∆ (Alt- J) are the pioneering foursome whose image is now synonymous with a large triangle shaped rock. They provide the most ear-pleasing sound since Bon Iver; yet tinged with the superbly dirty hit usually attributed The Prodigy’s Keith Flint (preferably when going on about smacking his b*tches up). It’s fair to say that these guys are re-defining the parameters of their genre.
The desire for an album to drop has never quite been so strong. Due to be released on May 28th through Infectious, An Awesome Wave is already set for greatness. We caught up with front-man, Joe Newman, who kindly spoke to us about fine art, oboes and gang rape:
Alt- J are AMAZING
Oh, what a start.
It’s our official opinion. How did you come together to form the band?
We met in Leeds university, we studied Fine Art, three of us did anyway. Gus, the keyboardist studied English and I think we became friends. I was always writing songs and I sort of discovered that we all played instruments and we found bedrooms to play in, each other’s bedrooms. So we met there and just started playing music and realised that we quite liked what we were playing and that was really how it started. Still doing our degrees but equally spending a lot of time doing band stuff.
Did being in Alt – J impact on your studies?
It probably impacted on everyones work to a certain extent as we were spending a lot of time on the music, it impacted on my degree quite a lot but I did finish. But in a way I had to get to uni to discover a band like this, I had to do Fine Art at university level to find like-minded people. I knew I’d find musicians doing Fine Art that might be on the same wavelength as me, so I’m so glad that I went to uni to do all that. It doesn’t matter how well I did as long I did the best I could do – and I found these guys.
Did you know you always wanted to do Fine Art?
One of the reasons I went to uni was to be in a band. I always did Fine Art, I was always told that I was goood at it and I knew I’d find musicians there. These guys, Will and Tom did it, they never thought they would be in a band.
How did you get picked up by Infectious and how important do you think record labels are?
I can only speak from personal experience and the record label have been so valuable, invaluable, because they have just got us in contact with so many things we couldn’t do on our own; distributing, manufacturing and other contacts in the music industry. There is so many things that we couldn’t do without a) our management and b) a label. They have the money to back us and it’s not something we could afford, we couldn’t on our own, we would be fucked if we tried. So from a personal level the label, yeah, amazing. But that’s not to say that bands can’t do it without labels. I suppose it just depends on your music and how proactive you are getting it out there.
Enter Shikari were one of those bands who set up their own label, and just set up themselves up with a distributor, PIAS.
PIAS, yeah we’ve got PIAS. You can do it, you just have to be very good at doing those things and I don’t think we are as a band. We just focus on writing songs and controlling the content and creative side in terms of output and materials and stuff that goes out.
How does the creative side work for you, do you all come together to write the songs?
What has happened to date is that I write the song and then I bring it to the group and then we rework and sometimes restructure it, they play their parts and then we orchestrate everyones parts together. We do it like that, that’s normally how it works.
Were you friends first or band members?
We met everyone because we got on. I met Gus in halls and we were friends for a year before we both discussed bands, it was never on my mind. I just discovered slowly that he played keyboard and had singing lessons and played the oboe. I think he’s a quite high grade at oboe, like grade 8. Grade 8 at Piano, he’s a grade at singing too, so technically he’s quite the academic.
Strangely enough, we were just talking about Oboes. As well as a few other instruments are becoming increasingly popular, like the harp and ukulele. Maybe you can bring the oboe back?
Maybe, the oboe could make a come back. I’m not going to though, I’m not going to force the oboe just for the sake of it, you know what I mean.
We reckon you could do it. You sing like an oboe, similar tone. Your vocals are amazing, very original and pleasing to the ear. Have you had lessons?
I suppose it is just years of listening, my Dad was a singer. I sing a bit like my Dad, he sings like James Taylor and I grew up listening to my Dad sing and I suppose I always sang a bit like my Dad because a) he’s my Dad and b) I’ve grown up with it, so I’ve been conditioned to sing a bit like him. Then I got to uni and I didn’t like singing in front of anyone, I didn’t think I was a very good singer. I didn’t sing in front of my parents or in front of my friends and no-one knew I sang. Then I got to uni and because it was a new place and I got out of my comfort zone, I was like let’s just go for it. I started singing in front of Gwil and when I was singing in public my voice then started to develop. So only over the last few years have I really honed my voice. I’ve had lessons now and again but not classically trained. Originally, I wasn’t going to be the singer, it was going to be a female vocalist.
What is Fitzpleasure?
It’s not rude is it?
It is rude, well it’s not rude, it’s graphic and it’s violent. It’s based on a book by Hubert Selby Jr [Last Exit to Brooklyn]. Each chapter is about a different character and they all intertwine throughout the book. There’s a woman called Tralala so that’s why we sing [sings] Tra-la-la-la there’s a character called Tralala and it’s just about her. So basically the phrase is ‘in your snatch fits pleasure, broom shaped pleasure’ so fits and pleasure and Fitz like a second name, like Fitzpatrick so we thought Fitzpleasure, so more subtle. But it’s about the end of the chapter where she gets, er, gang-raped, so it’s really horrible.
Who read the book?
I did. I always believe that you write about what moves you and although that gang-rape scene is horrible… it really moved me, it’s really well written, you don’t really know which way is up after that chapter. I thought it was a really powerful thing to write about.
[A quick Google confirms that the shoes, are in fact, Doc Martins Spring Collection 2012.]
You are the pioneers of music for 2012. When people talk about music for 2012 it’s heading towards your style of music. Did you ever think you could be game-changing for this year?
Yeah, I don’t think any of us are aware of that. It’s flattering if anyone says anything like that. That’s a major complement it’s not saying you’re good, which is amazing, it’s saying you’re affecting everyone else. We don’t think of it like that, we think about the songs that we like to write and things that we like to hear, we keep it as grounded as that. We don’t worry about how it affects other people, we just have to worry about being consistently on that level of quality, [and] keeping the level up.
Where do you see yourself this time next year? Five years? And ten years down the line?
I don’t like to imagine what I’d be doing in ten years because I might not be doing what I’m doing now and this is what I want to be doing for the rest of my life. Next year, I’d be doing much the same and hopefully playing to big audiences and working on a new album, it’s very simple stuff. Doing what we’re doing now but on a bigger scale would be good. Five years down the line, I don’t want to think about it because we’re all quiet realistic about things, we’re quite cautious. We’re the biggest critics of our music and if we’re not feeling it a few years down the line we need to sit down and have a serious discussion where we want this to go, whether we want to fade away or do a really shit fourth album. We don’t want to do that. It would be amazing to have a career like Radiohead, they’re a special band. We’re just focussing on this album and three years down the line we’ll have another album and that’s all I want, I’d be tempting fate otherwise.
What song do you wish you could have written?
I think, The Boxer by Simon and Garfunkel.
Can we have an a capella version of Fitzpleasure?
(To be uploaded soon!)
Secret Sound Shop loves to conduct the odd impromptu performance with artists in strange places. What artist would you have play and where?
Depending on the weather, it would be a band called Mountain Man, an a capella female group. There’s three of them in the group and they’re really really really good. Them in Cornwall, in a place called Chapel Porth, in the sea and there’s a boat filming them and it’s raining and they’re up to their necks and they’re just doing a capella.
It’s where I went on holiday.
We’re gonna make this happen.