“Arctic Monkeys, that’s a great name. I can see that up there! I meet bands all the time and I hear their names and I think, no. But that’s a name. Because it would just be fucking trauma for ‘em, wouldn’t it? There’s no trees in the Arctic so what are the monkeys going to do?” John Cooper Clarke, the people’s poet of Mancunia, may have buried the nail. What would The Monkeys do, suddenly transported from their natural, leafy habitat? Fall. Down to earth.
Hear hear! Quite right. That’s what I say. They’re English don’t you know. Build them up and then bring them crashing down. Flaming Monkeys, shouldn’t have been that high anyway. Hmmmm. The Arctic Monkeys may not be high enough to encounter a full on, red-masted, media hook…yet. But the portents are there. The NME, in their thoughtful, articulate way have already labeled the Sheffield band as, “Yorkshire’s answer to the Libertines.” With a new single out on October 17th – I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor – and a frenzied fan-base that is threatening to swallow the pressing plant whole, The Arctic Monkeys could be perilously close to a traditional knees-up, media monkey-hunt.
All supposition from the mouth of Plug, obviously looking to ink the claims to pre-monkey-hunt, “I told you so’s.” But hang on, there’s a reason why the teenage, Sheffield quartet have wetted so many nibs; their perspective from ground level is rather captivating. Released in May 2005, the band’s debut ep, Five Minutes With The Arctic Monkeys contained the dyed-mullet sneering, Fake Tales Of San Francisco. The song’s lyrics slash pretence to its flaccid bone: “There’s a super cool band, with their trilbys and their glasses of white wine, and all the weekend rock stars in the toilets practicing their lines…you’re not from New York, you’re from Rotherham so get off the bandwagon and put down the handbook.”
In a Coldplay world, the Arctic Monkeys’ lyrics are refreshingly direct. John Sutherland, Professor of Modern English at University College London, recently reflected that Chris Martin and Co’s words are, “just crooning sounds without meaning.” However, he found solace in the story-telling abilities of the Arctic Monkeys. A view reinforced by the sounds emitted on Bigger Boys and Stolen Sweethearts, the b-side to the upcoming single: “He’s got engaged with no intention of a wedding, he’s pinched your bird and will probably kick your head in.” And the music. The low-slung, rock-rolling rhythm section lays a foundation for Buzzcocked-Vox riffs that reverberate In The City. Pre-stadium preachers run around in a manic way, framing stories of don’t love us. Despite being relative newcomers to their instruments, the band are already developing a knack for simple and effective arrangements to complement the ebb and flow of the lyrics. The musical approach is familiar but it would be harsh to accuse the Arctic Monkeys of aping, instead they appear to be joining an intimate group of musicians that have documented every-day life in Britain. But in the rising onslaught of media and fan attention, are the Monkeys still down to earth or disappearing up their shiny, red behinds? I caught up with bass player, Andy Nicholson as he enjoyed the post-album-session sunshine.
It’s fucking amazing really,” says Andy. “All because we’ve come so far. And it’s just the start, this time last year we hadn’t even played outside of Sheffield.” Rumours vary, but it’s fair to assume that The Arctic Monkeys didn’t encounter chords until late 2002. “We all got instruments at the same time and ended up in a band,” remembers Andy. “Me Al and Matt were at School together and we knew Jamie anyway. There was no real point where we said, we’re going to start a band, it just sort of happened, just a laugh really.” So what were they influenced by? “I like hip-hop a lot,” comments Andy. “Something about the bass lines. They can be repetitive, the backbone, there’s something I like about that and it drove me to get a bass I guess.”
The affable Nicholson is equally relaxed about Sheffield’s weighty, musical heritage. “I mean there’s Pulp and The Human League but we don’t really take much notice. If you’re from Sheffield everyone assumes you like Pulp but it’s not always the way. We all like different things, like Jamie is into heavier stuff like System of a Down and Queens Of The Stone Age. The only two things we can agree on are Oasis and The Coral. Everything else that goes in the stereo we argue about. Them two bands, they’re an inspiration to us. We’re not trying to sound like them though.”
Andy has transgressed this side of down to earth and is currently flick-flacking the laid-back underworld. Having helped to start a band that had no direct intentions of being a band, Andy and his cohorts took over a year to get from first practice to first gig: “We started playing some covers and writing our own stuff and then were like, we need to play a gig. So we’d set a date to give us a deadline to be good by. And then that would pass and then another month because it wasn’t right. Then we played and it were fucking brilliant. We said, if it’s shit, we ain’t doing another one but we all enjoyed it so we kept on going.”
From that first gig, good old word of mouth began to spread. “We used to go into this studio and get as much as we could down,” continues Andy. “Usually about three songs, mix it all in a day. And then make about 25 copies with the idea of selling them at gigs. But no one could really be bothered to sell them. And then they turned up on websites everywhere.” For one Arctic Monkeys gig, prior to the band’s first release, tickets with a face value of £5 were selling on eBay for £50. “Without the internet we wouldn’t be where we are I don’t think,” says Andy. “It’s fucking great, it doesn’t matter where we go, Glasgow or London or wherever, they’re as mad as each other. I guess people used to tour for about four years to get known. And then put one single out. It’s just how it is now.”
