ALT-J have been one of the success stories of the UK music scene in 2012 and they have cemented that success by being nominated for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize.
Reporter JAMES BRINDLE spoke to frontman Joe Newman as the band tour the US ahead of their homecoming UK tour next month.
BEING favourites for an award before the nominations even come out is a dangerous thing but that’s what happened to Leeds University graduates Alt-J.
According to the bookies on the eve of the much-anticipated announcement of the contenders for the Mercury Music Prize, Alt-J were favourites to win the whole thing. Plenty of pressure then.
However, to the boys’ relief they are still in the hunt for the coveted gong and frontman Joe Newman was ‘over the moon’ just to be nominated for the potentially career-defining prize.
“It is absolutely amazing — we cannot believe it really,” he told the Mail. “To be honest we were really nervous before the announcement as the bookies were putting us as favourites and we were like ‘why are they doing that when the nominations aren’t even out’ — it put the pressure on.
“We just tried to think like we weren’t going to get nominated but in the back of your mind you start to expect it.
“So when the nominations came out we were so relieved we had been included. It is such an honour.
“There are some great bands in there this year — the list is always strong by default but it’s a particularly interesting list this year as there are a lot more commercially successful people in there which is an interesting snapshot of what is going on right now.
“We are just going to enjoy the night. No-one can say they aren’t thinking about winning and we hope we win. But we are just so happy to be in that 12.
“I’ve heard the evening is quite fun and everyone just gets drunk so I’m looking forward to that.”
The success of the band’s debut album An Awesome Wave has taken many people in the music industry by surprise.
‘Yes’, critics raved, Q magazine lauded it as ‘exhilarating and emotive’ and NME called it a ‘brilliantly disquieting debut’.
However, the public’s overwhelmingly positive response to what is not what you would call a particularly commercial record was perhaps most unexpected.
“I can’t believe it,” Newman admitted. “We created the album in January and we were really proud of it and had a certain amount of confidence.
“We thought the people who were fans pre-album would like it. We had confidence but still did not expect the reaction it has got so far in terms of people turning up to gigs and saying nice things about the record.”
What is particularly non-commercial about the record is Newman’s singing voice — incredibly unique but one would assume rather divisive.
“It is a Marmite voice,” Newman agreed. “People that like it might think it’s a new/fresh way of singing and other people might think that it is just annoying and too nasal and can’t listen to it comfortably.
“I just sing the way I like to sing and the way which I’ve always been comfortable with.”
What has particularly launched Alt-J into the mainstream has been the radio airplay the band has received, particularly from the folk at Radio 1.
It started with the support for the admittedly beautiful single Matilda which really captured the imagination of the station’s DJ’s and listeners.
The singles that followed — Breezeblocks, Tessellate and latest single Something Good — have all made the A-list on the station, quite a feat in an age where dance and urban music have tended to dominate.
Newman said: “That support has been incredible. Radio 1 accounts for a very large percentage of the listening population so to have that support and platform for our music has been one of the main reasons for our success.
“Without them I would not like to think where we would be.”
When I spoke with Newman the band were in the middle of a US tour on the back of the release of their debut album in the States where it has also been critically acclaimed.
Newman said the reaction from the US crowds has been ‘fantastic’.
He said: “We’re spending 21 days in the States and we’re having an incredible time seeing the world. It’s all alien to me as a Brit and it’s just incredible how big this country is.
“At the moment the album is being received amazingly well over here. Everywhere we’ve played has been sold out and its been taking us an hour after each gig trying to get to the green room because so many people keep coming up to us saying how much they enjoyed the album or the gig.
“It’s phenomenal — it’s crazy when you are in cities you have never been before.”
Before the year is out the band return to Blighty for the Mercury Prize ceremony and a full UK tour which will see them perform in Birmingham on Halloween.
Newman said the band were looking forward to getting back this side of the Atlantic and performing for their evergrowing fanbase.
He said: “We are really looking forward to coming back to the UK.
“We’ve been on the road for about three weeks in the US and then we are in Australia for another week so we will be missing England.
“I’m getting yearnings for the countryside and the modesty of Brits as the Americans are brimming full of confidence and will talk to you about anything which is great but in small doses.
“We have probably got our biggest fanbase in England based on the crowds we were getting over the summer at festivals such as Reading and Leeds and Latitude.”
Alt-J perform at the Birmingham Academy 2 on October 31. See the venue website for details.