“It’s all come as a huge massive ball of mind f**k” A Post-Mercury Awards Interview with Alt-J ∆ (3/11/12)


Fresh from winning the prestigious Mercury Prize for their début album An Awesome Wave, The Edge got to speak to Gwil Sainsbury and Thom Green from Alt-J prior to their performance at the Trinity Centre in Bristol for their reaction to winning the prize, their music videos and more.


What can we expect from tonight’s show?

Gwil: A step up from when we’ve played before, our last UK tour had a pretty minimal set up, we’ve got a big neon delta, our sound will be a lot better and we’re more confident on stage now. So yeh [laughs]in theory it should be a lot better! 

Moving on to what you’ve probably been talking about for the past few days, The Mercury Prize, firstly well done! What were your initial thoughts upon nomination?

Gwil: It was pretty weird; we were in New York in Starbucks just waiting looking on twitter and our label were at the announcement listening for the nominees. Because of the whole bookies favourite thing before the nomination, The Mercury Prize had come out of nowhere, but because of that whole pressure we’d already been asked about it by journalists so we were like ‘I really do hope we get a nomination now’ I suppose it was sort of ruined a little bit by the pressure, but it was still amazing! The Mercury Prize, every year, you watch it, you watch the shortlist, it’s the best thing! 

Did you ever think back when you were making music at University that you would be winning a Mercury Prize? 

Thom: No, no.

Gwil: It’s all come as a huge huge massive ball of mind fuck. [all laugh]

So how was the awards night? How did you celebrate?

Gwil: Erm, well we got pretty drunk. Drunk to the extent that I didn’t remember our acceptance speech, I didn’t remember the press conference afterwards, I couldn’t remember who I’d really met and I stopped [drinking]really early! I stopped at about 1 oclock in the morning, I was like ‘I am done drinking’ but the rest of the band powered on all night.

Thom: Yeah it was, I mainly drank just to be able to be more social, we had a bar around the corner and it was rammed and we went round there and everybody was being really nice and they wanted to speak to us but doing that for four hours, at one point I actually went to try and find somewhere quiet to sit down by myself. But I had the worst hangover yesterday, was just horrific and I actually couldn’t quite enjoy it cause I was so hungover, so today I understand it a bit more.

How was the announcement?

Thom: It was the best feeling in the world. Being there on the stage with the trophy and everybody else is out there, looking at The Maccabees and looking at Django Django, looking at Jessie Ware and we’d won and they hadn’t and they were still down there. I couldn’t quite look at them, because I knew they would be disappointed and I didn’t want to rub it in.

If you were to choose one of the other nominees, who would it have been? For me it would have been The Maccabees.

Thom: Being there on the night, because we saw all the performances, I was blown away. The Maccabees were phenomenal.

Gwil: We got asked this loads on the red carpet and I said The Maccabees or Django Django. We saw Roller Trio and Sam Lee and they were amazing, we all had the feeling of ‘it really doesn’t matter who wins because there’s such amazing bands here tonight’. 

How does that feel to have people you were aware of before you were in the spotlight saying that they love your music?

Gwil: It’s an odd thing. The Maccabees for me are such a massive band that I’m in to. I met Orlando in Sainsburys after the award and I was really starstruck. ‘First Love’ was one of the first things I ever learnt on guitar and he’s just there, and he’s really small, I’m small but he’s small. 

I was just going to talk to you about how the song lyrics are very much influenced by art, film and literature. Can you explain the writing process and the inspiration behind it for our readers?

Thom: If we’re lucky Joey over there has a few tracks under his belt already, the lyrics, and then as a band we add our parts and it gets pushed and changed and it takes a long time to finish a track because you don’t want to put anything out that’s not 100% finished. Yeah they’re usually themed around things that inspire Joe or us a group. We believe the songs should be about things you know and you like and whatever that is is a good enough reason to write a song about it. That’s why they seem to be about books or films and things like that because that’s what we like.

Going on to be specific, ‘Bloodflood’ is about Southampton isn’t it? I’m from Southampton University. What’s the inspiration behind that song?

Joe: It references a rush of blood to the head, you know that Coldplay thing, and we switched it to a flood of blood to the heart. It’s basically about the adrenaline rush you get when you get scared, it’s that fear,  fight or flight and it’s being in Southampton Common and being approached by unsavoury characters. Do you know a place called ‘the Cut’? Basically this place is along Hill Lane. You go from the north side of Highfield and you go under ‘The Cut’. Yeah, it’s about being approached there, there’s loads of graffiti. So yeah it’s about that.

I can definitely relate to that. Do you plan to release more songs from An Awesome Wave, as singles?

Gwil: Oh yeah, of course! I’m not 100% sure on what it is [going to be]right now. Something Good is at the end of it’s cycle.  We should be releasing a track soon.

Thom: It’s kind of cool, we’re really lucky that each of the tracks could potentially be singles. 

Gwil: I’ve always wanted Bloodflood as a single, but I don’t think it’s ever going to be a single, it’s not in the running apparently. It’s too slow for radio, not a high enough BPM, they have all sorts of rules.

Moving onto your music videos, I know when I spoke to you before we were talking about Breezeblocks and the way that you asked for submissions of ideas. So what about the other ones where do the concepts come from?

Gwil: It’s the same thing really but now instead of us having to put ourselves out there and ask people to do a music video for us, we have more people getting in contact with us. The last one we had was ‘Something Good’ which was one of the best ones. It’s really cool. And we’ve got a another one coming out soon as well.

Can you really briefly describe the recording process for the album?

Gwil: Apart from ‘Matilda’ and ‘Breezeblocks’, all of it was recorded in Brixton with our producer Charlie [Andrew] and before that Matilda and Breezeblocks were recorded in Shoreditch in another studio he had and Matilda, Breezeblocks, Tessellate and Fitzpleasure and Handmade were all recorded before we had a record deal, I think! Actually Fitzpleasure wasn’t, Fitzpleasure was the first one with the signing. So we had a fair amount of the album already down and those are the same mixes that made it to the album. So in January this year we finished the rest of the album and got everything else down, it was only a month, maybe actually three weeks and we finished it in that time.

If you were to give the readers of The Edge a tip on who to listen to at the moment, who you guys think are up and coming who would you suggest? 

Thom: I would suggest a guy called Mensah, he makes dub step and house but it’s mostly dubstep, I don’t think he has an album it’s all kind of on Soundcloud and it’s all just one offs. They’re produced extremely well and it’s really well written. 

Gwil: There’s one we say all the time which is Princess Chelsea, she’s from New Zealand and she’s just released her album here and it’s really good. I’ve only listened to it once but the Kendrick Lemar album, everyone seems to be talking about him, so check it out! I listened to it a few days ago and it seemed really good. 

Finally, what does the future hold for you guys?

Gwil: Well until about September next year we’re touring pretty much straight and I’m sure after that we will be booking some studio time and start working on number two! So pretty standard stuff, [laughs]Nothing insane, just a standard career.

Check out Alt-J’s latest single ‘Something Good’ below.


About Author


I’m Megan Downing, an English Literature graduate from University of Southampton. I am the Music, Arts and Culture Editor for The National Student. I am the Membership and Communications Officer for the Student Publication Association, I write about music for 7BitArcade, and contribute regularly to The Culture Trip. I have a passion for live music and this is where I began in student journalism. Reviewing a gig or festival is still where my heart lies four years on. I will be starting at MTV as a News Intern in June 2015. One thing you should know about me is that I have an unhealthy obsession with Kevin Spacey.

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