Interview: Alt-J @ Tramlines

The Bowery is busy. Really busy. Which is strange, because the doors haven’t even opened yet and there’s an anxious queue of music fans going up the road; all desperate to ensure they make it into tonight’s highly anticipated event. Uneven Blonde know how to put on a good show, and picking Alt-J as the headliners is nothing short of genius. We cornered frontman Joe for a quick chat as they take a break from soundchecking. Everything is running slightly behind schedule because the band’s van has broken down, and now they can’t go home before heading to France for more tour dates, but Joe is still enthusiastic to talk while everyone else is off explaining the situation to their girlfriends.

Soundcheck’s sounding good – how excited are you for Tramlines?
Very excited, we’ve been looking forward to it for a while now. We’ve played Sheffield before but not Tramlines, so it’s a new thing for us.

How do you feel about the fact that it’s free?
I think it’s great! You get more people there, and you’re not restricted…if you’ve got no money, you can still see acts. Like me! I was penniless for like, five years as a student, so this is great.

Are you going to be seeing anyone?
Well, we were going off to Cambridge, but now we’ve got a few hours to kill. We’re definitely going to watch Cave Painting, we’ve played with them before. We’ll walk around and see what we can hear.

Set-wise, will it just be stuff from An Awesome Wave?
I think so, yeah, the plan is to go through the album. We’re still getting to grips with the album; we’re still used to playing 40 minute sets, because we don’t have that much material to play. Playing that long is still new to us. Further down the line we’re going to open it up to other songs, new songs and covers.

What’s your personal favourite track from An Awesome Wave?
I like ‘Taro’. I like ‘Tessellate’. I like some of the interludes. I think the one I’m most proud of is the first interlude, which is the acappella I do with Gus.

Before the album was released, you had the SoundCloud stream up, with tidbits of information surrounding each track. What made you do that?
I think we’d worked quite hard on the songs; each song takes a while for us to write, and there’s almost always a story behind it. And I think we were looking for a way to inform people who like the music, to let them know what it’s all about really.

I haven’t seen many other bands do it; it’s a great idea. Being able to know ‘Matilda’ was about Leon was really nice.
Yeah, if I was listening to music, and I liked it, and it was about something – I’ve found that people who like the track ‘Matilda’ often like the movie – it’s a good way to get into things.

That, and they’re not sitting there thinking ‘Matilda’ is about the Roald Dahl book or film…
Haha yeah! I think people have made that mistake. Which is fine, it’s a good book.

You’ve got the tour in October/November, right?
Yeah, it’s selling well, I think, so that’s great.

Have you seen the signs outside the Bowery tonight? They warn people to get down here early because it’s going to fill up. How are you feeling about all of the hype surrounding Alt-J?
Hype is great, but it can kill you. It’s a double-edged sword really. We don’t follow the hype, we just focus on the music, and if people like it then that’s great. There’s proof in the pudding, that’s an expression I can use right?

Mercury Prize nominations come out in two months…what do you think your chances are?
We hadn’t really thought about it until Paddy Power put some odds on us [laughs] and I don’t know, maybe it’s given us a false sense of confidence?
(Paddy Power have Alt J’s An Awesome Wave at 6/4) 

It’s a weird one because people have started criticising it a lot more in the last couple of years, because of how much money it costs to enter.
Yeah! I don’t know how it works.

I was talking to a label guy at 2000 Trees, and he said you have to send in 150 copies of your album, and pay a grand to enter, and pay for the table on the night as well. But he wasn’t completely sober, so I don’t know how true that is.
It’d be amazing, it’d a dream come true if we got nominated; I’ve been following the Mercurys for the last few years, and it’s always been a dream. Just to be considered – not even winning – being amongst that group of people who arguably release the most interesting, cutting-edge, topical music of that moment, it’d be nice to be involved in that. But there’s so many great acts out there.

Who would you put up for nomination?
Erm…I don’t know! I’m not very good at music, I don’t follow that many bands. I know Lianne La Havas because she’s in the media a lot. I guess I’m not much of a muso!

Speaking of cutting-edge and topical, Alt-J are quite known for being the band with the Mac shortcut name. Do you think you have a particular fanbase because of that?
Maybe, yeah. I don’t know. The only experience I’ve had of fans has been people watching us play, and they all look the same; I couldn’t categorise them. I suppose on Twitter, you get a lot of young people who are quite computer literate, but that doesn’t mean they’re supporters of Macs. I don’t know if that’s the number one reason why they like us as a band, hopefully it’s because of the music, but I don’t know.

There were some really annoying people at your gig at the Harley, who had their phones out the entire time and were on Twitter. They were dancing out of time too…
Really? I love out of time dancing! It was a weird gig for us because it was all going wrong for us on stage, but the crowd were amazing, and made it into an amazing gig. Sheffield’s amazing for getting a really good reaction from a crowd.

True. I saw you support Ghostpoet at DQ, and that’s a very different atmostphere.
It’s a club isn’t it? It was really weird because it felt like a club, and they were playing Power Rangers on the walls. I haven’t seen that movie in – I was gonna say five years, but realistically it’s more like 10!

I love that film. I think I still have the VHS at home.

Really? Cool. Not even 10 years, more like 15!

An Awesome Wave

Alt-J’s set at The Bowery was mind-blowingly good, as expected, and many have said it’s the last time you’ll be able to catch them in such an intimate venue. Check the first issue of Forge Press, out September 14 to see whether Alt-J have been nominated for the Mercury Prize, and how we feel about the shortlist as a whole.

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