Interview with Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys: Top Of The Food Chain

The Arctic Monkeys seemed to come out of nowhere in 2006 with the release of Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, which became the fastest selling debut album for a band in U.K. history. And they proved to be no flash in the pan with the release of their next two albums, Favourite Worst Nightmare in 2007 and Humbug in 2009, both of which also hit number one in the U.K. The band’s fourth album, Suck It And See, will be released in the U.S. on June 7. Right now they are getting ready to tour the U.S.

The group consists of Alex Turner on lead vocals and lead guitar, Jamie Cook on rhythm guitar, Nick O’Malley on bass and Matt Helders on drums. Their indie rock cred was fueled by their reputation as one of the first groups to come to public attention via the Internet, with fan sites spreading the word. Many industry analysts quickly saw that as a foreshadowing of the way the music business would work in the future.

“Yeah, an accident,” laughs Alex, about the reputation they have as an Internet pioneering band. “We were doing what we were doing, and what we’ve always done, playing shows, and it just kind of happened. We used to drive out to different towns in the north of England, and build up fans by doing that, and sort of develop songs, and get money together to record songs. We used to burn CDs with a few tunes on them, and we’d give them away. They weren’t worth making more than 10, because there’d only be a few people at the shows. They found their way to people’s home pages and they started to share. We weren’t too wise to that, and still aren’t. All we were doing really was trying to write songs and play wherever we could.”

The new album, Suck It And See, is going to be a perfect amalgamation of the music on the three previous releases, judging from the initially released tracks. Great tunes, recorded in a way that sounds natural, just like you’re hearing them. And in actuality, they were done that way on purpose, with the songs being the focus as opposed to overdubs and fancy recording techniques. “I think it’s a good mix of all three of the previous ones,” Alex states. “There’s elements of all the things we’ve recorded. I think it’s sort of an extension of what we’ve done before. Hopefully we’re getting a bit better at the craft.

“We talked about getting all the songs together and doing it in a weekend. We didn’t do it in a weekend, but we had a strong foundation. We’d do all the production and then get into the studio and let the session be about the sonics and getting the best recording you can. A lot of the production we did—the pre- production I suppose—was in London. We decided what everybody was going to play, what key we’d do it in. Then in L.A., we’d record one song a day and put it to bed. It was quite rewarding, to work like that—for a while anyway. Everyday it’s a new song well worth the work. I don’t want to make a big deal about that. It was like, just get the songs, and do what each song required and keep it simple.”

The process of writing the songs also worked a bit differently for these sessions, as opposed to what they had done previously. Alex explains: “In the past we’d have different bags of drum beats and bags of riffs and bags of melody or lyrics and we’d jigsaw them together. And we’d work on drums or whatever and it’d be two or three days before we’d piece them together. This time it’s more like you’ve got the song in its purist form, and you’re just applying to each one of these the form, melody and lyrics, and what’s required. It’s a different way for us to work than we have most of the time in the past; more in favor of the traditional approach than what it was. Though there’s still a few tunes on there that are pieced together.”

Alex also has developed his method of fusing together lyrical ideas from both personal and outside influences. “A bit of both,” he says. “I think it’s important to get a balance inside your head. The last few years—you put too much in there—it’s a bit like you end up liking it too much. If you don’t get enough in there, it goes the other way. The first albums were a direct description of what’s going on around me. There’s a bit less of that now. They sit and dodge about a little more before they end up coming out. It’s good to leave a few blanks.”

Alex grew up listening to a wide variety of music, all of which influenced him when he started writing songs. “I’d listen to whatever the family had around, like The Beatles and Beach Boys and Sinatra,” he recalls. “As I got older, hip-hop, English rap guys like Roots Manuva, and then later on rock and roll. Like The Strokes came out—a lot of people like that—and it was a gateway. That was around when we started forming a band.”

And when they formed the band, how did they come up with the unusual moniker? “You know what? I can’t even remember,” confides Alex. “We had the name before we had the band. Our guitar player was always going to have a band called this. I guess he used to think about band names when he was in school. It’s a pretty terrible name. It makes no sense to me. We’ve kind of grown into it, so it makes more sense now. And if he does know where the name came from, he’s keeping it a secret from me!”


Arctic Monkeys will play a sold out show at The Electric Factory in Philly on May 18 and another at Rumsey Playfield In NYC on May 24. More info at