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Friday, April 15, 2016

A Slightly Different Character: Alex Turner On The Last Shadow Puppets, Shifting Mindsets, And Jetlag

Posted By on Fri, Apr 15, 2016 at 1:30 PM

The Last Shadow Puppets - (PAUL BACHMANN/ LIVE4EVER MEDIA)
  • (Paul Bachmann/ Live4ever Media)
  • The Last Shadow Puppets

Alex Turner needs a nap.

“I’m riding a really fucking wild wave of jetlag,” the co-frontman of The Last Shadow Puppets confesses to me a few minutes into our interview. He blames his recent jaunts between Heathrow and JFK for the bad case of fatigue, then insists it’s nothing serious. “We don’t go on ‘til ten. I’ll get some inner eyelid inspection,” he says, his half-Sheffield, half-Chateau Marmont drawl slinking through the syllables.

Not that tour-induced fatigue is anything new to Turner, best known as the frontman for indie rock monolith Arctic Monkeys. “It’s all I’ve been doing since I was about eighteen,” he says. His fellow Puppets frontman, neo-mod rocker Miles Kane, can relate. After leaving The Rascals in 2009, Kane signed to Columbia Records, released two solo records and three EPs, and toured extensively under his own name. In comparison to their individual endeavors, The Puppets’ catalog is far less expansive; eight years separate their just-released sophomore album Everything You’ve Come To Expect from their debut, The Age of the Understatement.
Considered a one-off by fans for the better part of those eight years, The Age of the Understatement mined the discographies of '60s avant-garde rocker Scott Walker and composer Ennio Morricone to capture its baroque pop sound. It was an exercise in spontaneity and, according to Turner, naiveté. “I think what that record is to me was Miles turning me onto a bunch of records I’d never heard before, and me and him trying to do our version of that at, like, twenty years old.”

At age thirty, and in hindsight, Turner is quick to point out its shortcomings. “Some of the dumbest lines I’ve ever written are on that first album,” he says with a laugh. “Hopefully there’s less shitty lyrics on this one.”

Regardless, some things remain the same. Turner and Kane chose to reinstate the experimental ethos and production team that guided their debut while recording its follow-up. Due in large part to composer Owen Pallet’s return, an 18-piece orchestra, and Morricone’s continuing influence, Everything deals in many of the same kaleidoscopic and cinematic sounds that define its predecessor.

That being said, a lot can – and did – change in eight years. On Everything, the duo swap Understatement’s wide-eyed innocence and boyish heartbreak for something sleeker, sexier, and far more sinister. The record isn’t filthy, per se, but it lacks pure intentions. How else to explain Turner crooning, “Ain’t got anything to lick without you, baby,” on the track “Sweet Dream, TN”? The better angels of our nature have no business in the devilish “Used To Be My Girl” or the sweeping “Dracula Teeth,” all straining violins and psychedelic guitars shapeshifting among the reverberation.

A consistent and self-assured effort at every turn, the album continues to evolve for Turner as the tour stretches on. He describes the pair’s mindset during recording as something closer to soundtrack composers than pop songwriters, but acknowledges an ongoing perspective shift the more they play it for audiences. “Each song, I feel, sometimes wants to become a slightly different character than it may play on the record,” he says. “It’s at its best when you let it become something else.”
Such a statement could be used to describe the man himself. In 2008, Turner was still British indie’s baby-faced and shaggy-haired wunderkind. In 2016, he’s one of the biggest rock stars on the planet, resides in Los Angeles, treats leather jackets and vintage tracksuits like second skins, and can officially claim to have conquered America thanks to Arctic Monkeys’ seminal fifth album AM. Oh, and he sports a haircut reminiscent of a '50s greaser.

It hardly ends there. Toto-we’re-not-in-Sheffield-anymore was a popular and accurate assessment among journalists during the AM press tour; it’s an even more astute claim now. Case in point: When I ask where he’s calling from, he answers, “East 10th and Avenue B” without a moment’s hesitation. That he is posted up in the perpetually cool East Village – and casually specifies this rather than offering a simple “New York City” or “Manhattan” response – speaks to the intensity of his evolution from lovably awkward indie boy into Alex Turner, Official Rock ‘N’ Roll Star. The man himself continues to transform into something else.

So do The Last Shadow Puppets, a band now light years ahead of its previous incarnation in terms of songwriting ability, lyricism, maturity, and swagger. “We used to get asked a lot about when we were going to make another album,” Turner says. “I’d kind of begun to think that there was a strong possibility that we never would, but it kept coming up.”

And, if I may be so bold, thank goodness it did.

The Last Shadow Puppets play at 8:00 pm on Sunday, April 17, at The Fillmore. The show is sold out.




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Elle Coxon

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