Arctic Monkeys – Alex Turner’s Guide To ‘Suck It And See’

Arctic Monkeys’ fourth album ‘Suck It And See’ is five years old this week.

Here, Alex Turner spills the beans on the influences behind the album, including cowboy films, writing on bus seats and “the Edge and Bono”

She’s Thunderstorms
I remember writing this one when there was a storm going on. They get like mad storms over there [in New York], like, apocalyptic. I’m always trying to think of different interesting ways to like describe somebody but compliment them too. So in that one, I like the idea that she’s not even a thunderstorm, she’s more than one. I quite like the fact she’s plural. ‘Thunderstorms’ meaning just, y’know, awesome!


Black Treacle
This was much later down the line. I watched a couple of westerns when we were doing this, like Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid which gets a reference in there. I also just wanted to put ‘belly-button piercings’ in a tune, I thought that would be good. I’d kind of wanted to do it for a couple of weeks and then managed to fit it in there. Why? I’d not thought about them for a while and they came on my radar somehow. And then I thought about this thing of them and the stars being juxtaposed.

Brick By Brick
It’s just a fucking laugh, isn’t it? It’s got, like, three “rock’n’rolls” in it. We were in Miami on tour once and we just got off a long flight to there and we had an idea for a song called ‘Brick By Brick’ and so we wrote it that night just sorta in a bar. But it were quite loose, we thought about it as the concept of a song and all these things that you want to do – brick by brick – and we just made a list of them that was probably three times as long as what it ended up over that night and the next few weeks.

It was probably the first tune we had for this. We’re also working on ‘Brick By Brick 2.0’. It’s called ‘IDST’. Do you remember that? When you’d write on a bus seat, or whatever, ‘I love whoever IDST’ – If Destroyed Still True? So that iron’s in the fire now.”

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The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala
There’s always a load of words in our tunes, isn’t there. And I was trying to think of a way of being a bit more economical, so we thought the one way of doing that is having really simple choruses but quite complicated verses lyrically – and that were one of them. I mean it’s based on a place that I’ve been but I don’t necessarily want that to be what the listener associates it with.

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’Cause maybe they can relate it to a place they’ve been. I don’t want to ruin that by giving them a map. Some great harmonies on this song too. [Producer] James Ford’s favourite bit of this record is on that song. It goes “uh-oh-uh-oh-wo”. Maybe it’s because it sounds like the Klaxons. I always think he prefers them to us.

Don’t Sit Down ’Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair
Well, that’s something somebody said. Oh, in fact I said it to somebody whose chair I’d moved and I didn’t want them to hurt themselves. This was while we were in the studio doing the Submarine recording [Alex recorded the soundtrack to friend Richard Ayoade’s debut film] and James said, ‘Oh, that sounds like it could be like a ’60s garage Nuggets tune and be called that’.

So then we thought, well, ok if that’s what you can’t do (sit down, ’cos I’ve moved your chair), then what sort of ridiculous things can you do that are probably more dangerous than if you just sat down? But also I quite like that it’s, y’know, well, you don’t want people to be sat down, do you? You want them to be up. That’s going to be our first single I think.

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Library Pictures
“This is one where I definitely think the words are taking a backseat. It’s just about chaos. Like, all the sound of it – all the music and guitars and drums – everything’s just barmy and I’m trying to make the lyrics subscribe to that as well. Do I ever do that William Burroughs thing where you cut words up and arrange them randomly? No, I never actually do it physically but maybe in my head a little bit. We recorded it one day like really hungover and had a great day. It were a really good hangover, like a giddy one.

All My Own Stunts
Josh [Homme] comes and sings on this one. He’s very dominant, his voice. When you record his voice it just sort of leaps out, it’s great. What else can I tell you about that one? It’s got another reference to cowboy films. It just says, “I’ve been watching cowboy films on gloomy afternoons” which were something I were doing at the time. It’s also where we let ourselves have a bit of a wig-out.

There’s not as much wigging out on this [album] as the last one, we rationed it. Also at the end you hear a little snippet of this song we were making up while we in the studio there called ‘I’m From High Green’ which is where we’re from. It was summat we were singing quite a lot, the four of us, while we were there. How does it go again? Oh yeah, so you’ve got to do it in a sort of Chris Cornell-style vocal: “I lost my accent/I live the dream/but I still like my ale/because I’m from High Green”. That sort of thing. Look out for it, you get a little snip.

Reckless Serenade
I think this sort of sounds the best. I really like the recording of this one, I think it’s come out the best. It’s just a love song I suppose. In terms of the sound I guess some of the stuff we were listening to was like the Pixies. And having the drums quite tough, that comes across on that tune a bit.

Piledriver Waltz
This one is on the Submarine soundtrack although I didn’t write it specifically for that. I had a couple of things lying around that were too quiet to be Monkeys tunes – well, that’s what I thought, anyway. So I said, what about these and Richard [Ayoade] liked them. But then we were putting this together and I really thought it might fit in with ‘Thunderstorms’ and ‘Suck It And See’.

So we thought why not just do another version [recorded with the full band] because the one on Submarine is just me and James, he played drums and there’s some strings and stuff on it. I think doing that Submarine album did lead me into some of the songs on this album too.”

Love Is A Laserquest
I’ve never listened to country music before, it was just something I totally didn’t get until pretty recently. I’ve always been, ‘Nah, not into that world’, but I’ve started to get something out of that now. The sort of sounds of that music I’m still not crazy about but the words are really good. Like Hank Williams, George Jones and Roger Miller and even like Johnny Cash – they’re just smart-arses, those guys, who write good country tunes, y’know. It’s really funny or really sad. And they do that thing so well. This tune is the closest to that. Not like in the sound, but in the lyrics.”

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Suck It And See
That is something that I started writing when we were recording those Submarine tracks. It just sort of came to me that melody and chorus, it’s quite Beach Boys-y which is something I’ve been listening to a lot recently, and always have. We decided to make it the title track quite near the end – once the pedals thing didn’t really come off. When we played it to someone earlier they were asking us about the fizzy drink reference in that where it says “dandelion and burdock” – a lot of people don’t get that and don’t realise what it is.

Something I like the idea of is putting colloquialisms where they feel strange – especially in some of the other tunes like the fuzzy, heavier ones, it feels quite funny when you can drop in something very British next to ‘Raw Power’ guitars.

That’s Where You’re Wrong
It were all about having the words not get in the way of this one. That were one of the last ones we did when we were in London before Christmas. We did it in one day. It’s a bit like ‘505’ – that tune on the second album, where it’s just two chords all the way through and we’d wanted to do a tune like that again for a while. There’s loads of good examples of that like that LCD Soundsystem ‘All My Friends’ tune.

It’s just the two chords that build and build. But for a while I didn’t have words for that – I was just singing ‘Edge and Bono’. There’s a demo of it somewhere where it’s mostly ‘Edge and Bono’. I dunno what else to say about that one. It were a bit of a late runner that one but it worked out.”

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This article originally appeared in the April 23rd 2011 issue of NME

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