Unexpected success for Alt-J brings good and bad
FILE - This Nov. 1, 2012 file photo shows members of Alt-J, from left, Joe Newman, Thom Green, Gus Unger-Hamilton and Gwil Sainsbury at the Barclaycard Mercury Prize Albums of the Year awards 2012 at the Camden Roundhouse in London. Their debut album, "An Awesome Wave," went on to win the prestigious Mercury Prize given to the top album of the year in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The Cambridge quartet has since been a near constant conversation piece on the blogosphere and mid-sized club circuit on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. (Photo by John Marshall JME/Invision/AP)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Twelve months ago the guys in British rock back Alt-J had a very simple goal: To release an album.
Just something you could hold in your hands, maybe listen to every so often.
"And at least feel that when we died we could legitimately say we released an album on a label," keyboards player Gus Unger-Hamilton said. "And we could look at it and say, 'Look, we made an album once.'"
"Kind of like you can show it to your kids," guitarist-bassist Gwil Sainsbury said.
That debut, "An Awesome Wave," went on to win the prestigious Mercury Prize given to the top album of the year in the United Kingdome and Ireland in something of a shocker. The Cambridge quartet has since been a near constant conversation piece on the blogosphere and mid-sized club circuit on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
The band's in the midst of a U.S. tour, stopping in for a sold-out show Monday in Nashville, and will be on the road much of the year taking advantage of an endless number of opportunities that have come along since taking the prize over acts like Richard Hawley, Lianne La Havas, Jessie Ware and Michael Kiwanuka.
Just making the Mercury's coveted 12-member shortlist is a kind of validation, Sainsbury said as he, Unger-Hamilton and drummer Thom Green contemplatively sucked on smokeless cigarettes before soundcheck. Winning it took the tenuousness out of Alt-J's existence.
"For a long time we were playing the album and we didn't know if it was sounding like the album," Sainsbury said. "We weren't sure it was coming across. But people were pleased with it, and I think this Mercury Prize makes us feel like we're pretty much a certified real band now."
That status comes with both perks and drawbacks. The good is obvious: bigger gigs, unexpected record sales and the adoration of a growing fan base that digs the band's wobbly, pleasingly eccentric brand of pop music. Some wonder if they might be the next big British import, following the path recently laid by British acts like Mumford & Sons and Ed Sheeran.
The bad? The haters. Lead singer Joe Newman's voice drives them nuts. And the Mercury? Alt-J's win was just another sign the prize is losing its cachet.
"If someone doesn't like a band, that's totally fair enough," Sainsbury said. "But sometimes people might take offense at the individuals in the band, and that's strange."