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.
alt-J: Sure
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.
alt-J: True.
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.
Cool yeah
STEREOGUM: Haha. I never joke about The Game. Okay here: The Wanted/One Direction/ Ed Sheeran
alt-J:

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
STEREOGUM: Never?
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
alt-J: ok
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.

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Comments (13)
  1. Every time someone praises Alt-J, a kitten is run over by a monster truck.

  2. Why is there a visible level (though not Del-Ray levels) of hate towards Alt-J? I’m only curious because I haven’t heard/read anything particularly controversial about them (yet) to warrant it.

    • You may want to start with the Pitchfork review, which is surprisingly accurate. The band quotes in it are downright embarrassing.

      • “Part of the reason [the album] is accessible is because we don’t try to go out of the box or be innovative. We just try to play music we like to hear.”

        “If you give [listeners] a list of influences that come from everywhere and every genre, then there’s something for everyone and people seem more intrigued by you as a band.”

        What’s wrong with either of those statements? Ignorance of Prince/dislike of the Smiths is a lot worse. I’m a medium fan of An Awesome Wave, it’s not as good as the opening couple tracks promise it might be, but that review struck me as an Ian Cohen-level hack job.

        You could take the second quote super cynically, but what kind of artist today with eclectic tastes doesn’t actually have influences that come from everywhere and every genre? I read it more as not only referencing people that look like you or bands that superficially sound like you as your influences. You see plenty of other “indie” artists now referencing pop, hip-hop, electronic, outré and oldie influences and that’s what everybody I know listens to so I really don’t see it as cynical. And again, ∆’s NOT MY FAVORITE BAND OR ANYTHING. The Battles-esque major key fast elements can be grating to me.

        • This is a band whose primary focus is not self-expression but producing safe music that will appeal to as many people as possible. It is the antithesis of indie music, yet here they are winning a Mercury Prize.

          • Jeez that review is harsh. It seems though that having read the, albeit quite silly, things the band has said in interviews his judgment has been biased considerably. I think I agree with Mickey, the review reaches rant-levels of unneccesary anger.

            Had the band’s gigantic flying mouth stayed quiet, the review would have been much more reasonable. They still would have won the Mercury prize, but when has that ever picked the most deserving band?

    • “safe music that will appeal to as many people as possible”

      Michael’s quote further down pretty much describes why I dislike them. For me though “hate” comes into play because for me they represent everything making the UK indie/rock scene so poor at the moment (especially now WU LYF are gone); the music comes last. Alt-J could have not actually recorded anything and it would really make no difference to them as a band. Actual songs come as an afterthought to image and soundbites and getting mentioned by NME, and invariably it shows in the bland “indie” constantly being churned out.

  3. I’l take your prince mixtape if he doesn’t want it!!!

  4. If you whole-heartedly believe that all of your favorite bands have made their musical decisions without acknowledging their appeal factor then you must only listen to Death Grips and old school punk music.
    And as far as them being assholes, it’s never stopped us from loving Kanye West. I’ll take the music on merit of music alone and I really think this was one of the best albums of the year.
    Breezeblocks and Taro are gorgeous.

    • There’s a difference between “acknowledging” it (and even then there is the argument that many artists make “accessible” music because the music they want to make just happens to turn out that way) and it being the sole purpose of the songs you record.

  5. I’ve heard maybe three Prince songs in my life. It’s not that I don’t like him, I just haven’t been that exposed to him, nor have I had much energy to seek him out. I’m from Vancouver and was born in the ’80s. The point being that he’s not as ubiquitous in North America these days as this interviewer seems to think.

    With that in mind, what’s a good album to start on? I’m clearly missing out on something.

  6. I love Turntable Interviews. I read them all the way through every single time no matter the interviewee. <3

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