Interview: Alt-J

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Band of the moment Alt-J talk Cambridge, Jamie XX and getting drunk

From left: Gus, Gwil, Joe and Thom From left: Gus, Gwil, Joe and Thom

They're the hot favourites to win 2012's Mercury Prize and they're not shy about penetrative sex: art school quartet Alt-J to introduce themselves to Danielle Goldstein.


‘If we don’t win the Mercury Prize, I’ll throw a wobbly'

Joe Newman (Vocals/guitars)

‘If we don’t win the Mercury Prize, I’ll throw a wobbly at the ceremony and I might get violent. No, let me just clarify that’s not true. But honestly, I’ll be bricking it and when our name isn’t announced, there will be a waterfall of disappointment inside me. ‘It was at university that I first thought: Why not leave your comfort zone and show people the songs you’ve been writing? I started singing in front of Gwil [guitarist] and realised I had quite a good range. When I first sang “Fitzpleasure” to him, the lyrics weren’t raunchy, so I could look him in the eye, but I’m pretty carefree when it comes to people feeling awkward that I’m singing about penetrative sex.’

'Next year we’ll grow a bit more'

Gus Unger-Hamilton (Keyboards)

‘When we all lived together in Cambridge, I suppose my role was cooking. Well, a combination of that and trying to police snacking because we were all on the dole. We invented this game that’s like catch but you play it with a half empty bottle of water and you have to move with the rhythm of the bottle. It’s half Tai Chi/half catch and it’s called Throwy. Orlando Weeks from The Maccabees joined in a game of Throwy once. When we found out about the Mercury Prize we were in Starbucks in New York – we high-fived and it was frappuccinos all round. There are some phenomenal albums nominated and as much as people rudely talk about token jazz nominations, any of the 12 nominees could win. I guess either way, next year we’ll grow a bit more but… how big are stadiums? Massive, right? Yeah I don’t think we’re going to be playing huge places like that, but you never know.’

'Fans are really nice, but you do get crazy people'

Thom Green (Drums)

‘I moved to London two months ago but I miss Cambridge. I used to get up, go to Pret and read my favourite music blogs. Then I’d go to the library and read all the chess books. London’s where we are most, though – we recorded the album in Brixton. ‘I met Jamie XX in Belgium and I was amazed because I really respect what he does and look up to him. It’s weird being starstruck because now I know what it’s like. Our fans are all really nice, but you do get crazy people. This guy in Canada bought me a massive shot of whisky and came over like, “You’ve gotta drink it.” There was no way I was going to drink it! You wouldn’t do that to anyone else, why do it to me?’

'We’re not textbook rock stars at all'

Gwil Sainsbury (Guitars/bass)

‘I often get called the bassist, but I only play bass in two songs. As our equipment has changed over time it’s changed how we approach things. You realise that the rhythm section doesn’t have to be guitar and bass; it can be guitar and keyboards. I think it happened quite subconsciously over three or four years. ‘I used to wait for the Mercury Prize shortlist to come out and make a lot of purchases based on it. To young people, I think it means a lot, so to be involved is such an honour. In terms of celebrating, we’re not textbook rock stars at all. If we do get drunk, we end up singing folk songs and harmonising. We’re more like 40-year-old men in the pub.’

See Alt-J live in London

  • Alt-J

    Recommended Fri Jan 18 2013, O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire

    The brilliant symbol-named quartet from Leeds ply their reverb-smothered, off-kilter, bluesy alt.indie that alternate...

    Buy tickets


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