Arctic Monkeys are alive and kicking out the jams with ‘AM’
Contrary to popular belief (for one day last month, at least) Alex Turner is alive and well. Days before our conversation with the Arctic Monkeys frontman, the hashtag #RIPAlexTurner began trending on Twitter in his home country of England. It really would have been a shame if it were true that the 27-year-old singer had died, because — aside from death being a real bummer on a personal level to his friends and family — the band is touring America to promote their most fifth and recent album, “AM,” which may be their finest hour. Luckily, it was just another Internet death hoax.
METRO: First of all, you’re alive. And there were a few rumors going around Twitter recently that you weren’t.
ALEX TURNER: Apparently so! I woke up in Tulsa that morning… wait, it wasn’t Tulsa. Sorry. Tempe, Arizona! And I thought maybe the rumors were true and I had in fact died and gone to heaven.
I sense a little sarcasm. Was Tempe, Ariz., especially hard on you?
No, no. It was actually fine. I was just being facetious. But yeah, I’m alive and kicking.
Tell me about what was going on when you heard about the #RIPAlexTurner hashtag.
It wasn’t actually that big of a deal in my world. I think it’s a bit like “Super Mario”: You get three lives on Twitter. I’m not exposed because I’m not signed up to the old Twitter myself, so I kind of remain relatively oblivious at some point in the afternoon somebody told me that apparently there was this thing, but it was a sidenote in my day, in all honesty.
If a side note of your day is that people who care about you thought you had died, what’s the highlight?
I think it’s like, as I understand it, I’m pretty sure people saw it as a hoax early on and the fact that it was trending was simply because people were saying, “Oh, look at this. Isn’t this ridiculous?” and then it gathered momentum. I believe that to be the case, rather than people actually thinking it was real.
Well, there’s no such thing about bad publicity, but let’s talk a little bit about something you’d probably prefer got more publicity than a death hoax: your new album! Let’s talk about “AM.”
Yeah, if you want, man. It’s up to you. I’ll talk about the hashtags all day if you’d rather.
No, I don’t want to do that at all.
So “AM” is interesting. It’s kind of all over the place. Was it a challenge to sequence something like this? Because it does flow well, but there’s so many different sounds on it…
I mean, I suppose sequencing any record always seems to be quite a difficult part of the process in my experience at least. But this one, actually, we branched off from the original idea a lot less than with the other four albums. I think to me, there are two pretty clear sides to it, not in terms of the sequencing, like an A-side and a B-side, but there’s these two extremes, one of them being sort of like early 1970s rock ‘n’ roll (sort of heavy metal that got the wrong end of the stick, but not entirely, you know the “Spiders from Mars” sort of quality with the drum sounds) and I guess you hear that on the ballads a little bit more than the other ones. And I guess the other side of it would be this kind of contemporary R&B angle that exists in a lot of the vocal production, and I guess that was sort of the idea, really, to take that contemporary R&B or even like a hip-hop influence at times and apply it to a four-piece rock ‘n’ roll band.
Have you heard any reaction from the R&B or hip-hop community? Are we talking crossover appeal here for the Arctic Monkeys? Any hip-hop radio stations playing “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”?
I think there’s been a bit of that, like some of the rap shows in the U.K., someone sent me a clip of someone rapping over that. The idea that it might get sampled is one that’s exciting to me. And the first few bars of that song, it was constructed in a way that I imagine a hip-hop producer would construct music. We manipulated the instruments to create building blocks, and then those blocks form the song in the way that I would imagine somebody like Timbaland might have done.
Was there any talk of going with somebody like Timbaland as a producer?
No, because I suppose that’s not really the idea, even though I’ve been talking to you — the sagacious journalist — about it in this great detail, but really I guess as it appears on the record, that influence is a lot vaguer than that to some people. Some people don’t even notice that hip-hop influence or whatever, because once I start singing it starts to sound like the band again. But that thing is undoubtedly different from the rest of the records, and more popular it seems than the last few. But I really don’t think most people look under the microscope like we’re doing now.
If you were to work for somebody from that world, whether it be getting somebody to rap over a remix or bringing in somebody from the outside to produce, who would you be interested in bringing in?
I really don’t know. We have a relationship with our producer, James Ford, who we’ve worked with through the last few years [since 2007’s “Favourite Worst Nightmare,” the Arctic Monkeys’ second album]. I’m pretty happy with that, to be honest with you. Not to say that I’m not fond of the sounds that Danger Mouse gets on a record, or there’s this producer that I’m really interested in called Adrian Younge, who produced the Ghostface Killah album that came out earlier this year. And he also did some compositions of his own over the past few years, like the soundtrack to that “Black Dynamite” movie. And he did this great record called “Something About April,” which is original compositions that could almost be the soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist. And Jay Z sampled that for the “Picasso Baby” song on “Magna Carta Holy Grail.” I think the song is called, “Revelry,” the original track. But two tunes Jay Z sampled for that record, “Sirens” is the other. I’m a big fan of this guy. That might be the answer to your question.
I’d imagine that would be a measure of success for somebody who spends so much time in the studio, to have somebody successfully sample their work.
Yeah, but that’s never really happened to me before, aside from a few things on relatively small or niche radio programs. I would imagine it is though. To me, the idea of us getting sampled just seems kind of unlikely, so it’s a bit of a turn-on, I suppose, the idea that you never heard this record and didn’t know anything about Arctic Monkeys and then you heard Kanye West rapping over “Do I Wanna Know” or something, I don’t think you’d assume that the beat or instrumental came from the Arctic Monkeys or anything in its universe, and I would probably get a kick out of that. But I’m not sitting around wishing someone would rap over one of our tunes. I’d like to think that what I did was pretty good as well.
Let’s go back for a second to “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” The song follows in the grand tradition of Arctic Monkeys song titles that stand on their own before you even hear a note of music, such as “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair,” “You Probably Couldn’t See for the Lights but You Were Staring Straight at Me” and even “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.” Tell me a little bit about the inspiration…
I suppose it’s just that situation. I’ve sort of been on both ends and been around people when that thing has happened to them. I suppose it started as sort of a joke, like I think a lot of good ideas do. Like you say, it seems like the title of a Monkeys tune that already existed.
It’s interesting too because the notion of a booty call is that booze would be involved, and most other odes to this have the caller being drunk, rather than high.
The idea of writing about a booty call is really banal, so I started to think about how you can tell that joke, and it becomes about the delivery, which is, a lot of the time, the songs I’ve written in the past have been about how you tell that joke, I think. The idea may not be that original in the first place, with that lyric or that story, but if you can find a way to make that interesting, or be so direct — in the case of “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask this. Are you high right now?
Not at all. Not in the slightest.
If you were it would have been fun to ask you that question posed in the song title.
Yeah, but you called me. [laughs]
Well, technically, your publicist connected the call, so neither of us really called each other, so I guess it would be “Why’d You Only Have Your Publicist Connect Us When You’re High?” But since you’re not, it’s no use in belaboring this point. What is the drug you are referring to in the song?
Well, that’s sort of up to you.
When I first put “AM” on, I was instantly reminded that “Oh, yeah, these guys toured with the Black Keys.”
You’re not the first person that’s said that to me, but I sort of wholeheartedly disagree that there’s a Black Keys influence on this album. I think to me that intro sounds like everything we just talked about before that. It’s totally coming from a hip-hop or rap place. That intro is the one that could most be an intro to a rap tune. That space that exists in it. I don’t think it’s bluesy in its composition of instrumental, which I think a lot of the Black Keys things are. And I think the melody, which is arguably bluesy and the tone of the lyrics is basically “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”and the way the melody kind of wanders around in a conversational way, I don’t think is very Black Keys.
No, I agree with you there. I guess I was just referring to the immediate reaction of putting the album on the stereo and hearing the first few seconds…
Yeah, but that’s just a kick drum and a clap…
Which they’ve been known to use, but you’re right. That could be anybody…
Well, I’ll tell you what I did steal from the Black Keys though: the idea to have a disco ball in the show! When we did big shows this year we totally had mirror balls! Because every time it comes on, everyone goes, “Whoooo!” It’s a cheap trick, I suppose. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a massive fan of the Black Keys. That used to be a cassette that was in my first car. So it was great to get that opportunity to go on tour with them and play with a whole bunch of people that we wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to play with before.
You spoke a bit about “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and there does seem to be a lot of that vulnerability going on in a lot of places on this album. It feels like something we haven’t really heard on an Arctic Monkeys album. Was that a conscious decision, to open yourself up more?
I can’t say that it was. I think you’ve got all of these other plates spinning while making a record. I think it would be hard to make a conscious decision to be vulnerable. It’s not that calculated all of the time. A lot of it is, but to sit there and say, “I’m going to play that card” is cold-hearted.
Well, I guess in asking that question I wasn’t really getting at how calculated the mood was, as much as getting you to open up and tell me what was going on in your personal life that you were writing such vulnerable songs and opening up in your album.
Well, I guess I thought I’d dodged that question. I mean, I don’t want to break down actual events that may or may not have led to the lyrics and songs. Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of questions in those words, but I have a hard time explaining that.