Something new, intriguing from Alt-J 

click to enlarge Beyond words: Members of the British quartet Alt-J say they “don’t have an idea” about the kind of sound they’re making. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Beyond words: Members of the British quartet Alt-J say they “don’t have an idea” about the kind of sound they’re making.

Looking for the next big thing in British music? It’s already surfed in on “An Awesome Wave,” the dazzling debut from U.K. quartet Alt-J. The record — featuring percussive, caffeinated anomalies such as “Tessellate,” “Breezeblocks” and the sinister single “Fitzpleasure” — simply defies description, even by its own composers. “We really don’t have any idea what kind of sound we’re making. We just play music that interests the four of us,” says folk-loving keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton, who met vocalist-guitarist Joe Newman, bassist Gwil Sainsbury and drummer Thom Green at college in Leeds, England, in 2007. “So I think our sound probably comes from the fact that we all have very different musical backgrounds.”

Only a few months ago, you guys were all living in the same house in Cambridge, right? We had no money, so the four of us, plus one of our girlfriends, all lived in a two-bedroom house, and it was pretty intense. Basically, Joe and I had bedrooms to ourselves, which was a luxury, and then Gwil and his girlfriend slept in the front room and Thom slept in the hall. And it was very good creatively — we got a lot done. But certainly other people’s bad habits rubbed others the wrong way. Like drinking orange juice from the carton. That was the thin end of the wedge, I would say.

Was your cupboard full of Pot Noodle cups? We cooked all of our own meals, cheap and nourishing. Lots of pasta and tomato sauce and sausages — things like that. It kept us going, and fueled the creation of “An Awesome Wave.” But we had a rule that nobody was allowed to snack between meals because we had so little food. And it was weird, because we were signing on at the job center, getting benefits, but we were also getting played on the radio and going to Maida Vale studios to record sessions. So in one sense, we were doing really well. And in another, we were on the bread line, literally on the dole.

Were there instruments sitting around everywhere, just waiting to be played? Precisely. I wouldn’t call it a conservatory, because that sounds slightly grandiose. But our house had a little room attached on the back with windows, so we practiced there every day. We’d wake up, have breakfast — Marmite on toast, or Heinz beans on toast if one of us got a check from our parents — do a bit of practice. Then we’d all go into town to the library, where they had free Internet, then go home, have some spaghetti and practice some more. That was our routine, and it was quite nice in a way.

IF YOU GO

Alt-J

Where: Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., S.F.

When: 9 p.m. today

Tickets: $12 to $14

Contact: (415) 861-2011; www.snagtickets.com

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Tom Lanham

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