Mercury Prize winners alt-J have been increasingly innovative with their live shows since their humble beginnings as students rehearsing in a basement. Here, the band’s manager Stephen Taverner and FOH engineer Lance Reynolds tell us how the experimental indie rockers have been pushing the boundaries of immersive audio over the years, and have no plans to stop there.
“The band literally just moved into their new studio; they were about a month in and had written a few songs - they’re very excited about this new material,” says Stephen ‘Tav’ Taverner, who has now managed the pioneering trio alt-J for the last decade.
With their huge fan base and constantly evolving live shows, alt-J usually like to keep busy, but since Coronavirus came along and threw a spanner in the works, they have been somewhat disrupted on the creative side.
“They’ve been doing a bit of remote writing, but the way they write best is when all three of them are together,” says Tav. “They’ve been a bit down in the dumps because they were on such a roll, so I’m hopeful they can get back in the studio again soon.
“The first time I ever went to see them rehearse was in the tiny basement of their uni house, because they were still students at the time,” he recalls.
“The drummer, Tom, just had two saucepans turned upside down and a floor tom, while the keyboardist, Gus, was playing a kid’s Casio keyboard. It was a bizarre and very rough and ready rehearsal, but clearly I was suitably impressed because I immediately said I wanted to work with them.”
These days, alt-J’s production levels are worlds apart from what Tav describes, but it’s obvious that there’s never been any frills or ego in the band, even from their early days playing intimate gigs in Camden.
“We deliberately took our time, because they were such a unique sounding band and they were still figuring out how they wanted to perform live on stage,” remembers Tav. “They were still at university and I didn’t want to put pressure on them, so I didn’t take on a press plug or a radio person or anything like that. I asked their producer, Charlie Andrew, to record four songs which we put on SoundCloud as a free download.
"People started downloading and sharing them with their friends and it just created this global word of mouth following, which I think is the best way for an artist to get discovered. They started doing gigs here, there and everywhere, and it was hilarious watching them run for the train with all their gear on their backs!”
Those four songs, which included the band’s mesmerising hit, Breezeblocks, indeed made it onto the first album - and people soon started to discover them.