Alex Turner (musician)
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Alex Turner Musician

Alex Turner
OutsideLandsSan Francisco.png
Turner performing in San Francisco in 2011
Born Alexander David Turner
(1986-01-06) 6 January 1986 (age 32)
High Green, Sheffield, England
Residence Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation
  • Musician
  • singer
  • songwriter
  • record producer
Musical career
Genres
Instruments
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • bass guitar
  • keyboards
  • piano
2002-present
Labels Domino

Alexander David Turner (born 6 January 1986) is an English musician, singer, songwriter and record producer. He is best known as the frontman and principal songwriter of the rock band Arctic Monkeys, with whom he has released six albums. Turner has also recorded with his side-project The Last Shadow Puppets and as a solo artist.

Raised in High Green, a suburb of Sheffield, South Yorkshire, Turner is the only child of two teachers. When he was sixteen, he and three friends formed Arctic Monkeys. Their debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (2006), became the fastest-selling debut album in British history and is considered by Rolling Stone to be one of the greatest debut albums of all time.[1] The band's subsequent studio albums, Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007), Humbug (2009), Suck It and See (2011), AM (2013) and Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino (2018), have experimented with desert rock, indie pop, R&B, and lounge music. Arctic Monkeys headlined Glastonbury Festival in both 2007 and 2013, and performed during the 2012 London Summer Olympics opening ceremony.

Turner and Miles Kane have released two orchestral pop albums - The Age Of The Understatement (2008) and Everything You've Come To Expect (2016) - as the co-frontmen of The Last Shadow Puppets. Turner provided an acoustic soundtrack for the feature film Submarine (2010). He co-wrote and co-produced Alexandra Savior's debut album, Belladonna of Sadness (2017).

Turner's lyricism, ranging from kitchen sink realism to surrealist wordplay, has been widely praised. Each of his eight studio albums have reached number one on the UK Album Chart. He has won seven Brit Awards, an Ivor Novello Award, and has been nominated for the Mercury Prize five times, winning once.

Biography

Early life

Turner grew up in High Green, a suburb of Sheffield, South Yorkshire. He is an only child.[2] His parents, Penny and David Turner, both worked at local secondary schools; his mother was a German teacher while his father taught physics and music.[3] During car journeys, his mother introduced him to music by Led Zeppelin,[4]David Bowie,[5]Jackson Browne,[3]The Eagles,[6]The Carpenters,[7]Al Green,[8]The Beatles,[9] and The Beach Boys.[10] His father was a fan of jazz and swing music,[5] particularly Frank Sinatra.[9] He played the saxophone, trumpet and piano,[11] and had been a member of big bands.[7] Turner himself took piano lessons until he was eight years old.[11][12]

At the age of five, Turner met his classmate and neighbour Matt Helders, and they grew up together.[13][14] They met Andy Nicholson at secondary school[15] and the three friends bonded over their shared enjoyment of rap artists such as Dr. Dre,[16]Wu-Tang Clan,[6]Outkast,[6] and Roots Manuva.[6] They spent their weekends "making crap hip-hop" beats using Turner's father's Cubase system.[17][7] Turner and his friends became interested in guitar bands following the breakthrough of The Strokes in 2001.[18] That Christmas, when he was fifteen, Turner's parents bought him a guitar.[19]

Turner was educated at Stocksbridge High School (1997-2002).[20] He did not read regularly[21] and was too self-conscious to share his writing with others.[22] Nonetheless, he enjoyed English lessons.[23] His teacher, Simon Baker, later remembered him as a clever pupil who was "quite reserved ... a little bit different."[23] He noted that Turner had an "incredibly laid-back" approach to school work, which worried his mother.[23] Turner then spent two years at Barnsley College (2002-2004), where he studied for A-levels in music technology and media studies, and AS-levels in English, photography and psychology.[24]

