No…not Coldplay – these guys are something else altogether. They may not have sold as many records or signed as many autographs, but this band are truly something special.
They come from a town called Sheffield, about 150 miles north of London, and when their debut album came out (ingeniously titled Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not), the record became the fastest selling album in UK chart history. People hadn’t seen anything like that since the Beatles and the reason was simple. People liked what they heard.
Now I know that making it in the UK, even if you make chart history, doesn’t guarantee you success here in the US (it’s too easy to start naming names so I won’t) – but I've got a sneaky feeling that this band is an exception. They're called the Arctic Monkeys.
Just a few hours before their big gig at the Hammerstein in NY, I jumped in a cab to go meet the boys before their soundcheck and catch up backstage. I'd heard of the Hammerstein before, so it was nice to meet the venue face to face. Outside, I was pleasantly surprised that the lines had already started forming with dedicated fans patiently and more importantly, happily waiting in the sun for the doors to open as well as the ticket touts just saying the same words over and over to anyone that comes within range - buy a ticket, sell a ticket. We have them in London as well. I guess it’s a good sign in a way. It means there's a demand for tickets and that means the Arctic Monkeys are on peoples radars out here. Great venue. Big venue. To get to the backstage area where the cameras were already setting up for our shoot/interview/conversation you had to walk across the stage to a staircase just off to the side. There were only a few big hairy roadies, all with the compulsory cigarette hanging effortlessly out the corner of their mouths (years of practice) on stage adjusting the lights, soundchecking the equipment and scratching their cracks - so I thought it would be ok to go and stand in the middle and maybe get a feel of what its like to be lead singer in a band….unfortunately it didn't work. We made our way to the backstage dressing room where it was surprisingly quiet. No massive entourages or groupies, just essential personnel only. The bands manager was on the phone (the Yorkshire accent gave him away) and the label rep (Domino US) welcomed us warmly. So far so good! You see, at this point I was expecting the worst. When I left the office it was a bit like a dead man walking! A couple of people had told me a few horror stories about the band. People said that they were a band who didn't like or feel the need to do interviews and when they did they were mono-syllabic and unresponsive- more interested in talking to each other than the interviewer.
Fair enough- I've seen it all before (flashback). You see, I can kind of empathize with that. I said it before. At the end of the day they got into it to make music and not have to answer the same mundane questions on how great they are time and time again. Sometimes bands (especially when they're starting out and trying to capture the attention of the American audience) do at least 30 interviews in one day and believe me there are only so many ways you can answer the question 'What influenced this album? Describe your sound? Whats your favorite color?' But on the flip-side of the coin, I've been sent to do a job and that is to ask the questions that our viewers want asked and not what the band want to be asked. With that said, a good buddy of mine who had done a couple of interviews with them in London had nothing but great things to say about the band and its members…but still, I was ready and prepared for the worst.
Then we heard singing. In an unmistakable thick Sheffield accent we heard the voice of the Arctic Monkeys. The Arctic Monkeys were in the building - well Alex (lead singer) and Jamie (guitarist) at least. They swaggered in saying hello to the camera crew and then myself. Firm handshakes all round and good eye contact- a mark of true gentlemen. I think they were a little shocked to see a Brit in NY but once I explained that I'm living out here now working for MTV out here. They were genuinely happy and inquisitive as to how I was finding it, my take on NY and how I was settling in. It was made clear immediately - these were good peoples. I don't remember the interview starting, I don’t think it ever did. We just filmed our conversation. It was clear they weren't polished interviewees but that’s whats cool about the Arctic Monkeys.
They are true musicians. Not polished, not manufactured, not rehearsed…just natural and genuinely insightful. Their new album, a new sound, their love for hiphop, how life has changed for them, their American fans, what it takes to break America, the meaning of success, the WWE (big wrestling fans it turns out), Krispy Kreme doughnuts, In N Out burger, life on the road, headlining Glastonbury at 21 (the Woodstock of the UK), this current surge of British acts that are being welcomed by the US (Winehouse, Lily Allen), a potential hip hop album (believe it or not), the next video (which they described as 'the best video they have made and the best video that has been made in 10 years' - time will tell!) etc. I think it must have gone well because we're cutting a couple of shows from it…so all good. And like that the conversation drew to a casual end. On our way out, the band kindly invited us to the gig that night and for drinks after.
We took them up on the offer. Incredible show.