Turntable Interview: alt-J
I will admit that I hadn’t heard of alt-J until the band won the 2012 Mercury Prize for their album An Awesome Wave. With the win, the four-piece band, who named themselves after the Macintosh keyboard shortcut for the delta symbol, joins the ranks of such notable past winners as PJ Harvey, the xx, Arctic Monkeys, and Pulp. Not bad company for a group who released their genre-spanning debut in May 2012. In the middle of their US tour, alt-J’s Thom Green stopped by Turntable to talk about Jessie Ware, musical taste, and the fact that he has never heard a Prince song. Don’t worry, we take care of it.
Melissa Locker started playing “Want You Back” by Nite Jewel
STEREOGUM: Hi! Since time is limited I’m just going to jump right in.
STEREOGUM: Were you surprised to win the Mercury Prize? You had some stiff competition!
alt-J: We were surprised, yeah, I honestly didn’t think we would. After seeing the performances from the other nominees that night I thought anyone could win, which actually made it easier to live with, if everyone deserved it.
STEREOGUM: That’s a nice way to look at it. Are you at all worried that Jessie Ware won’t date you now after you beat her?
alt-J started playing “Pulse 80’s” by Mensah
alt-J: Haha, i was hoping I’d have more chance now!
STEREOGUM: I guess it depends on her self-esteem.
STEREOGUM: Have you been surprised the success of your album?
alt-J: Yeah, initially we never expected for it to do this well, we just hoped that people heard it. It’s gone further than any of us expected. There doesn’t seem to be any limit at the moment it’s weird
STEREOGUM: It’s a bit surprising that people heard it what with naming yourselves something that is practically un-Google-able. Although winning the Mercury Prize probably helped your Google rankings.
alt-J: Yeah, true, it seems to have been through a lot of word of mouth that started things off
STEREOGUM: How did you get your start?
alt-J: We were friends for about a year before we started playing music together, it started as just something to have a bit of fun with and then we gradually took it more seriously we knew we had something our friends seemed to like it a lot very early on
Melissa Locker started playing “Better Off” by Haim
STEREOGUM: Your music is generally pretty hard to define genre-wise. Do you think that makes it more accessible?
alt-J: I think in a way it does, it’s not something people are familar with but without being so weird it turns people off, it still has a sense of pop song writing to it which people recognise but also has something weird that people want more of. I think it’s a good combination, not something we actively tried to do though. We’re just lucky it worked out like that. To us it’s just the music we write
STEREOGUM: Is it just a style you all naturally gravitated towards when you started out?
alt-J: Yeah completely, we just played together and played what we wanted to hear. It was very minimal to begin with. All acoustic.
STEREOGUM: Did you all listen to similar music?
alt-J started playing “Missing You” by John Talabot
STEREOGUM: Oh I thought this was “Missing You” by John Waite and I got very excited. I probably shouldn’t admit that.
alt-J: We actually have different tastes between us. Which is why I think our music sounds so unrecogniseable.
STEREOGUM: Who has the worst taste in music?
alt-J: Haha, well, I like it all, but I really don’t like a lot of indie music which Gus listens to. Like The Smiths. I’m very picky with music
STEREOGUM: So you don’t like The Smiths? Because I had four Smiths’ songs queued up
alt-J: Yeah it does nothing for me. Haha, shit.
STEREOGUM: So what do you listen to?
alt-J: At the moment I listen to a lot of dub step / trap music
STEREOGUM: I am noticing that in your song choices
alt-J: Mostly from soundcloud as it’s usually free downloads
Melissa Locker started playing “One Day” by Sharon Van Etten
alt-J: I listen to a lot of music so I can afford to be picky. Anything that has a hard beat
STEREOGUM: You can also afford it because you get free downloads. So I’m guessing Sharon Van Etten isn’t doing it for you?
alt-J: Absolutely not, sorry
STEREOGUM: Ha! SKIPPING SONG NOW
alt-J started playing “Hustle Bones” by Death Grips
alt-J: I don’t not like it, I just wouldn’t ever choose it
STEREOGUM: Hahaha. Do you know the game Fuck/Marry/Kill?
alt-J: I don’t….
