Sheffield rock quartet Arctic Monkeys haven’t known much struggle in their time together. The first demos the school chums put together became an Internet sensation in their native England and beyond, and by the time they released their debut, 2006’s Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, their popularity was only rivaled by their hype. Fortunately, that album was a snarling collection of well-written, infectious tunes, punctuated by half-witty, half-sardonic lyrics, that both showed a distinct maturity beyond young men freshly in their 20s, and helped to validate much, if not all, of the hype.
The record became the fastest selling debut in UK history and won the Mercury Prize that year. In the five years since, the band has released three more albums, toured the world and continued to grow in popularity. Their latest offering, Suck It and See, was released in June and is quite a departure from 2009’s Humbug, a release they recorded with Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme at his Joshua Tree Studio. Suck It was recorded with producer and longtime collaborator/friend James Ford in Los Angeles and features drummer Matt Helders’ first shot at lead vocals on the track “Brick By Brick.”
I recently spoke with Helders, who was at Santa Monica Beach, where the band was “just having a couple of relaxing days off before the tour starts” -- a tour that the Monkeys are sharing with indie powerhouse TV on the Radio. They'll be making a stop at SDSU’s Open Air Theatre on Saturday night.
Scott McDonald: The new album is quite a bit different than your last.
Matt Helders: I think it’s always been a conscious decision of ours to always move on and do something new. I think it’s also something we all find exciting about making a record as well: doing something we didn’t do last time. And one leads to the other. I don’t think we’ll ever say, “Well, let’s go back to what we’ve already tried.”
SM: The change seems more noticeable this time.
MH: Humbug was more about going in and doing something with someone new and we’ve never worked with before. But I think the songwriting has changed as well, and that’s contributing to a different sound overall.
SM: How much did James have to do with that?
MH: We feel comfortable with James, and we’ve always worked with him -- in one way or another -- but this is the first record where he did the whole thing. He’s confident and talented, and can play a lot of instruments, and we felt really good about him getting involved in all of the ways he did.
SM: How was your first foray into lead vocals?
MH: I definitely enjoyed it -- and I do have a taste for it. It was a lot fun, and I’ve always enjoyed when I do the backing vocals. I really like singing in studio as well -- when you get it right. I’m certainly open to the possibility of more of it and singing on other projects. I’m sure I’ll get around to it eventually.
SM: Was it strange that you guys were well known before you even released an album?
MH: Well, I suppose that’s true in some places. But I think it all depends on where we are. It’s certainly different here than it is in England. We still have a lot of work to do here. I mean, we’ve always been at a level where we could come here and have fun, not worry too much, have a good tour and do some shows that were sold out. And I guess that seems somewhat successful, given all of it. But in America, we have plenty more to do.
SM: You guys have packed a lot into just five years.
MH: I think we all know that we’ve done quite a lot within the five years since our first record -- and by the time we’re all 25. It’s quite a special thing, I think. But it is what it is. We’re not all that far into our career, really. But it’s definitely a good start, and we’re getting more comfortable as we go along doing what we do. We’re getting a lot more used to it. It may seem like it’s been a long time since the first record came out, but it really isn’t. And these five years have gone by quick.
SM: But you’ve known each other for a lot longer than that.
MH: We all grew up together. It’s a bit strange, but I think that’s just the kind of relationship we have with each other. It’s more than just the music, and that helps with everything. We have a lot more to talk about than just the band.
SM: You’re on tour with TV on the Radio. How can you write when you have them to watch every night?
MH: [laughs] This time, we’re just doing the tour. We’ve done it before where we write songs while we’re still on the road, but we’re just going to ride this one out. After that, when it’s all done, we’ll regroup and decide about the next bit.
Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of Eight24.com