Big Read – Miles Kane: “I don’t feel like, ‘Oh, I’ve made it, ma!”

After the hedonistic excess of touring the latest Last Shadow Puppets with his best pal Alex Turner, Miles Kane roped in Lana Del Rey and Jamie T to knock out his third solo record, ‘Coup De Grace’. A glam-punk collection shaped by his love of wrestling, its character is all his own: sneering, snarling and hard to pin down, finds Jordan Bassett

Miles Kane’s an edgy dude. He looks you directly in the eye when he talks to you, but the effect is the reverse of intimate; it’s as if he’s sizing you up. You can almost see the thread between the words he says and the thoughts at the back of his mind. The exact nature of those thoughts remains unclear. He is charming – funny, irreverent, studiedly warm – but you might find it hard to relax around him.

At one point, filming NME’s Show & Tell video, I show him a picture of a saxophone, as he parped one with brief but remarkable gusto at Glastonbury in 2016, when he and closest friend Alex Turner – as The Last Shadow Puppets – performed a cover of David Bowie’s ‘Moonage Daydream’. This is, I think, the only time he appears unguarded.

“I used to play the sax at school,” he says. “We kicked about the idea of doing a cover at Glastonbury and we were like, ‘Let’s do ‘Moonage Daydream’ by Bowie. I piped up and was like, ‘But what about the sax bit in it? I’ll do the sax bit! I’ll get it out, I’ll dust it off.’ I hadn’t played it in 15 years; I’d do one note and be numb. For weeks, I was like, ‘Why did I say I’d do this? The one time I’ve played sax in 15 years is at Glasto, d’you know what I mean? I shit myself a bit.”

Assistance came from an unlikely source: “I’ve gotta thanks Al’s dad for that, because he can play sax and he taught me the part. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have done it, really. I’m glad I did it.”

Miles Kane Big Read NME
Credit: Lauren Dukoff

In some circles, Kane, 32, has been dismissed as a plus-one to Turner’s talent, but in truth he rode his own searing ambition to notability when his indie band The Rascals emerged from the Wirral with debut album ‘Rascalize’ in 2008. It’s of its time – spiky, atonal guitar, tinny percussion – and the Rascals disbanded a year later, but Kane’s feverish vocal delivery is already evident. He sneers, snarls – halfway between Liam Gallagher and a baddie from a daytime soap. Two ensuing solo albums, ‘The Colour of The Trap’ (2011) and ‘Don’t Forget Who You Are’ (2013’), adhere to a smoother template influenced by the Mod stylings of his hero, Paul Weller, but course with the same restless, nervous energy he displays today.

When I show him a photo of Alex Turner, his closest pal, his compadre, his collaborator on two Shadow Puppets albums, ‘The Age of the Understatement’ (2008) and ‘Everything You’ve Come To Expect’ (2016), Kane looks baffled, as though I’ve shown him a picture of a chimp pissing into its own mouth. “What do you wanna know?” he asks. “It’s like, I don’t… what can I say? Erm. I don’t know, man. I mean, yeah, like, lovely. When you say, ‘Tell me about your best mate’, what do you say?”

Miles Kane Big Read NME
“I’m into wrestling. I like the drama-ness, the campness and the storylines. I am hooked on it. It’s my weekly soap” – Miles Kane. Credit: Andy Hughes

It’s perhaps no surprise that he’s weary of being asked about his more successful mate, especially since we’re talking amid hype around the Arctic Monkeys’ sixth album ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’, which has since been released to near-instant-classic status. And we’ve met to talk about ‘Coup De Grace’, his third, upcoming album, which is almost certainly the best, most distinctive solo record he’s released. Moving away from that polished mod-rock sound, this is swaggering glam-punk that shimmers with oily bravado. Fittingly, Kane turns up to the interview in leather boots, a leopard print jacket and purple shades.