The Arctic Monkeys mythology has, no doubt, been helped by the insightful ramblings of the Reverend John Rarsclart. The Rev’s writings offer a glimpse of the band that isn’t always apparent in their easy come, easy go demeanor. In his story, A French Kissin The Chaos, which charts a bit of a rumpus at a Monkeys gig, the honourable Rarsclart states: “Auntie Gravity @ Uncle Rodneys was never supposed to be about standing with your mates acting tough and heckling everyone. You can go to Republic to do that. It was, and read this carefully, about Love and Romance, Friendship and Music and above all Seeing the Truth.
Who is the mysterious Reverend? “He’s a friend, a bit of a guru figure I guess,” says Andy. “He used to be in a band and is now doing solo stuff. It’s working out right well for him, which is great. No one has ever asked him to do stuff for us, he likes us and just does it and suddenly it’s on the website. There hasn’t been anything for a while but I think something is coming soon.” One of the Reverend’s most enjoyable stories charts the origin of the band’s name. Apparently, one freezing night in Sheffield, the four simian adventurers came across a homeless guy in need of some conversation. Soon, the guitar came out and a hearty sing-a-long ensued. As goodbyes were made, the older gentleman confides, “It’s like the fucking arctic lads. But you’ve warmed me. You’ve warmed me yer little monkeys.”
“It’s all a lie!” confesses Andy. “It’s just a story but it’s much more interesting than the truth, so we’re sticking with it.” Judging by their lyrics, the Arctic Monkeys are keen on a good story. But where do the stories come from? “Can be anything really,” answers a vague Andy. “It’s not a certain thing we’re looking for. If it makes a good story for us and for everyone else then that’s fine.” I try delving a little deeper. “It’s about our personal experiences,” continues Andy. “But I’m sure a lot of it is stuff that goes on in other cities, that other people can relate to. Lyrics, I don’t know, you can’t just have…the way I see it, if you take the lyrics away it’s a good song and if you take the music away, it’s a good poem. A lot of other band have got good lyrics at the moment, like Ron-Headed Jacket and the Rev, telling it like it is you know, telling good stories.”
On the strength of two singles, the Arctic Monkeys have a knack for telling a good story, which is where some journalists have drawn comparisons with The Libertines. But this is rather misleading. Rather than reflecting inwardly, the Monkeys tell you what they see, with a wit and verve that is reminiscent of a blue-mouthed Ray Davies. Andy’s not sure about The Libertines connection either. “We don’t want to turn out like the Libertines,” says Andy. “Look what happened to them, it’s a real shame. We all like them. But to say we’re a northern version is just lazy journalism. Musically and lyrically we’re nothing like them. The passion of the fans is the only real connection I guess.”Listening to Andy talk about his experiences of Nottingham, it’s easy to see why if you’re hooked at one gig, you’ll go back for more. “One gig we played we met a couple of guys from Nottingham,” he begins. “Alex…Manch I think and Curly Matt, well that’s what we know him as anyway. They’re proper great. They drove for six hours to see us in Stockton, or somewhere anyway. They just bring a bag of wine with them and have a laugh. It were great at Reading, when the crowd surfing started the first face we saw coming towards us was Alex, with this big grin.” Sniffing some alcohol in the air, I try and unearth some rock and roll shenanigans. “It’s never been about that, the booze, women, drugs. “It’s about the four of us on stage and enjoying it as much as possible. We want it to be more like a party. The stage pisses me off but I guess you’ve got to have it. We don’t want to be rock stars, not yet anyway. Apart from perhaps Al, I think he thinks he’s the next Bono. He’s got the shades.”
This response typifies the Arctic Monkey attitude. There’s no sign of pretense or posturing, it’s much simpler than that. “We’re getting paid to do what we love which is fucking great, what more can you want?” states Andy. “There’s no real egos, we take it as it comes. There are four of us, so if someone gets a bit big there are three of us to smack him back down. And it’s great going home to see our friends. On tour we’ve got people running around after us. If we went back home and told our friends to get the drinks in they’d tell us to fuck off.”
Being Arctic-based monkeys has put the band in good stead. The lack of trees has left them with a grounded perspective. It’s hard to imagine the Arctic Monkeys embarking on a Steely Dan style, cocaine odyssey. But surely they must be a little bit fazed by the rapid ascent? “It’s not that odd at all really,” counters Andy. “It’s first time we’ve been in a band and don’t know any better. We don’t really know what it’s like to have a shit gig. We’re just getting a lot of enjoyment out of it. The album has made us more determined, to practice more, get better and work on putting on better live shows. We spend a lot of time writing the set list, working out what goes with what. And now we’ve got a light rig, nothing flash though. You know, we don’t want to just bang out the songs we want to put on a show. Put on something a bit more.”
Unfortunately, the Arctic Monkey’s upcoming tour does not include a Nottingham date. But there is a single out on October 17th – I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor – and the album is due for release in January.
Arctic Monkeys – PLUG Magazine, Nottingham – November 2005
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- April 11, 2006 / 7:34 pm