Arctic Monkeys on a career high

VICKI ANDERSON
Last updated 05:00 13/12/2013
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NO LONGER MISERABLE: The Arctic Monkeys.

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Grinding vintage rock, howling garage blues and West Coast-style hip-hop ghetto politics are all represented on the Arctic Monkeys' outstanding album AM.

This heart swelling, life-affirming noise is then punctured magnificently by Alex Turner who sings as if he's just rolled out of bed after a heavy night.

On the stadium floor, people sway and jiggle. Some are stone still, transfixed, others fling their limbs haphazardly. Clusters of lights above the stage move like a sea anemone.

It's a sight that greets Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders almost every day.

"That's the biggest change, looking back to when it started," he says from somewhere in "bitterly cold" Seattle.

"How often I'm travelling, I'm in a different place every day. It has been gradual, 10 years going from where we were when we started. There have been some amazing moments. Being on the road is all I know. I love going home and visiting but that's the bit that's hard sometimes, staying still. I need somebody there to tell me where to be."

The endless touring makes him appreciate hometown Sheffield more and it still largely informs the band's lyrics.

The Arctic Monkeys first burst on to the music scene in 2006 with their award-winning debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. It became the fastest-selling debut album in British music history.

In the years since, the band have received two Grammy Award nominations, five Brit Awards and headlined the Glastonbury Festival twice.

Fifth album, AM, was nominated for the 2013 Mercury Prize just two days after its release. NME music magazine pronounced it to be "unarguably the most incredible album of their career. It might also be the greatest record of the last decade".

Arctic Monkeys return Down Under next year for their most extensive run of tour dates, including two New Zealand shows and five Australian shows.

"We're so into this new record. We're going to be touring it until next summer. It's had an amazing response, we haven't had anything like this since our first record."

Recorded in Rancho de la Luna in Joshua Tree, California, and also Los Angeles, AM includes 12 tracks of near perfection, including Do I Wanna Know?, One For The Road and Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?. It features guest appearances from Queens Of The Stone Age's Josh Homme, Elvis Costello's drummer, Pete Thomas, and ex-Coral man Bill Ryder Jones.

"We did a few writing sessions in Joshua Tree. We've been out there and recorded a few times," Helders says.

"We wanted to make a fresh start on something. Then we got our own studio space in Los Angeles . . . we got a long lease on the place so we could come and go as we please, spend as much time as we wanted and we started doing our own demos, really, on a little tape machine."

He describes the recording sessions as "pretty natural" and said it was a different experience to their last record.

"Last time we had all the songs ready to go before we went into record, we even knew what the running order would be. But this time it was a lot of recording and putting them together. We had a blast, we kind of always do but this time we all lived there while we were doing it and it was the first time we've lived together in the same house for years, since we first started."

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Are You Mine? was recorded in Sheffield "a while ago" as a stand-alone single. Helders says they didn't expect it would go on the record but "it went off a bit bigger than we thought". They love playing it live.

"The falsetto harmonies . . . we wanted to carry on that. Then we did Do I Wanna Know?. That came about in those first Joshua Tree sessions. It was really basic at that point."

Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High? also emerged from those first sessions at Joshua Tree but he says it began life as a rockier song. Initially none of the band were happy with it.

"It was an interesting version but when it came to record again we went for a Dr Dre, West Coast hip-hop feel to it."

Asked for the story behind the song, Helders laughed.

"It's something everybody can relate to. Everyone's given or received that, we've all been on both ends of that, I think."

When not touring the world, he enjoys riding motorcycles. He owns a Triumph.

"It's like a new one but in the old style, it's the best of both worlds, really, mechanically sound."

One aspect of fame he finds "weird" are the legions of crazed fans who wait in airports and outside hotels for a glimpse of the group.

"In certain countries it's more crazy than others. In Japan you get a lot of obsessed fans at the airport and the hotels. We were in Mexico recently, it was chaotic with hundreds of people at the airport. That's always a bit weird."

When asked what he thinks the biggest misconception about the Arctic Monkeys is he laughs loudly.

"It used to be that we're miserable. I think we've got over that now. We never were miserable but that was often said about us, that we looked miserable on stage, but really we were just concentrating on performing."

THE DETAILS:

Arctic Monkeys play Auckland's Vector Arena on May 2, all ages show, tickets from Ticketmaster.co.nz, ph 0800 111 999; and Wellington's TSB Bank Arena on May 3, all ages show, tickets from Ticketek.co.nz, ph 0800 842 538.

- Stuff

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