Alt-J’s Awesome SXSW Wave

UK buzz band storms ‘trip-folk’?

Alt-J’s Awesome SXSW Wave

Leeds’ best kept secret, who headlined Stubb’s last night and plays the Belmont tonight as well as a Waterloo in-store tomorrow, is out of the bag. 2012 introduced Alt-J to the masses on a whirlwind tour for the quartet’s Mercury Prize-winning debut, An Awesome Wave. We reached keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton across the world.

Austin Chronicle: Where am I reaching you?

Gus Unger-Hamilton: We’re finishing up a tour in Brisbane right now.

AC: Whoa! That’s far.

GH: Yeah, just about as far from you as you can get.

AC: Have you gotten to see anything interesting down under?

GH: We’ve been going to beaches. We went to a nature preserve yesterday with a bunch of animals. It’s been really great.

AC: Let’s take care of this first: is the whole triangle thing with the band an Illuminati reference?

GH: Yeah, we’ve had a lot of questions about that. I promise we’re not part of the Illuminati. We’re not prolific enough for that. And if we were, I very much doubt we would be so obvious about it. Really, the triangle is just visually quite nice. We referenced it in the song “Tesselate” as a favorite shape, but it really doesn’t mean a lot to us. It just looks really cool. That’s why we use it.

AC: Did you ever think about pulling a Prince and just going by the delta symbol?

GH: Yeah, we had it as that for a while, but you can’t really pronounce it. That’s where we took Alt-J from, the Apple command for the delta symbol. It made it easier to search and explain, so it stuck.

AC: You actually formed in 2008, so there was a significant gap between getting together and your debut, An Awesome Wave. What happened in the interim?

GH: We were students most of the time, so partly our priority was on school. I don’t really think that we had the ambition to perform a lot. We didn’t have time to play as much. I’m not sure we ever planned this out upon graduating. It’s all still pretty surreal.

AC: So in those gap years, just intermittent shows?

GH: We performed, but not too much. We just played the occasional show mostly for our friends, and because we thought we should try the whole live thing for a bit. Over the years we stepped up live shows a lot more.

AC: What’s your songwriting process like? There have been a lot of creative genre names you’ve been put in.

GH: It starts with Joe [Newman], who writes the lyrics. Then we work on restructuring the song and setting it to its actual music. As for the names, we’re not trying to invent “trip-folk” or however you want to call it. We’ve definitely spent a lot of time developing our sound, but we didn’t set out to be out of the box.

AC: Sorry if we’re being pushy, but any plans for another record yet?

GH: We’re focusing on touring An Awesome Wave stuff right now, but we’re always writing in a kind of loose way. After touring we’ll probably sit down and focus on writing and working on it properly.

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at

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Alt-J, Gus Unger-Hamilton, An Awesome Wave, Joe Newman, Mercury Prize, Waterloo Records, Illuminati

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