The rock ‘n’ roll star on new album One Man Band, his love of Roberto Baggio, and trusting your gut
In a career somehow already spanning two decades, Birkenhead’s Miles Kane has risen from early bands The Little Flames and The Rascals to become a solo artist shining as a beacon for rock ‘n’ roll. Take any of his first four records, from 2011’s Colour Of The Trap to 2022’s Change The Show, and you’ll find both banging tunes and a sensitive appreciation of styles such as indie-rock and northern soul. Echoing something Kane says in our interview below, he’s a master of looking back to move forward.
Kane’s talents also run through his other collaborations, most notably his work with Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner as The Last Shadow Puppets. Their two majestic albums of sweeping sounds sway from mariachi pop to the lounge music that has come to define the work of Turner’s day job. In 2020 Kane teamed up with members of Blur, Jet, Muse and The Zutons on The Jaded Hearts Club’s raucous album of classic rock ‘n’ roll and Motown covers, You’ve Always Been Here.
Up next is his latest solo offering, One Man Band. Stripped back to leave his trademark surfy guitars and supercharged Marc Bolan delivery front and centre, this bare-bones approach is fitting for a personal album that tackles love and life – even his childhood hero-worship of Italian footballing icon Roberto Baggio becomes part of the story. Crafted in Liverpool alongside long-time collaborator James Skelly, the album took shape with contributions from Blossoms’ Tom Ogden, Circa Waves’ Keiran Shudall, and Andy Burrows.
Packed with the killer riffs and unforgettable hooks you’d expect from Kane, we were lucky enough to chat with him about how it all came together…
In songwriting it’s so important to listen to your gut
Considering the fact that you’ve been making music and writing songs for the best part of two decades now, are you permanently writing or is it something that you psych yourself up for when it’s time to make a new record?
“If you add it all up, take all the bands and stuff, this is my tenth album. It’s kind of mad. I’m 37 so it’s almost 20 years I’ve been doing this. I’ve never really reflected like that before. I was in Paris doing some promo and someone said this to me and they brought out all these albums of mine. I was like, ‘Wow, fucking hell, what a journey.’
“The songwriting, there’s always something fluttering around. What I’ve got to say though, making this album right now in my life and how I feel… usually I always have a next thing in my head, whether it’s another record, another idea, a session, another artist, whatever it is… but right now, since making this record, I can’t even think of that. I’ve never felt this before. It ain’t me being lazy. I’m just so present in this moment and these songs, and I ain’t ready to move on yet.”
Why do you think that is?
“I really don’t know. Is it because I’m comfortable in myself, in life? I don’t know what it is. I’m just loving it. I love these songs; I love this album. I think it portrays me in a way that maybe I’ve always wanted to be portrayed; it definitely shows who I am and what I’m feeling, as a 37-year-old man.”
Were there specific things you did in the songwriting process with that intention in mind?
“I’ve always written about my feelings. It’s almost quite selfish, songwriting. It’s all about me: my experiences, my wrongs, my rights, my fear of commitment, love, feeling like the bad guy if the relationship doesn’t work out. The album starts with Troubled Son and ends with Scared Of Love and I don’t think it gets much clearer than that.
“You write whatever comes out. To write emotional tunes. you’ve got to have a certain intent. But it’s not like I planned to write Troubled Son or Scared Of Love. You start with these ideas and these feelings turn into lyrics, that’s how it comes. But I guess there’s an intent with the flow, if that makes sense?”
And how was it working with some of the people you co-wrote with?
“With Tom [Ogden – Blossoms] and Kieran [Shudall – Circa Waves], I was up in Liverpool as I was back home quite a lot during this process. Tom’s in Stockport, it’s so close to Liverpool, and Our James [Skelly] produces Blossoms and he produced this album of mine, so we’re all real close and have known each other for years. Tom came to my gig last year and sang Colour Of The Trap standing next to me. You get pissed up and it’s like, ‘Let’s try writing together.’ We did and we did a lot together. I was up north anyway, I was seeing family quite a bit with Kieran, and we created this little world.
“Whether it starts from me being in my house sat on the sofa, or it starts from a complete nothing and it’s the two of you… with both of them lads, I think the reason that it works and the quality is so good is that you’re all cut from a very similar cloth. Where we’re brought up is very similar. Our parents are very similar. When I meet Tom’s mum and dad, they’re very like my mum, so there’s this sense of comfort and realness that allows you to be as free as if you’re sat on your own.”
Can you explain a little more about how a song is created out of that?
