Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino is the sixth album from the Arctic Monkeys, but the first since the British guitar-rockers’ platinum-selling 2013 collection AM. Did singer-guitarist and chief songwriter Alex Turner ever think the band’s previous project would be their last?
“Nah, I think we knew there was always another one,” says Turner. “There was another one on the way in one way or another.”
The particular route taken by Turner and his three bandmates — guitarist Jamie Cook, bassist Nick O’Malley, drummer Matt Helders — has yielded unexpected results. Written and initially recorded by Turner at his L.A. home, Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino (out May 11) often foregrounds keyboards rather than guitars and, as its title hints, displays an apparent fascination with science fiction, most obviously with the track, “Science Fiction.” The theme is continued with the album’s cover, which showcases a Turner-crafted architectural model of some fictitious, futuristic structure. The result represents a considerable creative leap from AM, the band’s most successful American release to date. As Turner explains, he is more interested in the quartet’s continued musical evolution than in pandering to fans.
“I wouldn’t think it’s the first time that something we’ve done has significant differences to the last album we’ve put out,” he says. “I remember a similar sensation before AM, comparing that to the one before it. It seemed like there was a shift there as well and I think that’s true again. At this point, I think I’d be more concerned if I wasn’t feeling like something had changed, especially given that was coming up on five years since that last album came out. Yeah, I think I’d be more worried if nothing had changed.”
Below, Turner talks more about the album’s genesis as well as its eyebrow-raising opening lyric — and why you won’t see him playing the saxophone any time soon.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Could you talk about the writing process on the new album?
ALEX TURNER: I got a piano for my 30th birthday. To pinpoint the origin of this project, I will conclude that it was the arrival of the piano in my home studio. Being sat at a piano helped me to invent a different angle to take on writing, not only music but the lyrics — if that makes any sense!
“Star Treatment” references the Strokes in its opening lyrics (“I just wanted to be one of the Strokes/Now look at the mess you made me make”). What was going through your mind
when you wrote that?
It was something that I expected to change later on. I sat down at the piano and began to write, but the plan was that it would just get me off the mark, get me to the next place, and then I’d get into the real juice. But it occurred to me when I did loop back around that a line like that was kind of right where it needed to be. I think it has to do with that passage of time and that sense of, Where has that time gone? I think I’m having a word with myself, really, and saying, “Look at what you’ve got us into.”
And what have you got yourself into?
I dunno. That’s what I’m wondering!
What exactly does the title-track phrase mean?
Tranquility Base, in reality, is the site of the first lunar landing. But whether we’re actually talking about a sort of hotel-casino complex on the moon or not is debatable. I like the idea that the record be named after a place. It isn’t something that I’ve done before, but I do consider many of my favorite records almost being like places that you can visit.
There are a lot of references to science fiction on the album. Is that a particular interest of yours?
I think it’s become one, probably. I don’t think it was very much, but in the last two years perhaps it’s been brought into focus a little more. It can mean a bunch of things, can’t it? I guess I probably haven’t read that much science fiction to be honest. In the movies, the [Rainer Werner] Fassbinder World on a Wire film was something I was watching around the time I started bringing the sci-fi lexicon into this thing. I guess also with the artwork on the record, there’s this photograph in a Stanley Kubrick book that I’ve got, of a gentleman sitting on the floor with a tin of paint in his hand, decorating the Hilton Space Station V set in 2001, and he’s got, like, a hammer next to him. That was really inspiring.
Did you see the NME recently ranked the song titles on this album in order of “most bats—”?
I’ve yet to discover that.
“The Ultracheese” was ranked number one, but I would have gone for “The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip.”
That was verbatim a news story I was unable to resist clicking on about a year ago, and I was unable to resist naming a song after it. It was laid out for me. We’re just living in a world where they’re flipping monster trucks forward.
You partly recorded the album at La Frette Studios in France. What was that experience like?
Really terrific, one I would attempt to recreate again. It was a really special time for us, because it seemed like a long time since we had done the type of recording session where you go, and you sort of live in the rooms next to the studio, or whatever, and you’re just all in it, all day, every day. You wake up and you have your breakfast together. We had a lot of fun there. Up to that point a lot of the work that I’d done with the record had been on my own. So, I’d done a bunch of recordings before France by myself, and while some of that makes up what we’re hearing as the record now, the energy of the rest of the band was really what we captured in France, and that brought it to life.
So if someone gives you
a xylophone for your next birthday, should we expect it on the next Arctic Monkeys record?
Well, it’s the saxophone we’ve probably got to worry about, isn’t it?
I can see you with a sax.
I don’t know. We might have to draw the line somewhere.