Who: Nick O'Malley, bassist, Arctic Monkeys
Where: Tonight, Thursday, September 13, at the Uptown Theater
Interview by Jason Harper
The Arctic Monkeys bring their pint-swilling, dancefloor-filling, blue-collar British rock and roll to the Uptown Theater tonight. The Sheffield band is touring on the heels of its second full-length, Favourite Worst Nightmare. Not only did the new album shoot to number 1 on the UK chart on the day of its release in April, all 12 songs from the album landed in the top 200 singles chart.
None of that’s suprising, considering the band’s Mercury Prize-winning debut record, Whatever People Think I Am, That’s What I’m Not, beat out the Beatles and Led Zeppelin (and, well, everyone else) upon its January 2006, becoming the fastest-selling debut album in British history. The band’s rise to fame, instant success and global touring created pressures that were too intense for original bassist Andy Nicholson to handle, and he left the band between the two albums.
We caught up with replacement bassist Nick O’Malley (whose instrument chugs throughout Nightmare like a steam press in a workboot factory) via phone yesterday as he was browsing through the racks at a Chicago music store preceding a Windy City gig. His Yorkshire accent was a bit thick and the cell phone connection wasn’t crystal clear, so some of this is our best guess.
The Arctic Monkeys' Nick O'Malley pulls out his 10-grand's worth to the Uptown Theater tonight. Photo from a 2006 Austin, TX, show by Scott Spychalski.
Got any war stories from this leg of the tour?
Not yet. I nearly drank meself into a bad way a couple of times and woke up with no memory of how I got home. I did rip me trousers climbing over a fence because I wanted to get into this go-cart track at night, and I ran around it acting like a car. I’d had a lot to drink. It seemed like a good idear at the time, but I snagged my trousers on the fence and ripped them.
Were you able to mend them?
I just left them. I’m pretty sure they were fixable, but I just left them. Yeah, it was a good ten minutes of running around. I don’t know what I was trying to be. I was kind of like an aeroplane crossed with a car, but I were doing the sound effects through my voice.
If you were an airplane, what kind would you be?
I don’t know, probably, uh, probably a Harrier jump jet.
So, being such a high-profile bass player, do you have any bass-guitar rivals?
Not really. I don’t really get into all that. … I’m the best around, do you know what I mean? [laughs] There’s a lot of good bass players out there, definitely. I really like the, uh, we just watched them recently -- Interpol. I really like their bass player. He’s very good. Kings of Leon’s bass player – he’s very good.
What do you think of Nikki Sixx?
I haven’t listened to that much of their stuff, to be honest.
Sorry, just thought I’d throw that out there. Did you start out on guitar and switch to bass?
No, I started out on bass because it was the easiest instrument. .... So I got that and learned it, just trying to play along to CDs and stuff. I think we’re the kind of band where bass and drums is very important, like, you know, a couple of years ago -- well not a couple years, but, well, in like old rock, like 20 years ago, bass just kind of weren’t that important whereas now it’s become very important.
Would you say that applies to the sound of the new album?
Yeah, we take all our instruments very seriously. But, yeah, the bass and drums and the rhythms are something we all try hard on, definitely.
Would you say the new album is heavier than the first LP?
I think it’s like, we were really young on the first album, and then we’d been playing for like a year. We’d not even been playing that long, so I think as musicians we just got better at actually playing. So I think with the second album, we could afford to go faster and a bit heavier, whereas a couple years ago we wouldn’t have even been able to play like that, kind of pushing what we can do, I suppose.
As you continue to get better, do you think your music will speed up and become harder?
I reckon so. Always like some slow ones as well, but yeah all these new ideas, some of them are really fast and heavy, but not like metal, obviously. Faster and heavier and a bit more complicated. But we’ve also got a few slow, catchy ones to keep the girls happy.
Speaking of Which: Listen to the Arctic Monkey's cover of "You Know I'm No Good" by Amy Winehouse:
What are you listening to these days that’s influencing the band?
We listen to a wide variety of stuff, anything from, like, Queens of the Stone Age to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Del Shannon. Progidy. All different kinds of things, really. And then when new bands come out, they can make you want to try something new. Like, I listened to the Horrors album, and that made me wanna be a bit heavier.
