This week, Arctic Monkeys release their sixth album ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino‘. To celebrate, relive the band’s first NME interview proper from when the band were on the verge of blowing up…
Sheffield’s Arctic Monkeys are the Noo Yorkshire scene’s answer to The Libertines and the must-see live band of 2005. The last time they played in their hometown, punters hiked from 30 miles away just to scrap it out for a view through the window of their sold-out show. At their first London gig, frontman Alex Turner, expecting to play to an empty room, finished the show being carried around the venue on a sea of hands. And two nights ago in Nottingham, NME couldn’t even see the band behind all the people jumping onstage to touch their heroes. “It’s incredible” says teenage Paul Weller-alike Alex Turner. “I find myself looking up while I’m playing and just thinking, ‘What the fuck?!”
Just two years ago the Arctic Monkeys – completed by drummer Matt Helders, guitarist Jamie ‘Cookey’ Cooke and bassist Andy Nicholson – were four average hip-hop lovin’ schoolfriends getting pissed-up on White Magic (downmarket White Lightning, binge-drinking fans) in bus shelters at break-time. Now they’re the biggest unknown band in the country. “Me and Cookey got guitars for Christmas that year” remembers Alex. “It got to March and I’d only learned a few chords but he could already play all the Bond theme. I realised I had to step up my game.” A few months and intensive rehearsals later, and the Arctic Monkeys realised they’d stepped into a whole new ballpark.
“We played a gig in Sheffield and as soon as I started singing the entire crowd sang it back to me,” blushes Alex. “I thought, ‘Something’s going on here!’” Some post-gig detective work revealed that an early three-track demo the band had recently put up on their website and started giving away free at their gigs had become the chatter of internet forums across all indiedom and that their songs were being swapped around quicker than a leaked Oasis album.
But the rise of the appalling-named Monkeys – one story says they were christened by a tramp after an impromptu gig in the middle of Sheffield one night – isn’t just another case of teenagers desperate to turn another grot with a guitar into the second coming of Carl’n’Pete.
Alongside their brilliant post-garage melodic racket are Alex’s refreshingly bullshit-free lyrics, weaving seedy and hilarious tales of Sheffield street-life through his Mike Skinner-smart, smalltown jive. Take ‘Scummy’, a black tale of the prostitute-riddled landscape outside their Neepsend rehearsal space (“So who’s that girl there? I wonder what wrong so that she had to roam the streets/She doesn’t do major credit cards – I doubt she does receipts”). Or debut single ‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco’, written when Alex was working at his local venue quietly observing the scene-chasers and rock’n’roll fakers (“Yes I’m going to tell you all my problems/You’re not from New York City, you’re from Rotherham”).
“I’ve been penning things since school,” admits Alex. “I’ve been writing for longer than my friends realise. You couldn’t be creative at school, could you? You’d have the piss ripped out of you. Even when we started the band, lyrics were an area that we were ashamed to talk about and we just wrote bollocks to start with. But I’d always write things down in secret and one day I just thought, ‘Fuck It!’”
Now there’s no holding them back, not even the confines of the Kaisers’n’Cribs-spearheaded Yorkshire scene.
“I don’t want it to be a niche thing like, ‘We’re from Sheffield so fuck everyone else.’ I’ve never understood that attitude,” frowns Alex. “It’s like Roots Manuva said, ‘I got love for every one of those scenes, but them pigeonholes were never nothing to hold me’.” “Plus,” pipes up Matt at the end, “Tricky Ricky Wilson is just annoying.”
Tellingly, tickets for the Arctic Monkeys’ debut headline tour are already in the hands of the eBay hell hounds – and going for substantially more than the ‘Ricky Wilson is God’ pin-badges. Stump up the cash and go see what all the fuss is about.