The two years after Andy Nicholson left the Arctic Monkeys have been blanked out. “I can’t even remember it, it’s just such a blur.” An original member of the Sheffield band, Andy parted ways with them in 2006 after the release of their acclaimed debut album ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’. “It was a very difficult time,” he says.
“You do have really dark thoughts in dark times. Your mind is such a delicate machine that it can make things seem huge when they’re not that huge. I’m recently learning that just because you think it, it doesn’t mean it’s true but you definitely start to make things bigger than they actually are and worse than they need to be. I had two years of that – I don’t remember what was happening or where I was or what I did. Whether I decided to blank that out or I just don’t remember, I don’t know.”
“I’d gone from having every day of my life scheduled – we knew what we were doing six months in advance – to waking up and not even knowing what I was meant to be doing that day. Mentally that was probably the hardest thing to get over.” And, when he left the band, there was no help or support from within the music industry. “It was like one day you’re in there, the next day you’re not in there and you don’t talk to anybody that is in there. And anybody that was in there isn’t trying to particularly help you anymore because you’re not in there making money anymore. Whether that’s true or not I don’t know, but that’s how it felt.” It’s an issue he thinks needs addressing. “I just think in the music industry I don’t think there’s enough, I don’t know what that should be but it should be something.”
But things did slowly become better for Andy. And it was thanks to his mates – and snooker. “I can’t really remember a time when it was like, ‘Done’, but I just remember things getting easier. And talking to people made a very big difference – back when that happened to me, me and two friends of mine would just go and play snooker every day. We’d play for hours every day and we were just talking and they got me through it as much as I got me through.”
And while leaving the band was an ending, it was also a beginning, “the start of a new journey”. It’s a journey that has seen him lead a prolific life as a musician, DJ and producer – whether it’s under his Goldteeth moniker, the band Mongrel, briefly joining Reverend & The Makers, being a part of hip-hop collective Clubs & Spades, or producing for the likes of Toddla T and Terri Walker he has been part of so much great and varied stuff. Does he have a favourite project from all of those? “I don't think so. I think I just never really looked back and I want to keep progressing. I don't want my next thing to sound like my last thing. Each project is like a diary entry in time. I remember where I was, and where I made that music.”
He admits he does enjoy producing and playing bass the most though. We’re chatting as he’s sat in his own studio in Sheffield. “I've got everything, I've got drums, guitars, keyboards - and where the studio is, there's loads of us. So there's kind of like five or six different studios of friends of mine, and we all know each other. So I just get them into play on my stuff. So I'll just be like, right, I've got this idea, bring whatever instrument and then we'll plug it in and just record. It's like I've got my own band that I can call in and get bits off, which is amazing.”
It’s clear that it’s this idea of collaboration which excites him. And it brings us neatly on to his recent Alone Together project, one which saw him remotely collaborate with a variety of artists “of any skill level”. It was an idea Andy had while exercising during lockdown. “I was running loads and I would listen to music, and the thought came to me ‘everyone's going to be locked down again’. I work a lot with samples and I thought why not get as many people as possible to contribute to something, no matter how good you are on your instrument. I don't care if you can record it in a studio like mine or if it’s your 3-year-old learning piano recorded on an iPhone - send it to me and I’ll try and get that in.”
He put out the call on his Instagram and the response was amazing. “We had 150 samples sent through and it was a bit overwhelming and I really started to feel the pressure because I thought it was only gonna be a six week lockdown!”
There are five to 10 samples on each song - including the intro, which is a song that a girl had just written and recorded on her phone. “She just happened to say 'Alone Together' at the end of it and that was such a perfect song to start. That's what it was all about.”
There were also some really weird samples sent in too. “Some people just shouting, someone had recorded an ambulance which I managed to get on the song. I tried to use as much as I could and try to make them a fit without compromising. Because as much as I wanted to use them all, I didn't want it to be shit,” he laughs.
The great thing about Alone Together is that “no one's better than anyone”. And he even got his old Arctic Monkeys bandmate Matt Helders involved. “I’m on good terms with the guys and we all speak and I see a few (Matt) Helders and Al(ex Turner) regularly when they're in Sheffield, or we text or call. It was nice to have Helders on the EP: he saw me put the original post up and then he put it on his Instagram and got loads of traffic. And I just said ‘Don't think you're getting away with not sending me any drums’. And sure enough, next day, I got a Dropbox with a couple of drum loops.” The fact that he’s ended up on a song with a guy who’d “just started playing guitar and had never played and sent anybody, anything before’ shows what the project is all about.
And all the profits from Alone Together are coming to CALM. “I just thought the idea that it was made for the people and now the proceeds can go back into helping the people was really nice - it’s come full circle.”
“And I think a lot of people need stuff like CALM now more than ever and in the next couple of months too. Because, as much as people have been locked away and think that they can deal with things, people haven't been in social environments for a long time. And they haven't been around a lot of people. So anxiety is going to be high. So we’ve just got to look after each other and look after ourselves and just check on each other. Just be nice to each other rather than a dickhead.”
And now, whenever Andy’s struggling, he talks it through, just like in the snooker hall all those years ago. “Me and my mates have been opening up and talking more than I ever have about mental health recently. We're just trying to help each other through. We're there for each other. We're like brothers. I'm blessed to have that.”
“It’s so important to have someone there to talk to and that's the reason I wanted to do this for CALM - because not everyone is as lucky as I've been to have the people around me. You’re there, you are the ears for people that don't have someone to go and play snooker with.”