Arctic Monkeys: "We're a gang again"

Arctic Monkeys The boys from High Green, Sheffield have come long a way since they first met Jo in 2006

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Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner and Matt Helders talk about their new album AM, how the Olympic opening ceremony nearly got in the way and why the band are a gang again.

It is only two years since Suck It And See shot to the top of the UK album charts, but the boys from Sheffield have had no time for a break.

With a headline Glastonbury slot, a 16-date US tour and performing at the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, they have still managed to squeeze in their fifth album, AM.

"We didn't spend much time twiddling our thumbs," drummer Matt Helders told Jo Whiley on BBC Radio 2.

The plan had been to return to the studio following the success of single R U Mine. "We felt like we had a momentum which we wanted to carry into the studio," says frontman Alex Turner.

But the album had to wait as the band was asked to perform at the Olympic opening ceremony.

"The Olympics took us round the houses," says Turner, who spent a "couple of months" planning for the seven-minute performance.

But rocking out in front of 900 million people worldwide gave the band a "boost" which they took into the studio.

Jo Whiley and Arctic Monkeys The band spoke to Jo Whiley on her Radio 2 show

They relocated to Los Angeles for six months to rehearse and write the record but "ended up recording the whole thing," says Turner.

Rather than just going into the studio to record, having their "own place" allowed the band time to produce it.

"We made it all living in the same town for the first time since the first record," he says.

"I suppose we were a gang again. We had our little studio HQ like we did in Sheffield and we just went there every day and worked out this thing."

But the Sage & Sound recording studio in East Hollywood was a long way from High Green, a northern suburb of Sheffield where the band grew up.

"It is a very different environment, no matter where we are I suppose, to the environment we began in."

"But I still sit across from Cookie in the pub and it's the same as it was when we used to be in the Pack Horse down our Green."

But Turner doesn't think the showbiz location had an influence on the sound of the new album.

"I've said a couple of times, 'The grooves on this record lean back a bit and maybe that's because of the mood out there', but it's not true," he says.

Turner, Whiley and Richard Hawley Whiley first played Arctic Monkeys on Radio 1 back in 2006

"I think we're still too close to it. But maybe in 10 years I'll look back at the album and be able to dissect it."

On this record, there are familiar themes of relationships, arguments and nights on the town Arctic Monkeys fans expect from Turner's lyrics.

"In a way it could be about the same things as the first record which everybody seemed to relate to," he says.

"Some of the scenarios I'm describing in this record could be the very same ones I was describing seven years ago but I'm in a different part of the room."

However the words didn't always flow easily on this album - Turner played darts when he was lacking inspiration and admits the record was more of an "internal tussle" than usual.

"You'd be surprised when you're throwing treble 20s or bullseyes and the symmetry between that and working out the second verse," he says.

"There was a lot of writing in the studio and demo versions. Every tune on the record is in its fourth or fifth incarnation - I had to battle with it to get it right."

He adds: "I think there is a craft to song-writing. On the one hand it's joinery, [like] you're trying to build a table.

"You can get good at the mortise and tenon joints but without the spark to power your tool in the first place, you can't make the table."

The album has moments of T-Rex style glam rock on Mad Sounds and pays homage to punk rock poet John Cooper Clarke.

Jo Whiley on BBC Radio 2

Jo Whiley

Hear Jo Whiley on BBC Radio 2 Monday to Thursday from 20:00 GMT

Using the lyrics from Clarke's poem I Wanna Be Yours, the band were able to pay back the man who gave them the biggest compliment.

"He was the first person, and probably the only one, to like the name Arctic Monkeys," says Turner.

"He said, 'It's like a picture of a trauma, I'm just imagining this monkey in the arctic without a coat.' So we stuck with it."

Rapper Warren G and rockers Black Sabbath are some of the eclectic influences on the the album.

"We're still listening to the same things we always have, but we let them come through a bit more in our stuff," says Helders.

"I suppose it would have been easy to do the same thing as the first album again or write a few songs like that," he adds. "But that's never interested us."

So with a tour schedule mapped out until this time next year - what does the future hold for the traumatic Arctic Monkeys?

"The ambition now is in the studio," says Turner. "I'm really excited about this record but I think we can do a better one."

You can hear the full interview with Jo Whiley on BBC Radio 2 on Thursday 12 September at 20:00 BST.

Words by Ellie Davis, producer, Jo Whiley show.

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