Arctic Monkeys: Next one to tell us Purple Rain was filmed at First Avenue gets punched
Photo courtesy of Arctic Monkeys' Facebook
On the strength of their live energy and polished rock chops, Arctic Monkeys have grown into one of the biggest bands in the world. They're now regular festival headliners on both sides of the Atlantic, and the Sheffield, England, quartet's recent album, AM, was nominated for this past year's Mercury Music Prize. At long last, the lads return to Minneapolis, once again eschewing a larger venue to instead play First Avenue.
Gimme Noise chatted with bassist Nick O'Malley during his band's tour stop in Missouri during the first leg of their current jaunt through the U.S., which includes their long sold-out show at First Avenue tonight. We talked about the recording sessions for AM, what making music with Josh Homme is like, and the inevitable conversation every single time they play First Avenue.
Gimme Noise: What were the recording sessions like for AM, and has the band changed their approach to the studio at all over the years?
Nick O'Malley: I don't think it's so much like we've changed our approach in any way. It's always been an ongoing learning experience. When we did the first and second albums, we were all just 18-19 years old, and we didn't really know what we were doing or anything. So, we haven't necessarily changed our approach, but we take it as a learning experience for all of us, and over time we know what we're doing a little bit more. It seems like we're more in control now -- for better or worse, I suppose [laughs].
How important have James Ford's steady production and musical contributions been to the band as you've evolved over the years and your career took off?
He's extremely important, yeah. He's the kind of producer that has got a very good ear for getting the best out of a band. He kind of knows when you're going down a road that is a dead end and things like that. And he plays everything, you know. He's one of them multi-instrumentalist kind of guys that can play everything, and he can just get involved in whatever you're doing and kind of spur you on. He's got a great knowledge of how to make songs the best they can be, and he's just kind of into everything. He's a great guy to have around, kind of like an older brother. I think with our albums, and the way we do things, he's always been very approachable with his input.
Rhythm has always been such an important, distinctive part of Arctic Monkeys sound, especially on AM. How have you and Matt [Helders, the drummer] managed to strengthen and enhance the pulse of the band from one album to the next?
I don't really know, I guess. [laughs] It's never really been a conscious thing. I suppose on this record, we just tried to simplify everything. It just kind of made sense with the songs. But on our last couple of records, Matt has always had this way of playing that isn't necessarily experimental but a little bit out of the ordinary, where he doesn't do the obvious thing, I suppose. And I kind of try and emulate that. But on this record, we just decided to really just simplify things, and it just really made sense with the songs. We tried to contribute more with backing vocals, and just didn't want to make the drum and bass too complicated.
Yeah, it seems like you are called on to sing a lot more on AM than you have in the past. How did that come about initially, and are you pleased with the ultimate results of your vocal contributions?
Yeah, definitely. It just came about naturally at the start. We did the song "R U Mine?" first, before we even started recording the album. We liked how the backing vocals and the melody sounded on that, and we wanted to explore that type of direction a little bit more on the record. So, yeah, there's a lot of me and Matt singing high falsettos and stuff like that, and we tried to exploit that a little bit more this time, as opposed to trying to do these crazy drums and bass. I think live it comes across really well.
Your potent live show has made you regular festival headliners throughout the world. Do you have to adjust your shows or scale things back in any way when you play clubs and theaters again in the U.S.?
Yeah, I suppose. If we play festivals, we might try and make it more accessible for everyone. Because everyone there might not necessarily be there to see you, so we bear that in mind a little bit, and we come up with a set that is a listenable to people that may not have heard our music or even like our music. But when we play our own shows, we can throw a few more rare songs in there, because obviously the people there want to see you, so we can throw some B-sides in there that our fans who bought tickets will appreciate more. As opposed to festivals, where you just have to go in and throw your hits around.
The last time that I saw you was when you opened for the Black Keys -- that was the last time you played Minneapolis. What were those shows like for you guys, and what did you take away from that big arena tour of the U.S.?
Yeah, we really, really enjoyed that tour. It was a great time. It was kind of strange, because we had never really done anything like that before. We were lucky enough to start up as a band and immediately start headlining our own shows. So we had never really supported anyone before -- not on a full tour or anything like that, we'd opened up at one-off gigs for Oasis and stuff like that, but never a full tour supporting someone. But it went great. We took a lot on board, I think. You see how you have to try and make it work for you in that arena environment, and how different it is than playing some small show in some town. It spurred us on a lot, and got us to think that yeah, we'd like to do that by ourselves one day.
The band has continued to work and record with Josh Homme over the years. What type of influence and inspiration do you draw from him and his venerable career and wealth of musical knowledge?
We were all really big fans of Josh's music, and the Queens of the Stone Age stuff. And I think while we were getting ready to record our third album, Humbug, our label guy at Domino asked us who we would like to work with on this record? And we were like, 'It would be great to work with Josh Homme,' but kind of thinking that would never really happen [laughs]. But then the label came back and said that yeah, Josh said he would give it a go. And we had the opportunity to just go and try and make it work, and do some demos with him and just see what happened.
And it was just one of those things where, in an instant you just knew -- he was an instantaneously likable character, and we all just gelled and got on with him really well. He took us out to the desert and he introduced us to his whole musical world. He took us under his desert wing, if you will. And we just really enjoyed it and had a great time. He taught us a lot. With his records, he puts a lot of time into making everything sound really great. And as well as sounding great -- whether it's guitar tones or drums sounds or anything like that -- in his songs, there's always at least one instrument doing something enjoyable to listen to. Nothing's ever just playing for the sake of it. We have tried to really take that philosophy into the band.
It seemed like straight from the start, the music world really embraced you guys. How have you dealt with the massive attention shown to the band along with the pressure of expectations, and has it gotten any easier to deal with over the years?
Yeah, I think so. But the media attention was never really something that we've gotten caught up in. Obviously, it's a necessary part of trying to be a successful band, and we enjoy being popular, we're not trying to get away from that. We've always ignored that sense of pressure or anything, we've never really felt it that much. We never set out to make records to please anyone, the way we make records is completely selfish, I suppose. We just want to please ourselves and our friends, and if everybody else likes it then that's just a massive bonus.
Minneapolis took an immediate liking to your band, and you guys have sold out First Avenue every time that you've played here. Have you developed an affinity for the city at all over the years, and are there any memorable stories you'd like to share from your time here?
[Laughs] Yeah, I've got quite a few stories. First Avenue is that place where -- it's kind of an ongoing joke that if the next time we play there, if one more person tells us that Purple Rain was filmed there, I'm going to punch them in the face. [Laughs] Every time we go there, all the local crew guys are like, "You know that Purple Rain..." YES. We've played here a few times, we know that now. Yes, we're aware that Purple Rain was filmed here. But everybody wants to tell you that anyway. But don't get me wrong, we absolutely love that venue. Either the first or the second time we played there, it was Matt's 21st birthday, so we had a pretty special night out after that show. We definitely had a good time. We can't wait to come back. We're looking forward to it. We're just excited to play the venue where Purple Rain was filmed [laughs].
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.