With a fourth chart-topping album out and an Aussie tour looming, the Arctic Monkeys are still kings of the indie jungle, writes Andrew Westbrook.
You could say that Nick O’Malley is one of the luckiest men in music. You see, back in the heady days of 2006 when Arctic Monkeys’ first album was becoming the fastest selling debut in British history, he had to be content with watching his childhood friends becoming international superstars while he worked in a supermarket. Within six months, however, original bassist Andy Nicholson decided to quit the band. O’Malley got the call.
“When I first started, I felt quite a bit of pressure because I’d never played to more than like 50 people at a time and we were doing some big festivals,” explains O’Malley. “However, I think because I’d known them all for a long time, it wasn’t like I’d just been drafted in to play bass because I was supposed to be good at it. It was more like my mates wanted me to play with them. A lot of the pressure lifted because of that. It wasn’t like, ‘if you fuck up, you’re sacked!’.”
Since then, the Arctic Monkeys have gone on to secure their position as one of the UK’s biggest musical exports, releasing three more chart-topping albums, the latest of which, this year’s Suck It and See, is seen by many as a return to form after 2009’s more experimental Humbug.
And they’re now eagerly awaiting their first Aussie tour since 2009, with tickets for their second Sydney show going on sale this morning. “Yeah, the winter campaign!” said an excited O’Malley. “Last time, when we did Big Day Out, we went down a couple of weeks before and had a bit of a holiday at Whale Beach, so we’re planning to do a similar thing but at a different place. Obviously, it’s much better than being in England in January! I’ve never been outside of Sheffield on Christmas Day before so it’ll be great, just completely different.”
So he’s not worried about all the sharks, spiders and snakes, I ask? “Well, I know it’s highly unlikely and you’re more likely to win lottery and stuff, but I watched that Shark Week thing. You should never do that, because you just think that if you stick your little toe in a puddle somewhere you’re going to get your leg bitten off.”
Speaking on the phone from Pittsburgh, at the end of the band’s recent US tour, O’Malley seems relaxed, funny and keen for some time at home. For example, when I ask if he was ever compared to a celebrity before becoming famous himself, he replies, “Rik Mayall. I don’t know if you can even lie to yourself that that’s a compliment”. Despite the a-list status and meteroric rise to fame, he’s refreshingly grounded.
“It’s never seemed as crazy to us as it looks from the outside I guess,” he explains. “Because we’ve all known each other so long it’s helped us keep our identity. We’ve all got the same groups of friends and all our parents are friends. I think that must help in not getting a big ego or thinking you’re amazing.”
So does he still feel nervous playing shows with newish material? “Definitely when it’s first come out. I feel really comfortable with it now, as we’ve done 60 or 70 gigs since the album, but definitely the first five to 10 gigs. You’re concentrating more because it’s not songs you’ve been playing for years, and when you’re concentrating when you’re playing you look like a bit of a dick!”
And what about the rumours the band will take a bit of a break from recording after the current tour? “I think we’re just going to take it as it comes,” he replies. “We’ve not said we’ll record an album straight away, but we’ve got no plans, we’ll just see what happens naturally and not put any targets on it.” However, fans impatient for album number five will be buoyed by O’Malley’s final comment about what the Monkey’s songwriter Alex Turner has been up to. “Alex normally waits until he’s back [from tour before writing], but I’ve noticed in the last few days he’s been having a go.”
Arctic Monkeys play Melbourne (Jan 3), Perth (Jan 6), Adelaide (Jan 10), Sydney (Jan 13) & Brisbane (Jan 14). They’re also headlining the Falls Festival in Lorne & Marion Bay (Dec 28
– Jan 1), plus Southband festival in Busselton (Jan 7-8). http://www.arcticmonkeys.com/[www.arcticmonkeys.com]