The British, Alt-J, are like nothing else. Honestly, you’ve heard nothing like them before, unless you’ve listened to the four piece make a magical collage of classical Gregorian chant, hip hop drum beats and prehistoric melodies on stage. We sat down with Gwil before their show at the Commadore Ballroom in Vancouver to talk about the end of their tour, summer festivals and the spiritual realm that live shows tend to tap into. Be sure to catch the band at one, or more of the summer’s music festivals, and don’t be afraid to dance. The soft spoken but friendly guitarist/bassist ensured us, that dancing crowds make their live shows all the more enjoyable, I wish he told this to the scoffing, ill-tempered lady behind us…
AMBY: How’s the tour so far?
ALT-J: Good, its the longest tour we’ve done this far.
AMBY: You are probably looking forward to the West Coast and the summer festivals, but what has been your favorite part so far?
ALT-J: Well, it is my birthday today!
AMBY: HAPPY BIRTHDAY!
ALT-J: So yeah, I’ve been looking forward to this stretch, the West Coast and all.
AMBY: Too bad its raining on your birthday.
ALT-J: I quite like it actually.
AMBY: What did you see so far of the city?
ALT-J: We had brunch, it wasn’t so great though, but we went to this massive bridge and walked to the sea, and got some bubble tea, it was great!
AMBY: Do you get to see a lot of the cities when you are touring?
ALT-J: Not really, it depends when you arrive, most of the time, you see the city when you go to get a meal.
AMBY: Apparently there is a huge DIY scene in Leeds, where the four of you met in University, is this true?
ALT-J: We don’t know actually, we only really became good friends with one other band while we were there. We weren’t exactly part of any scene because we weren’t a generic band, we were just guys that hung and jammed. We weren’t that interested in playing shows. For a while playing live was just totally scary, it took a while to know what it was all about because at first we were just interested in recording , so it was kinda weird live.
AMBY: So when did it click when you guys were jamming that you needed to do something with it?
ALT-J: It’s hard to tell, but we started jamming together in second year University. Joe and I were the only two to begin with, then we invited Gus and lastly, we needed Thom for drums, he came along with only a snare drum, I have no idea what he did, but he was amazing, it just worked. It was pretty casual in the beginning, we only played a couple of shows in our house where our friends came along and they enjoyed it.
AMBY: If it was a bad first show, would you have turned around and forgot about it?
ALT-J: Totally. It was never my intention to be in a band. Thanks to our friends who came to see us and liked it, we got up the courage.
AMBY: What was your intention or vision of Alt-J once you started recording? Did you expect to be touring the world?
ALT-J: No, touring the world was definitely not an option. It took us a long while to get signed. The feeling we got from the music world was cold, we were told people were never going to buy our records. But we eventually got signed.
AMBY: What was the first song your guys made?
ALT-J: As a band, it might have been Something Good or an instrumental cover of Steel Dragon haha.
AMBY: So what is an Alt-J jam session like?
ALT-J: Its kinda like, ‘Oh my gosh, that was so good, play that again!’ When we first started, we didn’t know how to make songs, we didn’t even have that kind of language. Our producer would be like, ‘ok, so the verse…’ and we’d get all confused.
AMBY: Thats interesting because it appears like you are such music pros, you are purposely trying not to follow the typical song layout.
ALT-J: I think we are given more credit in terms of music thinking, because I believe you have to be more open to other things going on for a writing process. And the visual space on the computer helps, to see the lay out of the song materialized. Maybe if we lived in the 60’s we would never be successful as band.
AMBY: Or you would have fit in perfectly with the psychedelic movement.
ALT-J: Yeah we used to have like three minute psychedelic interludes, we liked it but no one wanted to hear that.
AMBY: You have some Gregorian chant style harmonizing in your songs, do you find it an influence at all?
ALT-J: Gus grew up in a Cathedral school where he was in the choir, so that comes from his choir oriented mind, thats his realm. He actually used to run a choir.
AMBY: How can you translate an album that is mostly produced digitally to a live performance?
ALT-J: It was almost impossible, its something that you cant barely ever finish practicing, we only had two weeks to practice it. The album was recorded over the spam of three or four years.
AMBY: Which was the most difficult song to practice in for live setting?
ALT-J: Probably Taro. See when you are recording, you can lay down four guitar parts and like three bass lines, then imagine trying to translate that to a live show with only four members, it can be stressful. But over time, you learn. Like Gus, especially, can do a lot of different things at the same time now.
AMBY: Do You have a particular message you are trying to convey or accomplish?
ALT-J: Its hard to tell because, initially, we were simply making music, then we started to realize we were doing something huge. Personally, I wanted to make an album that I wouldn’t get sick of, because if you are going to tour, you just don’t want to get sick of what you are doing every night. I didn’t worry about what other people were going to think of it, because, especially at that stage, I didn’t think many people would hear it!
AMBY: So pretty much, you just wanted to make something you liked regardless of an audience.
ALT-J: Yeah. exactly. It didn’t really matter if people were going to accept it or not. And then playing live has an entirely different aspect to it, its kind of like, you can see the positivity of the crowd responding to the music. People really get lost in it. Even to the point where it creeps me out.
AMBY: And the crowds reaction probably helps you get into it.
Alt-J: It does a bit, its like they are being raptured or something. It seems a bit religious, not that they are worshipping the band, but just like a spiritual thing.
Josefa and Paulette Cameron