Initially, the plan for this weeks NME cover feature on Arctic Monkeys involved me flying to LA to speak to the band on ‘home’ turf. Great!
Never happened in the end – a result of “conflicting schedules”. In a way, I was quite pleased about it. A key thing I wanted to ask them was what they thought about the accusations that they’ve forgotten their roots, so in a way it made sense to do it in grimey old England rather than by some nondescript swimming pool in America, where we’ve covered them a lot over the past few years.
I’ve been seeing the band loads over the past two months (this cover feature is my third on them since June, with the previous two interviews conducted around Glastonbury), and the thing I’ve been struck by every time is just how keen they are to shout about their new songs. They’re totally confident right now, and rightly so.
It might sound weird, but it’s quite a rare thing to encounter. Barely anybody of a decent stature seems comfortable talking up their music, which always leaves me baffled. Presumably it’s for fear of their comments – Borrell style – coming back to bite them on the arse six months later.
No such worries with the Monkeys. I did individual interviews with all four members in a hotel in London, just before Reading Festival. They’re great when you put them together, but on their own is where you get your best material. Alex opens up more, Nick’s really funny, Cookie’s the most down to earth man on, well, earth and Helders is just…Helders. Totally, 100% like the person you read about in print or see on TV. Which is also quite rare in music, but perhaps that’s a blog for another day.
Anyway, the interviews were everything I hoped they would be – a real insight into the people who make up Britain’s best and most popular rock band. I wanted to know the schoolboy stuff this time round: if being famous ever pissed them off, what they think of themselves, whether they ever worry about losing it and going shit, how lucky they think they are, the threat of burnout, where they go from here, and what the key to writing consistently amazing songs is. As I said – schoolboy stuff.
I was even more pleased when a few days later I got an email inviting me to come to a band rehearsal at John Henry’s studios in north London. No brainer. It was the first time since the early days that anybody – not just a journo – had been afforded such a privilege, I was told. And judging by the reaction of the bands longtime publicist Anton Brooks, who accompanied me, it wasn’t a lie. Anton did press for Nirvana and the Beastie Boys back in the day – so he’s not shocked easily – but even he was giddy with excitement when I walked into JH’s.
It was, you’ll be unsurprised to hear, totally exciting. We saw the Monkeys working out a load of ‘AM’ tunes – ‘Fireside’, ‘One For The Road’ and ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’ the highlights – in a windowless room, playing to nobody but themselves, a sound guy, me, Anton and manager Jodie.
Some of the new band rehearsals I go to see for my day job as NME’s new music editor are kind of soul-sapping – a way of killing the hype rather than enhancing it. But watching the Monkeys at work was different, interesting. It looked and felt a bit like being transported to the ‘Let It Be’ Beatles film, but without all the frostiness and death stares. They hadn’t really nailed any of the songs yet, so hearing them fuck things up was a novelty, and pretty funny too. But there was an air of total self-belief about them – that was what I got from it above all else. I don’t think anyone in the room doubted they’d come up trumps by the time they needed to, least of all the band themselves.
It all comes down to that air of confidence, as I said before. That’s why they invited us into the rehearsal room to watch them try to work out vocal roles and guitar solos. That’s why they’ve given us a generous amount of interview time.
NME Editor Mike Williams latched onto it too. In his review of ‘AM’ – read it in this week’s magazine – he hails the band’s newfound joie de vivre, saying that the album’s brilliance has elevated them to having that rare thing that every band should ultimately be striving for: Freedom. As Mike puts it: “From this point on, Arctic Monkeys can do whatever they want, sound however they like, and always be Arctic Monkeys.”
He’s spot on there. I’ll stop short of saying their equivalent of ‘Sgt Pepper’ is being cooked up in Alex Turner’s head right now, but ‘Revolver’ put The Beatles in a similar kind of position. Ditto ‘The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle’ by Springsteen. And ‘White Blood Cells’ by Jack & Meg. These are game changing records in the eyes of their creators because A) they’re made by people operating at the absolute peak of their powers, and B) they’re signal albums – they close one door in a band’s life and open another to God knows where.
I reckon Arctic Monkeys realise they’re at such a point now. It makes what they told me in this weeks issue even more exciting…