By the time the Arctic Monkeys arrived in New York for the first time, they'd already been called the biggest band in Britain; their single, "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor," had already gone number one in the United Kingdom; and they'd already drawn aural jabs from Noel Gallagher. The two shows they would play in New York had sold out months ago the second was moved from the Mercury Lounge to the larger Bowery Ballroom to accommodate for the demand. To say they were the next big thing was to admit a lack of foresight.
By all reports, the first show was for "industry types"; the second, for "regular folk" (many of whom, incidentally, had similar geographically divulging accents as the four boys from Sheffield Alex Turner on vocals, Jamie Cook on guitar, Andy Nicholson on bass and Matt Helders on drums). And by all reports, both shows were dynamic. For a band that's been as hyped as the Arctic Monkeys, there was no real gimmick in the performances - unless you consider a young band having fun on stage to be a gimmick. At the Bowery, the group entered the stage to Dr. Dre's "Next Episode," then went on to blaze through its set with significant help from the members of the audience, many of whom sang along to every word.
The band's debut isn't slated to be released until next year. It'll feature re-recorded versions of many of the demos that have been circling with some rabidity throughout the Internet, a tool that has been credited as a key player in the band reaching its current status. We sat down with Helders at the Mercury Lounge before the band's first New York City show and learned about the band's beginnings, the true story behind the name and the members' decided lack of computer savvy.
Prefixmag.com: How many interviews did you do today?
None. This is the first.
PM: Do you have a couple more later?
Arctic Monkeys: Yeah, I think so.
PM: How old are you guys?
Arctic Monkeys: Three of us are nineteen and one is twenty.
PM: Did any of you guys go to college?
Arctic Monkeys: Yeah, we did, 'cause in England you start college at sixteen. You leave high school at sixteen and go to college for two years or three years. And me and Alex, the singer, did about two years.
PM: So you're done?
Yeah, we finished about two years ago.
PM: So then you worked a regular 9 to 5?
Arctic Monkeys: Yeah, yeah. I started working part-time.
PM: How long has the band been together now?
Arctic Monkeys: About three years. Just over three years.
PM: Were you guys friends first?
Arctic Monkeys: Yeah, we were friends before we formed a band - before we learned instruments, really. We learned together. It was a nice way of working it.
PM: So you guys met back in high school?
Arctic Monkeys: Well, me and Alex grew up together; [we've known each other] since we were about seven or eight years old. And we all lived pretty close to each other, so we're all linked from a young age.
PM: When did you have aspirations about being in a band?
Arctic Monkeys: I don't know. It was just kind of something to do when we were younger. At fifteen or sixteen, some of our friends were in bands that we used to go watch, and we kind of thought it looked like an interesting thing to do. You see people in bands and you wonder how you get into that industry - it looks like a lot of trouble. But it's really quite easy to start a band up, so we knew that it could be done, and we just decided to start a band.
PM: Have there been any lineup changes so far?
Arctic Monkeys: No, it's been like this from the start.
PM: Have any of you guys ever thought about quitting?
Arctic Monkeys: I don't think so. I haven't.
PM: The name of the band - that comes from the drummer of your father's band?
Arctic Monkeys: No, no. That's a lie as well. I'll tell you the truth. We made that up 'cause we got so many people asking us that in the U.K. - every interviewer asked us about that. So we just started making stories up. We made so many up that it was hard to keep track.
It's just a name. Jamie, the guitarist, came up with it at school before we were in a band. He just always wanted to be in a band called Arctic Monkeys.
PM: Most band names are a bit awkward to chant at shows, but have people been chanting "Arctic Monkeys" at shows?
Arctic Monkeys: They chant "monkeys" instead. In England they shout "monkeys." In Canada last night they were chanting "arctic."
PM: So this is the first U.S. show for you guys?
Arctic Monkeys: Yeah, we were in Canada last night.
PM: How was that?
Arctic Monkeys: It was a good one.
PM: Were you guys nervous at all?
Arctic Monkeys: A little bit, but it seems more exciting than anything. It's a challenge to play for new people.
PM: What do you think about so many publications and people calling your band the next big thing? How do you feel about that?
Arctic Monkeys: It's flattering for people to say it and it's nice to hear, but you don't want it to go so far that it's not about the music - that it's about people being told to like it, so they do. I don't want people like us for the wrong reasons. But I think people aren't stupid. They can see through it and realize that they do actually like us.
PM: What role do you think the Internet had in where your band is today?
