British indie trio alt-J (named for the Apple Macintosh keystroke combination that produces the delta symbol: ∆) achieved remarkable success with its May 2012 debut An Awesome Wave. It went on to sell more than one million copies worldwide and “Breezeblocks”––the record’s most-streamed song on Spotify––has earned more than 54 million plays. The band has also landed a number of film and TV placements, notably 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook and Showtime’s Weeds.
alt-J embarked on a successful 2012-2013 tour that included a number of European summer festivals. The band returned to the studio in April of this year to begin work on This Is All Yours (Canvasback Music in the States, Infectious Records elsewhere), following an amicable split with founding member and original bassist Gwil Sainsbury.
Having received such a warm reception from the streaming service, the band pre-released the 13-track This Is All Yours on Spotify shortly prior to the official U.S. drop date of Sept. 23. It’s also available for streaming (but only in select locations) via the customized This Is All Yours app.
To learn more about how the band handles its career, Music Connection sat down to talk a little business with guitarist and lead vocalist Joe Newman and keyboardist/vocalist Gus Unger-Hamilton.
Music Connection: You began recording This Is All Yours in April, aiming for a September release. That’s a snappy turnaround. To what do you attribute this quick production?
Gus Unger-Hamilton: This time around, we were able to devote all of our time to the record. The first album was made piecemeal. We toured for almost two years on it and we knew that we had to get the [new] album out this year. It was likely that necessity made us work fast. But we also found that we weren’t having writer’s block––much of the album was written on the road––and we enjoyed recording together. That just meant that we got everything done faster.
MC: How was the decision made to record at Iguana Studios, the same place that you recorded your first album? Does the band consider that to be an important choice?
Unger-Hamilton: We didn’t want to change anything [from the previous experience]. We didn’t feel that we needed to go to New York or Spain [to record]. It wasn’t necessary to go to a better studio to write a better album. We considered Iguana to be our home, to a certain extent.
MC: Charlie Andrew produced An Awesome Wave. Was it a simple choice to go with him again? How did that decision impact the album?
Unger-Hamilton: That was a very simple choice. We’ve worked with him since around 2009. He’s part of the family, really. We got fantastic results with Charlie on the last record; we just thought, “Why not use him again?” There was no point in shopping around for a new guy just because we could. Using Charlie kept a consistency from the first album to the second. As a band, we knew each other and our relationship with our producer was like a friendship. We’d already gone through the stages of understanding what everyone’s strengths were. We knew what we had to do to achieve a new record.
MC: How did the band begin to write This Is All Yours? Did the approach differ in any discernible way from previous approaches?
Joe Newman: We wrote this album, essentially, over three different time periods. There were some songs from the last record that didn’t go onto that album because they weren’t ready and we already had enough material at that stage. Some of the songs we came up with while on tour. We have ideas that germinate during soundcheck, for example, which we do a quick recording of on a phone and come back to later. Third, some of the songs came up during recording sessions. But we knew that people liked what they heard on our first album so we were anxious to give them something new.
MC: alt-J is still signed to Infectious Records. What made you decide to stay with them when, given your recent success, you could probably find a bigger label with greater reach?