2002-2004: Formation of Arctic Monkeys

After watching friends perform in local bands, Turner, Helders, Nicholson and another friend, Jamie Cook, decided to form Arctic Monkeys in mid-2002.[25] In the early days of the band, Helders has recalled that Turner "wasn't necessarily going to be the singer" but was the obvious candidate for lyricist: "I knew he had a thing for words."[26] Before playing a live show, the band rehearsed for a year in both Turner and Helders' garages and, later, at an unused warehouse in Wath.[14] Turner gradually began to share lyrics with his bandmates.[27] According to Helders' mother, who drove the teenagers to and from their rehearsal space three times a week: "If they knew you were there, they would just stop so we had to sneak in."[14] Their first gig was on Friday, 13 June 2003, supporting The Sound at a local pub called The Grapes.[28] The set, which was partly recorded,[29] comprised both original songs and cover versions of songs by The Strokes, The Vines, The Beatles, The White Stripes, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Undertones, Fatboy Slim, and The Datsuns.[30][31]

In the summer of 2003, Turner played seven gigs in York and Liverpool as a rhythm guitarist for the funk band Judan Suki, after meeting the lead singer Jon McClure on a bus.[32][33] That August, while recording a demo with Judan Suki at Sheffield's 2fly Studios, Turner asked Alan Smyth if he would produce an Arctic Monkeys demo. Smyth obliged and "thought they definitely had something special going on. I told Alex off for singing in an American voice at that first session."[34] An introduction by Smyth led to the band acquiring a management team, Geoff Barradale and Ian McAndrew.[35] They paid for Arctic Monkeys to record numerous three-song demos in 2003 and 2004.[36] Barradale drove the band around venues in Scotland, the Midlands, and the north of England to establish their reputation as a live band.[15] They handed out copies of the demo CDs after each show and fans began sharing the unofficial Beneath the Boardwalk demo compilation online.[37] After finishing college in mid-2004, Turner deferred plans to attend university in Manchester.[7][38] He began working part-time as a bartender at the Sheffield music venue The Boardwalk. There, he met well-known figures including musician Richard Hawley and poet John Cooper Clarke.[39][40] By the end of 2004, Arctic Monkeys' audiences were beginning to sing along with their songs[41] and the demo of "I Bet You Look Good on The Dancefloor" was played on BBC Radio 1 by Zane Lowe.[42]

2005-2007: Rise to fame

Turner performing in Norwich, England in October 2005

Arctic Monkeys came to national attention in 2005. They received their first mention in a national newspaper in April, with a Daily Star reporter describing them as "the most exciting band to emerge this year".[43] They self-released an EP, featuring the single "Fake Tales of San Francisco", in May[44] and commenced their first nationwide tour soon afterwards.[45] Turner began dating London-based student Johanna Bennett around this time.[46] In June, in the midst of a bidding war, Arctic Monkeys signed to the independent label Domino Recording Company.[47] They recorded an album in rural Lincolnshire with producer Jim Abbiss.[47] In October, the single "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" debuted at number one on the UK Singles Chart.[48] In reviewing a sold-out show at the London Astoria, Alexia Loundras of The Independent noted that the nineteen-year-old Turner had a "commanding" stage presence, despite dressing like an "ordinary bloke" in "baggy jeans and T-shirt".[49]

Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, Arctic Monkeys' debut album, was released in January 2006. Turner's lyrics, chronicling teenage nightlife in Sheffield, were widely praised.[50]Kelefa Sanneh of The New York Times remarked: "Mr. Turner's lyrics are worth waiting for and often worth memorizing, too ... He has an uncanny way of evoking Northern English youth culture while neither romanticizing it nor sneering at it."[51] Musically, Alexis Petridis of The Guardian noted that the album was influenced by guitar bands "from the past five years ... Thrillingly, their music doesn't sound apologetic for not knowing the intricacies of rock history."[52]

