Published May 29, 2018Arctic Monkeys needed a breather. AM, the British rockers' fifth full-length, was a massive, commercial hit that took them around the world in just under two years. While others couldn't get enough of Alex Turner shredding licks on his Stratocaster, the frontman was feeling flat. "I think I'd almost become suspicious of the guitar," Turner tells Exclaim! over the phone from New York City. "Every time I seemed to pick it up, I had a pretty good idea, or I thought I had an idea, of where it's gonna go. That almost prevents you from doing anything."
The gift of a Steinway Vertegrand for his 30th birthday launched the trajectory for what would become Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, Arctic Monkeys' sixth studio album. "The music that I was composing on the piano seemed to suggest another world of possibility." Turner immersed himself in that world — crafting the Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino both physically (he handcrafted the model that appears on the album's cover art) and through song.
"I think of some of my favourite records as places that you can go for a while and hide away. I like this idea that the record would be named after a place. That seemed to make sense to me — I can imagine it. It might seem sometimes like you've got this idea – 'alright, it's gonna be this' – this concept of a thing that's sort of pre-conceived, but it's really just like one thing leads to another. It has a bit of a mind of its own it seems like when we write. I feel that way more than ever now."
The early influence of Turner's father, a fellow musician, solidified his appreciation for records that transported you to different realms. Growing up, his childhood home in High Green, Sheffield, swelled with music. The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds was a favourite. "Why I suppose I got interested in music in the first place has to do with [Pet Sounds]," Turner says. "I've always believed there's not much of a choice you have when you listen to that record. You're forced to feel something — whether you're a 32 year-old or a 6 year-old as I probably was when I first heard it."
It wasn't long after Turner's introduction to Pet Sounds that another monumental occurrence took place in his life — the befriending of Matt Helders, Arctic Monkeys' drummer. Bassist Nick O'Malley and guitarist Jamie Cook have also been close with the pair since childhood, forming a brotherly bond between the group. The four-year hiatus proved to further strengthen and revitalize their bond.
"Put it this way," Turner says. "I can't think of a better time that we've had than the one we did just now. In relation to making music and doing this stuff, surround yourself with a bunch of people that are better than you are and funnier than you are. I can support that."
While Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino could have never been a solo album of Turner's — "It's always been a Monkeys thing in my mind" — he spent time alone, composing and finding influence in outside sources, before bringing anything to the others.
"I was listening to this podcast [with director] Paul Thomas Anderson. It was going through each of his films and asking quite blunt questions about each of them. At a certain point, I can't remember what film it was or what the thing he was describing was even, but at a certain point, Anderson said, 'I get really interested in it when it goes there.' It doesn't matter what it was or where it went. What it suggested to me was this idea of you start working, creating this stuff, and allow it to be a different thing than what you thought it was gonna be when you set out. You've gotta trust it."
Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is out now via Domino.