Leeds trio Alt-J don’t like their sound to be labelled. And much like their music, the three young men, Joe Newman (guitar/lead vocals), Gus Unger-Hamilton (keyboards/vocals) and Thom Green (drums) have yet to come to terms with their stardom. With two albums – An Awesome Wave in 2012 and This Is All Yours (which was nominated for a Grammy this year in the alternative category), they headline for the Emerge Music and Art Festival in the city, along with Daniel Waples featuring The Petebox, Delhi’s Advaita and rock-outfit Parvaaz. Newman tells us more about songwriting, their intriguing name and going from a quartet to trio
when frontman Gwil Sainsbury left the band.
We’re just simple guys from Leeds who got to know each other, started a band and then muddled through it and magicked a Mercury award!
On your songwriting process.
It reflects our approach to making music and to making an album. It belongs to whoever listens to it. Take it, and what do you think of it, and make it your own. We are making it for people.
An Awesome Wave a hit.
We can’t get over it. It’s been amazing for people to like your album, not only fans, but experts too. We’re amazed but it’s brilliant. And yes, we did not see it coming!
On your undefinable music.
People cannot define our sound so we play with their uncertainties. Naturally, we all brought different musical influences to the table but we’ve never had a musical manifesto about what sort of band we should be. That gives us a lot of freedom. I think that is a good thing.
Any musical influences?
I liked metal and grunge bands growing up, and I played drums in bands like that. Then in Leeds, I listened to the same thing, but I also started to listen to more folky stuff. Then I met these guys, and I now listen to mostly electronic, hip-hop and experimental music.
Coping after Gwil Sainsbury quit.
It had a big impact on us. I didn’t think we were going to pick ourselves up. But it helped everyone to define their role in the band. The song Hunger Of The Pines is a classic example of that. I think this latest album was written as a trio with some of his inputs.
Tell us about the name.
It’s pronounced ‘alt-J’ because if you press alt + j on a Mac computer you get the symbol ?. But we’re not particularly obsessed with the shape. Our song Tessellate has a line, Triangles are my favorite shape, which we felt was suitable line in the context of the song. Alt-J was a name we could all agree on.
Awards or a sold-out performance?
That’s a tough decision to make. While sold out performances boost any artiste, winning an award is something that words won’t really be enough to explain.
The show in India.
We haven’t played at that many festivals, so we are really looking forward to perform at the Emerge festival. It’s going to be an awesome experience.
February 28, at Bhartiya City, Thanisandra Main Road.
Tickets (`1,500 upwards) on
— Aakanksha Devi