Exclusive: 7 things we learned from Alex Turner about new Arctic Monkeys album The Car
What has Alex Turner been reading? How will it sound? Why did they record in an old monastery? The Big Issue went to Budapest with Arctic Monkeys as they prepare to release new LP The Car. Here’s what we learned
Arctic Monkeys prepare to launch new LP, The Car. Photo: PR supplied
Arctic Monkeys release their hotly-anticipated seventh LP The Car on October 21. Expectations are high. This is an album people have been waiting four years to hear.
Ever since Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, their lush, mellow, sci-fi concept album that was such a departure from its barnstorming predecessor AM became the band’s sixth consecutive number one album in 2018, fans have been speculating about the follow up. Six number ones in a row. That’s some record. Thankfully, so is The Car, as singles There’d Better Be a Mirrorball and Body Paint show.
Arctic Monkeys invited the Big Issue and our star guest, Line of Duty actor Martin Compston, to join them on the road in Budapest for a global exclusive interview to announce that The Car was arriving soon.
We got a close-up view of the band and were able to assess the state of the nation’s finest band. As tickets go on sale for next year’s huge stadium tour, here’s everything we learned – about the new songs on The Car, about who and what inspired Alex Turner’s songwriting this time around, and about where Arctic Monkeys are heading as a band.
1. The Car is Arctic Monkeys’ most cinematic sounding record yet
That’s the verdict of everyone who has heard the album so far (including the Big Issue), according to Turner.
He told us: “It’s a response I’ve had to other things we’ve composed, this idea of something sounding ‘cinematic’ – I never completely subscribe to it – but it’s louder this time. In the early responses from people.
“You get all these ideas people have that there should be some kind of visual reflection for that reason. I don’t necessarily agree – it’s still just a record to me. But if it evokes these kinds of things that make you think…”
When our interview was originally published, many picked up on Turner saying: ‘It’s louder this time’ and assumed it was a reference to the music on the record. Not so. Turner was talking about the voices of people saying the music is cinematic. The melancholy, downbeat, orchestral arrangement on There’d Better Be a Mirrorball – the first track released – is reflected across the whole LP.
2. Alex Turner has been reading about film production and editing
Turner has long been a cinephile and talked in our interview about potentially directing a film one day. He’s also been more involved than ever in the videos for this new LP.
But, he told us, his burgeoning interest in editing, in finding a path through recorded material to produce the final piece of work, filters into the lyrics as well as the music.
“Are there images in my head when I write? Absolutely. And in the past, I’ve been able to point out exactly what they are more easily,” he said.
“But I’m so practised in doing it that for this record, I know what I was watching and listening to or reading but I can’t draw a line quite so easily to what exactly that became in the record.
“Maybe I’ve drawn too much of a direct line to things in the past so I’m more reluctant to do so. But it’s hard to watch or read anything and keep it separate from what you’re creating. For instance, I was reading a book called In the Blink of an Eye by a film editor called Walter Murch.
“He was the editor on Apocalypse Now and a bunch of other cool stuff. It’s a short book about editing. But the ways he puts it across there goes way beyond that. There’s a bunch of interesting ideas that he’s speaking about. And that feels connected to the process and also the feel or lyrics on this new record.”
3. Turner kept coming back to film production as an inspiration
Perhaps it is because he was discussing his art with actor Martin Compston, but Turner mentioned this a lot.
“Butley Priory was more like the shoot and then the other stuff in France was like the edit. The way Walter Murch describes the edit in this book – he talks about meeting some friends of his wife and one of them says: ‘So you’re the guy who cuts out all the bad bits, then?’. Initially he is offended, but after all these years, he came around to thinking: ‘Well, yeah, that is actually what I’m doing’. But the question is what constitutes a bad bit…
“There’s a great bit where he’s talking about the discovery of a path through all this material that you have, and how there’s a million different ways to get through it. That feels more like the way this record was put together, perhaps. More than other records I’ve done in the past.
“I feel like the word producer means a different thing in music to what it does in a film. Some of my favourite records are by David Axelrod. He did a lot of theme music and stuff. He’s a record producer, but the terminology really ought to be perhaps director.
4. One key song didn’t make the final cut of The Car
Turner talked at length about editing the LP, piecing the tracks together, creating the sound. And he also explained how the songs on The Car were created more in the edit than on previous LPs.
“Sometimes a line will end up finding its way into another song. Things move around a lot more freely than they did in the beginning,” he said.
