“But what now?” asks Arctic Monkeys bassist Nick O’Malley, pondering the conclusion of his band’s favourite television program, Breaking Bad. He admits that they were lucky to catch the show’s finale at all, as it went to air when the band were on stage. “We saw only like half an hour of it, and then just grabbed a box of beer and chicken and went back to [frontman Alex Turner’s] house and watched it.”
“But what now?” It’s a question already being asked by some who see the Monkeys’ latest album, AM as their greatest work – their ‘opus’, even. How do you back up something perceived as your best work? AM is a record which has been praised for its dark lines and fresh UK/US hybridity, yet it’s not the one which O’Malley is most proud of.
“It’s Humbug for me, definitely,” he says. “Although that’s probably the one that’s liked the least out of all the fans. I think that’s when we tapped into something new and decided that we weren’t just gonna keep repeating ourselves, sitting back on the success of the first two albums.”
That said, AM is the group’s first Australian number one since their debut back in 2006 with instant classic Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, and the antipodeans are crying out for another tour. When pressed on when the boys will head Down Under in 2014, O’Malley admits, “Yeah, we will be. I don’t know when, but we will be.”
O’Malley stumbles over his memories of the band’s last trip to Australia. “Rottness, or Ratsnest Island,” he recalls, before being corrected. “Rottnest Island! Yeah I remember going on a boat trip… everyone getting a bit drunk, and then getting on the boat on the way back and it being rather choppy.” His memory is self-admittedly “shite”.
Fresh from recording a new B-side in Nashville, Tennessee, O’Malley says that Arctic Monkeys recorded over 20 songs for AM, with multiple versions of album tracks written in “the standard indie boy-band” style. Most of these ended up being scrapped because they sounded too much like old material.
The fresh, sleek sound of AM also seems to have reinvigorated the relationship between Arctic Monkeys and Queens of The Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, who has acted as a sort of musical godfather to them in recent years. There’s no doubt that Homme’s influence has crept into the band’s sound, which has become increasingly Americanised over the last few albums, even if they think that they’ve tried to find a trans-Atlantic balance.
“Maybe a little bit, yeah, but I don’t think that much. I mean, we’ve always liked a wide variety of music and, as you grow up and listen to more music and see more of the world, I suppose you’re not writing songs that are so focused so locally to where we grew up anymore,” O’Malley says.
It’s nice to see Homme so invested in helping his younger British friends through rockstar-dom, but his level of involvement is increasing. He provided some backing vocals on AM, recently played a cover of Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High? without asking the Monkeys’ permission, and even joined them on stage in LA to add some “swagger-sexy-Josh-dance” (O’Malley’s words) to their track Knee Socks.
Arctic Monkeys haven’t reached a stage yet where Homme is over-involved in their music, yet O’Malley admits that the band “don’t want to totally just hide under his wing every day”. Homme is seen as a guide to them, someone to check things against. “I’m sure in the future it’d be very nice to do something with him again, under his guidance,” he says.
O’Malley’s favourite Arctic Monkeys album may be Humbug, but he resists labelling one of their records as his least favourite. “I don’t really have a least favourite. I like them all. They’re all a point in time… I think they’re all fantastic,” he says with a modest-come-boastful British chuckle.
But what now? How difficult will it be to live up to the success of AM considering that the band are still being marked against their debut? If AM amounts to one thing it might just be a new beginning, rather than just another peak in their career.
‘AM’ by Arctic Monkeys is out now. Check out our review here.