It was the fastest-selling debut album in British music history and quickly became a cultural phenomenon.[53] In interview profiles, Turner was described as quiet and uncomfortable with attention.[54] Less than two months after the album's release, he declared that Sheffield-inspired songwriting was "a closed book": "We're moving on and thinking about different things."[55] The band turned down many promotional opportunities[56] and quickly released new material - a five-track EP Who the Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys? in April, and a stand-alone single, "Leave Before the Lights Come On", in August. That summer, the band made the decision to permanently replace Nicholson, who had taken a touring break due to "fatigue", with Nick O'Malley, another childhood friend.[57][58] As of 2015, Turner and Nicholson remain "close friends".[59][60]

Turner performing at Coachella in May 2007

Arctic Monkeys' second album, Favourite Worst Nightmare, was released in April 2007. It was produced by James Ford in London.[61] Lyrically, the album touches on fame, love, and heartache.[62] Turner and Bennett had ended their relationship in January; she was credited as a co-writer on "Fluorescent Adolescent".[63][64] While uninterested in the songs concerning fame, Marc Hogan of Pitchfork said the album displayed Turner's "usual gift for vivid imagery" and explored "new emotional depth".[62] Petridis of The Guardian noted that the band were "pushing gently but confidently at the boundaries of their sound", with hints of "woozy psychedelia" and "piledriving metal".[65] The album was a commercial success.[66] Arctic Monkeys headlined Glastonbury Festival in the summer of 2007, with Rosie Swash of The Guardian remarking upon Turner's "steady, wry stage presence": "Arctic Monkeys don't do ad-libbing, they don't do crowd interaction, and they don't do encores."[67]

Turner began to collaborate with other artists in 2007. He worked with rapper Dizzee Rascal on the Arctic Monkeys B-side "Temptation", a version of which also featured on Rascal's album Maths and English.[68] They performed the song live at Glastonbury Festival.[67] Turner co-wrote three songs on Reverend and the Makers' debut album The State Of Things, after briefly sharing a Sheffield flat with the frontman Jon McClure.[69] Another Sheffield singer, Richard Hawley, featured on the Arctic Monkeys' B-side "Bad Woman" and performed with the band at the Manchester Apollo, as part of a concert film directed by Richard Ayoade.[70] Turner also announced plans to form a side-project band, The Last Shadow Puppets, with James Ford and Miles Kane, whom he had befriended in mid-2005.[71][72]

2008-2011: Musical experimentation

Turner performing with The Last Shadow Puppets in 2008

The Last Shadow Puppets' debut album, The Age of the Understatement, was recorded in the Loire Valley, France[73] and was released in April 2008, shortly after Turner had moved from Sheffield to east London.[74][75] It was co-written by Turner and Kane, and featured string arrangements by Owen Pallett.[76]Alexa Chung, dating Turner since mid-2007,[77] featured in the music video for "My Mistakes Were Made For You".[78] Hogan of Pitchfork noted that, lyrically, Turner was "moving from his anthropologically detailed Arctics brushstrokes to bold, cinematic gestures."[79] Petridis of The Guardian detected "the audible enthusiasm of an artist broadening his scope".[80] During a tour with the London Philharmonic Orchestra,[81] The Last Shadow Puppets gave a surprise performance at Glastonbury Festival, with both Matt Helders and Jack White making guest appearances.[82]Alison Mosshart performed with the band at the Olympia in Paris, and provided vocals for a B-side.[83][84] Also in 2008, Turner formed a covers band with Dev Hynes for a one-off show in London[85] and recorded a spoken word track "A Choice of Three" for Helders' compilation album Late Night Tales.[86]

Turner has described Arctic Monkeys' third album, Humbug, released in August 2009, as "a massive turning point" in the band's career.[87] They travelled to Joshua Tree, California to work with producer Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, and explored a heavier sound.[88] While Petridis of The Guardian found some lyrics "too oblique to connect", he was impressed by the band's "desire to progress". He described "Cornerstone" as a "dazzling display of what Turner can do: a fabulously witty, poignant evocation of lost love."[89] Joe Tangari of Pitchfork felt the album was a "legitimate expansion of the band's songwriting arsenal" and described "Cornerstone" as the highlight.[90] For Arctic Monkeys' fanbase, the album's change of direction initially proved divisive.[91] During a break in the UK Humbug tour, Turner joined Richard Hawley on stage at a London charity concert,[92] and played a seven-song acoustic set.[93] Homme joined Arctic Monkeys for a live performance in Pioneertown, California.[94]

