Hard work and craftmanship, that is what comes through when thinking about Alt-J and their success in the US. Relentless touring and putting out their album An Awesome Wave here stateside has won over many fans for the band. As the band gear up to play two sold out shows in NYC (Webster Hall and Terminal 5) I got to catch up with frontman Joe Newman to see what life has been like in Alt-J for the past couple of months and how An Awesome Wave was born.
When you guys first met what made you want to create music with one another?
Joe Newman: We were friends and we knew we all could play an instrument. I had songs and was keen to collaborate with others to make them develop into something more.
How do you feel the songs translate and have evolved after being brought into a live setting?
Joe Newman: When we first started I wasn’t sure that playing live was something we would even do but as we played more on our own together we wanted to show our friends what was going on behind closed dorm rooms and live performances began to make sense. Its taken us a long time to get comfortable playing infront of people but now we are confident and follow the album recording as best we can, so spontaneity isn’t yet in our live vocabulary, in a way we stick to the script but we may change things up the more we play.
The way the album is structured is quite interesting, especially with the instrumental interludes between some tunes, tracks like ‘Ripe & Ruin’ and ‘Guitar’ were these leftovers from recordings or things you always kept in mind to make the album more cohesive?
Joe Newman: Yes this was part of the plan. We like to describe these pieces as palette cleansers. They break up the album enough so that people can have a brief relax before it all begins again, somewhat like a refresher.
Something that people tend to agree upon about An Awesome wave is how intimate it comes across and how it subtly progresses throughout the runtime, what do you feel it is about your music that exerts such feelings of intimacy?
Joe Newman: The songwriting on certain tracks is emotionally open and quite confessionary often originating from girls and the psychology of break ups, especially how things like that can bring about obsession, depression, jubilation etc. and I think what makes the tracks relatable is that these are experiences all can relate too.
What was the process like in terms of forming these songs together as a group? Did it all start with sounds or lyrics?
Joe Newman: Certainly lyrics. Every song develops differently but honestly a great lyric will always lead me somewhere interesting.
How has this new US tour you guys are on now compare to the one you guys previously did?
Joe Newman: Well we’ve replaced a van with a tour bus and our crew has stepped up from two to five and the shows are bigger and the audience whoops are louder so I’d say a lot more “whoopier.” hahaha.
What are some differences you’ve noticed between British crowds and American crowds?
Joe Newman: The whoops and the yelping during songs.
What was it like the day after you guys won the Mercury Prize?
Joe Newman: Hahaha, I was severely hung over and quiet to be honest.
Any standout moments from the SXSW festival you guys just did?
Joe Newman: Ah the bike Taxis, the free drinks and the lovely people.
What reactions towards your songs have surprised you the most?
Joe Newman: More and more new parents are naming their daughter Matilda, I wish I could say I was joking hahaha.
Was there anything you wanted people to take away from your record after listening to it?
Joe Newman: Truly I just wanted it to be liked. Most people wouldn’t admit that but I truly have no problem saying that.
Even though it’s quite early I’m sure thoughts of a follow up has come to mind. What would you like to see take place with the next Alt-J album in terms of sounds, structure, and experimentation?
Joe Newman: Maybe one long piece of music? It’d be interesting to create a long track with varying degrees of layers and see how people respond to something like that.