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Arctic Monkeys

November 2009

What does a modern rock n roll band get up to on tour these days? You want some sex ‘n’ drugs with that, lads?
Ping pong.
“We have ping pong balls on the rider,” says Matt Helders, Arctic Monkeys’ drummer - you can spot him as he’s the one still sporting short hair.
No crates of Crystal, no blocks of skunk, no top heavy groupies?
“We’ve got a ping pong table on the tour with us. That’s the sort of thing you can do in these big places.”
These big places are arenas, the venues of necessity for the Sheffield four, who are touring their third No. 1 album, Humbug. They’ve been to the US and Japan and now it’s our turn.
Word has it they’re so un-rock ‘n’ roll that they’ve a healthy selection of food and fluid on the rider as well as ping pong balls.
“Nah,” insist Helders.
“We once decided to try and have a healthy one and we took crisps and chocolate off. That lasted about a month.
“We thought riders were funny ideas when were first started touring and that’s why we’d put silly things on them but we’ve calmed down now. These days it’s just the usual.”
Like what?
“Tequila. Last night we had a bit of a margarita night.”
Helders in Amsterdam when we speak but the tour is now in over here and heading for the Trent FM Arena on Sunday.
They’ve already played Rock City and prior to the release of their debut album a few lucky folk saw them at The Social.
“We also did The Old Vic pub before that,” he says of the venue now home to Escucha in Fletcher Gate.
“We did a few gigs there. We got a few fans that we got to know from (Nottingham) and they sorted us a few gigs.”
Aside from having the room to swing a table tennis bat around, how different is it doing arenas?
“It’s just bigger,” he says, typically dour.
“By now we’ve done big gigs and festivals and stuff so we’re prepared for these gigs. But the whole day is different. There’s loads to do, there’s loads of rooms and catering and all that. I like it.”
Of course, Arctic Monkeys drew on a Nottingham legend for the title of their debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, a line from the Alan Sillitoe novel Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, turned in to a movie in 1960, starring Albert Finney.
“We watched it together the first time we went on a tour bus. Someone from our label gave us a box of DVDs to watch. And we all kind of latched on to that (phrase).”
He can’t recall who suggested using the line for the album title.
“But we were all in to it.”
Were you saying it each other like a catchphrase?
“Not really. Maybe like you do when you watch a film and say lines out of it for the next day or whatever.”
The album topped the chart and hailed the arrival of the most important British band of the noughties. They followed that with Favourite Worst Nightmare, which also topped the UK chart, as did current album Humbug, despite a shift in style.
It’s less indie and more seventies rock. Was that down to songwriter Alex Turner, dictating a new direction?
“No, we all naturally went that way,” says Helders.
“It wasn’t like we had to try to do something different.”
Much like Radiohead with Kid A who leapt away from the successful anthem guitar formula of The Bends and OK! Computer with the electronic Kid A.
“Yeah, exactly. There’s a bit of trust that you’ll do something good even if it’s different.”
He adds: “It didn’t really take shape until we’d finished recording because we’d recorded loads of songs and they were the ten that best fit together. They made for the better record.
“There are some that aren’t miles away from the second record that we’ll probably have as b-sides.”
Key to the new sound was recruiting Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme to produce the album.
The QOTSA drummer Joey Castillo now plays with The Eagles Of Death Metal, the band supporting the Arctic Monkeys on this tour.
To mark that change of style, all of them grew their hair. All except Matt.
“It’s a bit long now, it’s a bit of an afro,” he laughs.
“It grows up instead of down.”
He doesn’t know how far he will take it.
“I’ve never been beyond this point before so we’ll see.”
Aside from the new sound and new look, he reckons his life hasn’t changed much since the beginning of the year.
“It’s gone too fast for there to have been anything major to happen. It’s all been work pretty much. Though it doesn’t feel like it obviously. It’s a laugh.”
Despite the band’s massive success Helders says he’s rarely recognised in the street. Except when he’s back home in Sheffield.
“It happens every day but it’s not like people following you or screaming or owt.”
The band still live around the Sheffield area except Turner who moved to New York with his TV presenter girlfriend Alexa Chung earlier this year.
“I’m away that much at the moment that it’s good to go back to somewhere familiar,” says Helders.
“It would be hard to get settled at the moment anyway. As soon as you move in, you go away again. I moved house about a year ago just before we started going on tour and it still doesn’t feel like I’ve properly moved in yet.”
The house move prompted stories that he’d bought a Sheffield pub.
“That was a bit of a mix up. A couple of us mates had a bar in Sheffield and I had a shop above it that sold clothes. That didn’t last that long but I had a bit of a dabble. I’d done some stuff with a (clothing) brand before the band called Supreme Being. I’ve done a couple of ranges for them.”
Based on scruffy street wear?
“Yeah, pretty much.”
Helders has been described as both as the band’s “cheeky monkey” and “the quiet, amiable diplomat”. So which is he?
“Probably the first. I’m not that quiet.”
They all have girlfriends. And having musically revisited the seventies with this album, perhaps the next will be a love album of electro eighties.
“Well, yeah I suppose so. An eighties love album. Maybe that’s what’s next.”
Or even a collaboration with P Diddy, his new best mate.
“I haven’t been in touch with him for a bit. And I dropped my phone in the sink last night and I haven’t let him know yet. He might be trying to get hold of me.”
He’s a japester. So it’s cobblers then?
“You what?”
That you’re mates with P Diddy.
“No, it’s true. We met in Miami and we stayed in touch.”
How does that work?
“I don’t know,” he laughs.
You’re both musicians but you’re from different worlds.
“I know what you mean. I think that’s what’s funny about it. I have other mates I haven’t necessarily got much in common with but there’s something about them.”
So what have he and Diddy done as buddies?
“I went to his studio. He took me in his Lambourgini.”
When are you getting one?
“I’m hoping he’ll give me his.”
How do his other mates back home in Sheffield react to such stories?
“They can see the funny side, like I do. It’s all a bit of laugh innit? At first they couldn’t believe it. They thought it was hilarious.”
Such earthy humour is, he says, good to keep him grounded.
“That’s why it helps to go back there.”
Aside from Tequila and table tennis, on the tour Helders has been catching up on some classic fiction.
“I’ve only just read Catcher In The Rye. I’m late on that I know but that were amazing.”
He admits keeping up with new bands isn’t easy when they’re on the road and his last visit to Spotify was to listen to Beyonce - in Spanish.
“It’s even better than the English stuff,” he laughs.
“It’s quite funny. Someone who works for us speaks Spanish so I was getting him to translate. It’s different to the English version because they have to change the words to make them fit.”
And the whole band have been watching The Wire.
“I had to watch the first three episodes of the first series about nine times before I got it but then once I was in I was hooked. Alex and John, who plays keyboards for us, have just finished the whole lot. They had quite a sad day afterwards as they’d got quite attached to it. I’ve still got a series left to watch and you don’t want it to end.”
Helders has also been repeatedly watching Curb Your Enthusiasm.
“I really love that. Between that and The Wire it’s a good day.”
And what, pray, does a member of Britain’s biggest band think of The X-Factor?
“I like the first bit when they’re all crap. But then it gets a bit serious. Then it’s just annoying.”
There still a few production tickets available for the gig that were put on sale last week.

Arctic Monkeys, Eagles Of Death Metal, Trent FM Arena, Sunday November 22.

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