“For this record, there’s a song that didn’t make it which I feel is really important. It was supposed to be there all along. And it’s not in the end. Not to keep going back to the book, but one more time – I’ll fill the Walter Murch quota! – Murch talks about how on Apocalypse Now there’s the splice they would do to put the film together. But for every splice there’s 15 or 20 what he called “shadow splices”, where you make the cut but then undo it the next day. I like his idea that they’re all still sort of there. It has a knock-on effect. We undo it and then there is a new path through it.”
Look out for The Car’s missing song on the next LP, at a future live show, or on an expanded edition of the LP one day soon.
5. Alex Turner has been feeling nostalgic for the early days as the band begins its third decade of playing together
We asked whether it felt like 20 years since they began rehearsing in a garage in Sheffield – and Turner revealed that the lyrics on new track Hello You are directly about his teenage years.
“It probably does feel about 20 years ago. But that’s an interesting one, isn’t it? Because sometimes you feel like you could walk through a door and be right back there. I’m trying to scratch a little bit of that feeling we are describing here on the new record. It feels like a long time ago, but it can be right behind you. Something reminds you and it takes you back.
“There’s a lyric on Hello You that says: ‘I could pass for 17 if I just get a shave and catch some zzzs.’ Maybe that’s barking up that tree a little. Well, a lot. I’m thinking about going to the snooker club with my granddad and it feels like we were just there. But, wait a minute, there’s all this time in between.
6. Turner is aware of the hopes and expectations of fans for the new album – but the band are ploughing their own furrow
“If the idea was to do something that met these expectations, hypothetically, it’s hard for me to even know what that would be,” he says. “You have to follow your instincts in the same way you did in that first place. In that way, it does all feel like it’s connected to us 20 years ago in the garage when it was pure instinct.
“It’s certainly not coming from us trying to be contrary. If anything, I was more contrary then. You have this idea, I suppose, of what that expectation is. But it’s more you follow your instinct. I think that’s always been the case on every record, really.
“It’s about everything having its own space and not all shouting at once. There is room to use all the things from the factory. And there are times I’ve used the wrong tool for the job, probably. But you learn from that. This time, we’ve kept more of an eye on the performance.”
7. Turner can draw a line from his recordings with The Last Shadow Puppets to The Car
“On the [Last Shadow] Puppets all the score, all the orchestra stuff was composed by this guy named Owen Pallett,” he told us. “We will make points on it but that is his part of that project.
“But there are strings on the Monkeys records and those I was involved in the composition of, with the producer James Ford and Bridget Samuels, who’s a string arranger. James and I came up with the melodies. You can write it on the piano and hear the melodies in your head the same way I would hear a vocal melody. Sometimes that’s how you’ll write a keyboard or a guitar line. But there’s definitely a dimension that you get from real strings playing together that can’t be emulated with anything else. Which is magic.
“I think we’ve got closer to a better version of a more dynamic overall sound with this record. The strings on this record come in and out of focus and that was a deliberate move and hopefully everything has its own space. There’s times the band come to the front and then the strings comes to the front.”
…And Arctic Monkeys are still enjoying playing the old stuff
The new songs might be cinematic and orchestral and melancholy, but watching them play from the side of the stage, there was no doubting the love they retain for the early songs, that blistering energy and big noise.
“We’ve been playing View From the Afternoon a bit in these last few shows. And when I’m doing that it feels like it would take more than a shave and a sleep to be 17!” says Turner.
“I keep looking back over my shoulder at [drummer Matt Helders]. ‘You still there, pal?’ Nah, he’s fine. I’m the one who is huffing and puffing. He seems all right. I feel like we’re building it and the sets have those more explosive sections and then he gets to lean back and just be on two and four for a bit while I swan around!
“So everything gets unwound for a minute and then we wind it back up. In those days, I remember the way I used to wear my guitar was really high. Everything was just tight. Trackie top on and everything was zipped up. Now I think, loosen the guitar. Take the guitar off, even. Take a minute. Everybody relax.”
And on the ever-evolving setlist, which now features track two from The Car, I Ain’t Quite Where I Think I Am? Fans buying tickets for next year’s tour will likely see songs from across the full 20 year recording career.
Here’s Alex Turner’s response to Martin Compston suggesting their squad of songs is now like Manchester City’s squad of footballers, with two equally strong, world-class line-ups available.
“It’s quite mysterious, to me, the setlist and what the order of that should be,” he says. “This time has passed and certain things don’t feel the way you expected them to anymore.
“That sounds sad, but it’s not. Certain songs represented certain moments in the past and now feel like something else, so they should be somewhere else.
“I’m still working it out. It’s exciting to perform again but we are still shuffling the deck on the setlist. The old ones – some are better at evolving than others. Some get left behind. You try and reintroduce them but some are more adaptable or fit into where you’re trying to go.
“So it doesn’t feel like Manchester City… but hopefully it will.”
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