Arctic Monkeys: Quite a big part, actually, but it's not like we had a plan. We used to record demos and then just burn them onto CDs and give them away at gigs. Obviously there weren't many demos available, so people used to share them on the Internet, which was a good way for every to hear it.
So we used to share - not us personally, we don't even know how to do it - but fans did. There's a guy who has come along to film us - two guys, actually; one of them is the main guy who put the songs on the Internet. So the fans just used to send them to each other, which didn't bother us because we never made those demos to make money or anything. We were giving them away free anyway - that was a better way for people to hear them. And it made the gigs better, because people knew the words and came and sang along. We can't complain about it.
PM: The guy who was putting the songs on the Internet - did you know him before?
Arctic Monkeys: We knew of him; we met him a couple of times. But we got to know him through all that, 'cause he's a photographer as well, and he made the first video. The two guys that are here tonight made the "Fake Tales of San Francisco" video. It didn't actually run in the U.S. It was only on his Web site, but it ended up on MTV in England.
PM: And he's on tour with you guys now.
Arctic Monkeys: Yeah, he's filming.
PM: So you guys didn't even know how to your music on the Internet?
Arctic Monkeys: No, no.
PM: Are you guys Internet users?
Arctic Monkeys: Only to e-mail or whatever; iTunes, stuff like that. But none of us really knew how to. It was a guy at college who made the Web site. We had tried putting music on the site, but it didn't work properly. People couldn't listen to it properly.
PM: I notice you have a pretty popular site on Myspace.
Arctic Monkeys: We don't know about that, either.
PM: So that's not you guys?
Arctic Monkeys: No, no. The other day someone said to us, "I looked at your profile on Myspace." I said, "I don't even know what Myspace is." [When we went number one in England] we were on the news and radio about how Myspace has helped us. But that's just the perfect example of someone who doesn't know what the fuck they're talking about. We actually had no idea what [Myspace] was.
PM: Another band that seems to often come up in conversations about the Internet and music is the Brooklyn band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Are you familiar with them?
Arctic Monkeys: Yeah, I've heard of them, but I haven't actually heard them. Are they in England at the moment?
PM: That sounds right, but I'm not sure.
Arctic Monkeys: I think they might have come to one of our gigs in Munich. There was a rumor that they were watching it. I've never seen them though.
PM: I only bring them up because most of their acclaim came from the Internet. What do you think about critics who say you're just the flavor of the month?
Arctic Monkeys: I can see why people say it, but I don't think it is. It's not exactly the same as everything that's around now. You can see something is happening now in music, especially in England. I don't know what it's like out here, but in England you can see a certain type of music that's happening. You can see more bands are doing the same thing. But I don't think ours is the same as that. So I think we could last. We've been at it for so long, doing these songs, and we're doing this first album now - we've finished recording it - and we've got like eight songs for the second album that have advanced further than that. I could see them attracting more mature audiences, as well.
PM: So you have the album that's going to come out in the U.K. in
Arctic Monkeys: January - end of January or February.
PM: Then it's going to come out in the U.S.?
Arctic Monkeys: Yeah, I think it's a month later.
PM: But you guys have already started on a second album?
Arctic Monkeys: We have not recorded anything, but we've got about four full songs and we've got about four ideas for new songs as well.
PM: Is it different from the first album?
Arctic Monkeys: It's a bit. We had songs while we were recording this album, and we [wondered if] we should we put them on this album or not. We had such local success with the demos, so we thought we should re-record some of the demos. But there are certain things that you can't miss out on. If people listen to it in ten years, it's not going to be an accurate representation of what it was if we just put all brand new songs. So it's just to remind people of what it was like.
PM: That album's coming out on EMI?
Arctic Monkeys: It's on Domino, but it's EMI Publishing.
PM: What about the U.S.?
Arctic Monkeys: It's Domino as well. But I think it's only for a certain amount of records- maybe 100,000 or something - because they're a bit smaller over here and might need a bit of help. That's as far I understand it.
PM: People are saying that the deal was for million pounds.
Arctic Monkeys: No, no. There was a newspaper in England that said we signed to EMI for $750,000 and to a label in England for a million-dollar publishing deal. And it's all bullshit. I don't know where it came from. It said, "a close source to the band tells us." No. They were just making that stuff up.
PM: Whatever the deal was actually for, did you buy anything nice afterward?
Arctic Monkeys: I bought a car from the publishing deal.
PM: What kind of car?
Arctic Monkeys: I don't think you guys have them over here - a Vauxhall Corsa. It's like a small sports car.