The Monkeys' skinsman talks beats – and beatdowns
Arctic Monkeys fans, you should prepare yourself before listening to AM: it may come as something of a surprise.
The band’s fifth album still has all the elements that you’d expect (Alex Turner’s wordy, witty lyrics; interlocking guitar lines; titles like ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’) but this time there’s something else. A lot of that something else is thanks to drummer Matt Helders, since this time around the Monkeys are… well,danceable. In fact, there are moments when it sounds like the quartet are channelling their own Sheffield-white-boy version of Dr Dre’s '90s hip-hop productions.
“Yeah, I think so,” Helders begins. “We weren’t precious about sounding like four guys in a room sounding like they are playing live; we’ve done that plenty of times. I think the thing that we found exciting was recording an album that sounds like we wanted it to sound and getting that sound, whatever it took.”
That’s not to suggest that it wasn’t actually four guys in a room playing, mind. “Oh, we’re not programming it,” he hastily clarifies. “We never want to be like rap-rock, that never works – and obviously there’s no rapping on it. But I think influence of hip-hop and R'n'B is there.”
There was a time when the band were far more timid about playing around with their sound, but fortunately they made a friend who knows a thing or two about messing around with genres. Helder cites Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age as the one who taught them to relax.
“When we made [the Homme-co-produced third album] Humbug, he said ‘this is Arctic Monkeys, this is who you are, what you sound like. You can push it a little bit and it will still be your voice on the thing, it will still be the same four people playing it’ and that was a massive turning point,” he enthuses. “Just making that record meant that we could go on to make [2011’s] Suck it and See and this album.”
Homme turns up on AM, offering his vocal talents to the breakdown of ‘Knee Socks’. “That’s probably one of the best parts of the record,” Helder declares. “We just got him down to the studio because we wanted him to come have a listen and give an honest opinion, and we had a few drinks and he ended up singing a lot more than we planned,” he laughs. “It went really well.”
He’s not the only guest on the record: Elvis Costello’s longtime Attractions/Imposters bandmate Pete Thomas adds some percussion – but why, given that Helders is clearly more than capable?
“Um, what happened is I broke my hand,” he admits. “We were just about to start demoing, and we knew Pete anyway and we knew he was in LA, so we got him to come in and play along with them while we were writing. Occasionally I’d go down with the cast on my hand and just say ‘yeah that sounds great… but I’m gonna completely change it,’” he laughs.
And why was the hand broken?
“Um…” he pauses. “Let’s just say something came into contact with my fist. It’s only my second metal plate, so it’s fine.”
AM is out Sep 9.