Alex Turner is finishing his second martini at a stuffy bar in Manhattan when he starts reminiscing about his earliest visits to New York, a decade ago. The English singer-guitarist was 20 when his band Arctic Monkeys performed on Saturday Night Live and played a very hyped show at the Bowery Ballroom. "David Bowie came backstage," he says in his thick Yorkshire accent. "We didn't know what to say to him, you know. We were just overwhelmed. It was like a fucking runaway train in those days."
At the time, the Monkeys had just topped the U.K. charts with a debut album that became the fastest-selling LP in British history. But Turner, who just turned 30, had trouble adjusting to fame and wasn't happy with his band's 2007 follow-up. To get some distance from his main gig, he teamed with Liverpudlian friend Miles Kane of Monkeys touring partners the Little Flames. They formed the Last Shadow Puppets, an ambitious project that branched out of the Monkeys' garage-y sound, combining doo-wop, spaghetti-Western film music and big orchestrations courtesy of Arcade Fire's Owen Pallett. "We were very aware we were making a record that we shouldn't really be making," says Turner of the Puppets' 2008 debut. "This sort of idea of arrogance and sophistication. We'd play places with gold ceilings and shit."
The album became a cult favorite and was nominated for England's Mercury Prize. Turner and Kane also became famous in the U.K. as tabloid playboys, known for dating models, dressing in flashy suits and sitting front-row at fashion shows. "The Monkeys used to shut everybody out," says Turner. "Not just journalists, but everybody. And it's not the right way to be. Miles helped me open up."
Now, eight years after their first release, the Shadow Puppets are returning with Everything You've Come to Expect, which is geared more toward Seventies L.A. pop and what Turner calls the "shimmering" quality of Paul Weller's Style Council. They began work on the album when the Arctic Monkeys went on hiatus after their 2013 LP, AM. "The other guys just had babies," says Turner. "We'll get back to it at some point." He and Kane moved from London to L.A. and lived the easy life: "You wake up, do the eye mask, swan-dive into the avocado pond. Rinse that off, which isn't always easy," Turner jokes.
Two years ago, Turner alarmed some fans when he took the stage at the Brit Awards and rambled about "the cyclical nature of the universe," before literally dropping the mic. "A lot of people thought I was waffling away on drugs," Turner says. "But I wasn't. I just can't pretend getting an award was something I've dreamed about since I was a kid, because it isn't." Kane says moments like this reflect Turner's growing confidence in his fame. "He enjoys being a star more and taking it for what it is," Kane says. "He's more comfortable in his own skin." A day after our interview, Turner and his girlfriend, model Taylor Bagley, whom he started dating last year, will be photographed kissing outside a New York hotel. Turner has never been one for long-term relationships, but this feels different. "It's always been hard, definitely," he says. "But now, I guess, this is like a new chapter, in a way. I'm excited."