In the run-up to the release of their new record, Everything You’ve Come To Expect, The Last Shadow Puppets stopped off in a freezing New York to talk to QRO. In the long conversation, Alex Turner (also of Arctic Monkeys) and (eventually) Miles Kane discussed the new album, working with the likes of Owen Pallett, not to mention fellow super-group members James Ford (Simian Mobile Disco) and Zach Dawes (Mini Mansions), how it compared to making their prior album, The Age of Understatement, how their other work (like Kane’s Colour of the Trap) has informed their Shadow Puppets work, “opening landscape shot,”, a bigger bucket, Alex, Miles & karaoke machine, and much more…
QRO: Cheers on the album, man. I was listening to it over the weekend, and what struck me right away was how concise it was, even with the moments of spontaneity within it. You can get a vivid sense of you guys going into the studio with a vision and executing that. Did that aspect of the experience, the vision aspect, feel tangible?
Alex Turner: I think what’s responsible for any of the concise nature of the songs largely comes from the strings, and what Owen Pallett did on that. I think he ultimately tied it all together in a way, because prior to that I’d say the recordings were a bit all over the place. But the moment he did his thing, it felt, ‘Oh ok, these songs have more of a relationship with one another.’ Before that, I think some of the songs drifted in a few different directions, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing either.
QRO: I remember reading when Owen came in, he asked what he should do and utilize as reference, and you guys went ‘Have you heard of an album called Age of the Understatement?’ I think what that echoes though is a sense of trust, where you’re really saying, ‘Owen, we want you here, you know what to do’ – do you feel that’s what you were communicating to him?
AT: Yes, I think because of last time we got Owen involved, there was a bit of a clear ‘brief’ on what we wanted the sounds to be. We talked about Scott Walker and Melody Nelson, this John Barry-ish, Americana type of sound. We had a list of references that he was able to draw from, and we were all aware of that.
This time around, we didn’t have that clear stimulus. Not only did we no longer possess the same naivety as we did then, in relation towards those records, but we also… I knew that I didn’t want to stifle him, or his creativity by listing a bunch of things we were chasing after. Specifically because it didn’t come from that this time around, it was more about the songs themselves, the ‘choruses, lyrics, and melodies’ that me and Miles had already written. We didn’t have to have that ‘brief’ as we had to before.
QRO: Do you also feel that because Owen is also a musician that it makes communicating with one another easier? You mentioned how you didn’t want to have him feel stifled, and I wonder if that has to do with him being a peer/colleague, sort to speak?
For example, over the years James Ford has produced the majority of your albums, and time and time again you’ll get asked, ‘Why do you work with James Ford still?’ but to me it’s always made sense because James himself is a musician as well, so who better to produce something?
AT: Yeah, and I was also interested to see where he’d go with it if left alone. I mean, we still had some back and forth, throughout the process, but it was a lot more… he did a lot more interesting moves this time, then on the first record. And also the other difference was that he was ‘there’ this time, physically in the other room. He’d be on this grand piano, while we’d be tracking and arguing in another room. Last time, he did everything after the fact, after we had recorded everything.
QRO: You know, most of the albums you’ve made with the Monkeys have been live/within a room; do you feel that’s the best way to make an album?
AT: Well, the last Monkeys record [AM] actually wasn’t made like that at all. I don’t think there’s one track on that album where we did a full-live take as a band in a room. That is what we did this time, with the Shadow Puppets record, and it’s funny, it felt like I hadn’t done that in ages.
QRO: Really? That’s interesting, AM very much has a live tone to it.
AT: Yeah. All the other Monkeys records were pretty much made in a room, especially Suck It and See (QRO review), which had very few overdubs utilized, but AM totally came from a different place. I think with that album, we just wanted to approach it differently. We didn’t want to force ourselves to think we had to make a record like a band. But with the Puppets this time we had the room, and also this time we had a bass player, which we didn’t have last time.
QRO: Zach from Mini Mansions!
AT: Yep, Zach from Mini Mansions. We had a little bit of a band going together.
QRO: It’s nice to see that Zach’s style has rubbed off on you quite a bit.
AT: This suit is quite ‘Zach’ actually. [laughs] I hadn’t thought about that.