Turner performing in Bologna, Italy in 2011

While living in Brooklyn, New York, where he moved with Chung in the spring of 2009,[95] Turner wrote an acoustic soundtrack for the coming-of-age feature film Submarine (2010).[96] His friend, director Richard Ayoade, initially approached him to sing cover versions[97] but, instead, he recorded six original songs in London, accompanied by James Ford and Bill Ryder-Jones.[98][99] The Submarine EP was released in March 2011.[100] Paul Thompson of Pitchfork felt "Turner's keen wit and eye for detail" had created a "tender portrayal" of adolescent uncertainty.[101] Turner also co-wrote six songs for Miles Kane's debut solo album Colour of the Trap (2011) and co-wrote Kane's standalone single "First of My Kind" (2012).[102]

Turner wrote Arctic Monkeys' fourth album, Suck It and See, in New York[103] and met up with his bandmates and James Ford for recording sessions in Los Angeles. Turner and Chung had moved back to London by the time of the album's release in June 2011, and split soon after.[104] Marc Hogan of Pitchfork enjoyed the album's "chiming indie pop balladry" and "muscular glam-rock".[105] Petridis of The Guardian remarked that Turner's new lyrical style of "dense, Dylanesque wordplay is tough to get right. More often than not, he pulls it off. There are beautifully turned phrases and piercing observation."[106] Richard Hawley co-wrote and provided vocals for the B-side, "You and I", and performed the song with the band at the Olympia in Paris.[107] Turner joined Elvis Costello on stage in New York to sing "Lipstick Vogue".[108]

2012-2017: International success

By 2012, Arctic Monkeys were based in Los Angeles, with Turner and Helders sharing a house.[109] Arctic Monkeys toured the US as the support act for The Black Keys in early 2012. While they had previously opened for Oasis and Queens of the Stone Age at one-off shows, it was the band's first time to tour as a supporting act.[110] They released "R U Mine?" as a standalone single in preparation for the tour, with Turner's new girlfriend, Arielle Vandenberg, appearing in the music video. Faced with winning over indifferent audiences, Turner, now sporting a "rockabilly-inspired quiff", began to change his stage persona. Brian Hiatt of Rolling Stone noted of his "newfound showmanship": "He puts his guitar down to strut and dance, drops to his knees for solos when he does play, flirts shamelessly with the female fans."[4] Later that year, Arctic Monkeys performed "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor" and a cover of "Come Together" by The Beatles at the 2012 London Summer Olympics opening ceremony. In early 2013, Turner provided backing vocals for the Queens of the Stone Age song "If I Had a Tail"[111] and played bass guitar on "Get Right", a Miles Kane B-side.[112] Arctic Monkeys headlined Glastonbury Festival for a second time in June.[113][114]

Turner performing in Zurich in 2013

AM was released in September 2013.[115][116][117] Ryan Dombal of Pitchfork said that the album, dealing with "desperate 3 a.m. thoughts", managed to modernise "T. Rex bop, Bee Gees backup vocals, Rolling Stones R&B, and Black Sabbath monster riffage".[118] Phil Mongredien of The Guardian described it as "their most coherent, most satisfying album since their debut": "Turner proves he has not lost his knack for an insightful lyric."[119] Arctic Monkeys promoted the album heavily in the US, in contrast to previous album campaigns where, according to Helders, they had refused to do radio promotion: "We couldn't even have told you why at the time. Just stubborn teenage thinking."[4] Arctic Monkeys spent 18 months touring AM; they were joined onstage by Josh Homme in both Los Angeles and Austin.[120][121] Turner briefly reunited with Chung in the summer of 2014, having ended his two-year relationship with Vandenberg earlier that year.[122][123][124]

