Indie rock living legends Alt J took some well deserved downtime from their three sold out Olympia Theatre shows to receive a medal of Honorary Patronage from the Phil this afternoon. With a university success story that resonates with the abundance of aspiring musicians and creative minds alike present in Trinity, it was far from surprising to see the GMB stretched to its absolute capacity.
“Perhaps the most striking thing about the notoriously bizarre, eccentric collective was just how unassumingly unrecognisable they were at first glance.”
Following ten minutes of hushed anticipation, Alt J entered the chamber to rapturous applause, from fans young and old. Perhaps the most striking thing about the notoriously bizarre, eccentric collective was just how unassumingly unrecognisable they were at first glance. A nervous “hi” once the applause died down from lead singer Joe summated as much.
Phil President Sorcha Ryder opened the conversation with substantive questions regarding the groups writing process due to their infamous lyricism, along with how they were finding playing in Dublin. The answers to which her famed guests were eager to provide. While the band were full of praise for Dublin’s Olympia, calling it a “perfect venue which always guarantees a great show,” Joe’s answer regarding songwriting was intriguing. The front man claimed that songs will often be “stitched together, a product of ideas which may actually be years apart.” Indeed, this may serve to explain the groups lyrical depth which has brought them so much success to date. Sometimes however, the music may not take years, but minutes to come to fruition, as was the case one of the bands greatest hits, “Left Hand Free,” which was written in “about twenty minutes.”
“Sometimes when there’s that kind of energy in the room as there was for that particular song, the music just manages to formulate very quickly, bringing a very different kind of quality.”
“For us, absolutely nothing is off limits. Things that are terrifying, creative, or sometimes even beautiful, these are the kind of things that will always stick in your mind.”
The bands creativity and nuanced style is cataclysmic in the standard of their music, the implicit authenticity of which they seem to accredit to their close personal relationships with not only each other, but their producer Charlie. Having attended University together in Leeds, both Joe and Gus recall “just making music and getting absolutely fucked together.” Regarding Charlie, they note that they “grew up together, and when we were producing an album, he was the only man for a job.”
Despite eventually finding success, an extremely interesting portion of this event centred around Gus’ musings on how difficult it was for a record label to commit to the bands understatedly niche offerings. “The big labels were definitely interested, and they’d always be hanging around us, giving us invites in the early days, but were never really ready to take it to that next level and make us an offer. It was only really the Indie labels making modest proposals, but that was cool, I suppose that is what we wanted.” Finding mainstream acceptance for their unique riffs and pervasive lyricism certainly seems to have been a hurdle for the “Breezeblocks” hit makers. When questioned on this, Gus recalls an amusing anecdote about how the band lost a big money car advertisement due to the lyrics of one of the bands earliest offerings, “Fitzpleasure”. The song, which depicts violence of an explicit degree, is simply another part of what makes Alt J great. That is, an understanding that lasting music can come from all kinds of places. “For us, absolutely nothing is off limits. Things that are terrifying, creative, or sometimes even beautiful, these are the kind of things that will always stick in your mind.”
While discussion regarding early hesitation proved to be amusing and insightful, reflection regarding finding their place in the mainstream also brought the best out of Alt J. Indeed, this portion of the talk was at times inspiring. Discussing their 2012 Mercury Prize win, Joe notes that it had “always been an obsession of ours to win that, and it’s one which we believed in.” A key factor in their success is one which was extremely relevant to any aspiring musicians who may have been present. “We took a year out after University to focus on the band, and that made a huge difference. Our parents were extremely supportive in that sense so we’re really grateful. You don’t need that lifelong job, or that contract straightaway. Try and do what you love.”
Towards the end of the event, the discussion became a little more personal. Having briefly described the early exit of former band member Gwii as “difficult and somewhat shocking,” the band recalled the strength it took to “be a member down on a Saturday and be back in the studio on a Monday.” The members of Alt J are famously quite private, rarely featuring in music videos or on album covers. This, both Gus and Joe agree, is a huge benefit. “It’s great to be able to turn off and not be recognised when we’re not on tour. Sure, we could be more famous if we wanted to be I think, but we’re pretty comfortable with how it is now.” On the same topic, Joe shared an uplifting tale about one of the few times he was recognised. “This guy on a bike cycled past, sort of stopped, then obviously made the decision to get off. He came over to me and told me my music had really helped him, then just cycled away. It doesn’t happen that often, but it was great to know that we are doing a good job.” This particular tale was met with laughter and admiration from the audience.
The rest of the talk centred around inspirations from childhood, the bands invention of a game called “throwie” that “we hope will last for hundreds of years,” lyricial explorations of specific songs, and confessions of going a bit more “hip hop” on new album “Relaxer,” following a variety of questions from the audience. Indeed, the troika of creative minds had quite a few queries from fans to navigate through.
Judging from the evident passion and devotion of the latter, it is safe to say that this creative troika will remain “creepy but sexy” for plenty of years to come.