click here for more
click here for more


Interviewed by
Ben Coley
Monday 20th October, 2014 1:12PM

After forming at university back in 2007 and making music in their dorm rooms, English folktronica act alt-J burst onto the global music scene in 2012 with their Mercury Prize-winning debut album An Awesome Wave. With their unique and unpredictable sound the group quickly earned the band fans all over the world. Fast forward to June 2014, and the band release their first single 'Hunger Of The Pine' from their sophomore album This Is All Yours, polarising listeners due to the inclusion of a Miley Cyrus sample in the song. However, the album has gone on to receive positive reviews and ended up earning the band even more admirers. UnderTheRadar caught up with drummer Thom Green to chat about the new record, where they get their sound from, and that Miley Cyrus sample...

UTR: Hi Thom, Did winning the Mercury Prize and having so much success with
An Awesome Wave put more pressure on the band during the recording of This Is All Yours?

Thom: It did a little bit. Naturally we were very aware that more people were going to be listening to the new album. However, we knew thinking in that frame of mind wasn’t going to help us, so we quickly nipped it in the bud. When it came to writing and recording This Is All Yours we tried to ignore the pressure. We knew we were perfectly capable of making music that people would like - even though that's not our main aim. In the end we just tried our best to focus on the music and we quickly got into the rhythm of it.

How did the writing and recording process differ for This Is All Yours?

We deliberately tried to keep it as similar as possible to the first album. We think it is important not to be distracted. If we had gone in to a big recording studio it would have been sterile and that’s not how we work. We wrote An Awesome Wave whilst we were all at uni. This time we got a room in a warehouse in London close to where we lived and wrote the album. We then went to our producer Charlie Andrew in Brixton and recorded it with him. Charlie also produced An Awesome Wave so it was as relaxed as it could have been.

You guys have been described as an indie band yet you have such a unique sound. What music did you grow up listening to?

I grew up listening to a lot of grunge and metal such as Nirvana and Deftones. I then got into electronic and dubstep, now I listen to a lot of experimental music such as Aphex Twin. Joe’s background is in Americana and folk music, his dad use to play the guitar and toured around. Gus was classically trained on piano and listened to a lot of early choir music. All very different backgrounds which are probably part of the reason why it sounds the way it does.

Does nature play a big influence on the sound of alt –J? There seems to be a theme through both albums and even song titles and videos allude to it...

Yeah, it is never a deliberate decision, but I think it does. I think the mood we are in when we write and record is quite organic. We really like to produce crisp sounds with guitars and pianos, they are very human sounding instruments and I suppose they bring out those natural sounds.

Where do other influences and ideas for sounds and songs come from?

Gus and Joe read a lot. I don’t read books but I read a lot of Wikipedia and we all enjoy watching films. Joe gets inspiration for lyrics from things he has read or watched. He is always jotting ideas down. We also have a memory bank of ideas which are always come back to.

The Miley Cyrus sample in 'Hunger of the Pine' has been pretty polarising and a big talking point of the album. Were you trying to create controversy and push boundaries, or did it just feel right to use it?

It just sounded good. I had the stems and vocal tracks from her album as I was doing a remix for one of her songs. The dry vocal before the mix is really powerful and it was hovering around at the same time we were writing 'Hunger Of The Pine' and it just fit so well. We didn’t do it to throw people off although we were aware it was probably going to happen. In the end we went with it because it sounded nice.

The album has a varied sound, yet it all fits together cohesively. In the age of the single, do you sit down to write an album or do you write songs and the track listing comes after?

We concentrate on songs. Once we have a rough idea for a track we go quite far into it and flesh it out as much as possible to try bring out the best in it. We then add or remove things, and do whatever we need to get it to a point where we are happy. There is no real method to it though. We decide on the track listing once the album is finished. That is a very important and conscious decision. We like the idea of having the album as one piece of work from start to finish, obviously people don’t have listen to it like that, but for us it makes sense to.

What does the title This Is All Yours mean?

It comes from a painting I did at university. The painting itself is all yellow with a black rectangle and has the words 'This Is All Yours' written inside it. The title of the painting means to put emphasis on positive things and to remember the things you do have, and not the things you don’t. Art is a free form that anyone can experience and in my opinion is one of the best things in life. That relates to the album because we feel music is a gift. Once we have recorded it, put it out and people have bought it, it’s theirs to interpret however they want.

So who did the album artwork?

It was an oil painting I did back in 2008 when I was studying fine art with Joe at university. We wanted something that we created. The cover image on An Awesome Wave belonged to the European Space Agency and they let us use it for the cover, but nothing else. In the end it actually became quite problematic because we wanted to put it on t-shirts and other things and we weren’t allowed. So we wanted to avoid that this time around. We were just flicking back through my art and we all liked that image.

What goals do you set out to achieve as a band now that alt-J has become your fulltime job?

We want to be able to keep making interesting music. We don’t want to become stagnant. It sounds weird but we also don’t want to have a defined place. We want to be able to move around and if we wanted to make something slightly less commercial then we would like to be able to do that, without isolating ourselves. We are grateful that people love both albums. It gives us a lot of confidence to keep making interesting music and videos. It is our lives and we want to keep doing it and getting better.

You've just played a couple of Australian shows, any plans to get across to New Zealand?

We can’t confirm anything yet but we’d love to get over sometime early next year. We know there are a lot of people over there that want to see us and we have some friends who we’d like to see also. We have only been once for Laneway Festival and we’d love to play again. I would like to say we were, but nothing is confirmed.

Alt-J's album This Is All Yours is out now via Infectious Records.