Arctic Monkeys are currently touring the US supporting The Black Keys, the first time they’ve been onstage first for a long time. Drummer Matt Helders explains all about warming up crowds, whether Record Store Day limited release R U Mine means we can expect a new album and why you just can’t say “no” to Metallica‘s Lars Ulrich.
How the devil are you?
“Good thanks. At the moment I’m in Austin but we’ve got to drive to Houston.”
How is going in the States on this tour?
“It’s good. We’ve been out of England since the end of February but it’s been great. We did the first leg of The Black Keys tour, about three-and-a-half-weeks and that was great for us, and we’re back doing it again. It’s been good to be a support band.”
Is it strange taking to the stage so early in the evening?
“Yeah. The first few were a bit weird, but you can get away with a bit more because people aren’t expecting much from a support band, which is often the case sadly. We have to play a different set obviously. We get to play an hour which is good for the openers, but there are people there who’ve come to see us. You can definitely see a few Arctic Monkeys’ T-shirts and people who know the words in the crowd but it’s a completely different thing. We’re playing R U Mine at the end because we want more people to hear it.”
We were going to ask, is it strange going back to being a support band, but Arctic Monkeys never really supported anyone did they?
“No, we’ve never done a tour supporting anyone. We did the odd one here and there. We supported Oasis once and Queens Of The Stone Age once, but never a tour and that’s the strange bit. It’s fun, I’m in the shower by 9 o’clock!”
A humbling experience?
“I don’t know. I think we’ve still got the same attitude as if we’re the main band! Not that we’re walking round like we own the place, or anything.”
How are you getting on with The Black Keys?
“Good. We play a lot of ping pong with them and we’ve been out a few times. They’re fun to watch too. I’ve been watching side of stage every night, Pat their drummer is great and a really nice guy as well. A few games of football are on the cards I believe.”
Are they any good at “soccer”?
“Dan [Auerbach, Black Keys] used to play a bit, I believe. We had a game in the car park after one of the gigs with the crew too, but I think they want a game of five-a-side.”
Band members only is a bit unfair though, there’s only two of them…
“Well that’s it. I’m not very good, but either way we’d still win.”
You released a new song called R U Mine for Record Store Day, when did you find time to record that?
“It wasn’t anything we’d really planned. We recorded just before we went to Europe to tour. We went into the studio to record [B-side] Electricity first and some other ideas… it came quite quickly, just in one day in the studio. We were surprised how good it turned out. We wanted something new to play on The Black Keys tour rather than another single from the album. So we put it out like we did because out of all the ones we’ve done Brick By Brick [below] got the biggest response and that’s how we did that: just a video without telling anybody and it kind of worked.”
Have you thought about any new material beyond that?
“Al [Turner, singer] went back to the studio in Sheffield to do the vocal for one of them [Record Store Day tracks] and ended-up doing this other song that none of us have heard. It’s from a riff Nick [O’Malley, bassist] came up with.”
So are you beginning to think about another album?
“We don’t think about where and when we’re going to record, but I don’t think any of us have got their hearts set on having a year off, or anything like that. It doesn’t feel like that at the moment. I think this tour ends 19 May and then we’ve got one festival with Metallica [in Atlantic City at the end of June], so that’s the last show we’re doing and then after that it’s up for grabs whether we go back in the studio or not. It’s not like we’ve written loads on tour, it’s some ideas and riffs flying around, things we’ve put together in soundchecks, but you don’t get much of a soundcheck when you’re a support band!”
You just said you’re done by nine, can’t you write some songs after that?
“Well, yeah [laughs] We’ll have to set all the gear up again.”
Incidentally didn’t Metallica hand-pick you for that festival?
“That was the thing. We’d planned to have finished touring by now – going on recent records where we’ve done nine months then gone off to make another album. This time The Black Keys thing was too good to miss so then we’d heard that Lars himself had asked us to do the Metallica gig. We’d said No originally because of the timing but apparently he just kept asking, emailing our manager every day, so we thought, We better not turn this down! Even if we get bottled off, playing before Metallica will be funny and I want to watch them as well. Lars has been to see us a few times, so he is a fan.”
Have you made any new ridiculously famous American friends on this tour to challenge your pal P Diddy?
“[laughs] No, not this time. I don’t know how I’d top it so I’m keeping it there. He hasn’t been to any gigs yet, but I spoke to him before we did Madison Square Gardens to see if he wanted to come, but I don’t think we’re playing anywhere near where he lives now.”
Was it good to get MSG under your belt?
“Yeah it was a big deal for us and them. The Black Keys to sell it out and for us to be able to play there. That was one where by the end of our set it was pretty full.”
So does it feel that you’re making an impact in the US now? First time you went out you’d been so hyped in the UK it was probably impossible to live up to the expectations?
“Definitely, that’s why we keep coming back here because you can see it progressing. Obviously at home it’s amazing what we’ve done there and what we can do: headlining festivals and doing arena tours, so I don’t know where else we can go. That’s not to say we’re giving up on it [laughs]! In America to see things grow and having cities we haven’t played yet is quite exciting.”
Finally, what are you missing most from home?
For more head to Arcticmonkeys.com.