Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner on Tom Wolfe, being a 'romantic fool'

Singer-songwriter talks about living through hype, love songs and the new album

  • The Arctic Monkeys perform at Rams Head Live. Left to right: Nick O'Malley, Alex Turner, Matt Helders and Jamie Cook.
The Arctic Monkeys perform at Rams Head Live. Left to right:… (Reuters )
October 11, 2011|By Wesley Case, The Baltimore Sun

Alex Turner has a writer's eye.

The Arctic Monkeys' singer-songwriter pens lyrics full of biting wit and pointed remarks. On "Reckless Serenade," a track from his band's recently released fourth album, he sings of the "type of kisses where teeth collide" before his narrator sadly retreats, singing, "Called up to listen to the voice of reason and got his answering machine."

His perspective, both humorous and earnest, stands out in modern-day rock. So where does the 25-year-old from Sheffield, England, draw inspiration?

"I like Tom Wolfe's books quite a lot — his observations and reports on things," Turner says. "This latest book [I read is] called 'The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby,' and that was awesome."

With one listen of "Suck It and See," it's clear the keenly observant Turner — who, along with his bandmates, plays Rams Head Live Saturday — has picked up a few tricks from the New Journalism pioneer.

The album, released in June, finds the Monkeys trading in the darker, more somber tones of 2009's "Humbug" for a sunnier vibe. Turner says recording in Los Angeles played a role in the shift.

"The sun was shining and everyone was generally in a good mood," he says. "You can hear we're having a good time."

Like plenty of songwriters before him, Turner can only stay happy for so long. His ballads, often dripping with yearning and heartbreak, are an Arctic Monkeys calling card.

"I am a romantic fool, no doubt about that," Turner says. "I can't help myself but write those songs."

He blames the penchant on his writing habits.

"I spend a bit of time sitting on the couch with an acoustic guitar — taking breaks, having a cigarette, going to the window then going back," Turner says. "When you do that, you end up doing a lot more of that [romantic] stuff, probably too much."

The band's rabid fan base, especially overseas, isn't complaining. When the band released its 2006 debut "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not," the British hype-monger NME cheekily labeled the group "Our Generation's Most Important Band." Despite being saddled with an enormous amount of hype early on, Arctic Monkeys are one of the few anointed "Rock 'n' Roll Saviors" still thriving.

Turner says the hype has "definitely died down" and that time has allowed him to reflect, at least somewhat, on the whirlwind.

"I look back on that now and can sort of understand what went on," he says. "At the time it was a blur. You're in the eye of the storm and you don't necessarily know what's going on."

The group is in the midst of a nine-month tour, and Turner doesn't expect the pace to slow down soon.

"Usually by now we get icky feet and want to get back in the studio, but we haven't started doing that yet," Turner says. "That's more about this record rather than slowing down. We want to give it the best shot."

Back to Turner's way with words and the question on the minds of everyone: what about that album title? The singer explains "suck it and see" is an English saying for "why not try it," but he concedes the innocence may have been lost in translation.

"We told some American friends about [the title] and they were like, 'You gotta do it!'" Turner says. "Maybe they led us down the garden path. For once, we weren't trying to ruffle any feathers."

wesley.case@baltsun.com

twitter.com/louder_now

If you go

Arctic Monkeys perform Saturday at Rams Head Live, 20 Market Place in Power Plant Live. Doors open at 7 p.m. Smith Westerns also perform. $37. Call 410-244-1131 or go to ramsheadlive.com.

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