By Brian Ives
Interviewing Miles Kane and Alex Turner of the Last Shadow Puppets is a bit like talking to the Beastie Boys back in the day: Kane and Turner know each other well enough to have an unspoken telepathy between them. They also seem to have inside jokes that they generally opt not to let an interviewer in on. Also, they don’t really seem to love doing interviews.
But in this chat with Radio.com, they opened up a bit, and discussed their new album, Everything You’d Come To Expect, and how they balance their careers around the band (Kane is also a solo artist, and Turner fronts the Arctic Monkeys; in this interview, he hints at another project as well, while not elaborating much about it). And Miles reveals his nickname for Paul Weller that he won’t likely ever actually say to Mr. Weller’s face.
Did you originally form the band with the intent of bringing back orchestral music, or was it simply that you just wanted to work together and then you figured out what your direction was?
Miles Kane: Yeah, at the start it was the thing of working together was exciting us, you know. I’d played a bit of guitar on an Arctic Monkey’s song called “505”; that was the first time we’d ever played music together. And then we had this idea of creating songs that were like Scott Walker or something with a Ennio Morricone twist on it, and we always imagined a young band doing songs in that sort of vein. So that was the sort of birth of the idea, and I think we pulled that off, would you say?
It sounded like Roy Orbison or Isaac Hayes, guys who use orchestras to make rock or pop or R&B music.
Alex Turner: Yeah. The first time around that was part of it, the idea that we could go chasing after that sound, create something interesting, because all our contributions vocally or lyrically might be opposed to what was happening in the music. I don’t think we’ve ever put even like a keyboard on a tune before that, but then when we started doing this thing, there was a…
Miles: It opened a whole lot of doors.
You also wanted to have this band have a different visual identity.
Miles: It was the first time we ever put a suit on, really. The first time we ever tied a tie.
Alex: And now look at us, eh?
It seems to agree with you.
Miles: Oh, well thank you.
The album cover looks like something from the early ’60s.
Miles: It’s actually Tina Turner, that picture.
Alex: I thought it was Ronnie Wood.
Miles: It’s actually Tina.
Alex: It is actually Tina Turner.
How did you come up with that idea?
Alex: I’ve got a few photos from that photo shoot she did at home. This guy put me on to these lost photos that were found after the photographer died. That just immediately clicked; it looked like a record cover [to me] even a long time before we’d written this record.
Did Tina Turner have to co-sign for you to use the image?
Alex: Yes, I believe we had the thumbs up from—
Miles: Miss Turner.
“Bad Habits” sounds different from the rest of the album, and from the first album.
Miles: Yeah, well, that was why we put it out first, because we were really excited about it, and it didn’t sound like anything else, really. And the way I sing on it, it’s quite aggressive.
How do you decide who sings on which song?
Miles: [to Alex] I’d say you’re pretty good at that. He’s got a good ear for that. But then we do, we’ll try out, once trying out a verse here, but once you’ve even tried it, it becomes pretty clear early on who’s gonna take the lead on what.
Alex: Yeah. It’s usually more of a discussion about if there’s a constant vocal harmony…
Both: Who’s going on top.
It’s been eight years since the last album. How long have you been working on this album?
Alex: About two years ago we were working on some tunes that were possibly gonna be for Miles’ next solo album, and we wrote a song, “Aviation” during that time, which is track one on the record. And there was a moment during that when we tried out this vocal harmony. That song anyway kinda sounds closest to what we did on the first album. So that, coupled with this idea when we did the harmony together on that tune, it was pointing in this other direction that seemed exciting, and we thought, “Hang on a minute…”
Most of the stuff we had before, post-“Aviation,” none of it really made it through. It became more about once we’d seen that, once we had that moment, it was the songs that we wrote in that period after that ended up being the record. It was the things behind the bush.
Do you always know where a song goes: if it’s for the Arctic Monkeys or for the Last Shadow Puppets or for one of your solo albums Miles?
Alex: Well, most everything I’ve written since the first one has been obvious where that’s gonna go. I guess that’s the fundamental difference is like this is a collaboration between me and this cat, and the Monkeys isn’t. So it was simple as that, really.
It’s been said that Todd Rundgren was an influence on this album.