STEREOGUM: I’m going to name three bands and you have to choose who you would fuck, marry or kill. I’ll stick to bands you know. Ready?
alt-J: Oohhh ok yeah I thought you meant the rapper The Game, I thought that must be an album haha.
STEREOGUM: Haha. I never joke about The Game. Okay here: The Wanted/One Direction/ Ed Sheeran
Melissa Locker started playing “Beez In The Trap (Feat. 2 Chainz)” by Nicki Minaj
alt-J: Christ ok. I’d marry Ed Sheeran because he seems to be the most normal and grounded, I don’t know the difference between The Wanted and One Direction so I’d kill them both
STEREOGUM: Fair enough. You’ve toured with Ghostpoet and Wild Beasts. Who else would you like to tour with?
alt-J: I’d love to tour with Hot Chip just so I could hang out and talk about music with them. I think I could learn a lot from them
STEREOGUM: Like how to get down with Prince?
alt-J: I’ve never listened to Prince
alt-J: Never. I’ve never heard an entire Prince song
STEREOGUM: I’m not sure what to say to that. Is he just not as popular or ubiquitous in the UK as he is here?
alt-J started playing “In Limbo” by Radiohead
alt-J: I don’t know, I’ve just never come across it, anywhere. I know people who like him but it never comes up
STEREOGUM: I am going to fix this in the next three minutes
STEREOGUM: I feel like it’s my responsibility now. But, while we’re listening to them, you’ve been compared to Radiohead a few times. Do you feel that is apt? Do you count them as one of your influences?
alt-J: I don’t think it’s appropriate when people say we’re the next Radiohead. It’s flattering as they are one band that the four of us like
STEREOGUM: Is Radiohead the only band you all have in common?
Melissa Locker started playing “Kiss” by Prince
alt-J: I don’t know if they’ve been an influence musically but in terms of there career we’re very inspired by them. We like an artist called Princess Chelsea. I’ll play it next
STEREOGUM: So Radiohead and Princess Chelsea are the unifying factors of the alt-J sound?
alt-J: We’d not heard of PC until after we wrote our album, but yeah
STEREOGUM: So you’ve now heard half of a Prince song.
When we reach the end I’m going to ask you about it.
alt-J: ok cool
STEREOGUM: Has winning the Mercury Prize changed your day-to-day life at all?
alt-J started playing “The Cigarette Duet” by Princess Chelsea
alt-J: In some ways, when we’re playing a show we seem to be more prominent in the room, that sounds weird, I mean whenever we arrive somewhere you can often sense people stopping what they’re doing and looking. We have better dressing rooms / riders
STEREOGUM: What’s in your rider?
alt-J: A lot of fruit, sandwich material, whiskey, ale, honey, lemon, coffee, tea, towels, clean socks, 1 guardian newspaper, supermalt, I need to start requesting more carbs. A lot of general stuff and a couple more specific things.
STEREOGUM: Can you get Supermalt in the US?
alt-J: I’m not sure, it may be called something else. It wasn’t on any of our riders here, so maybe not
STEREOGUM: Oh, are you working on a new album yet?
alt-J: Not yet, we don’t have time
STEREOGUM: I know you have to go so the last question is: what did you think of Prince?
Melissa Locker started playing “Are You Really On Drugs?” by The Clean
alt-J: It was cool, I can see why people like it
STEREOGUM: I am considering that a victory. And I will send you a mix tape.
alt-J: Please don’t
STEREOGUM: Hahaha. Well thanks so much for chatting with me
alt-J: Thanks for having me
I’d never used this site before it’s cool.
alt-J’s Awesome Wave is out via Canvasback.