Setting Fire to the Dancefloor
Touring America and Worst Nightmares with Matt Helders

Words by Martin Halo

San Francisco, California — Gallantly emerging with the electricity of youthful rebellion, while sporting the candor of Brit-pop, and strutting along with the sluggishness of a wee to many pints at the local pub, the Arctic Monkeys have battled through a deluge of hype, bestowed by the ever vigilant rock press, after the release of their debut LP in 2006.

The attention seems to be inescapable.

A recently dawned US Tour, accompanied by an appearance on the cover of Britain’s rock grail, MOJO Magazine, has the Monkeys poised to be, yet again, this year’s most closely watched traveling road show.

The band consists of Alex Turner (guitar/vox), Jamie Cook (guitar), Andy Nicholson (bass), and Matt Helders (drums).

“We were normal kids when we were younger, not too bad, but not too good either”, says drummer Matt Helders from the famed Warfield Theatre in San Francisco, California. “We all grew up together. Alex and I knew each other from when we were about five years old and the rest from about the age of eight.”

With the sun shining down upon his shoulders, and America finally getting its first taste of spring, nationwide, Helders dives into the origins of the project.

“I started off playing music as a hobby really”, he says. “I certainly didn’t grow up wanting to be in a band. I knew I wanted to do something along the creative lines, something natural. When we first started the band it was just something to do and from there I kind of gradually fell in love with it.”

Success came at an extremely young age for the lads from Sheffield, England. By the time they were sixteen they were playing gigs at city pubs not to far from their homes. A buzz began to ignite about stripped-down rock brilliance.

“When we started the band I didn’t really know what was good or what was not”, admits Helders. “We were listening to The Hives and The Strokes heavily at that time. I was obsessed with the drummer from The Hives”, Helders says. “Before we made it I was trying to do everything like him, even down to how I set up my kit.”

“But the older I got, the more I got into John Bonham.”

By channeling The Smiths, The Stone Roses, and every other English practitioner which came before them The Arctic Monkeys are representing a scene which is specific to the cultural traditions and musical ideals which varies in diversity from each corner of the island.

“Everybody has a different attitude when it comes to English bands. There is a wide range of beliefs pertaining to the sanctity of music from Northern England to Southern England.”

They released their cult worthy debut LP, entitled Whatever People Say I Am, That Is What I Am Not, in February of 2006 on Domino Recordings with a ruckus assault of charming numbers. The single, which propelled the band to international recognition, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”, was a forging reinterpretation of English rock. It was brash, it was in your face, and it was filled with an undeniable English swagger. Other notables from the recording include “Fake Tales from San Francisco”, and the cop taunting booze ballad “Riot Van”.

Now a year later, the band has cranked out a second pressing of songs for Favourite Worst Nightmare.

“We did our last show in August of 2006”, explains Helders. “We started off in London with a few weeks of recording and then took a break in the countryside before going back and doing another six week in London. It took us about three months, just not solid”, offers Helders. “We put the finishing touches on it in Liverpool.”

Clocking in at 37 minutes, the LP is not much of a departure from the debut, but still pumps with brawn. The single “Brianstorm” starts in a recognizable Monkeys form, satisfying but nothing new. Turner’s vocals fill out the mix. The straightforward romp, “D is for Dangerous”, follows with the record taking the same musical approach of craftsmanship.

The track “Only One Who Knows” provides a charming mid record tempo dip before finishing with a flurry of stiff lipped numbers which includes a bouncing “Do Me a Favour”.

“The first record we did pretty quick”, Helders explains. “All of the songs were done and ready to go, it was just a matter of going into the studio and recording it. This time around”, referring to Favourite Worst Nightmare, “we did more writing in the studio. It was probably more of a traditional approach. Lets just say we didn’t have a pressing this time after being in the studio for three weeks.”

“Our lifestyle has changed quite a bit since we made the last record”, says Helders. “We have seen more of the world and things of that nature. The things we write about in tunes are our surroundings. We still go out at night and do all the same things as we did before. We still feel the same way about things. But what does stand out is that now we wake up and we are always in a different country”, as laughter follows.

“We have been on tour so this record is about girls, friends, and all of the people we met along the way.”

With America’s foreign policy in disarray and partisan politics igniting a firestorm of debate, Helders comments on his perception of the country as seen from abroad.

“A lot of the stuff that we hear on the British News probably doesn’t really happen here. You don’t really know what to believe I suppose. I mean I like coming here, I have nothing against the place”, as a playful laughter ensues.

“The first time we came to America we were very intrigued about what it was going to be like”, he offers. “We really had no idea what to expect. It is a bit less hectic here I think. When we went to Australia the crowds have been most like they were in England.”

As far as carrying on the cycle of European bands having a very strong voice in world affairs and politics such as U2 or The Clash, Helders responds, “this is just my opinion, but I don’t really think that we could do the politics in rock. We just don’t know enough about it. It would be patronizing for us to tell the world about it, we are only 20 years old.”

Only 20 years-old indeed but a promising rock band none the less. Some listeners might consider this studio effort to be a repeat of the first but the real gems that will come from this band won’t be when they are 20, but imagine the possibilities when they have aged another five years down the road. | UK