“I quite like writing in the traditional way. Write it me and you, or whoever, on the guitars. Get it done in terms of lyrics and melody, and then do your demo. I’m quite an advocate for that. Because sometimes you can start doing the demo and it can sound good but there’s no meaning, there’s no lyrics and it can be a bit la-di-da.
“The hard bit is writing it. Get that bit right; get your words right, a quality melody. Even if it’s just a verse and chorus, you can go back and write your second verse later. But that’s the core of it, and if you can play it, or you’ve got a vision, and it’s just you doing it, then you can make a little rough demo and go from there. I like to get it done, then you can put your gloss on it.”
And are you writing down lyrics all the time?
“Yeah, 100%. But there’s so much nonsense on my fucking notes on the phone or in my little notepad. You know, the urge to do a voice note when you’re in bed, and you’ll save it and you’re half asleep. Then in the morning you’re like, ‘This is the shittest thing I’ve ever heard.’ But there’s an anxiety if you don’t do it. You just have to go there because if you don’t you think, ‘God I’ve missed out on the best song ever.’”
Extending that metaphor, how do you then forage through the shit looking for those song truffles?
“You just forage! You just go through it. Within that nonsense there will be a truffle. It may be a little bit of this one and a bit of that one, but you just have to sift through it. You know, look for what makes a good starting point?”
Are there things that you like to have around you to bring out the best in your songwriting?
“Probably it was having my family around me. My cousin James Skelly produced it, he’s the singer in The Coral. Ian, his brother, played drums. Our Alfie, my other cousin who’s their little brother, he’s doing the label side of it. So we had this family thing and that gave me a lot of confidence, and comfort. We can speak so honestly with each other. There’s no judgement and no one’s gonna get in a hissy fit if we say, ‘That’s shit,’ or, ‘That’s not good enough.’ If anything it drives you on more.
“It’s really hard to find that. It’s quite an emotional thing when I talk about it actually. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like that before so it was a real beautiful thing to feel and to put into fruition and for it to turn out pretty good.”
How precious are you of those songs that you have in that demo state when taking them into James?
“The making of this out album was pretty painless. Me and our James, we had a clear vision of what it should be; who I am and what the songs are. We wanted it to be, ‘What’s the most ultimate record I can make right now.’ I love that surf guitar, my little whammy thing, so have that at the forefront, and let’s not hide behind anything. It was almost like, ‘Let’s keep it quite simple.’ If it was getting a bit too clever, we were like, ‘Nah.’ We’re going back to go forwards. It shows my personality, massively, this record.
“It’s so tempting to start being like, ‘We could put strings on here, we could have the choir and the piano.’ I think on one song there’s a bit of organ, but there’s no piano, there’s no strings, there’s no brass. It’s ultimately just the drums, guitar and vocals. We had that plan before we started and we stuck to it. I’m well happy that we did you know, mainly because it feels honest and raw and real, and boss.”
Do you have to be in a place where you’re confident enough in your guitar playing, singing, and lyrics that you’re prepared to strip away all that other stuff?
“I guess so, yeah, but it makes you raise your game. I don’t class myself as a great guitarist, or songwriter, or lyricist, but it’s like, if that’s at the forefront, it pushes you to elevate yourself.”
Troubled Son introduces that sound right from the start. Using that song as an example, how would you go about finding the riff and building that song?
“That was with Tom. I remember us demoing it. It was one of our first tunes. The riff came up, me just noodling about while he’s doing the chords. It’s got a bit of a Sam Fender-y sort of vibe about it, in my head. I was listening to quite a lot of him during that time actually. So Tom’s on the chords and I’d be getting a riff going and going, ’Ah that’s pretty catchy,’ and that’s it and it sticks.”
In a different way, a song like Baggio is interesting in the way you take your childhood hero and turn into a song that resonates and has a bigger meaning…
“That whole song has blown my mind. It’s a song that I sort of forgot about, then it was the week before the album and we picked the songs that we were going to record. I thought of Baggio, and I sent it to our James and he was like ‘Wow, why aren’t we doing this? This is so you.’ He knew me as a kid and he’s like, ‘When you were eight and we’d meet up in the park to play footy, everyone would have their Liverpool kits on and you’d have the Italian kit.’ He was like, ‘You always were a kinky bastard, even then.’
“I was obsessed with all things Italian, and still am. It started with watching that World Cup ’94 with Baggio, and Italian football on Channel 4. It was the first time I’d seen the men with the long hair; I hadn’t really seen that in my life up until that point. It was really endearing to me and it led me on to getting into Oasis and fashion and gangster films. That was the start of me getting into the shit that I like now. So that was a song about that, those little memories and childhood and growing into who you are as a man now.
“It’s a very personal thing, you write it from your gut and everyone’s like, ‘What are you writing a song about Baggio for?’ Then it comes to fruition, people connect with it, Baggio hears the song, he invites me to his house to meet him and it’s a spiritual/emotional thing and I still can’t believe that I met him.”
The power of where a song can take you is something that should never be underestimated…
“Never in a million years… when we were recording the song it was like, ‘This has got something, this tune. There’s something special in it.’ Us making it, everyone knows how much I loved it, it was a beautiful thing. We were like, ‘Imagine him hearing this?’ We’d joke about it and in our fantasies of wrapping up the album we’d be like, ‘We’ve got to get this to Baggio. ’Then for it to all happen, getting invited to his house… that shit will never happen again. Those moments are so precious and so special, I’m still on a bit of a buzz about it.”
What kind of ambitions did you have when you were starting out?
“I was quite shy as a kid, my ambition at first was to be a guitarist. I didn’t start singing until quite late. I was quite shy to sing, even The Little Flames, my first band, I joined that as a guitarist. I learned my craft in that band and I learned how to get better on guitar. Then I started to write some songs. Even in that band…I liked the idea of doing the backing vocals but I was so nervous that I would pretend to sing during gigs. I didn’t have the confidence to let it out.
“Then I locked myself in the bedroom in my mum’s house. Whenever she was out, I had a little tape machine and I used to shout to get my vocal in tune. I did that for a bit until it was kind of good enough. Once I started doing backing vocals in The Little Flames I liked the feeling. I got a taste, I wanted the mic. I had the stance and knew I looked cool. I just needed to fucking deliver and I kind of made myself be a singer.”
When it comes to your other projects like The Jaded Hearts Club or The Last Shadow Puppets, are you always bringing stuff back that you then apply to your solo work?
“I’m sure you’re going to bring back something, I just feel like it’s more subconscious though. In terms of songs and stuff, I’ve never really brought any of them over to a solo thing. It’s two different compartments, but there’s going to be similarities. I’d say a song like Baggio has got a bit of a Puppetsy vibe. It’s in a similar world to something like Aviation on the second Puppets album. There’s a similarity in them, but of course there is. They could probably sit together on an album. I guess there are going to be links isn’t there? But I think that’s okay, it’s quite a nice thing and I should embrace them rather than try and not make it like that.”
And as a listener, you can’t help but think that the sound of The Last Shadow Puppets massively influenced what the Arctic Monkeys did next, even if it is just projection…
“Yeah, and rightly so. And if that is the case then fucking cool. Any project you do, there’s gonna be a sense that, unless you go and make a German techno album, the worlds are all pretty similar. There’s gonna be bits that sound like each other.”
I want to return to you saying your ambition was to be a guitarist. How has that changed and what are your ambitions now?
“I’m so enjoying everything about this record. Yeah, you have your ambitions, and you have your bar set high for success and stuff like that, but I’m trying to lower that bar and just be content really. I know that sounds kind of boring, but I know what I’ve put into this and I feel like I’ve got a new lease of life here. I feel there’s a connection with these fans and I’m seeing this younger audience getting involved and I feel it’s something pretty special. I don’t want to jinx it but it feels pretty good.”
You must be looking forward to getting out there and playing these shows live?
Songs like Never Taking Me Alive, The Best Is Yet To Come, it’s gonna be chaos and I love it. With those songs, I know the bits that we’re extending and the drop-downs. They’ve all got these parts before the solo or before the middle eight… we’re milking this. It’s got ‘live’ written all over it in that you can bring it right down and kick back in. These songs are made for that.”
One final question, do you have a songwriting tip that you can share with us?
“The scariest thing is that blank canvas, the blank page. Writing absolute nonsense that is not even in line with what you want to say can help with that. Sometimes it’s hard to say what you want to say to start with, so if you write a load of gibberish, the maddest thing that comes into your head, it frees up your mind. It’s a mad thing to say but it opens the door and it becomes clearer to see.
“Also that gut instinct, that first instinct that sometimes can get blurred, for me your gut is always right, or 99% right. In songwriting, it’s so important to listen to your gut. You can take advice from someone you trust and maybe it will help you and can enhance that gut feeling, but I think sticking to your gut as much as you can is a healthy thing.”