Tribute band Antarctic Monkeys on touring in the age of ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’: “It’s quite difficult”

I'm gonna form a covers band 'n' all...

When NME asks Wolverhampton’s Dean Reynolds what his role is in Antarctic Monkeys, the world’s premier Arctic Monkeys tribute band, he replies, quite fabulously, “Being Alex.” And yet being Alex Turner has changed greatly in recent years. Once a cheeky young tyke with a penchant for Fred Perry polo shirts, the Monkeys frontman is now a bonafide eccentric rock star, wearing outlandish outfits and acting erratically onstage. Recent album ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’, too, is a polarising affair, filled with oddball piano ballads in place of indie guitar bangers.

Where does this leave the Antarctics? Their look is currently rooted in ‘AM’-era Monkeys, all quiffs and ’50s suits, and their career-spanning set contains just one track from the new album, the single ‘Four Out Of Five’. The new material is so complex that they need backing tracks to perform the song. With fans crying out for older material and Turner on the cusp of being completely inimitable, does this spell the end for the imitation indie band? With a UK-wide O2 Academy tour kicking off next month, the man we like to call Alec Turner reckons not.

What’s it like, being in Antarctic Monkeys in the era of ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’?

“It’s quite difficult. We’re moving into this era slowly. With ‘AM’ it was brilliant, because Alex seemed to really find himself on stage. He had such a personality that came out, so it was easier to mimic. With ‘AM’, we developed into a real tribute band. He changes his image so often. Stage-wise, we’ve ordered a new backdrop, which arrived yesterday. That one has all the current Monkeys lettering, which might add something to our stage set up.”

What was your reaction when you first heard the new album?

“The album launched and initially we were quite disappointed. We’d heard it was going to be quite piano-based. We put it on in the van on the way to one of our gigs and were just thinking, “What track can we do from this?” But ‘AM’ was such a leap forward that the new album had to be something different completely. It’s the way they go, and we just appreciate it so much. No one makes them kind of leaps any more. I knew that it would be a grower. You’ve just got to sit down and really listen to it and appreciate what’s going on. Since it’s come out, I’ve had it non-stop on repeat. It’s got slated by a lot of people but they don’t give it the time of day, which is their loss, really.”

It must be hard to decided how far to go with this album…

“Yeah, because we have to decide whether we take that leap forward or stick with the era that’s going to be best-known, what with the Elvis look and everything. I’ve still got the slicked back hair and everything. I was going to grow it, and then he completely shaved it off. I’m not going that far! I’ve seen a few videos recently and I think he’s growing a little bit longer. I hope he does. I think once we’ve got the stage props up in place it will change. It’s all about the clothes, so I’m looking at a new wardrobe.”

You’re going to be looking at lot of pale pastel…

“I don’t know if it’s my colour or not, but we’ll see! He’s got the clear shades and stuff, so I’ll get those. I’ll probably go for a look that’s more ‘Tranquility Base’ when it first came out with the long hair, as opposed to the shaved hair. We’ll probably stick to what we’re doing now set-wise. We’ve talked about maybe throwing in another tune, but the trouble is that the current setlist is so good that I don’t know what we’d drop, knowing that it wouldn’t go down as well as the songs we’re already playing. ‘She Looks Like Fun’ is probably the next one that we could probably do without any backing tracks.”

You perform material from all six albums. Which goes down the best?

“The first album. We started four weeks after it came out. We didn’t mean to – we were doing original stuff and looking for a way to support that, and to play to bigger crowds. We bought ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’ when it came out, learned it in a month and had our first gig. It just snowballed. We had to knock the original stuff on the head. Or second or third gig was Glastonbudget – the biggest tribute festival going [in Leicestershire]. We played ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ twice.”

Do you worry that the new material and the band’s new approach to performing might spell the end of Antarctic Monkeys?

“Not really – we’ve got our market sorted. The people who come see us want to hear the old tracks. We play tracks that they don’t do any more. We play ‘Mardy Bum’ and all those tracks from the first album. The crowds we play to want the upbeat stuff. Everyone wants that first album all the time; they don’t like change.”

What’s the reaction like when you do ‘Four Out Of Five’?

“The first time we played it, it went down okay, but I think people were just watching and not sure. Some places it goes down really well. You hear the cheers and claps at the end, but some places it seems to have a bit of a lull. It’s hit and miss.”

In general, do you get a better response in certain parts of the country?

“We tend to play a lot more up north-east, around Sheffield and Barnsley. The further south we go, the crowds tend to get a little bit tamer. We get mosh pits up north, which can get quite scary. Our sets are like the early days for the Monkeys; the crowds see us in intimate venues and it has that raw energy.”

Do you have a Miles Kane who comes out?

“We don’t, no, but I’d love to do some Last Shadow Puppets stuff. That last album [‘Everything You’ve Come To Expect‘], I played to death. If there was ever a Miles Kane tribute that came along, I’d be up for [doing a side project]!”

You’d have to call it The First Shadow Puppets

“Yeah, or The Last Shadow Muppets.”

Have you ever seen Blade Runner?

“No, I’ve never seen Blade Runner.”

What do you mean, you’ve never seen Blade Runner?

[Laughs] “I’m not big into films. You should speak to the other lads – I’m sure they’ve seen it. I’m going to have to watch it, aren’t I?”

Have you ever done a mic drop?

“No, I use my own mic. It’s too expensive to do that.”

What’s your favourite Monkeys album?

‘AM’ is my favourite era, it’s better than even the first album.When ‘R U Mine’? came out I thought it was such an awesome track. Then ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ followed. That riff just grabs you straight away. Just seeing him appear with the hair and the look, I knew immediately I could do something with it.

In the early era, around the first album, were you impersonating Alex, putting on a northern accent?

Yeah, probably in a bad way. It was more playing the tunes with their energy and passion, instead of mimicking them. The way that I held a guitar back then was the same way he used to – he used to have it quite high up on his chest. When the band first came out, he wore a hoodie with the hood up and that’s what I wore for our very first Glastonbudget gig.”

How do you look back on 12 years in the game?

“It’s just mental how it’s gone. We were one of the first bands to jump straight onto a current band tribute and it kind of set a trend. I think from there other bands started doing it, like The Killers [The Fillers] and Kasabian [Kazabian] A lot of people don’t get why we do current bands, but there’s a huge market for it now.”

“When you’re in your original band, you think, ‘What are you doing [a tribute band] for?’, but you get to a certain age and you’ve not made it, so what are you going to do? Are you going to go to your nine-to-five job, or are you going to pretend to be a rock star?”

Do you all have full-time jobs?

“Yeah, we all do Monday to Friday, nine-to-five. I work for an internet company, selling hot tubs and swimming pools.”

And you’re confident about the future of Antarctic Monkeys?

“We’ve been doing it long enough that we’ve got the reputation of being as good as we are. We did a gig in Sheffield and Alex Turner’s mum came – that was the early days. Chris McClure came [star of the first album’s sleeve]. So, you know, we’ve been endorsed by friends and family members. Recently we had Nick O’Malley’s brother come to one of the Fake Festivals [another tribute bands festival] last year. We actually put him on guest list and he said, ‘Honestly, could not tell the difference’. And he was deadly serious. He said, ‘The lads say, “Good luck”.'”

The Antarctic Monkeys’ O2 Academy tour begins at the O2 Academy on October 12