“The first single I put out, ‘Loaded’,” he says, “is maybe slightly punk in its attitude. But there are definitely tunes on there that are more punky. I was definitely listening to a lot of The Fall and The Damned while writing it. There’s a song on the album called ‘Too Little Too Late’, which is – you know That Misfits tune ‘Last Caress’? I kinda wanted a tune that was really punky, but almost croonery.”

Kane’s detractors will not be surprised to hear that he roped in two successful pals, Lana Del Rey and Jamie T, to work on ‘Coup De Grace’ – in fact, Del Rey wrote the killer chorus to ‘Loaded’, which sees the song slide sideways like a mask slipping from the face of its unhinged narrator.

“She’s an incredible writer,” he says. “Does things straight off the bat. I couldn’t really speak highly enough of her and her writing. We’d only met a couple of times, a year before [that writing session]. The day before she came over to write, I bumped into her at Jamie’s gig. But I didn’t really know her. Before we started to write together, we weren’t, you know, going for cappuccinos.”

Of Jamie T, he explains: “Jamie brought loads to the table. We wrote a lot of tunes. Definitely he helped me lyrically. I tend to fall into the trap of using less words and spacing out the sentences – trying to be croonery, I guess.”

The clip-clopping verse to ‘Loaded’ heavily bears T’s influence. Kane recites the lines “Tripping on the sidewalk, living like a cyclone” to me, chopping them out on his left palm with the side of his right hand. “Doing that more rhythmical delivery was something we experimented with,” he says. “That kinda gave it a new thing for me. I loved it. It opened up a new door.”

Miles Kane Big Read NME
Credit: Lauren Dukoff

Kane began writing his third solo record before he and Turner started to work on  ‘Everything You’ve Come To Expect’. He explains: “Me and Al started writing and it became apparent that we were gonna do that. By the time I came back round to them [solo] tunes, they didn’t feel right. They felt old, or they didn’t really excite me. So they just sort of got binned, really.” He picked the solo material up again once the Puppets rounded off their summer 2016 tour. “I got off to a good little start after the Puppets tour; went straight in to write and got a couple of good things. But after that I had a bit of a lull. Just couldn’t get into it, couldn’t finish anything.”

Had he experienced that previously?

“I’ve experienced little bits of it,” he says. “I think everyone does to a degree. But not to this degree. I felt really… I was like, ‘I can’t even play me guitar.’ It a weird one. I think it had been brewing, but I was just blocking it out. And then it just wore me out, wore me down in a way. It was last January when I met Jamie, and the mojo came back.”

Kane has said, previously, that this period of writers’ block coincided with a relationship break-up. On recently releases single ‘Cry On My Guitar’, which shimmies along with a glam rock strut – equal parts Goldfrapp and T Rex – he simpers, “You push me too far / I sit and then I cry upon the strings of my guitar”. It’s the sound of sweating out a substance you were mistakenly advised would mend a broken heart. The languid ‘Shavambacu’, on which he calls a woman “baby doll” and laments that “I’m not in LA to have my way with you”, depicts the randy yearnings of a deluded narrator. The title track is a ferocious, spiteful riposte to a former lover.

“’Coup De Grace’ means ‘the final blow’, Kane explains. He mimes the action of lancing a foe. It’s, “You know, you sticking the sword in.” It’s also the name of WWE wrestler Finn Bálor’s signature finishing move, as he jumps from the top rope to splat an opponent like a piece of fruit. “I’m into wrestling,” Kane says. Indeed, today, beneath the leopard print jacket, he wears a T-shirt that bears the gurning mug of flamboyant, legendary fighter Ric Flair. “I like the drama-ness, the campness and the storylines. I am hooked on it. It’s my weekly soap.”

Miles Kane Big Read NME
“Lana Del Rey is an incredible writer, but we’d only met a couple of times before working together. We weren’t, you know, going for cappuccinos.” – Miles Kane Credit: Lauren Dukoff

A palpable sense of spite rushes through Miles Kane’s third album, but it’s laced with levity and camp hysteria. It’s tremendous fun, albeit in small doses, and emphasises the extent to which he thrives on collaboration. He’s started to sporadically perform Beatles songs with a super-group named Dr. Pepper’s Jaded Hearts Club Band. It’s formed of Muses’ Matt Bellamy, and Nine Inch Nails‘ Ilan Rubin. The shows, which usually happen in his adopted home, Los Angeles, are more of a muck-about than official events, though Macca himself once rocked up to help out with ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and ‘Helter Skelter’. How does Kane manage such top-drawer schmoozing?

