder how young he still is.
On April the 1st, him and Kane will release the second album by their band THE LAST SHADOW PUPPETS, called Everything You’ve Come To Expect. It arrives eight years after their debut The Age Of Understatement and so many things have changed in those years in the world and music scene. Miles Kane managed to establish himself as a profound songwriter with a respectful solo career while Turner and his band are indeed one of the world’s biggest rock bands at the moment. Back in 2008, the scenery was quite a different one. Kane’s band THE RASCALS was about to release its first album, following a few buzzing first singles. The ARCTIC MONKEYS and their first two albums in 2006 and 2007 established them as one of indie rock’s first league newcomers. They were only in their early twenties but already one of the UK’s biggest bands. The two gentlemen became friends with Turner even asking Kane if he want to join the ARCTIC MONKEYS in 2006 when bassist Andy Nicholson left the group. He politely declined the offer but the two clearly couldn’t get away from each other in the following years.
‘Our friendship is the foundation for all of this’, explains Turner. THE LAST SHADOW PUPPETS is the result of that friendship and album number two would have happened much sooner but the tight schedule of both artists would prevent them for years to record it. The circumstances might have changed but the stimulus remains the same. Prior to the recording sessions Turner even tried to explore The Age Of Understatement again.
‘I indeed listened to the debut again and thought about why we did it back then, how we worked on it. The stimulus back then was that we’ve gotten into all that SCOTT WALKER and SERGE GAINSBOURG records back then.’
Still, he isn’t completely satisfied with it in retrospect. ‘I think there are some really silly lyrics on it,’ he explains. That was something he really wanted to change for the follow-up. ‘This time we could focus on the songwriting a bit more and less about the pure referencing of Scott Walker and all the others.’ The words leave Turner’s mouth in a very slow way on this Tuesday afternoon. He’s not even trying to hide his yawning caused by a massive jetlag. He mumbles ‘Sorry’ multiple times during our conversation. The man from Sheffield is doing his best but Alex Turner is just not the kind of person who likes to do interviews, it seems. As Miles Kane finally arrives halfway during our conversational battle he orders a coffee in surprisingly fluent German to light up the atmosphere.
Getting back into the groove to do the same stuff all over again
It quickly turns out that the other 50 percent of THE LAST SHADOW PUPPETS aren’t that much into talking on that day as well. Miles Kane is fighting to keep his eyes open, explains that he never really questions his friendship to Turner which is based on a feeling of mutual respect and loyalty, it seems. ‘We both got friends who are musicians but nobody who’s as close as we are,’ Kane tells me. ‘Aside from making music together we’re just good friends and enjoy hanging out together,’ he continues before adding, ‘So, not much has changed since 2008.’ ‘It’s still the same shit, right?’, jokes Turner while sipping from his freshly arrived coffee. There’s a bit of truth in there because the crafted retro rock on Everything You’ve Come To Expect isn’t that far away from its predecessor. The sweet pop songs still drown in a beautifully arranged sea of strings, thanks to OWEN PALLETT while Turner and Kane act like a 21st century update of the WALKER BROTHERS. The change lies in the details, especially in the content of the songs as Turner tells me:
‘This album is my first attempt to fall into the abstract with my lyrics. I hope this time that area of the lyrics is more refined and more effective. Aside from that we try to keep that free and creative attitude we also had for the first LP, allowing us space to explore.’
The work on album number one happened really fast back then in-between short breaks from their main bands (‘We did it in a couple of weeks, when we were on vacation’), resulting in – according to Kane and Turner – quite shallow lyrics and predictable musical patterns. They took a bit more time this time. ‘If was a lot about getting back in the groove,’ explains Kane. ‘We hadn’t written together in a long time so we’d probably changed a lot in those years.’ As his musical partner confirms, it wasn’t unfortunately that much change that occurred. I ask them what THE LAST SHADOW PUPPETS are capable of that can’t be done via their primary musical careers. Alex Turner yawns loud. Kane is trying his best, stating ‘The enjoyment of singing together and sharing the stage with each other’. ‘There’s always things you can achieve here that we can’t do with our other bands,’ interrupts Turner, ‘Otherwise why the hell should we do it?’ Alright, alright; why did I even ask?
It’s clear by now that the two lads aren’t in the mood for giving any insightful or complex answers today, maybe because there is far less complexity behind THE LAST SHADOW PUPPETS than you might assume from listening to their albums. It’s just two old buddies who love to record songs that are picked with pop musical references. Turner and Kane love explore the sound of a musical generation they were never part of. The first single Bad Habits, for example got a pretty ‘Alfred Hitchcock-sounding vibe’ as Kane explains later. The surprisingly progressive first single from Everything You’ve Come To Expect might misguide you because the rest is ‘pretty much the same stuff all over again, right?’ as Turner interrupts. He laughs. Both laugh. They look at each other and suddenly start to make funny noises and talk in a nonsense language to each other that is clearly based on long running inside jokes. These joyful moments give an insight into the chemistry of those two guys who still seem to have a lot of fun doing what they are doing. Well, aside for the promo days which they clearly seem to not enjoy at all.
The Last Show Puppets: ‘We’re not like Coldplay…’
Everything You’ve Come To Expect might end up being the middle-part of a potential trilogy that is defined by the cohesive sound THE LAST SHADOW PUPPETS picked for their project. Looks like the option for a potential cheesy 80s synthpop album is not on the table right now, although the guys really like the thought of it. They start making fun of the 80s style and fashion and the fact that they didn’t have a proper uniform for their project. ‘We’re not like COLDPLAY, ripping of Sgt. Pepper’, jokes Turner with Kane adding: ‘Yeah, we forgot to bring our neon spray cans…’ Still, a quick follow-up might be in conflict with the schedules of their main projects. Especially the ARCTIC MONKEYS frontman is pretty sure about this and says: ‘My band wouldn’t allow me that.’
Next stop is New York. At least that’s what Alex Turner thinks; he’s not 100% sure. The jetlagged buddies take the elevator down for a radio interview and I can’t help but feeling a bit sorry for whoever has to deal with them in that situation. I don’t think that Turner and Kane are arrogant rock star bastards. Well, I’m also not Zane Lowe, obviously. To me they just seem to pull up a shield for protection, avoiding a direct confrontation and prefer to let their music do the talking. And maybe that’s the best way to keep your friendship alive in this weird environment that is called showbiz. These guys simply don’t like to make a big deal out of themselves aside from the stage. The age of understatement isn’t over yet and the best might be still to come for Turner and Kane…