Columbia Records approached Turner about working with Alexandra Savior in 2014, and he co-wrote her debut album, Belladonna of Sadness, in between Arctic Monkeys' touring commitments. Turner and James Ford co-produced the album in 2015.[125][126][127] An additional song "Risk" was recorded with T Bone Burnett for an episode of the crime drama True Detective.[128] While Turner and Savior performed together in Los Angeles in 2016,[129] the album was not released until April 2017. In reviewing it, Hilary Hughes of Pitchfork remarked: "Turner's musical ticks are so distinct that they're instantly recognizable when someone else tries to dress them up as their own."[130] Savior later said the press attention surrounding Turner's involvement was overwhelming: "I'm so grateful for him, but I'm also like, 'Alright, alright!'"[127]

The Last Shadow Puppets released their second album, Everything You've Come to Expect, in April 2016. Turner, Kane and Ford were joined by Zach Dawes of Mini Mansions, with whom Turner had collaborated on the song "Vertigo" in 2015.[131] According to Turner, the album featured "the most straight-up love letters" of his career, written for American model Taylor Bagley.[132] (They dated from early 2015 to mid-2018.)[133][134] Laura Snapes of Pitchfork detected an air of "misanthropy" in the album. However, she acknowledged that Turner was "no less a gifted lyricist than ever" and described some songs as "totally gorgeous ... the structures fluid and surprising".[135] Alexis Petridis of The Guardian enjoyed Turner's "characteristically sparkling use of language" and "melodic skill". However, he felt the pair's "in-joking" during interviews and Kane's "leery" encounter with a female Spin journalist cast "an uncomfortable pall" over the album.[136] From March until August 2016, they toured in Europe and North America.[137] In December 2016, they released The Dream Synopsis, an EP which included covers of "Les Cactus" by Jacques Dutronc and "Is This What You Wanted" by Leonard Cohen.

2018 onward: Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

Turner performing at the Royal Albert Hall in 2018

Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, Arctic Monkeys' sixth album, was released in May 2018.[138] After receiving a Steinway Vertegrand piano as a 30th birthday present from his manager, Turner wrote the space-themed album from the perspective of "a lounge-y character".[139][140] Having written "the most straight-up love letters" of his career on Everything You've Come to Expect, he felt ready to explore wider themes.[132] He recorded demos at home, and shared them with Cook in early 2017. Cook was initially taken-aback by the change in direction: "It took a few listens to even begin to, like... But I don't think any of us wanted to make an AM, Part Two, so I were very, very excited by what he'd come up with."[141] By mid-2017, the whole band was recording the project, produced by Turner and James Ford, in both Los Angeles and France.[140] They were joined by a number of other musicians.[142]

Upon release, Jonah Weiner of Rolling Stone characterised Tranquility Base as "a captivatingly bizarre album about the role of entertainment - the desire to escape into it, and the desire to create it - during periods of societal upheaval and crisis."[141] Alexis Petridis of The Guardian found it "quietly impressive" that the band chose to release the "thrilling, smug, clever and oddly cold album" rather than more crowd-pleasing fare.[143] Jazz Monroe of Pitchfork declared it "a delirious and artful satire directed at the foundations of modern society."[144] The album became the eighth chart-topping album of Turner's career in the UK.[145] The band announced plans to tour the album from May to October 2018.[146] Turner began dating French singer Louise Verneuil in mid-2018.[147]

Artistry

Influences

Turner was "into hip-hop in a big way" as a teenager.[6] When he first started writing lyrics, Roots Manuva's Run Come Save Me was his main influence.[148][149] He also listened to Dr Dre,[149]Snoop Dogg,[150]OutKast, Eminem[6] and The Streets.[149][151] He has repeatedly cited Method Man as one of his favourite lyricists,[6][152][153] and has referenced the Wu-Tang Clan in his own lyrics.[154] The sound of 2013's AM was inspired by what Turner imagined "a hip-hop producer's perspective would be",[155] and the songs incorporated lyrical structures used by Lil Wayne and Drake.[156][6] He is "a big fan" of the hip-hop producer and composer Adrian Younge,[157][158] and drew inspiration from his music when writing Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino.[159]

