Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner has successfully evolved with each album, and since they made their arrival in the 2000s, we’ve witnessed many iterations of his showmanship through his ever-evolving projects.
While many fans of Arctic Monkeys would like to see Turner return to the same teenager who wrote That’s What People Say, That’s What I’m Not, that person no longer exists. He has worn many songwriting guises throughout his career, which is also a result of his music taste expanding with age.
Turner has opened his horizons as he’s grown older, and Arctic Monkeys’ 2018 sci-fi concept album, Tranquility Hotel Base and Casino, couldn’t be further detached from the band’s original identity. One avenue which they haven’t yet explored, however, is the realm of country music.
During a conversation with Pitchfork in 2012, Turner explained how he had recently fallen in love with the late country musician Townes Van Zandt, who passed away in 1997. While in his teenage years, Turner would have run a mile to escape the music of Van Zandt, but as he turned 25, the frontman began to appreciate his brilliance, and it taught him a crucial lesson about the role of a songwriter.
Turner singled out the track ‘(Quicksilver Daydreams of) Maria’ from Van Zandt’s eponymous third album from 1969. The record was crafted by the Texan in the birthplace of country music, Nashville, and the unpredictability of the release is what predominantly stood out to the Yorkshireman.
Turner explained: “Last year I was trying to come to terms with the idea that I’m a songwriter. I’ve gotten into country music, which I never really had a connection with or understood before. But someone like Townes Van Zandt is amazing – that’s what music’s all about, when you hear something and you don’t really have a choice but to think, ‘Oh fuck, all right, I’m going there then.’ That’s what I got with his records.”
The works of Van Zandt opened Turner’s eyes to a different type of songwriting. Although he’s not overtly influenced the Arctic Monkeys frontman’s output, his albums taught him a pivotal lesson in risktaking.
Admittedly, he was never likely to morph into a country artist because of his love for Van Zandt. Still, it has likely played a role in encouraging Turner to create an ambitious album such as Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino. Like Van Zandt’s work, it forces the listener to go on a voyage, even if the destinations are in separate realms.