As far as exciting young British drummers are concerned, there are few around to touch Arctic Monkeys’ Matt Helders right now. Listen to any AM song and you’ll hear Matt powering it with spitting 16th note hi-hats or hyperactive snare rolls, playing for the song, but with a million times the attitude of a stock ‘2+4’ indie rocker.
Characterful, clever and quirky, Matt’s playing is central to the sound of Sheffield’s current finest, the perfect driving force behind frontman Alex Turner’s rapid fire lyrics. And it’s something he’s dedicated to developing. Chops alone might not interest him, but Matt is constantly striving to improve technique to allow him to play “stuff that no-one else is doing at the moment. I’m not saying it’s stuff that’s never been done, but I try and do things that are different than what everyone else is doing”.
An important part of Matt’s practice routine these days is the time he spends on his Roland TD-6K
, a set-up he loves so much that the band bought their manager one…
What was your first experience of Roland’s V-Drum range?
“I used to go to our local music shop in Sheffield – the same place I got my first drum kit from actually – and sit and play on whatever V-Drum kit they had in there, while the others were looking at guitars. I remember the first time I played V-Drums. I couldn’t believe how good they sounded. It was a bit weird that I could stick a pair of headphones on and get the perfect acoustic drum kit sound coming through. I loved it though.”
And when did you take the plunge and finally splash out on a TD-6K for yourself?
“About a year ago I suppose. I use my TD-6K for practising and I’m convinced that I play better because it’s such a great sounding kit. It’s inspiring to play, and that makes me want to spend time working on things and just playing. I’m sure it’s helped me to raise my game.”
And you’re not the only member of the Arctic Monkeys circle to own a TD-6K are you?
“No – We bought one for our manager too. He used to play drums ages ago, but like all of us, he couldn’t keep a kit at home so we bought him one for the office. It was his 40th birthday present. He loves it.”
What are your thoughts about the application of electronics for drummers these days?
“For myself, I’m really into the sound and feel of an acoustic kit and at the moment I don’t use electronics onstage at all. But I have to say that the Roland gear has got me thinking about the possibility of using a couple of pads or triggers for things like sub-bass tones or other sounds.
I’m really into electro and I spend time away from the band making tracks on my own, so I love all those classic drum machine sounds. A lot of those came from Roland beatboxes anyway, and the TD-6 is perfect for all that.”
Do you use the TD-6K for your own material?
“Yeah, although my on-stage stuff with the band is all acoustic, I use the TD-6 for tracks I do in the studio. It’s nice to be able to play something in with more feel than if you’re just programming it on a keyboard.
‘I still love using hardware in the studio. I used to write tracks with soft synths only, but using a hardware box like the TD-6 – it just feels like it sounds better, a bit tougher, to me. I used to have a little Roland SP-303sampler that I used to write with originally and that was great. Computers are really useful tools, but I do like the hardware too.”
How do you perceive yourself as a drummer now, as opposed to when Arctic Monkeys burst onto the scene at the beginning of 2006?
“I’m definitely a better player now. It’s really important to me to get better and so it’s something I’m very conscious of. I think I improved massively from the time we made the first album (2006’s Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not) to when we went into the studio to do Favourite Worst Nightmare. And a big part of that was just playing so much.
When we did our first record, to be honest none of us had been playing that long, really. And although it’s still early in our careers, we are a better band now because we’ve toured so much and had our hands on our drums and guitars all the time. I used to have to keep my drums in Alex’s garage, so I only played them once or twice aweek when we rehearsed. Then, soon as we get a deal and we’re out on the road, I’m behind the drums all the time. That made a massive difference. And that’s why the V-Drum kits are so good, because they mean that drummers can play and practise whenever they like. You just can’t do that with an acoustic kit.”
Although you’re hardly a ‘muso’ band, there’s some great playing on Favourite Worst Nightmare – the drums on ‘Brianstorm’ are pretty breathtaking, for example…
“That’s probably my proudest moment so far, actually. That song is at 165bpm and those 16th notes on the hi-hat had to be bang on, so it sounded like a machine. I recorded it with a click and I was well pleased it came out the way it did. I don’t use a click live, because we’d rather just speed up and slow down a bit, but in the studio I had to have one to give me that pulse so I could nail it. Yeah, pretty happy with that one.”
How do you follow a couple of years like Arctic Monkeys have just enjoyed? What are your plans for 2008?
“D’you know what, we haven’t really got a lot. It’s been mad busy for ages, so we don’t really have anything firm booked in for 2008.We’ll be doing some recording of new stuff that we’ve been writing recently, but it’s pretty open at the moment.
I’ve designed a clothing range with Supremebeing and there’s more to come, so I’ll spend a bit of time doing that, and then we’ll be back with new Arctic Monkeys songs when we’re good and ready…”