Alex Turner, lead vocalist of the Arctic Monkeys, was just 19 when the band released its first studio album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. That record, and 2007's follow up Favourite Worst Nightmare, received heavy praise.
Five years and two more albums -- Humbug and Suck It and See -- later, The Huffington Post caught up with Turner, Jamie Cook (lead guitar, backup vocals) and Matt Helders (drums, backup vocals) at the Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco.
Turner, now 25, admits he has a complicated relationship with the band's older music.
"There is that naivete that you get with first songs you write," he said. "I feel like a better songwriter now, so it's funny playing some of those old tunes. Some of them you can't get near, because they're just too then. There's a bunch, like "Fake Tales of San Francisco" -- it's almost like I wrote those like jokes to tell my friends."
"Sometimes it's a bit as though you're doing a cover," he said smirking. "I think we do a pretty good 'I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor' cover."
The band's set at Outside Lands pleased the crowd, but Turner's banter between songs was spare and he did not seem particularly engaged in it. Watching them play to a crowd of probably 40,000 people on the festival's main stage felt a bit like watching four friends fall into their music and methodically run through a string of hits and new songs. Before performing "Brick by Brick," Turner asked the audience to sing along. "If you don't know the words, I think you can figure it out pretty quickly," he said.
The newer work is still evocative, but the later albums haven't galvanized fans in the way the frenetic energy of the earlier music did. The more recent records give the impression that the band thinks it has grown up but isn't interested in changing its model. In the end, Arctic Monkeys fans get what they expect, but they're not surprised -- the excitement of the early music seems to have dissipated.
In an age when Kanye West and Jay-Z are rapping over electro tracks, it can be especially tempting for artists to leap genres and try to build more fans. But when asked if they would consider stepping out of rock, the band quickly laughed and said no. "We're going to stick to rock," Cook said. "Somebody has to."
Although their Outside Lands performance was not the weekend's most dynamic -- that award falls either to Foster the People, STS9 or Deadmau5 -- that does not mean the band isn't still hungry. It just means that it has found its place. Festivals have helped it do that; Cook and Helders said that there is no better way to make new fans than the outdoor mega-shows. At these events, the band's laser focus on timeless (or perhaps even "vintage") rock has served it well.
"We played Kansas, at the NASCAR speedtrack," said a smiling Cook, referring to Kanrocksas . "It was amazing because we were one of the very few rock bands on the bill and no one really knew who we were, but you can see some people's faces saying 'I... kind of like this.' That's what it's about for us."
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