AT: We had an afternoon trying to rip off “I Saw the Light,” but it didn’t really work out, actually. That [song] was getting played in the car around that time… yeah, maybe there is a bit of that in there, but I don’t know if the influences are so forthcoming when you listen to the record this time as they were on the first one when it was very much about, there’s a clear stimulus, and it was sorta as much about us writing together as this list of reference material we had that we were chasing down. This time it was more just about the songwriting together and less about that other stuff.
Word has it that you were influenced by Paul Weller’s Style Council? Most people who love him, love him for the Jam, or his solo records.
Alex: Miles and I were both really into the Jam around when we first met. But the Style Council had always confused me at that age; I didn’t understand it. But I distinctly remember a point a couple of years ago I think, hearing “Shout to the Top,” and forgetting entirely about the idea of his career or choices he made, forgetting about his decision to do that or make a departure. It was just like I heard the tune and had a reaction to it, it was just like “What is this?” and then realizing [who it is].
Have you guys worked with him?
Miles: I’ve actually worked with Paul quite a bit. We’ve written some songs for my records and stuff, and yeah, we’ve shared the stage a couple of times. I actually had to leave Shangri-La early one Thursday to go and play “That’s Entertainment” with Paul at the Henry Fonda in L.A. So I said, “Excuse me, guys, I’m gonna get off early tonight and go and play ‘That’s Entertainment’ with Paul.”
Has he ever given you advice?
Miles: Yeah, he gives a lot of advice. I think he really embraces the youth I think, and he’s definitely not a jealous or a bitter musician. He really gets inspired I think by seeing things in people. When he sees hunger or drive in people, he gets attracted to that, I think. I’ve become quite close with him and I couldn’t speak highly enough of… Pablo [laughs].
You don’t actually call Paul Weller “Pablo,” do you?
Miles: No, no.
He doesn’t seem like he’d be into that.
Miles: He’s… you can have a tickle.
Alex: I’ve witnessed the tickle.
In “Unsweet Dreams,” it seems like there’s a Roy Orbison influence there.
Miles: I think the rhythm track of it is a bit like “Running Scared.”
Alex: On the “Unsweet Dreams” specifically, there’s a song on there that has the… is that a bolero? I keep saying “bolero,” but I don’t really know what it—
Miles: It’s a bolero or a fandango. But I can see that, it’s in the way that his songs build, and they don’t necessarily have like a chorus, do they? A lot of his songs, they sort of build, but they’re all catchy, and it keeps your attention. I’d say in a craft of a song that it can be compared to that, for sure.
How do you schedule your lives when you have a solo career and a band, or when you’re in two bands?
Alex: That was one of the reasons, honestly, that this is happening again is because there was those breaks that kind of lined up. It’s like if we are gonna do it again, now is probably the only opportunity. The break in the weather.
Are you going to see the Iggy Pop tour? I know Matt Helders from the Arctic Monkeys is playing drums.
Alex: I can’t wait to see that, yeah. I saw it on the telly the other week when they did that tune. It was great. I can’t wait to watch that show and hear that record. I heard a little bit of it awhile back, but yeah, I could not be more excited about it.
How did you get into the music of the mod era?
Alex: Well, for me, I got turned on to all that stuff by Miles, really, like when we first met. Even like Scott Walker and stuff that you mentioned. But yeah, I’d never heard anything like that before he played [it for] me. And even like the [Phil] Spector stuff, I’d not really listened to at the time.
Miles: Yeah, it was just something that resonated early on when I heard that, or when we heard it. Just the sound, the guitar playing, the screams of the vocals or the sort of attitude of it. I liked the upliftingness of the aggression. It makes me tick.
It feels like it’s hard to compare anything to that era. On the other hand, there’s always great new bands starting.
Miles: Exactly, which is the way it should be looked at as well, isn’t it?
Alex: When we were making this record I was listening to like Depeche Mode and Tears for Fears. But I suppose there’s less early sixties stuff than when we were making the last album. Wouldn’t you say, dear?
Miles: I’d agree, darling.
What turned you on to all of that music, Miles?
Miles: Probably me mother, really. It started with all that. She’s a big Motown fan, so from that and you get into that, and then you get into T Rex, early Bowie, all that stuff, and then you start delving into it all, then, don’t ya. And then at that time people I was hanging out with in Liverpool and me cousins were big on all that and early Who even. It starts from all that, and then you find it all out, don’t ya?