“Anything like that, it just sort of happens and I think, ‘I’ll give it a go if it goes my way’,” he explains. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But, you know, why not?” Of the Dr. Pepper’s Jaded Hearts Club Band, he adds, “You’re looking over and Bellamy’s rippin’ it on the bass and I’m singing – I’m like, ‘What am I doing singing? He’s got a better voice than me!’ Probably not to sing the Beatles tunes, to be honest. I just wanna be in Vegas with it, man.”

Although Kane’s contacts book is bulging, it seems unlikely any other name has been decorated with the hearts and kisses that presumably adorn Turner’s. They have a lot in common: both swapped northern England for mythological Los Angeles and appear to recognise what an improbable journey that is, and what a hackneyed storyline it creates. The boys done good. Kane’s public persona hasn’t become quite as mannered as Turner’s, but interviews around ‘Everything You’ve Come To Expect’ often raised eyebrows, not least when they were plonked in front of a stoic interviewer from Dutch YouTube channel FaceCulture.

The 2016 interview, which opens with Kane’s sniggering, “I just dribbled,” has become a meme, from Turner’s glazed, absent look throughout to the Beatles impressions that they both randomly slip into. At one point, Turner’s eyes widen as though he’s seen a demon in the corner of the room.

“You’d probably think we were off our heads,” Kane says today after leaning over mid-way through my question, perhaps daring me to go there, “but we definitely weren’t. I don’t know, man, I think we were just excited and getting a bit fucking giddy, you know what I mean?”

Miles Kane Big Read NME
“In Shadow Puppets, Alex and I were just having a buzz, to be honest. You know, why not? Because with everyone else, it’s quite stiff out there, you know what I mean?” – Miles Kane. Credit: Lauren Dukoff

Given that the album recounts the misadventures of louche party boys, was there an element of performance to that interview? Were they channelling characters they’d forged on record?

“Tryna be like Bowie, you mean?” His eyes narrow suspiciously, then he relaxes. “Yeah. Maybe there was elements of that. But…” A long, borderline painful pause follows. “…Maybe, but I don’t think it was – at the time, we were just having a buzz, to be honest. You know, why not? Because with everyone else – it’s quite stiff out there, you know what I mean? No-one would blink an eye if that was years ago and you were ‘aving a bit of a buzz or letting rip onstage.  I just think it’s pretty stiff, so that probably really does jump out and people would make the presumption… It’s easy to sort of judge it, but fuck it. Yeah – I mean, it’s just fun.”

There was also an interview with the American music magazine Spin. In her feature, journalist Rachel Brodsky wrote that Kane’s behaviour made her feel uncomfortable when he joked, “Do you want to go upstairs?” and gave “a not-entirely consensual kiss on the cheek” before she left. Kane later emailed her an apology for what he termed “’Carry On’ humour”.

He stutters a little, searching for the right words, when I ask him about the interview, and then says: “It was just a misunderstanding and it did hurt me. It was quite upsetting. And it was unfortunate. It got me down at the time, to be honest, but it was one of them. You know, what can you do? You can’t really sort of… I said what I needed to say and it was a joke. The girl even met my girlfriend. It’s crazy, really.” He raises his palms in submission. “But it’s one of them.”

Asked about the impressive distance he’s travelled in his life and career, he mugs, “I don’t feel like, ‘Oh, I’ve made it, ma!” Kane once described himself as “a lucky boy from the Wirral”. There’s luck and then there’s ambition, intensity and restlessness. Those final three qualities can be transportive but isolating, which perhaps explain why Miles Kane – though, in my experience, often quite charming – is an edgy, intriguing dude.