Back in February 2012, Alt-J were almost unheard of. They had but one EP to their name, were touring with Ghostpoet, and had a handful of tracks uploaded on to their YouTube channel. Later that year, they would go on to release their Mercury Prize-winning debut album ‘An Awesome Wave’ to critical acclaim and become one of the UK’s best-loved new bands. With their upcoming album ‘This Is All Yours’ on the horizon, Province felt the time was right to release this never-before-seen interview with the band’s Joe Newman.
Supporting Ghostpoet on his UK tour, Alt-J are causing quite a stir with a unique sound that combines elements from math-rock, folk and indie, but is decidedly none of the above (well okay, maybe indie). I caught up with singer Joe Newman on the day of their EP launch to talk Maida Vale, Wild Beasts and Illuminati rumours.
After sound-checking, Joe had this to say about their brand new EP, ‘Matilda/Fitzpleasure’: “It’s not called anything, it’s got Matilda and Fitzpleasure on, and it’s triangular. It’s a double A-side and then we also have a remix of Matilda by Ghostpoet”. The album, available now on iTunes, was recorded in Brixton with their producer, Charlie Andrew: “he’s been our producer since the beginning. It’s the only relationship we’ve really had and he understands our sound and we love him, he does a great job…we’re very happy with it.”
The band owe a portion of their new-found fame to Ghostpoet, but the relationship is an organic one of mutual respect: “we played [in York] and we met up with him after the show and he seemed quite interested in what we were doing, and we loved what he was doing, so I think that relationship started from there.”
Thanks to support from the BBC, Alt-J visited the legendary Maida Vale studios last summer, and loved every minute. “It was amazing,” Joe enthused, “it was fucking weird being in that sort of institution. We were only in there over the weekend and it was weird that we knew our way around and became familiar with it. When we first went it was such an unfamiliar place and steeped in so much musical history, it was bizarre.”
In terms of influences, Joe cites everything from golden age Hip Hop to James Taylor, and from Jimi Hendrix to films, magazines and newspapers. “For each song there’s been a different starting point. So it could be a book that’s been read, or a line from a film, or a chord played on the guitar, or something someone’s said that you’ve overheard. And that kind of starts this ball rolling of ideas. A lot of our songs are collaged over many years so it’s just being aware of what you like and being very patient with it.”
The band’s unique sound can possibly be attributed to the melting pot of musical backgrounds that make up the band. “Gus is a classically trained singer, I think he played oboe, and piano. Thom, the drummer, comes from this heavy metal background. Gwil was in Cornwall and didn’t actually pick up a guitar until he was like 18.”
The lack of information/material available about Alt-J creates a sense of intrigue about them. “Mystery is quite a powerful thing in terms of keeping an audience wanting more. I think originally we didn’t like the idea of having our photos taken or anything because we don’t feel like we’re a very photogenic band,” explains Joe. “We didn’t think that having our pictures taken had anything to do with our music. It sounds pretentious but really we just weren’t comfortable with it, we didn’t want to be leaning against the walls of a quarry or something, looking like a ponce.”
With the current tour coming to an end, Joe looks ahead to touring with the Wild Beasts: “We’re equally as stoked for them as we were when we found out we had a tour with Ghostpoet”. He continues: “Basically we’ve been told that we sound a bit like Wild Beasts…I think that’s probably how it happened. We’ve been big fans of Wild Beasts so it’s a great thing.”
Finally, the inevitable question of their enigmatic name came from arises. After being forced to change their original name, Films, the band were stuck for a new one for several weeks. “Will just ended up saying ‘when you do alt-j on a keyboard, a delta sign comes up’. And we like triangles, I’ve sung about triangles in the past so it seemed suitable but we weren’t trying to create a gimmick. We just thought this is a name that’s interesting and that we can agree on”. After a few blogs suggested their fascination with triangles had overtones of the Illuminati, Joe set the record straight: “They can think that, but with most conspiracy theories they’re probably bollocks. But no, there’s no Illuminati reference.”
Now gearing up for the release of their sophomore effort ‘This Is All Yours’, Alt-J release visuals for the Miley Cyrus-sampling ‘Hunger Of The Pine‘, the Blues Rock-inspired ‘Left Hand Free‘ and the cute and creepy ‘Every Other Freckle’ [Boy and Girl Versions]. Click the titles to check out the videos via YouTube, or stream the latter below via SoundCloud.
UPDATE: Hold the phone! After streaming the album in exclusive geographical locations on their exclusive app of the same name, Alt-J make ‘This Is All Yours’ available via Spotify a whole week before its release date on September 22. Check it out below.