For Turner, The Strokes were "that one band that comes along when you are 14 or 15 years old that manages to hit you in just the right way and changes your whole perception of things."[160] He changed his style of dress and began to take an interest in guitar music.[161] He has since referenced the band in his lyrics.[161]The Vines were the first band Turner ever saw live and Craig Nicholls provided inspiration for his early stage persona.[162] Other early guitar influences included The Libertines,[163]The Coral[164] and The White Stripes.[165] In his late teens, Turner began "delving" into older music and discovered lyricists including Elvis Costello,[9]Ray Davies of The Kinks,[9][6]Jarvis Cocker of Pulp,[166]Paul Weller of The Jam,[167] and Morrissey of The Smiths.[168][169] Turner has since performed with Jack White of The White Stripes,[82] Costello[108] and Johnny Marr of The Smiths.[170]

John Cooper Clarke was "a massive inspiration" to Turner.[171] He was first introduced to Clarke's poetry at school.[23] Turner was working as a bartender at The Boardwalk in Sheffield in late 2004 when Clarke appeared on stage as the opening act for The Fall.[40] The performance made a big impression on the eighteen-year-old: "He's talking 100 miles an hour, and he's really funny ... It just blew my mind."[172] Turner was inspired by Clarke's use of a regional accent and the early Arctic Monkeys song "From the Ritz to the Rubble" was his homage to Clarke's style ("my best shot at it, at least").[173] Later in his career, Turner published a Clarke poem as part of a single's artwork[174] and used another as the lyrical basis for a song.[175]

By 2007, Turner was drawing influence from film scores and included an Ennio Morricone organ sample in the song "505".[176] He has since referenced scores composed by John Carpenter,[177]François de Roubaix,[178]Nino Rota, Jean-Claude Vannier and David Axelrod.[179] When forming The Last Shadow Puppets, Turner had just discovered Serge Gainsbourg's Histoire de Melody Nelson, The Electric Prunes's Mass in F Minor and the back catalogue of Scott Walker.[180] Listening to both Walker and Nina Simone inspired him to change his style of singing.[159] During the recording of Humbug, Josh Homme introduced Turner to music by Creedence Clearwater Revival,[181]Cream, Roky Erickson and Captain Beyond.[182] The structure of the song "Cornerstone" was inspired by Jake Thackray.[9][183]

Turner became interested in country music during the making of 2011's Suck It And See.[184] He admired the songcraft displayed by Townes Van Zandt,[6]Patsy Cline,[185]George Jones, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson,[186]Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.[187] He was also listening to Gene Clark[153] and Bob Dylan's Desire during this period.[188] During the making of AM, Turner drew from a wide variety of musical influences. He was listening to soul music by Al Green, Sam Cooke, Betty Davis and Dungeon Family, rock music by Harry Nilsson,[189]Fleetwood Mac, Captain Beefheart, The Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath, The Stooges[190][148] and folk music by Michael Chapman.[148][191]

When The Last Shadow Puppets reformed, Turner was listening to Isaac Hayes, Style Council, Ned Doheny[192] and Todd Rundgren.[193] He spoke of his admiration for Benji Hughes's A Love Extreme. Turner has described Leon Russell's "A Song for You" as "one of the greatest songs of all time".[194] He cited Russell's music as an influence when writing both AM and Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino.[148][195]Dion's Born to Be with You is one of Turner's favourite albums,[196] and he has mentioned the song "Only You Know" in many interviews.[33] He has taken inspiration from the production of Born to Be with You and The Beach Boys's Pet Sounds.[197]

Nick Lowe,[198]Nick Cave,[198]John Cale[149] and Lou Reed are among Turner's favourite lyricists.[199] He has covered Leonard Cohen's "Memories" and "Is This What You Wanted" with The Last Shadow Puppets.[200][201][202]The Beatles are an influence,[203] as is David Bowie.

Discography

Solo

Arctic Monkeys

The Last Shadow Puppets

Collaborations

References

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