Last Introducing festival in Berlin, we attended this one particular show were we could barely close our mouth due to the stunningness of this one amazing sound. Alt-J just popped on our radar without any warning, defining an entire new genre of “folk-step”. Singer Joe Newman took the opportunity, to talk to us backstage about the Alt-J sound, the music scene in Leeds and Nas needing to show him Queens Brigde. Read all of it below:
PDC: So you changed the names of your band three times. Starting off with Daljit Dhaliwa – what was that first name all about?
Joe: That is basically the name of a TV broadcaster which was called Daljit Dhaliwa and we just like their name, so that was our band name for a while.
PDC: And then you were called Films and then Alt-J. Do you prefer people literally call you Alt-J, or Delta?
Joe: We were called Films, and then we had to change our name. So now, our name really is Alt-J. It is the short cut that you do on your mac to get the delta sign and it is just referencing to that. So you wouldn’t say the band name is delta, the band is Alt-J. But when you see the symbol you would know it is Alt-J. But people say and write down Alt-J.
PDC: Yes you hardly see the Delta sign in text and articles…
Joe: Yeah I know. It is just this idea that did not really work… We still sort of love the Delta sign but it is a complicated thing to try and digest really.
PDC: So did your sound change from band to band?
Joe: It did not change, we always had the same sound. We always played the music that we would like to hear. And that was what kept us going. We did change, because when you play indefinitely sound does change, but the name changes did not change the way we saw our music. We were always playing the same sort of music.
PDC: In “Taro” you tell the story of the war photographers Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, who both lost their lifes during different wars and are reunited after death. How did you come up with the idea of writing a song about it?
Joe: I read this, it was this big book from Time Magazine, you know the American Time Magazine. They had this massive album book of photographers that had worked for Time Magazine through the 20st century. And they had this little bio about the photographers. And Robert Capa used to work for Time, and I just read his autobiography. It was very small captioned and said that he died in Indo-China and he stepped on a land mine. And I just found that really interesting so I just read up about him and how he met Gerda Taro, and then Gerda Taro dying before him. And how they were engaged and they were very close.
PDC: Yes, he proposed to her but she did not accept it…
Joe: Oh I did not know that! I just thought that was a nice idea of just two war photographers – it is a horrible just but still…I cannot remember how it happened that I wrote this song, I just remember I had this little guitar riff that I was playing around with. When you get a good idea it is really easy to write. So it writes itself in a way. It sounds like a cliché but it is kind of true. For this song anyway.
PDC: So, we were curious, we have never been in Leeds, what is the music scene like over there? Do you have any other friends in bands or and friend bands?
Joe: Yes and no. The only band that we made friends with in Leeds were a band that were played before us on the local radio, they are called Peppermint Lounge. And we love their music. We absolutely adored it. So we just got in touch with them and became really good friends. They are two guys, Mike and Archie, and since meeting them, they have actually broken up. Which is devastating for us, because we just thought that their music was amazing. But they broke up and they are now producers in their own rights so they do their own work. And Mike, he lives in Berlin now and works under the name MARLAIS. I think his mum is Swiss-German, so he is in Berlin and produces. And he did a remix for us recently for “Tesselate”. He is amazing and one of our best friends. And he is coming tonight. I’ll introduce you to him, his work is really worth looking at because he us a really amazing producer.
PDC: Has he released that remix?
Joe: No I don’t think so. But I guess we are going to release the remix he has done for us and that will be his first proper release. But Peppermint Lounge are really really good as well, you should check them out! So we made friends with them but we actually stayed away from the music scene in Leeds. Not because we wanted to but because we were not really interested. We were more focussed on writing music ourselves and we realized we could do it quite well on our own. And we had what we needed to have to make good music. So we did not actually go out pro-actively into the music community in Leeds to try and find inspiration or friends or people helping us out. We just kept our heads down really. And there was a music scene. But not as an as strong music scene as before were e.g. Kaiser Chiefs came out and Pigeon Detectives, Indie bands like that. They do have a great music scene, but we were not involved in that. But definitely MARLAIS and ROMARE of Peppermint Lounge.
PDC: So we really like to go to a festival in the UK, and we have no idea. Which one would you say is the best?
Joe: Well, I have not been that many festivals in England. There is this festival that I have been to twice, it is called “In the Woods”. And this is actually organised by a producer, he lives in this amazing part of Kent. It is really nice because it is in his back garden. And he lives in the middle of nowhere in this bow of trees and lovely things. And good acts play there. But is still regarded as a private party it is not really a festival. So that one is really really good. I also think people like “Green Man”, but “In the Woods” is the only one I can recommend really.
PDC: Ok, so one more question; if you could choose and musician to show you around his or her town, for me (Julia) it would be Jay-Z showing me Brooklyn. Who would it be for you and which city would it be?
Joe: Well actually, it’d be a similar thing for me. On the top of my head thinking about it, it might be Nas, Queens Bridge, because that’s where he grew up, and where he wrote his first couple of albums. So maybe he could show me around the projects, getting a gun, drugs… So maybe I’ll do that. Or there is a band called Mountain Man, a three girls acapella group. And I think they live in the Mid West. And I’d probably get them just to show me around there, their local hang out, anc just watch them sing.
PDC: Speaking of the Mid West, where are you off to next?
Joe: Tomorrow we’ll go to Cologne to c/o Pop. And then we are going to go to Hamburg, around there, to Hurricane Festival.
PDC: Thanks so much for making the time!
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/39435342 w=560&h=315]