Serious simians

A day spent with Arctic Monkeys reveals the band to be, well, regular guys
By MATT ASHARE  |  May 18, 2007


VIDEO: Arctic Monkeys, "Brianstorm" (From Favourite Worst Nightmare)

It’s two o’clock on a warm, spring, Mother’s Day Sunday, and three of the four Arctic Monkeys are just now being roused from their beds aboard a deluxe tour bus parked on Lansdowne Street. It’s a rock star’s prerogative to get up every morning in the afternoon. But today that’s posing a minor problem because two Monkeys — singer/guitarist Alex Turner and guitarist Jamie Cook — are meant to be performing, well, right now, for an intimate crowd of radio-contest winners at a WFNX-sponsored event on the other side of the river, at New Alliance Studio in Cambridge. The goal: to promote the band’s new sophomore album, Favourite Worst Nightmare (Domino). The other two Monkeys — bassist Andy Nicholson and drummer Matt Helders — are staying behind to spend a little time with me. From the look a disheveled Helders gives me as I try to make conversation, he’s not all that excited by the presence of a stranger amid the frenzied activity of Arctic Monkeys’ command center (a pair of tables packed crammed with computers, printers, fax machines, and all manner of paperwork upstairs at Axis).

Arctic Monkeys, "The Bakery (Live on WFNX)" (mp3)  
Arctic Monkeys, "Fluorescent Adolescent (Live on WFNX)" (mp3)

Later that evening, Arctic Monkeys will perform for a capacity crowd at the club next door, Avalon. That will be the highlight of their day. After which, I presume, they’ll beat a hasty retreat into their home on wheels, the command center will be disassembled and packed away, and they’ll be off to the next city on their agenda, where they’ll do it all again. Glamor? There’s not much of that here. Glitz? Hardly. What I’m witnessing is the workaday business of a band on the rise — or, more specifically, the mild frustration of a drummer in search of not coffee but orange juice.

Then again, to call Arctic Monkeys a band on the rise is to understate massively the situation these four boys from Sheffield have found themselves in since their first big single, the frenetic, hook-spiked “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor,” hit the airwaves in the UK in October 2005. That set the stage for their debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (Domino), to make UK history in January 2006: the disc, in its first week, moved 350,000-plus units, a stunning feat in an age of fragmented demographics. But breaking sales records has little to do with what’s made the Monkeys such a big deal over the past year and a half. No, the real kicker is the way they live up to and even surpass the hype that surrounds so many young British bands. Not since Nirvana has an outfit come storming onto the scene with the promise of making rock relevant again. Yet though you can go all the way back to Gavin Rossdale and Bush in the ’90s and find plenty of English bands who sound like Nirvana, Arctic Monkeys aren’t one of them.

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