I find music most powerful when I’m experiencing it on my own, it’s such an abstract and beautiful thing.
Following the announcement of their latest European tour, we decided to share a few words with the divine and alluring alt-J. Amongst other things, we reflect on their nostalgic breakthrough, discuss the struggle of to writing on the road and their mystical rise to the top.
You’ve really been putting in the work over the summer, how easy has it been adapting to bigger stages?
The process has actually felt quite gradual for us, even though we’ve gone from smaller to bigger venues quite quickly. The fact that we’ve toured so much has made it quite easy. We have an excellent crew of people on tour with us who do a fantastic job on the production side of things. In terms of playing to bigger crowds, I actually find it easier than the smaller audiences. Playing to a small group of people is a lot more intimidating because they’re right there staring at you.
As a band that has achieved so much, where do your ambitions currently lie?
Right now the three of us are putting our energies on the tour and focusing on that. We do write individually on the road but we find it hard to come together and work because of practical reasons. Once the tour ends in December we’ll be taking some time off from the band. I’ll be pursuing a solo album which I’ve wanted to do for a while. It will be good for us to be away from the band for a few months and then when we’re ready we’ll come back together and start the third album.
Looking back at the period now, how much did that Mercury Award mean to you?
At the time of the nomination and the winning of the Mercury Prize it was all pretty overwhelming. We really didn’t expect it at all. Of course we wanted to be nominated, that was huge for us, to be recognised as Mercury worthy at that early point of our career really helped us reach a wider audience. The whole thing has been good because it’s helped toward us being able to carry on making music which is all we’ve ever wanted to do as a band.
In reality the Mercury Prize doesn’t really mean anything and I wonder actually what goes on behind the decision for the winner. I can’t help think that it’s an industry designed tool to promote a band or artist who’s success the industry will benefit from. However, I do like the position it’s led us too because we can make a living from music. It’s good to be aware of it.
What does the near future hold for you guys then, are new ideas for material coming quite naturally?
Joe and I write on tour, I find it extremely important to do that because it keeps me sane. Most of what I write isn’t alt-J material so that’s why I’m keeping it aside, but some of it works well, I send that stuff to Joe and we work on it over email. We do write quite naturally under the right circumstances though. The near future is getting minimal sleep, not knowing where we are, and playing every night.
Is there any particular sound you’d like to explore with the next record then?
We try not to think of our writing in any kind of final place. I actually think writing for an album is somewhat counter-productive. We write and we compile what we’ve written and then we start to think about how to group the tracks together. Because we’re contracted to a record deal it ends up as an album but in terms of the sound we’re very open minded. We don’t want to overwhelm ourselves with too much and as we write very well with minimal equipment, it’s best for us to stick to what we know. After that if we feel like there’s a certain sound we’d like to produce then we figure that out. We’re never thinking along the lines of, “Man, we should totally make a track that sounds like Pink Floyd.”
I’m far happier knowing we have a career rather than one huge album that everyone forgot about.
Your music always carries a certain intimacy and exposure, do you think this helps people relate to you?
I’ve noticed that a lot of people do have a personal connection to our music. A lot of the lyrics in our songs I find people can relate to. The fact that our music is so intricate and layered, I think people become kind of obsessed with it. I find music most powerful when I’m experiencing it on my own, it’s such an abstract thing which can’t really be explained. It’s a connection to something else that exists as a very real thing but only if you pay attention to it. When writing we’re aware of this and I think that comes through. It’s a very beautiful thing to be able to relate to another group of people through art.
There seems to have been a very large focus on breaking America, has that been surreal?
The very first time we toured in the US it was pretty mind blowing. We were selling out venues in cities we’d never been to before and the album was still relatively unknown. We’ve been there so much now that it feels very normal. I love going to New York and Los Angeles, I like how extreme they both are in different ways. I’ve met some amazing people through touring over there which I’m extremely grateful for, they’re people I’ll know for the rest of my life and that’s surreal. That’s one of the most special things about touring the world is the fact that you’re open to new experiences and people can change your perspective on things. People can change your life and I’ll always be grateful for that. I met my girlfriend on the SXSW tour and she’s the most amazing person I’ve ever met.
Do newer bands in the UK make you nostalgic about your rise to fame a few years ago?
They do actually yeah. I try not to dwell on it, but that kind of thing will only ever happen once. The hype and excitement does fade away, the hard thing is maintaining the success and moulding it into something more substantial which I’m proud to say we’ve done. I’m far happier knowing we have a career rather than one huge album that everyone forgot about.
What are your memories of the ‘An Awesome Wave’ period? Was it all hard to take in?
Once the album came out our lives changed quite a lot. I’m grateful for a lot of these changes, whilst some of it I wish I didn’t have to experience. Touring is not the best environment for a lot of people and I am one of them. You need to be very grounded and happy to be able to take everything in. You need to be around a lot of people all of the time whilst knowing you’re in control. That’s been the hardest thing for me, the attention and exposure. On the other hand, being able to live comfortably in London now, where I can make art and be around other like-minded people is extremely rare. I can now grow as an artist, experiment and live the life I want to lead. If you’re careful it can be a miracle, and I’m still getting to grips with it.
Check out ‘Hunger Of The Pine’ right here: