"He's taken the 'Vegas routine' to the next level"
The graffiti made headlines earlier this week, when the paintwork mocking Turner’s new life in the US appeared in the band’s native Sheffield in Hunter’s Bar.
“Hey Alex… How’s California?”, the graffiti asks, alongside an image of a coffin with “RIP” written inside.
The graffiti appears to refer to Turner’s lyrics from ‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’: “He talks of San Francisco, he’s from Hunter’s Bar / I don’t quite know the distance, but I’m sure that’s far / Yeah, I’m sure it’s pretty far”.
Turner has been living in Los Angeles for the past few years, previously saying that he moved to the city because it is “built on rock ‘n’ roll”. The band’s new album ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ was largely written and recorded in LA, as well as London and Paris. The record contains several references to America, including a song called ‘The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip’ and a lyric about how “the leader of the free world reminds you of a wrestler wearing tight golden trunks”.
What inspires you to do graffiti?
“Short version? Well I do this shit so they don’t have to, then they can take photos and take all the credit online.
“Long Version: Well back in the mid/late 90’s I used to work in illustration. Now the thing is that back then you had to copy the styles of the flavour of the month so you were forced to pimp yourself out. So what I used to do was produce my OWN work in my OWN style in my own time and take it round galleries, coffee shops, any place I thought might be interested in showing my stuff! But back then what I and a lot of what is now called “street Art” (*VOMITS into own hands*, I HATE that expression!). Well it wasn’t deemed as “proper” art so generally when you approached people you would be given the same look by them as if you had just taken a shit on their birthday cake! So I just started making photocopies of my stuff and pasting it up. Then when that became too costly I started doing basic stencils around 1998/99.
“Just to add, in an age where every talentless fucker seems to want to be noticed, it’s nice to be able to stay anonymous but still be able to communicate with strangers through what I do, y’know? Anyways, the last thing the world needs is yet another selfie obsessed, grinning meat puppet desperately clambering to be recognised.”
You’ve previously depicted the likes of Jarvis Cocker, Adam Ant, Amy Winehouse, Prince and Debbie Harry in your work. What do you look for in a musician before turning them into graffiti?
“Well I’m a sad old fart. Generally most of what I listen to is from the 70’s and 80’s, so I guess that has a bit to do with it. Some of it has come from drunken conversations with people, other times it’s me just wanting to do my interpretation of portraits of people. That’s what I really love doing, but it’s not like I can get people to pose for me. Maybe in time I’ll get to do more stuff like that. I also just like to do nice imagery y’know? Most people can’t afford to buy a Banksy or shit like that so I try and do stuff that everyone can recognise and enjoy. It’s not all highbrow with hidden deeper meanings or snobbery, it’s just (hopefully) a nice bloody picture you can hang on your wall or make you smile as you’re walking down the street.”
What drove you to create this Arctic Monkeys’ piece in Hunters Bar?
“Well If you look on my Instagram feed I did the ORIGINAL ‘Hey Alex’ piece a few years back. At the time a lot of people didn’t pick up on the joke, and to be honest, it wasn’t even that smart or funny! It was just a knee-jerk reaction by me after seeing Alex on some awards show or something and he had gone from this humble, massively talented guy from High Green to channeling the spirit of Elvis in his Vegas years! Now, I knew that the lads were a bunch of funny bastards but this was a bit too serious for my liking. Then I remembered the lyrics to ‘Fake Tales’ and thought to myself “oh sweet irony”. Why’d I do it again? Well on first hearing the new album it had seemed he had taken the ‘Vegas Routine’ to the next (lounge lizard) level. Honestly? I just thought it would be funny! Anyways, I can’t talk, I sound like a twat.”
Were you an old school Arctic Monkeys fan?
“Oh god yeah. I need to be careful with what I say here as they’re one of Sheffield’s “sacred cows”. Seriously, people round here got proper tribal about shit like that. I’ve seen an old woman kick off over a fucking sauce (Hendersons Relish). I don’t want to get shanked prison style! But yeah, I think the earliest I saw them was at a gig at The Harley, or possibly The Forum in town. It was a fantastic time for music in the city back then, a real positive energy with great bands and amazing club nights.”
Are you a fan of the new album?
“Y’know what? I wouldn’t use the word ‘fan’ in the Fanatical sense but, despite the overall sense of it being “The Alex Turner Lounge Act” it’s really good on it’s own musical merits! I do think it’s a tad cringe-inducing when he goes out of his way to over pronounce a word in a Sheffield twang, it’s almost as if he’s looking straight down the camera and giving a knowing nod and a wink to the audience at home as if to say “I’m still reet Yorkshire me”. But yeah, it’s not what you would call your “typical” Arctic Monkeys album, more an Alex Turner side project when he came across John Barry and Serge Gainsbourg and he thought “that’ll do me”! It’ll find it’s own spot in time. Problem is that people don’t like change. They still want that young scamp energetically plucking his guitar and singing about getting pissed and pulling birds. I think he’s moved on creatively, as you have to. I think some of the fans I’ve seen foaming at the mouth need to recognise that. That said, still think it comes across more as a solo project though.”
Did you do it because you think he’s betrayed his roots?
“Let’s be honest, Alex Turner and the rest of the band are now in the lucky position of having “Fuck You” money, so as if the opinions of “A Poundshop Northern Banksy” (as I’ve been called in the past) even matter or are in the orbit of those guys?! It’s like most creative endeavours though – art and music in particular. A little bit of success and you end up in a completely different world where people are doing everything for you, and in time you move on and forget where you come from which is kinda sad but it happens. Luckily I don’t have that problem, as I’m still a sad old bastard that does everything on my own. It was funny when Liam Gallagher was tearing him a new one about his accent and going back to his mum’s though. But again, like he or the rest of the band give a shit about what I do, anyways, I’m sure he would have a sense of humour about the whole thing. Maybe I’ll do some other pieces based on him?”