In 2006, Arctic Monkeys sold more than 350,000 copies of their debut album, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, its first week out in the U.K., turning frontman Alex Turner, then just 20, into a tabloid stud overnight. Rabid success has so far eluded Arctic Monkeys on these shores, despite two solid collections of frenetic bloke rock, so they’ve changed things up with Humbug, the quartet’s grungy third album, which was produced in part by Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme. Turner — who recently relocated to Brooklyn — spoke to us over glamorous glasses of tap water at La Bottega, a restaurant in Manhattan’s trendy Maritime Hotel.
Josh Homme’s stink is all over this record. What does he smell like in person?
He smells like…[Pauses to fiddle with his cellphone] Don’t know, man. I just got a vibration in my pocket. Really threw me off the scent.
The album really does have a Queens of the Stone Age vibe. Was that a conscious decision?
There was never a desire to make it super Queensy. Nor do I think Josh would have wanted to be the guy who makes the Arctic Monkeys heavy like Queens.
How did you meet him?
At a jumble sale. He was buying cable-knit jumpers. We share a love for the cable-knit.
That’s not true about the jumble sale. Actually, the first chat I did have with Josh on the phone once we knew he was going to do some of the record was, Should I borrow my girlfriend’s cable-knit jumper to go to the show I’m about to leave for. He advised me to wear it. I knew after that conversation that it was all going to work.
What did you learn from him?
There are solos on a lot of the tunes, which is something we’ve always been a little scared of. The solos we have had were quite punky and short and a bit nasty. But having Josh there, and also [engineer] Alain Johannes, who’s a fucking unbelievable guitarist, was dead encouraging for [bandmate] Jamie [Cook] and I. We’d say, “Oh, we’re not very good at all that.” And then they’d send us out on the porch with a little amp to work it out.
With a copy of Van Halen’s OU812, no doubt.
Well, that certainly wasn’t encouraged.
You topped the NME‘s list of cool musicians in 2005, when you were just 19. How did you keep something like that from going to your head?
I dropped to 32 the year after, which was a stink. I saw that as a dis, actually.
Did you feel less cool?
I don’t know. But I’d like to return to the top spot. What have I got to do? I’ve tried growing out the hair. Maybe I need to just get a snowhawk.
It’s a white mohawk. That’s what Dave Catching, who plays in Eagles of Death Metal, has.
I’m not sure that would up your cool factor. But maybe you could start afeud?
And maybe I need to do it with someone who I’m sort of friends with, so we can take it to a massive level. You know what I mean?
What about starting one with Josh Homme?
It’d take loads for us to fight. But if it’s just a verbal feud, yeah.
He’s what, six-four? He’d probably pound you in a real fight.
He wouldn’t catch me, though.
Wait — what about Def Leppard? They’re also from Sheffield, so it’d be a hometown smackdown!
We already have a feud with them.
About who’s more successful?
Just kidding. Probably, on paper, Def Leppard would kick our ass in that regard. I mean, they were quite big in the States, weren’t they?
Hysteria was a huge album.
So, yeah, we still need our Hysteria. In the literal sense.
Still, on your upcoming tour you’re going to be headlining arenas in Europe. Do you ever wish you could go back to playing more intimate venues?
The thing is, we couldn’t do that anymore because we’re so loud now. Matt [Helders]’s drumming has changed so much — it’s much tougher and louder. As a result of that, everyone else is louder. So I just don’t think we could handle a little stage now because we’d struggle to keep from blowing your head off.
Your girlfriend is MTV host Alexa Chung. Does dating someone with a similar first name ever cause problems?
No, but if you put my full name together with hers — Alexanderalexa –you don’t need a conjunction.
Interesting. In 2005 you said your overnight fame would come backto bite you in the ass. Has it?
No, it’s only bitten me on the shoulder.