So, alt-J are awesome, their debut album is out today and we predict a popularity explosion. Having graduated from Leeds they've taken the band on the road with the likes of Wild Beasts and Ghostpoet, recorded 'An Awesome Wave', signed a deal with Infectious Music and made music a fulltime job in next to no time. Why, just last week they were the Guardian's New Band of the Day. From the achingly beautiful vocals of 'Matilda', through the jaunty melodies of 'Something Good' and onto the cataclysmic bass line of 'Flitzpleasure', alt-J's sound is unique, bringing new meaning to the flimsy term 'new folk'. We chatted with lead singer Joe about Mumford and Sons, movies and the occult.
Reviews and critics struggle to define and label your unique songs. So from the horses mouth, what does Alt-J sound like?
We've never been interested in defining the music we write and so when asked we also struggle. Often we gather our answers for these types of questions from critiques, music industry hooligans and fans, as they often come up with the most interesting of comparisons - once we were described as Nick Drake meets GangStarr. Someone once likened my voice to Daniel Bedingfield caught in a spongecake. Though to avoid awkward and long winded / defensive answers we normally tell taxi drivers that we sound a bit like Mumford and Sons with fatter beats.
You've leaped from being a DIY uni band, jamming in bedrooms with no thought of touring nor recording to where you are now in a pretty tight time frame. Tell us about that transition, experiences like the BBC Introducing sessions and your thoughts on 'An Awesome Wave'.
Yeah the transition has been surreal. We were talking the other day about our first open mics we did when we first started coming out of our bedrooms and playing to people, and how we just turned up with an old acoustic. We didn't even own guitar leads! I think we were kind of a nuisance band barely on the fringe of the Leeds 'scene'. To go from friends, to band mates, to getting work visas for America because the band is our job is amazing. To have BBC DJs supporting us is incredible. In terms of the album, if you like what you've heard so far then we're really excited for you to hear it.
Infectious Music are seen to be real musician's label, so tell us why you chose to work with them, who approached who and how its been working out so far?
Infectious approached us - the head of the label came up to our house in Cambridge for a lengthy meeting. I think the fact that we let him (chain) smoke inside definitely helped seal the deal. We were attracted by the small size of their roster, their independent status and their belief that to get the best results you need to let the artist make creative decisions. So far it's going great.
We feel you’re more closely affiliated to old folk than the so dubbed 'new folk' bands of today's music scene. Tell us about where your influences come from?
We're all influenced by different things, musically. However, artistic, literary and filmic influences are just as important to our songwriting process as musical ones. Each of us has quite different musical upbringings and so we all bring different styles to the table that we mould into a sound we enjoy. What has united us musically has been our friendships I think, more than a shared interest in the same music.
On the film front, though its a hard call, ‘Matilda’ is our favourite track and we love it even more since discovering it's about Leon. Tell us more about the fascination with film and how has this impacted your musical approach and lyrics?
Cinema for me can be a very moving experience. Always try to write about what moves you. Through films (writing about Leon) I discovered that its fine and quite exhilarating to borrow ideas off someone else's hard work, as long as you always acknowledge what you've borrowed or stolen.
Singing a story that people already know and most love is a great way to grip them and hold their attention emotionally from the outset. Plus I think film is a good place to start when trying to share cultural references with an audience, as its an area of the arts which is most popular with people - everyone loves a good movie!
Are there any new bands you're listening to at the moment which you'd like to rave about?
Finally its hard not to notice that triangles form a pretty recurrent motif with you guys and they are also culturally resonant for representing a lot of funky shit - occult powers, pagan male creativity and the holy trinity itself. Do triangles mean a lot to you or are they just your favourite shape?
Triangles were my favourite shape. I'm currently sleeping with the idea of the circle for the next alt-J favourite shape. Not big fans of the occult, too rich for this bands blood, though we wouldn't say no to a good traditional punch-serving cult!
‘An Awesome Wave’ is out on 28th May and alt-J are playing at Corsica Studios on the 31st, to find out more check out their site. For more fun new music, tap into the exquisite tastes of our guest interviewer Sam Denniston at verdigrismusic.
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