Miles Kane: Beyond the Shadows
He’s been a Rascal and a Shadow Puppet, but Miles Kane is settling into a comfortable solo groove. The dapper Liverpudlian gives the lowdown on making his glam-tinged second solo album with a little help from some friends
Most of Miles Kane’s teenage years were spent in AJ Skelly’s butcher shop in Liverpool Market. Not your typical breeding ground for a dapper young musician, but it’s the family business, and it goes some way to explaining both the title and the cover of Kane’s second album. The sleeve of Don’t Forget Who You Are depicts Kane in the same butcher shop, his mam and his auntie standing behind the same counter that his nan used to work.
“They’re absolutely buzzing,” he laughs down the phone. It’s a sunny day in London and Kane is feeling positive. “It tells the story of the album as well, I think.”
Given his musical track record, Kane could have been taken for the sort of person who does forget who he is. Still only 27, the Scouser’s career to date has included stints in the bands The Little Flames, The Rascals and The Last Shadow Puppets with Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys. Noel Gallagher played on his 2011 solo debut, Colour of the Trap , he has shared a stage with Jack White, and he has been nominated for various NME and Q awards ranging from “Sexiest Male” to “Best Solo Artist”. Try as you may to hold on to your roots, it must be hard not to get caught up in industry nonsense.
“I think that happens to a lot of people, y’know,” he says. “And it can be easy to get caught up in that, and I’ve seen people that I’ve cared about a lot getting caught up in it. That’s kind of what spurred me on to write these songs, really. It’s just a little reminder; especially for me, personally. When you get introduced to a new world, it’s all good and it’s fun, but I think it’s important never to lose sight of who you are. I’m here to write music and I want to be a good singer and a good performer. All the other stuff is fun, of course – and I’m not saying that I’m a monk, or anything, but it’s just a little reminder.”
Kane’s working-class roots also mean that he’s realistic about grafting hard in order to succeed. “I couldn’t sing, and I used to sit in me mum’s bedroom and record myself on a four-track,” he recalls. “If you do want something – and it may take you years to get there – but I do believe you can do it.”
The guitarist’s rise to fame to date has been consistent, if not expeditious, but he has filled his contacts book with an impressive list of names along the way. One fortuitous meeting led to Paul Weller appearing on Don’t Forget Who You Are .
“I met him last year, and we were just chatting about this singer that I like called Jacques Dutronc, so we had a little bond over that,” he recalls. “A couple of months later, I got a call from him saying that he’d like to work with me, so I was like, ‘Yeah – of course!’. He’s such an inspiring character and he’s such a nice guy. It was heartwarming, for me. When you write a couple of great songs and you develop a relationship with someone like Weller, it does give you confidence. I’m very honoured by things like that. These people don’t have a reason to work with me, know what I mean? So it’s very nice, because it feels like they’re doing it because they want to, because they see something in me.”
Working with people such as Weller gave Kane an extra spring in his step when it came to recording his second album. Perhaps surprisingly, he admits to having suffered from a lack of self-confidence in the past, but there’s no sign of indecision or hesitation here. These are strident glam- and beat-tinged rock’n’roll tunes, with a swagger and poise that errs on the side of ‘endearing’.
“When it came to the writing and recording of this album, I was always thinking about how it’d be to play the songs live,” he says. “I wanted to make a record that you put on with your mates before you go out on the town; a feelgood record. That was definitely a conscious thing, to make every song as catchy as it can be, to not milk things and not go past three minutes. I wanted little bits that I could imagine playing live, that you could extend and drop down.”
Another chance encounter with Ian Broudie in Liverpool eventually led to the ex-Lightning Seeds man and studio whiz coming on board to produce the album. The pair’s working relationship quickly blossomed and the album began to take shape after a lot of time spent in Broudie’s kitchen, listening to 1960s and 1970s glam-rock.
“He asked me what sort of record I wanted to make, and I explained how I’d been loving T-Rex and that sort of stuff; tunes like Spirit in the Sky ,” he says, crooning Norman Greenbaum’s 1969 hit down the phone. “I wanted to make an album that was all about handclaps and stomping beats, so we were listening to Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz , Slade, stuff like that – just to get that stomping pop thing. That sound really connected with me.”
As much as the album is influenced by glam and bluesy rock’n’roll riffs, there’s also a strident melodic pop streak audible on songs such as What Condition Am I In? and Fire in My Heart . Perhaps some of that influence can be attributed to another well-known collaborator, Andy Partridge of XTC.
“Definitely,” Kane enthuses. “It was probably a bit more than a year ago that I went down to Swindon to write with him, and it reminded me of being back home, weirdly. He just lives in this terraced house, and he’s quite a character; it was quite surreal. He collects these wooden soldiers and paints them in his house, and he’s got this little studio in a shed at the back of his garden. We’d just sit there and write, and then break, have a bit of soup for lunch, and then go back at it. It was proper heartwarming, really. Me and him wrote about 20 songs together, it was a great experience. There was no flamboyance – it was just the two of us with guitars, making little demos.”
Kane has proven himself an adaptable associate when writing with other musicians. His most successful collaboration to date has been with the aforementioned Alex Turner on The Last Shadow Puppets, whose 2008 album, The Age of the Understatement, was a roaring success. So big, in fact, that it has overshadowed everything that Kane has done since.
“I think it’s inevitable,” he says, unperturbed by the constant parallels. “Me and Al talk about this a lot, actually; he gets asked about it as much as I do. But I think it’s a good thing, because we wrote those songs years ago but people are still talking about them. It’s a part of me, and I can’t fight that – so I embrace it, really. And when me and Al do that again – whether it’s after this record, or after he’s done his next one – I think it’ll be a special thing. I think both our heads will be really on it, and I will have achieved what I want to achieve, and we can enjoy it. I’m very happy with where I’m at now, and I just want to continue what I’m doing, really.”
So in other words, there’s no chance of returning to his family’s butcher shop to help out anytime soon, then?
“I fucking hope not!” he explodes and laughs heartily. “No offence to me mam, it’s a tough job, that. I take my hat off to them. They’re very strong women and being brought up by strong women has served me well. I’ve been very lucky, I really have. It’s strange; in terms of music and what I wanna do and where I wanna go, I’m feel like I’m just getting started. I’ve got so much more to give, really.”