QRO: I was going to ask this later on, but since we’ve brought him up, how did Zach come into play? I’ve seen/photographed Mini Mansions a handful of times over the years (QRO photos by Grand-Pierre), and they’re such a fiercely talented band. Especially with their most recent album, The Great Pretenders, that was such a massive standout to me last year. The tune “Honey, I’m Home” is fucking massive.
AT: I’m right with you, Ken. It’s surprising it didn’t get the attention I think it deserved. They’ve toured with us a couple of times over the years, opening up for the Monkeys. I’ve watched them play live a lot of those times and yeah, they just mean serious business really. But yeah, I’m right there with you on that album.
I originally met Zach from Joshua [Homme, of Queens of the Stone Age] years ago, and we became friends quite quickly. I think it happened quite naturally. I had some other songs, and I was having Zach play bass on them, but it was really similar to how it was with Miles. We started getting along because of our humour, and to be honest, hanging with Zach reminded me what the Shadow Puppets was all about originally. The fact that you can come in and explore something than you differently would with your main band(s), because it’s outside the sphere of the other things you do. I think because of that, there’s inherently a bunch of different possibilities. Bringing in someone like Zach is an example of that.
QRO: Looking back on the first album, and how it was promoted essentially, I believe that in a way shows the ‘everything can go’ dynamic of the Shadow Puppets. Especially the “Age of Understatement” video/track. It wasn’t about ‘Alex Turner’s new band’ or indie, or alternative, or even strings really, in that video it was, ‘look at these two dudes in Russia?’ [laughs] and that was such a great backdrop to accompany the loud strings, and the rising action of the track. All those tones, especially the cinematic tone, it’s a brave thing to do. It’s almost obnoxious, but obnoxiously beautiful. That’s what The Last Shadow Puppets was to me.
AT: That’s totally what it is to me as well. A big thing that happened as well, after we made that album, is it helped me to…I think you just naturally start thinking that you want to approach everything like that. If I can get away with that, then I can get away with anything.
[Miles Kane enters]
Miles Kane: It’s so cold, my fucking ears are burning!
AT: Nice one.
QRO: Heya, Miles. [laughs] This is perfect timing because the next question was about to be about you, Miles. Before I get into it, I just wanted to say it’s good to have you here, and that Colour of the Trap is…
MK: ONE OF THE BEST ALBUMS OF ALL TIME?
QRO: Yes actually. [laughs] At least I think so. That’s a very brave album to me, in that you didn’t restrain yourself from delving into different avenues, there’s never an aspect of compromise on that album.
MK: It’s fucking me, best artist of all time!
QRO: Yet, you’ve never played shows in the U.S. You’ll play in bloody Russia and South America, but not bloody here, man.
MK: It is a shame, a damn shame. [laughs] I was actually telling this one that I should do the support slot for some of the shows. [laughs]
AT: Oh god…
QRO: That’d be wicked actually. But going back to the question. So I thought it was really smart to have “Bad Habits” as the first single. Especially because it goes without saying, that AM brought about a bunch of new fans, fans that might not be familiar with who Miles is. So to have a very ‘Miles-centric song’…
MK: Yeah man!
QRO: Well hold on, Alex does have “Sweet Dreams, T” so ha. But yeah, what was the thought of having “Bad Habits” as the first single?
MK: Here is a silver platter, and a Scouse boy! [laughs]
AT: Ladies and gents, whatcha think of him? [laughs] ‘I’m dying for you to meet Miles Kane.’ But yeah, we just… I don’t think it was any decision apart from being truly excited towards the song really.
MK: Yeah… but let’s get back to Color of the Trap, can we Alex? Yeah, man?
I think because of last time we got Owen [Pallett] involved, there was a bit of a clear ‘brief’ on what we wanted the sounds to be. … This time around, we didn’t have that clear stimulus.
QRO: [laughs] I love the second album as well (Don’t Forget Who You Are). But yeah, after Age of the Understatement, you guys went back to your previous projects. Alex, you made Suck It and See and AM with the Monkeys and Miles you then went on to do your solo career. Do you feel that after you made the first album that there was a tangible change towards how you approached your other projects?
MK: Yes, definitely me, for sure. I think that first album really helped me figure out how I wanted to approach music.
QRO: That shows loads in your two solo albums, because that element of anything goes is very apparent within them, as well as this new Shadow Puppets album.
MK: It’s a free for all, man.
