Back home in England, the Arctic Monkeys are already rock stars and record-breakers—their album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, is the fastest-selling debut in UK chart history—but for most Americans, they're still just "that band with the fastest-selling debut in UK chart history." It remains to be seen whether the young Sheffield quartet will duplicate its success stateside or become another Robbie Williams, and plenty of evidence favors both scenarios. While Arctic Monkeys' recent North American tour was predictably buzzy and it sold out, response to the shows has been mixed. Part of the blame can be placed on the insurmountable hype surrounding the band, but there's also the fact that one of its biggest selling points—the tales of everyday northern England by 20-year-old singer-guitarist Alex Turner—don't carry as much weight here in the States. Nevertheless, the band knows its way around a catchy rock tune, it has energy to burn, and it appears to have a healthy sense of humor about the madness: Its forthcoming EP is called Who The Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys?
The A.V. Club: The past year has been pretty amazing for you guys. Of everything that's happened, what are you proudest of?
Alex Turner: I don't know, 'cause it's got to the point now where things stopped sort of making as much sense. But I think the last time I felt proud was last year when we played Leeds and Reading, and we played at like three in the afternoon on the little stage. And the year prior to that, we'd been at Reading and Leeds camping out, just like festivalgoers, so I remember that as quite a proud day. When we played Reading, the tent was packed, and it was a really exciting gig. It was a moment, and I am all about moments—you don't get moments all the time, and not every night can be one. I guess also, the chart stuff—all the records, like knocking Hear'say off the record for the fastest-selling and all, that's great, but it was sort of like the hysteria, so it shrinks it almost. You don't feel like you would almost expect it to.
AVC: Of everything that's happened, what's surprised you the most?
AT: I suppose the size of what it's become—that's a surprising thing. But nothing seems that surprising anymore, because everything's a constant surprise. Every day, something happens, and you're just like, "That's so weird." And that happens so many times, it's not weird anymore. It would be weird if something weird didn't happen.
AVC: Having surprises happen all the time can't feel normal. How do you keep your sanity?
AT: We just carry on doing what we were doing, playing and thinking about making more records and making more music, and just getting on with it and trying to be happy, I suppose. What is normal? Normal is different to every single person. As long as you don't get caught up in any bollocks, then you're all right, aren't you? You've got to accept that it's not going to be normal, like what normal is to a lot of people. It just can't be like that anymore. You have to carve out your own path, and accept that that's the way things are in certain circles, and in other circles, you can move freely and kind of get on with it. There's certain things you can't do any more, or at least not as easily as you could before. Like in Sheffield—we can still go out in Sheffield, but it's a different kind of experience than when we used to, you know?
AVC: Your lyrics deal with ordinary people and ordinary lives. Can you continue writing about that stuff now that you're famous?
AT: No, of course not. But to me, I never did write about ordinary people and ordinary lives, I just wrote about what my experience was and my observations, so I just continue to do that, I think. It's just that the observations are different now, and people obviously kind of won't be able to relate as much, or not as literally, specifically.
I think I have changed in the way I look at things. A friend of mine always says you keep your green goggles on—trying to keep your perception, or as much of your old perception as you can, and kind of develop it rather than change. I don't know, maybe I will fucking write another record and everyone will hate it, but I don't know. You just don't know. You write for yourself, don't you? I think that's what we've always done.
AVC: Are you prepared for a backlash?
AT: I don't think we really give a fuck. There's probably an underground backlash now. We won't be surprised, we'll just kind of get on with it. People can say what they want, can't they now? But it's like, we've done something that doesn't happen every week.
AVC: How do you keep yourself from worrying about when all the excitement is going to slow down?
AT: It already has slowed down, I think. There's two separate things: There's what goes on day to day in our lives, which just seems pretty straightforward a lot of the time, and then there's what kind of gets written and everything like that, and that makes it seem like there's all this madness. It's not like a worrying thing, really. We'll make another record, and we're going to try to do that pretty quickly. We want to kind of move on—these feel like old songs, because we've been playing them for more than a year. We don't ever want to feel we are going through the motions, so we're going to try and get back in there and move on.
AVC: What's the difference between performing in the UK and performing in America?
AT: It's not as rowdy over here as you might imagine. It's never going to be the same, because we didn't have the buildup over here that we had at home. I mean, we didn't get in the car and do like the little gigs over here, because there had already been a press profile built though just what we're doing in the UK. For that reason, it'll never be the same, but it's still good—it's just like a different version of what it is at home. At home, the gigs have now got kind of celebratory—the ones here, it's not like that. But it's still good, and we like that—it's nice to have a challenge, and you've got a crowd to win over every now and again.
AVC: A lot of your band's appeal comes from the personal connection you've made with your audience. How do you keep that personal connection as you continue to play larger and larger venues?
AT: We've probably already lost it, quite a lot of it, to be honest. It doesn't seem to worry anybody in the crowd.
AVC: Does it bother you onstage?
AT: Well, I still love it when there's no barrier. We played last night in Philadelphia, and there was no barrier, so you're right near to everyone—it felt like the old shows, like what we did back home. And another gig the other night, we played Boston at a small venue—we love that; that's where we're comfortable. We played an arena with Oasis last week, and that was just fucking scary. As much as it was enjoyable—and it was kind of exhilarating—we couldn't do that every night. Well, not now, anyway. You're faced with a problem, then, because you try and play small rooms, and not everyone can get tickets, and stuff like that. But if you do arenas, then you run the danger of being in what we would call a "vibe vacuum," and it would just be shit.
AVC: Do you still feel like you're in control of the band and where it's headed?
AT: Yeah, of course we are. I mean, it's our band. If we don't want to do it, we won't do it. Just 'cause people are into it doesn't mean we've lost control.
AVC: Why didn't you want to play Top Of The Pops?
AT: We just didn't feel like it at the time. Again, it just didn't seem like our thing. It's a bit shit. We'd have felt a bit silly doing it. We didn't need to squeeze the extra sales out—so it was like, "Why do it?" I don't know if we'll ever do it—I doubt we will now, because it's got blown out of proportion. If we ever did it, it would be like "Arctic Monkeys Sell Out!"
AVC: How do you decide what you'll participate in and what you won't?
AT: I don't know. We don't have a manifesto or a set of principles. We just make it up as we go along. There are things we won't do. Like, we've never done radio IDs, because we didn't want to do it at first, and then we stuck to it. That's one thing that we never do. But you just do what you feel, what feels right. And no one can tell you what to do and not to do, because it comes back to you at the end of the day.
AVC: So is the band as paranoid as the album title suggests?
AT: I don't know about paranoid—I don't think it suggests paranoia. It just clicked right at the time. I heard it said in this film, and then you hear it with a certain conviction, and you just think, "That's right." It kind of related, 'cause people who write things about you and stuff, people just never know when you're joking. I mean, not just that, but you know—I remember reading things and just thinking, "What the fuck?" It just seemed like the right title. It's from a film called Saturday Night And Sunday Morning.
AVC: So you chose that title because of the things that were being said about you guys?
AT: Well, yeah, it's a bit like that. And that's kind of what the album does—like the album goes from Saturday night to Sunday morning. There are a few reasons why we did it, just to kind of tie it all up nice, I think it works. And just 'cause it's a bit of a mouthful as well—so it would piss people off, and they'd be like, "No one's going to fucking even remember what it's called."