In 2010 Alt-J were nowhere to be found, a band formed at Leeds University quietly rehearsing whilst preparing their debut album. In 2013, the band is everywhere. Currently on tour in the US playing to sold-out crowds and huge venues, that little album they were preparing has won the BBC Radio 6 Album of the Year award, the prestigious British Mercury Prize and gained three nominations at this year’s Brit Awards, including British Album of the Year. Alt-J have, quite literally, made it big, in a very small space of time. I caught up with drummer Thom Green as they were heading to play their biggest gig yet: none other than small, unheard of Coachella music festival…
“It is amazing to think your music has such an impact all over the world”, said Green when I asked him about their current tour in the US. “In the UK you have so much more contact with the fans, with what people are saying about your music. To come over here and play to sold-out crowds is sort of mind blowing, something we’re still very much getting used to.”
They will, however, be returning shortly to the UK, and I was keen to ask them what playing at home means to them, especially considering their local routes up North in Leeds. “Honestly, we have never really felt much like a local band. Yeah, we met at Leeds, but we come from all over the country, and actually never played much at the Uni when we started out. Having said that, it is always special to return home, and we know how proud Leeds University are of us, and we had a really amazing time there, so that makes playing there an awesome experience.”
Even speaking to Green on the phone, I feel like I have gained a sense of their current lifestyle, as I hear distant guitar sounds in the background mixed with the muted banter-fuelled conversation of the rest of the band. “At the moment we are on a massive seven week tour, travelling all over really. We are on the bus at the moment heading to San Francisco which is going be wicked. The whole thing is amazing. In all honesty, it was hard to expect our music to go down well here; we thought it would take some getting used to, but the response has been over whelming.”
With such a rapid rise to fame I ask how the band has coped with the changes that this has created, and how they intend to keep their integrity when facing such a manipulative industry. “It is definitely hard, even within the last year, so much has changed around us… the accolades and prizes have been amazing, but it has come with a lot of pressure and attention that is hard to comprehend when you have gotten to that point so quickly. I think most of all we just stick together. The one thing that hasn’t changed is that we’re four friends who love making music, and so we really try and take everything with a pinch of salt. If we forget why we started out doing this then I think that’s when it becomes dangerous, and we all know that. The music always comes first.”
I then start poking around for details about their eagerly awaited second album, which certainly has a lot to live up to. “Well we have been writing non-stop for a long time, but because we have been so busy touring, we are looking forward to coming back to the UK and spending some time in the studio. I think it’s also important to us that we don’t rush this, that we take our time and produce something that we’re really proud of.”
I ask if anything has changed about their writing process since the making of their first album An Awesome Wave, and Green responds by saying “I think, importantly, the original ideas and motivation for writing have stayed the same. We all have this shared intention to be as honest as possible with our writing… of course the stimulus changes when you go through different events and experiences, but our approach has stayed the same, and this is so important to us.”
As for their upcoming plans, the band are itching to return home and spend some time with their families and friends, but it looks like they won’t be planning a vacation any time soon.
“Pretty much as soon as we’re back we start our headlining tour, before a short visit to Europe and Australia. We hope to be finished by November which means a solid block of time in the studio and hopefully releasing the second album next year”. As well as that, Alt-J are going to be busy this Summer with a jam packed festival season, featuring Reading/Leeds and Latitude, which they featured at last year with amazing success. “Latitude last year was definitely a turning point for us, it was the first moment we realised we had such a huge fan base, and so returning this year is going to be amazing.”
I leave the phone feeling a mixture of starstruck and incredibly at ease, as though I have just spoken to royalty but don’t really know it- and I realise this is the effect Alt-J have. The sky is the limit for this small, down to earth band, who still, truly, sound like they remain unaffected by the fame they have achieved.