AT: Yeah, and after doing something like this it really helps you with your other bands to see things differently. This time, we had to remember that attitude came about from The Age of the Understatement, and it was applied here.
QRO: So going to the new album, Everything You’ve Come To Expect, right away it kicks off with “Aviation”, which is such a strong opening. I loved the way it played between your new sound, along with the cinematic tones of Understatement.
[Kane starts clapping]
MK: WE’RE HERE! WE’RE HERE IN NEW YORK CITAY!
QRO: That’s like your opening landscape shot.
AT: Yes! Panning on the horizon.
MK: Widescreen! Black border! Narrow screen!
AT: Stars! Mountains! A Blackened sky!
MK: With a crescent moon!
AT: Is it another planet? We don’t know yet!
MK: But we must suspect that it might be! Let’s look at it! Let’s look at it!
AT: So where are we going to go next from here? We must go into a scenario!
MK: We’re in a car and you’re in the passenger seat!
AT: You’re shouting at me! Why are you shouting at me?
MK: “I’m saying come on! We got to go!”
AT: “Bad Habits!” he’s proclaiming! “Sick Puppet!” he goes on. Things, that don’t make a great deal of sense some times!
MK: I AM THE STRATOSPHERE! YESSSSS!
QRO: Something tells me you’re not like this with other people, just among yourselves. [laughs[
AT: We are like this with other people [laughs] but we’re the only ones who bounce off each other really. [laughs]
WE’RE HERE! WE’RE HERE IN NEW YORK CITAY!
QRO: I’m excited that this year will have you guys touring for this album. Something that I don’t think most people have picked up on is that you don’t have to tour for this album if you didn’t want to. It wouldn’t be farfetched to say that if you didn’t want to tour this album, you wouldn’t ‘have to’ in the way most musicians do for albums. Do you feel part of this upcoming tour came from a desire you felt to play live while you were making these songs? Did that desire at all inspire how the album was made?
MK: Yeah, especially Glastonbury, man. In my head, I’d think of fucking Glastonbury, man.
AT: I’d be in the control room going, “Where’s Miles? I need him in here to do a bloody vocal!” and I’d find him air guitar-ing with the bloody mic stand, yelling tracks. [laughs] He’s already at bloody Glastonbury.
QRO: I think Ally Pally is also going to be a good one as well man. That’s a special room. And Webster Hall (QRO venue review) and the Paradiso in Amsterdam, that’s such a beautiful room.
AT: Yes, I’m very excited especially for the Paradiso. We had a very special moment at the Paradiso last time we were there. There’s going to be some shows spider-man.
MK: Fuck yeah, man.
QRO: How do you think you guys want to approach the live show, this time around?
AT: We have no idea really, [laughs] truth be told, Ken.
QRO: Do you think maybe you guys might take a simple approach then?
AT: Possibly. Maybe just me, Miles, and a karaoke machine. [laughs]
MK: DO YOU HEAR THAT IAN? (Ian: manager)
AT: I do think we want to try it differently/more simply this time around. Last time we chose a different orchestra in each city we were in, which was great but just became a bit of a logistic nightmare at the end of it.
AT: We might do that [laughs] we have the whole of March to figure it out. [laughs] Don’t be surprised if it’s me, Miles, and the karaoke machine.
QRO: People love bringing up the gap of time between the records quite a bit, and what’s funny to me about that is that if you paid attention over the last couple of years, it was clear to see that regardless of the album gap, you were a constant in each others lives this whole time. When you started making this new album, did you find yourselves inspired by one another, in a way? Or even when you’d share the stage live over the years as well?
AT: I wouldn’t say it came from watching each other on stage, but there was an element of us always hanging out, and this is something we’d always talk about doing again. It was starting to look less and less likely because…
MK: We’d be within our own bubbles, really.
AT: Actually, when we started writing this, it was in mind that it might actually be Miles next thing…
MK: Colour of the Trap part 2!
AT: [laughs] Yeah but then at some point… I think when we wrote “Aviation”, actually. There was a harmony idea I had, and we were both singing and we went ‘hang on a minute! Maybe this should be a shadow puppets record!’ And then we had the task of getting James involved, because he’s always so bloody busy.
MK: Mr. Big time producer!
AT: Yeah [laughs] so we talked about it a bit more, and over the course of an evening we realized that we wanted to do it again.
