Arctic Monkeys have enjoyed a meteoric rise in Europe since their 2006 incisive-indie debut,
Whatever People Say I am, That's What I'm Not. Third offering
Humbug sees the band take a darker, dirtier direction under the tutelage of Josh Homme and James Ford. Recorded at the Rancho, Mojave Desert, and the Electric Lady Studios in New York, the best new songs “Crying Lightning” and “Cornerstone” embrace bigger ambitions, with songsmith Alex Turner's ever-present wit.
The band is bringing it's storming show to the Nike Stage of MFNW tonight, and the native Brit in me can't wait. We caught up with the slightly less press-shy drummer Matt Helders over the phone from San Diego to get the low-down.
So you're playing MFNW this week, do you think you'll get to see much of the festival?
Hopefully yeah, we'll be there all day so hopefully get to have a look around.
How's it been going playing the new songs live?
Good, it's really exciting at the moment for us being able to do so much new stuff, it kind of makes the old ones more exciting as well.
Yeah were there like 20 songs you had to cut down from for the album in the end?
About 25 I think. A lot of them'll be B-sides and some we'll save for another album. And some'll probably get scrapped.
When you first saw Alex (Turner)'s new lyrics, were you slightly worried about him at all? I mean they're quite dark and sinister in places??
Nah I mean it's just a personal thing I think to him, and we all had an intention of doing something quite different, because you've got to move on from what you did before, it's kinda easy to just do the same thing again. We always knew we had the intention of doing something a bit less obvious.
Do you feel a bit of responsibility towards your fans who have been with you from the beginning, or is it most important to stick with your instincts when it comes to musical direction?
Well a lot of the time it's how much you can get away with, exposing your fans to other stuff. Like music that we've listened to, that's influenced us - once you've got a bit of a fan base you can kinda try other things and introduce them to new sounds and stuff. It's a good opportunity to do that, with the fans that are loyal and probably trust what we do. It's not like we've done it to try and get rid of some fans or anything, and see who really likes us. It's just I think a lot of people will have grown with us, people who were there from beginning, obviously they've also grown up over the four years or whatever it is.
Yeah, WPSIATWIN totally soundtracked my final year of school.
Yeah exactly, it's good that it is like that, like it's definitely memories, and it's definitely something that happened four years ago rather than still trying to live it now.
Even some of the old stuff, you listen back to it now and it's still funny, and it's still good you know, still worth playing. But we also have to work out which ones to drop. Stuff you just don't feel comfortable playing anymore, just because it's not really that relevant.
Which are you dropping this time around?
“Mardy Bum”, And “Fake Tales from San Francisco” doesn't mean as much now as it used to. Singing that every night might get a bit annoying, you've got to mean it.
Given your early successes, what kind of goals do you have left now?
I don't know, a lot of them have been reached to be honest. It's hard to know what to look for now, just to be able to do music and still enjoy it is enough. Having a massive No.1 album were like a massive thing for us, and obviously the singles which I didn't expect, were never really a goal. But having a No.1 album was the big deal, and now we've had three so that's kind of amazing, I don't know what else there is, just carry on and have fun.
How do you feel about the general reception of Humbug as “a grower”? I kind of agree, it does takes a few listens to get your head round it before you love it.
Yeah I think even when we started recording [Humbug], we took more time doing it, so it were going to take more time to listen to actually, in a way. There's more things to it, it's just got more depth and it's not so instant - “this is a riff, that's a drum beat, these are lyrics”. We put more effort in, which takes a few more listens to appreciate I suppose.
Do you think you'd work with Josh Homme again or was that a one off project?
Ooh you never know we'd definitely be up for it, he's amazing to work with, really nice guy. Kind of made a friend out of him now so it's always good to see him, and yeah we definitely had a great time doing it.
Do you think you all took things away from working with him - was he equally helpful to drumming as he was with guitar?
Yeah definitely yeah, he's an all rounder. But he particularly pushed the guitarists in the band to do more solos, and kind of encouraged them to realize their potential a bit more, and that came thorough quite a lot. I mean he plays drums and he's obviously a front man as well, an amazing singer. And it's quite a different approach having a front man producer, because they have a different angle on it and it were interesting. And yeah he plays drums too and knows all about that. He's worked with the best drummers in the world so he knows what he's doing.
Would P. Diddy want to work with you as well or is he just a fan? He hasn't been hassling you to remix a song?
Maybe on the business side of things, he's good at all that. He wants to make us big in America he says, said it's his personal mission.
Yeah how are the shows going over here, has it been completely packed?
We do big shows in LA and New York, and the rest of them are smaller, but it's as big as we want it to be, you know. Any bigger's nice, but it's like a comfortable place where we're at at the moment, we get to do club shows and much smaller gigs than we'd ever be able to do in England again probably.
Do you have a bit more say with touring now, where you go and spending a bit longer in certain places?
Yeah like this is kind of an example of that. We've been trying to not go away for more than three weeks at once just to keep sane, just so we can be home a bit. I mean sometimes it probably doesn't do us any favors - if we spent a bit more time in America then maybe we would be a bit bigger, but like I say we're happy as we are. And it's good that we can come here and do a few amazing places in three weeks and go home for a bit. There's still places we want to go that we can suggest to people.
I read one review suggesting that Humbug is your way of shrugging off the reluctant “voice of a generation” tag that you guys got?
Hmm, it's whatever people see you as isn't it. Whatever you do there's never a massive intention to become something like the “voice of a generation”, it's just something that people label you as. I suppose it does put a pressure on you if you've been tagged as that ‘cos well, it's quite a big role! I suppose that's why we try and do stuff that's different, so you can never really say exactly what it is. But a lot pf the time we don't really take stuff too seriously. I mean a lot of people could take it the wrong way and it might go to their head a bit, but we've always had the ability to see the funny side of things or not get carried away.
Like when you all wore hunting gear to go to the Brit awards?
Yeah, I've just been looking in a shop near this venue actually, at Halloween costumes. I thought about wearing one for tonight's gig but I don't know if I will. They've got a chicken suit I'm looking at.
Would you not get really, really warm, is it feathery?
Yeah that's the thing, I've got to think about the practicalities of it. Maybe like a cheerleader outfit'd be more suitable, they had one of them as well.
I think that would cause a stir.
Yeah I don't know if I'm ready for drag though yet.
Mm, might get you the wrong sort of headlines.
Have you toured through Portland before?
I think so. Oh no I don't think we have actually. I'm looking forward to it though, there's no sales tax as well, right?
SEE IT: Wonder Ballroom. 7 pm. Friday, September 17th.