Within the first two seconds of Arctic Monkeys debut album, a thundering blitzkrieg of drums explodes. It instantly set them apart from other indie bands before you even got into the brilliance of Alex Turner’s songwriting because it was clear they also had great musicianship in their ranks. Thereafter, Matt Helders, the agile beast behind the kit, has drawn plaudits from Iggy Pop and Dave Grohl to P. Diddy and Josh Homme.
However, in the subsequent years, he has become notable for a fluid style that has proved he is not only proficient in every drumming department but also exhibited the key skill that the song itself dictates the beat and not the other way around. He is a sticksmith who is more than happy to play both a gentle background rhythm section role as well as a forceful driving forefront. This is also something that is echoed in his selection of drumming album choices.
“The records I tend to like for the drumming aren’t always the typical ones that most people would pick,” Matt Helders told Music Radar. Adding: “For me, it’s not all about the flashy stuff and hearing some guy show off his chops. I’d rather listen to a drummer who knows how to play to the song.”
Much like his own playing, his taste has developed over the years and his viewpoint comes from a place of musical maturity. “At first, I was really impressed with drummers doing thousands of fills and all the crazy technical stuff,” he says. “But as I learned how to play, I began to realize that there’s more to drumming than just being the centre of attention and going off; you have to be musical, as well.”
All that being said, the first record in his drumming cannon comes from the eponymous thunder himself, John Bonham, on Led Zeppelin’s second record, predictably titled Led Zeppelin II. Helders remarked: “I’d have to say that John Bonham is my favourite drummer of all time. He’s somebody that I always come back to. The reason why I picked this record purely comes down to a fill he does at the end of the Moby Dick solo before the band comes back in. It gives me chills, and that’s no exaggeration. I can hardly even express what it does to me. It’s perfect, absolutely perfect.”
With his second choice, however, he proved his eclectic tastes with Jay-Z’s recorded MTV Unplugged show performance featuring Questlove of The Roots behind the kit. “This is the record of the MTV show that Jay-Z did with The Roots. I heard it before I even played the drums. I was a big Jay-Z fan, and I made a video of the shot from the TV; I remember recording it with the VCR,” he recalled of the 2001 album.
Adding: “Questlove has always been a favourite of mine. I’ve revisited this record a lot of times. At first, I was a bit curious and surprised that he would want to sound so mechanical, like a human drum machine or something, but then I was really impressed that he could actually do such a thing. Not everybody can play a simple groove for three minutes with no variation and have it mean something. It sounds easy, but it’s not.”
His next choice also stems from his initial route towards the drum stool. Like many musicians starting out, he naively jumped towards to rarefied realm of Jimi Hendrix, but unlikely millions of discouraged guitarists, he found that Mitch Mitchell’s solid ensemble style was a little bit more obtainable. “When you get into drumming, Mitch Mitchell is one of those guys you start to look at,” he explained. “He’s so much fun to listen to and to watch on video. He was very loose, very free-form. I get the feeling that songs like ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Fire’ were one-time-only performances in the studio; he probably never played the songs the same way twice.
Another of the classical drumming albums resides with his choice of Paranoid by Black Sabbath. Even from a passing perspective, it is clear that Bill Ward has had an influence on his style, but Helders kindly divulged exactly how: “The rhythm section, in general, is pretty important to the overall sound and power of the music. It’s not just about being this wall of noise and heaviness all the time. There’s a lightness to what they do. There’s a jazz element going on, and that might be lost on a lot of people; they might not know why the music is so good, but they know that it sounds different from anything else they’ve heard.”
One of the less typical choices is his selection of Ghostface Killah’s 2013 album Twelve Reasons to Die. “I don’t even know who drums on it,” Helders began (and with a long list of credited artists he is not alone in this bewilderment), “but it’s produced by Adrian Younge, and what’s great about it is, it’s not just beats; it’s very musical and soulful, all of it very grand sounding.”
Helders added: “A lot of it is sampling, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing for drummers. There’s a reason why the drums on James Brown records get sampled – they work with the music. It’s good to know how samples and grooves can all work together. Everything feels right on this record.”
You can check out his full list below.
Matt Helders ten favourite drumming albums:
- Ghostface Killah – Twelve Reasons to Die
- Vanilla Fudge – Vanilla Fudge
- The Hives – Veni Vidi Vicious
- Nirvana – Nevermind
- Buddy Rich & Max Roach – Rich versus Roach
- Queens of the Stone Age – Songs for the Deaf
- Black Sabbath – Paranoid
- The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced
- Jay Z – Jay Z: Unplugged
- Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II