QRO: Do you feel they’re things you learned for touring for AM and Don’t Forget Who You Are that you brought with you to recording for Everything You’ve Come To Expect? As well as the feeling for the album being a bit serendipitous.
AT: Yeah, it really was. It helped us to keep sharp with our writing as well, especially because we’re always doing that. I think we really felt comfortable jumping into this, because with the last Puppets record, it was a bit of a splash in the face towards our main projects. It was like tossing a bucket of water over the head, and I think this is just us doing that again… with a bigger bucket.
MK: [laughs] A bigger bucket. [laughs]
Don’t be surprised if it’s [Alex], Miles, and the karaoke machine.
QRO: Miles, do you feel that making that first Puppets album in a way helped you figure out the type of musician you wanted to be? Specifically with how you approached those solo albums? There’s been quite an evolution in how you write and perform, especially your character.
MK: Yeah, I definitely agree with that. The thing I loved a lot with this record especially, is that it’s reminded me that there’s so much more room for growth, that there’s still so much that I can be doing, and can do in general. You want to always feel like the current thing you’re working on is better than the last thing, but I can honestly say that’s the case here. I’ve been seeing my career quite in the form of stepping-stones, you know what I mean?
QRO: I remember the iTunes Festival you did years back, when Eugene [McGuinness] was in the band, and I remember thinking ‘wow, now this is a show!’ and I think that was not too long after The Last Shadow Puppets.
MK: Yeah, yeah! That was something else! But even then, that’s evolved quite a lot as well honestly, even with touring for Don’t Forget Who You Are. It does feel nice because over time I’ve become quite known for what happens in the live show, which feels nice.
QRO: Did you guys bring in a lot of materials into the studio that you knew you wanted to form into a record? Do you also feel the way you both play live, somewhat informed how you approached even making this album?
MK: Yes and no really. I think we brought it a couple of things, and ultimately ended up not using a bunch.
AT: Yeah, there’s one tune on the album called “The Pattern”, that was from something we had written years ago, together for… I don’t even know for what. But yeah, on the contrary, the majority of what we had written before, ultimately didn’t make the finished album really.
QRO: I remember something similar happened to Damon Albarn when he made his solo album (Everyday Robots – QRO review). He went into the studio with Richard Russell with a couple of digital scripts and files, and they ended up using only one track. Do you feel that aspect is almost unavoidable, especially when it comes to going towards a new endeavor? Does it help to breathe new life into a project, starting from scratch like that?
MK: Yeah man, I think so. I think you can always have ideas, firm ideas from demos, but when you come to doing a new thing… I think that ends up becoming a bit of a focal point, the aspect of ‘new’. It’s more exciting to do new things. But yeah I think that…
AT: That there’s a reason why they’re in the ‘maybe pile’ any ways.
The last Puppets record, it was a bit of a splash in the face towards our main projects. It was like tossing a bucket of water over the head, and I think this is just us doing that again… with a bigger bucket.
QRO: Lastly, it’s interesting you brought up “The Pattern”, Alex, and how that was written years ago. This lead me to wonder, what would you say is the oldest song on Everything You’ve Come To Expect, and what would you say is the newest song, in terms of being the last one being written?
AT: “The Pattern” is probably the oldest… yeah definitely the oldest. The last thing was probably… I think it was actually the title track, “Everything You’ve Come To Expect”, actually. It started off as this other thing; it almost felt like it was part of the same world as another tune on the album called “Used To Be My Girl”.
MK: The lyrics ended up standing out quite a bit.
AT: Yeah, it did feel like the lyrics were taking us to a totally different place. It began to feel that if there was a song where the lyrical structure was becoming more interesting, as it went on, that it’d be worth… sticking a pin within the song and figuring it out. Especially because with this song, it wasn’t working at the start, so it felt very important to figure it out.
MK: Yeah, and I remember it was you [Alex] that went into the studio, came back with the chorus, and that was kind of like the last puzzle for getting the song right. It was quite a defining moment really.
AT: Yeah, we also ended up incorporating an organ, and yeah I think that tune ended up being the most out there tune on the album. It’s kind of the most exciting point on there really.
QRO: And what makes that tune standout to me, is it is very different from what you’ve made before, but it does ultimately feel like a Last Shadow Puppets song.
AT: Yeah, I think so too. There’s a sense of exploration there, with us being in the outside of the way people think we ‘should be’ operating.