Interview with Alt–J (∆) ahead of their Laneway shows

Alt-J (∆) only released their debut album months ago, but the English lads are already considered favorites to take out the 2012 Mercury Prize. We sat down with drummer Thom Green to talk shrooms, finding video directors on the internet, and studying fine art.

LAEM: Alt –J (∆) is a hot favorite for the Mercury Prize this year. What do you guys think about that?
T: It’s kind of weird! That started going around before nominations, so it’s been a little while since I’ve thought about it. It was really a shock for us so we just tried to ignore it (laughs). It’s nice to be recognized and we’re quietly really proud but it’s out of our hands for now. We never thought this would happen in a million years; we don’t even feel like a professional band yet.

LAEM: You’re in Australia at the moment and you’re heading back out here for Laneway in February. Have any of you been here before?
T: No, never! It’s crazy. We’ve been so busy I haven’t even got to check out the Laneway lineup yet! It’s just so surreal to be here.

LAEM: What’s the writing process like for Alt –J (∆)?
T: Usually Joe will write the lyrics and the main guitar riffs on an acoustic guitar in his own time and develop it to the point where it’s almost a track. Then he shows it to the rest of us and we pull it apart and reconstruct it while adding our parts. We wrote most of the album at university and it’s been really good. We’re comfortable and we all add our little tastes from our different influences. At the moment, we find sound check is a good time to jam on songs. It will probably be next year when we start to really focus back into writing though.

LAEM: I read somewhere that Joe’s lyrics are inspired by his father and hallucinogens. It’s seems like a strange combination… Is it true?
T: Yeah well Joe’s dad used to play guitar and sing and I think he played a few shows around Southampton when Joe was young. Then at university Joe decided to grow some mushrooms and take them to a party when we were in first year. He had a bad experience on them and from what I know it changed his outlook a bit. It’s almost like he’s become more interested in the details of everything. I guess it’s for the better (laughs).

LAEM: I’ve also read that Joe responds to depressing art and music. Do you feel the same?
T: Yeah! Three of us met at university when we were studying fine art and I think we have a creative side where we can bounce off of each other. The environment that we were in allowed us to think differently and Joe is good at being interesting and surprising. I listen to a wide range of music and have a lot of experience playing drums, so I can match what Joe does and then the other two guys can join in. All sounds are played live and I think it’s really lucky that we can work together so well.

LAEM: What was the inspiration behind the Breezeblocks video clip?
T: We actually found the director on a website called Radar. You upload a brief which is the track and basically the budget you have to do the video and then people pitch ideas to you. We really liked the sound of one in particular which was pitched by a director called Ellis Bahl from New York. It was really weird because we spoke on Skype a few times before he started filming it and then we just had to trust him. We’re really lucky because it’s such a unique and interesting video.

LAEM: Are you surprised with the sudden fame you’ve found after the release of An Awesome Wave?
T: Yeah! We hoped that the album would do well and a lot of people would hear it. We couldn’t have anticipated how far it would take us. We thought we might be lucky to tour the UK again and now we’re in Australia. It’s amazing. We did the album for ourselves and I think everything else that has happened is a bonus. I think that’s why it’s worked.

LAEM: You said that you studied fine art at university and you weren’t really anticipating success. What would you be doing now if the album hadn’t taken off?
T: I’d like to say I’d be doing my paintings because I was hoping to be a working artist but I don’t know. If the band hadn’t happened I’d probably just be working in a shop to be honest! (laughs).

LAEM: What do you hope for the future of Alt –J (∆)?
T: Well, we’re going to make another album next year when we get a chance to do it properly. We’ll also be doing a lot more shows and work heaps on the production of our live show, like getting videos involved and stuff instead of just playing.

Alt–J (∆) play Laneway Festival in Singapore, New Zealand and Australia throughout late January and early February 2013.