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Interview with the just-about-to-be-massive Arctic Monkeys, for the L2SB website.
It’s half past three on Saturday afternoon, and a small group of teenage fans are already huddled together outside the Plug, hopefully clutching posters and marker pens. Tonight sees the first home gig of Arctic Monkeys’ current tour, the one that coincides with them release their first single proper, and will elevate them to, as many tastemakers are tipping, the status of biggest band in Britain.
The fans – students George, Taras, Jordan, Amy and Bex – you suspect are just the first sortie of autograph hunters during the day. Out of the group, George has come all the way from Preston, and Bex from Halifax. “It’s just like life on the street,” explains Jordan of their appeal. “That’s what they sing about”.
“It’s great, because they’re kids from Yorkshire that are our age,” says Amy. “They sing in our accents, as you can hear,” says Taras.
If anything the national press have been a bit behind with the Arctics. Fuelled by free downloads and a long string of blistering gigs, their northern fan base has been growing rapidly for well over a year, selling out every venue they’ve played and with half the audience bellowing every word back. Something exciting has been on the cards for a long time, and the success of their limited debut single ‘Fake Tales of San Francisco’, which sold out on pre-orders alone , proved this.
Inside the venue, L2SB got a chat with the Arctics’ rhythm section, bassist Andy and drummer Matt. The other half of the band, singer and guitarist Alex and guitarist Jamie, were busy fielding other interviews elsewhere.
First of all, how does it feel to be the biggest band in Britain, without even releasing a proper single? Andy launches into a broad grin. “Reight good”.
“Very strange,” says Matt.
They’re keeping their feet on the ground though.
“Alex is doing okay,” says Andy. “I think sometimes you get a frontman all the time, who walks around being a frontman all the time. And then you get someone who’s a frontman on stage and then a normal person when they’re off it. Alex is like that.”
“It’s like a whirlwind,” he continues, “and everything’s crazy around it, but where we are, in the middle, it’s not that crazy. Like the eye of the storm.”
The NME’s is lauding of the band as the spearhead of the newly created ‘New Yorkshire’ scene. Although appreciative of the other Sheffield bands featured, which also include Harrisons, Bromheads Jacket and tourmates Milburn, they’re quite sceptical of such scene-making.
“I don’t think about it,” says Andy, diplomatically.
“It’s something NME have made up,” says Matt. “They were late cracking on, we’d already done all the hard work, it’s just no-one saw because we didn’t do it the normal way.”
It’s not just the Northern kids getting into the band, just a week ago they sold out the 2,000 capacity London Astoria, and every venue on the tour is selling out with what the NME are calling the “Arctic Army”. Their gig on the Carling tent at Leeds and Reading festival saw crowds that some liken to Nirvana and Foo Fighters’ early festival appearances.
Ebay is awash with Arctics material, and touts are making a healthy living out of the band, with tickets reportedly going for up to £100.
“We were playing in Bristol,” laughs Matt. “A ticket tout were outside, then when he saw us he quickly put his tickets under his arm and went, ‘congratulations, lads. Keep up the good work.’ Cheers. You too!”
And the great and good are paying homage to the band. Pete Doherty doffed his cap to them, describing them as “them with all the fans” (“Yeah, all the Libertines fans…,” says Matt, cheekily), and Paul Weller has been bigging them up too.
“He was on the radio, me mum said,” says Andy, “and he said we were an inspiration to him. That was amazing. We heard that just before we went on stage.”
The Arctics are conquering the world too. The band haven’t got a day off until February, including sell out dates in Japan and New York. How will the world cope with a band who talk of mardy bums, Burberry caps and Hunters Bar?
“From what I’ve heard, in Japan, they’ll like anything from England,” says Matt. “I think in America the hardest thing is it’s quite local, the way we talk, but those things like we sing about do probably happen to kids around the world.”
Their debut single proper, ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ is released on Monday, and virtually everyone is predicting a top ten placement. Dare the lads hazard a guess where it will come in the charts?
“McFly have got one out that week so I’ll say… number two,” says Matt. “We’ll be like Oasis and Blur…”
“I’d rather have a number one album than a number one single,” muses Andy, and Matt agrees.
Despite being a ridiculously catchy song with lyrics up there with the band’s best, Alex is quoted in the Guardian as saying the single is “crap”.
“That’s been blown out of proportion a bit,” says Matt, “it’s just we don’t think it’s our best song. We always said if we were going to release it it’d be now or never, with it not being our best song, we didn’t want it to coincide with the album. Get it out of the way…”
The album is now complete, and has a release date pencilled for 30th January.
“Everything’s re-recorded. Even Fake Tales,” says Andy.
“We recorded them all again, one a day, in order of how they’re going to be on there,” says Matt. “We recorded it pretty much live.”
“Some, like ‘Riot Van’, are done pretty much totally live,” says Andy.
“We wanted to give people value for money as well though” says Matt. “Not just a live CD. It’s all very well wanting to capture the live sound, but we don’t want to just lob it on.”
There’s going to be a few extra instruments on the album, including, says Andy: “a shaker, bit a salt in a bottle, and a bit of Wurlitzer.”
They also have the foundations for the second album too. “We’ve got about eight new ideas, and about four new songs,” says Andy. “Eight potential ones for the next album. It’s a little bit different, but you can tell it’s us!”
Tonight sees the first of two Sheffield gigs on the tour, both at the Plug.
“I don’t want to jinx it,” says Matt, “but you can always guarantee a good gig here. We’ll always get a good reaction.”
This, it is safe to say, turns out to an understatement. The venue is packed with well over a thousand people, with the audience singalong drowning out the band at times, and crowdsurfing and pogoing all the way back to the sound booth.
They’re a group of unassuming Sheffield lads, tipped to be as big as Oasis, and tonight you see why. Contagious songs, mixed with an observational wit somewhere between The Streets and Pulp. All early Libertines comparisons are blown out of the water – the Arctic Monkeys are already more important than they ever were.
By the end of the gig all but the most cynical of gig-goers are left feeling as excited as the fans I spoke to outside the Plug’s back gate that afternoon. The biggest band in Britain? At this moment in time, probably. And they’re from Sheffield. It doesn’t get much better than this.