By Hamish MacBain
29 Mar 2016
One Friday, while The Last Shadow Puppets were recording their second album – their first in almost exactly eight years – in Malibu, Los Angeles, a hard day’s prevaricating over hi-hat sounds was long underway, when, late into the afternoon Miles Kane informed Alex Turner that he would be knocking off early for the day.
“I said, ‘I’m gonna go and play ‘Town Called Malice’ over at the Fonda with Paul Weller’,” beams Kane. “’You don’t mind, do you? I’ll come in early tomorrow.’”
“I said, ‘Where the hell are you going?’” Turner says. “’We’ve not finished yet!’
Turner then affects a hard-done-by house-husband tone.
“I said, ’Oh, don’t worry about it: I’ll just be here.’”
They’re joking, of course. But this image – of Kane hobnobbing the night away with rock royalty, while Turner sits alone with his thoughts – does highlight the differences, or at least the perceived differences, between these two best friends forever: and what makes them click as partners in crime both musical and social.
“ Alex is bit more… wilder. He’s gone a bit wilder, and I’ve gone a bit more fuckin… dry. ”
Put simply, reasonably successful solo artist Miles Kane is the sort of person who you imagine would happily put down ‘rock’n’roll star’ as his occupation on a visa application, while Alex Turner – who has now been filling stadiums and decimating charts around the world for a decade with his day job – would most likely melt into the floor were you ever to call him such a thing. When Miles Kane did play his last run of solo shows, he did so in front of a massive ‘MILES KANE’ sign in bright white lights (“I am a showman!” he happily says). But ask Alex Turner whether he would ever fancy a bit of this, or even playing live without – his phrase – “the cloak” of a band around him, and he instantly shakes his head and simply shrugs that he “can’t see a reason to”.
Does Miles Kane instil in his friend and reluctant icon a sense of increased confidence, perhaps?
“Erm… yeah, I suppose so,” Turner says, the pause in between that ‘Erm’ and that ‘yeah’ lasting for what feels like an age. “Yeah. Close enough.”
If personality-wise the two boys – well, men: Kane is 29, Turner a year older – are pretty yin and yang, when it comes to the wearing of clothes, they are very much yang and yang, and very much both in the extrovert category. In fact, Kane – who has a history of going onstage in everything from Union Jack jackets to tight leopard skin trousers – is today forced to concede that his friend has probably had the upper hand in this sense of late.
“Maybe the roles have changed a bit with the clothes,” he says, changed out of the clothes you see on these pages and into a sharp-but-straightforward Paul Smith suit. “I’m on a bit more of a reserved thing. But especially in shoots, Alex is bit more… wilder. He’s gone a bit wilder, and I’ve gone a bit more fuckin… dry.”
“We take it in turns playing the straight man,” Turner says. “Maybe I’m more often the straight man, and maybe I try and make up for that with the odd shirt. Maybe that’s why I like wearing a fuckin’… magic eye shirt.”
This natural, intuitive complementing of each other’s styles, of course, extends to The Last Shadow Puppets’ music. Alex has in recent months been engrossing himself in the out-there avant-hip hop of Kendrick Lemar’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, while Miles enthuses about the more direct thrills of Sleaford Mods and Slaves, but when they get in a room together, they find themselves in sync. It’s evident on first album ‘The Age Of The Understatement’, and is evident once again on ‘Everything You’ve Come To Expect’. No, the new one may not find the pair singing in ‘She Loves You’-style unison any longer, but it does still unmistakably sound like A Duo. “Even if we’re not, like, writing every line together,” says Turner, “there’s just certain conclusions writing with him that I wouldn’t otherwise reach. I just look at things differently if I’m sat on me own at the typewriter.”
“It’s very much the two of us,” Kane continues. “There may be things where he’ll come with an idea, or I come with an idea, but it will always go somewhere that it wouldn’t go if it was me on my own, or me with someone else, or him and his band. The journey it goes on, that’s its own thing.”
“ He’ll come with an idea, or I’ll come with an idea, but it will always go somewhere that it wouldn’t go if it was me on my own… The journey it goes on, that’s its own thing. ”
The spark for the revival of this project came with the writing of ‘Aviation’, the song (and single) that now opens the album. It came when the pair were attempting to get the ball rolling on a third Kane solo set but, Turner says, “there was something in it that seemed unmistakably Shadow Puppets.”
He pre-empts my next question.
“What is that thing? I don’t know: you could already hear the strings on there, it had the kind of… You know the way that ‘The Age Of The Understatement’, the song, had that kind of big crescendo thing? I could draw a parallel with that.”
This is true. But if that lead-off single was a signifier of what was to follow on its parent album (on which, as Kane puts it, “we both had a hard on for Scott Walker”), this one is more of a red herring – the influences on the second Last Shadow Puppets album being far less overt, and the songs much more varied in style. “There was a period,” says Turner, “where we thought, ‘If we’re going to do another one of these, it’s a requirement that we both at the same time have to have got into something else. But I think the chances of that happening in sync – the way it did before – were kind of slim. I don’t see as much of a focus this time. At one point, that worried me, because that’s a demonstration that you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing. But I don’t think like that so much anymore.”
So how would he sum up the difference?
“This time we were listening to a different David Bowie record to what we were last time.”
If the music is more diverse however (Miles describes the title track as “the most unique song we’ve ever done”), then the lyrics largely all cover a similar subject. Which, to be blunt about it, can be summed up as “shagging.”
The aforementioned ‘Aviator’ details “a gloomy conga of glum-looking beauties”. On the bridge of ‘Miracle Aligner’, Turner is cooing “get down on your knees again” while ‘Dracula Teeth’ finds him describing someone “hovering above my bed, licking down on me”. ‘Bad Habits’ is characterized by Kane screeches of “thigh high!” and “knee deep!” while during… well, OK, you get the picture.
It’s not hard to draw the conclusion that these are tales from the tiles of the city that both now call home. Turner has lived in LA for a while now (it’s home “for the foreseeable, I think”), while Kane recently moved out permanently, after a few trips which “would always extend, because the new air felt good.” The pair live, Turner says, “seven minutes away from each other”. Ask them what a typical night out entails, and they look at each other, then proceed to not be very forthcoming, though Turner will eventually concede that “some of what happens in those situations is disclosed, through the veil of song, on the record. There’s references.”
“And I think the times when it does get specific, or personal even,” he continues, “is one of the things that, because it’s a Puppets record, you’re enabled, or encouraged even, to try out.”
And that, really, is the thing with these two, and with the Last Shadow Puppets. It’s a band and a friendship born mainly out of a desire to hang around together, and out of wanting to egg each other on into more flamboyant outfits, perhaps more entertaining situations and most of all better music. We, of course, are only directly privy to the first and third of those things, with the other, off the back of the lyrics, requiring some interpretation.
But it isn’t hard, or not fun, to imagine.
And maybe that is the point.
The Last Shadow Puppets’ second album Everything You’ve Come To Expect is out 1 April - check out the official video for Aviation…