I guess there are a lot of bands that come out and intentionally sound like you guys.
Yeah, there’s a lot of bands that have tried, not specifically [to sound like us], but I think a lot of artists have tried to emulate Alex’s lyric writing style, but it just comes out being a shit version. Cause the way Alex writes, I don’t think there are any guitar bands that have done lyrics in that way before. I think a few artists have tried to copy him in that sense.
What’s you relationship like with Andy, the first bassist?
Oh it’s great, we’ve all been friends since we were kids. When we were real young we used to play around together and stuff. And I think he thinks it’s for the best that he’s not in the band anymore. I saw him as soon as I started, and he lent me all this equipment and everything. Whenever we’re in Sheffield we’ll go out and hang around together. It’s fine, really. He’s happy now. I don’t think he were enjoying touring too much.
How are you handling the pressures that prompted him to leave?
I’m liking it fine. I think he were fraying a bit because he got homesick and that caused him to seem like he weren’t enjoying himself and all that kind of thing. But I really, really enjoy it. I suppose it’s not for everyone -- touring -- but I really like being in a new place every couple of days, seeing different countries, traveling. I don’t mind it. I really enjoy it.
So where will you want to settle down when you’re old?
Probably just in Sheffield, where I’m from. 'Cause there’s no place like home. But eventually, when I’m quite older, like 40 or something I might move to the [???] countryside, somewhere like Australia.
So not a villa in southern France?
That might be nice when I’m quite older. I’m young now, so I want to be where the action is.
What’s the most expensive thing you own?
Probably me basses. … I’ve probably got 10 grand’s worth of bass guitars.
Would that be dollars or pounds?
Pounds, yeah. 20 thousand dollars.
Ah, the poor American dollar. It seems like as soon as the Arctic Monkeys have recorded anything new, like a song or an EP, you don’t wait to put it out, you just go ahead and release it.
I think why that works is because if we waited, we’d just become bored with it when it came time to release it. Once it’s done, just get it out as soon as you can, I suppose.
Is that a strategy the label [Domino] wants you to follow?
I don’t think they really mind. They just support us in whatever kind of way we want. I mean, obviously if we’re going to do something really stupid, they’ll advise us not to do it. … They’re an independent label, and they really listen to what you want and not force you to do things that you really don’t wanna do.
I guess a lot of majors have courted you guys?
Yeah, I think when we started there were a lot of offers from big labels, but thankfully we saw sense and met Lawrence Bell, the man who runs Domino Records. He’s a really, really nice man, and he really, really cares about his artists, and he really cares about his music rather than just his bank balance. … A lot of labels, their main area is profit -- they’re a business by the end of the day. He [Bell] makes profits, but he doesn’t do it in a slick way like a lot of record labels might.
Do you drink a lot on tour?
Personally, yeah. The other three [???] like anyone else. But it’s difficult when there’s alcohol in front of you all the time. It’s hard to refuse.
On a scale of 1 to 10 -- 10 being the most fun you’ve had in your entire life and 1 being a total drag -- where are you right now?Probably 8. Because it’s like still the afternoon and tonight I’ll be like 12.
Does that go for the rest of the guys?
I’m pretty sure, yeah, 'cause like everyone can get homesick after a while. … But you realize as soon as you go home, after a few weeks you just want to go out again and get back on tour. We all really enjoy touring, but I think by the end of the year, we’ll have some time off because we’ve been constantly touring for like three years. But we definitely still enjoy ourselves quite a lot.
Do you think you’ll release the next album as fast as the second one?
I don’t know, maybe. Like I said, we’ll have some time off at the end of the year, so maybe not as fast. But I don’t know, if we get bored we might do one really quickly. We’ve got quite a few new songs written, so it could be out soon.
I guess you do a lot of writing on the road.
Yeah, we’ve always got our acoustics with us and when we do soundchecks we always try out new ideas.
Do you contribute a lot?
We all do really. Alex is the main one with the words, but we all contribute parts and suggest structures and stuff.
Do you have any expectations about Kansas City, Nick?
Kansas City? Yeah, I hope people turn up to watch us because last time I heard sales weren’t doing that well, so hopefully there’ll actually be someone there.
But if there isn’t?
We’ll still play.