Monkey business: Arctic Monkeys talk ahead of Birmingham gigs
Arctic Monkeys will return to Birmingham for two sell-out shows at the city’s Arena tomorrow and on Sunday.
The shows follow the release in spring of their sixth album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, which was a number one hit in the UK, and much of Europe as well as cracking the top 10 in the USA.
The record continued a remarkable run of form for the English rock band, who formed in 2002 and have released have won seven Brit Awards – winning both Best British Group and Best British Album three times – while also being nominated for three Grammy Awards and taking the Mercury Prize in 2006 for their debut album.
The record was a major departure for the band, who considered releasing it as an Alex Turner solo album at one point. Turner had started writing songs on his piano, enjoying the freedom that gave him.
He told MOJO: “I tricked myself into writing – by sitting at the piano, doing this thing that I haven’t done before. That gave me permission to go somewhere I’d had trouble getting to before. It allowed me to put across how I feel more, more . . . broadly than before.”
He took his songs to members of the band, who thought they might become a side project as a solo artist, rather than feature under the Arctic Monkeys banner.
Guitarist Jamie Cook added: “I think at first, because it was quite basic – piano, vocal and no guitar – Al was in two minds about, ‘is this Arctic Monkeys or am I going somewhere else with this’?
“And maybe at first I was a bit like that as well. It’s not definitely not a guitar-heavy record, not typically what we’d do. It took a lot more thinking about.”
Turner wrote on the piano after receiving it as an unexpected gift from a friend: “It was quite a rush, really. Prior to that point I didn’t really have many ideas, and in my memory, that was the point at which they started to come. I really do think sitting at the piano tricked me into writing a lot of this stuff.
“Sitting at the piano took me immediately to a different place. There are chords that came out, my fingers were falling different places, and the sounds were giving me ideas. That I was the guy sitting at the piano also gave me ideas.”
Jamie added that the band were braver than they’d been before when they went in to record their new record: “We were kind of fearless. We definitely upset people. We created a lot of rules. Maybe that was a way of protecting ourselves. Putting walls up.”
Alex paid homage to The Strokes in the opening track of the album, Star Treatment. They were a band who inspired him as a youth.
“Did The Strokes line feel too close to home? Yeah, absolutely. But you can’t let that stop you. That whole thing of ‘Oh my God, what they gonna think this means? You can’t really work like that.
“Well, the album sort of all is (autobiographical). I’m having a word with myself, intermittently, throughout all 11 tunes.
“In the past I’ve struggled to find the poetry in [politics] and I think I’ve managed a way to find it this time, with some encouragement. “I’ve always thought that, writing anything that relates to politics, it’s a lot to do with the way you go about it. Being able to write about the power of allusion and suggestion is important to keep in mind.”
Alex was deeply analytical on some songs – and embarrassed himself when he YouTubed the band and listened to old lyrics. “I think sometimes that can be helpful. In preparation for going on tour, we flicked through some of our old records. There were a few lyrics that went by where I thought [wincing noise], ‘Don’t know what you were thinking there. Probably leave that one out now.’”
The band formed in 2002 and initially rehearsed at Yellow Arch Studios in Neepsend, before playing a first gig in June 2003 at The Grapes in Sheffield. Their debut was a fan-only CD, Beneath the Boardwalk, which was file-shared among their followers.
Since then, they haven’t looked back and have enjoyed huge success with their debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.