Alt-J’s maverick drummer Thom Sonny Green is the first of the Mercury Prize winning gang to release a solo album – which he’ll do on August 19. We chatted to him about the electronic album, called ‘High Anxiety’, as well as what it all means for the future of Alt-J.
So when did you start work on your solo album?
“We started to tour quite quickly after finishing our first Alt-J album. We were on tour a lot, and that’s when I started learning how to produce. I started recording and saving tracks that I’d been working on, but I didn’t have any particular aim. I just wanted to make sounds – I found that extremely therapeutic. It helped me with a lot of things on tour, with anxiety and things like that.”
The title of the album, ‘High Anxiety’ really stands out. Does it hold a personal relationship with you?
“Yeah, I have general anxiety, which means nothing can really trigger it, I’m just an anxious person. Most of the time I’m totally fine and sometimes I just feel like I can’t stop thinking. I start to overthink things to the point where I get myself quite worked up. The album really comes from that; going on tour and having an outlet, something to focus on. I’m very lucky to have found production. It helps me a great deal. There’s a lot of things on tour I find quite difficult. The title comes from a film directed by Mel Brooks. I’ve not seen it, I just liked it as a title.”
The album seems to have an underlying darkness to it, even on the more uplifting tracks. Was that something you were aware of whilst writing?
“I guess so. I definitely avoided writing pop. I do listen to more introspective music, or music that comes from an introspective place. Like I said, a lot of it was written on tour when I was feeling pretty shit. I try to tap into the darker side of it. It’s pretty fucking difficult to write joyful music. It’s not that natural for me.”
You’ve attached visuals to the album in a big way. You’re partially deaf – did that tie into the visual aspect of the album?
“I don’t think so. I mean, the deafness didn’t. Deafness is a huge part of my life, and without wearing hearing aids I can’t hear anything really, but it doesn’t affect much otherwise. The visuals meant that we could put out the music and have something else to carry it a little bit. Where the music is soft, a lot of it is quite droney. There’s no lyrics, it’s not pop music. I just thought it’d be nice to have something visual happening as well. I studied Fine Art at university, so it’s kind of who I am. I want to make more videos. I want to make films in the future. Even though I’m a producer and a drummer, I wouldn’t pigeonhole myself like that. I consider myself to be an artist, so everything I do creatively comes from the same place within me. To me it’s a natural thing, I wanted to do it. My friend Nichola Farman, who I worked on the videos with, we were quite keen to work together on something, but we weren’t sure what. The timings worked well.”
What do you feel able to do as a solo artist that you can’t do with Alt-J?
“Part of the reason why I started producing was because a lot of the stuff that I do doesn’t work with the band. I didn’t want to push it on the band. I wanted a place to put everything else that I was making instead of just getting rid of it. There are certain rules with producing where you have to decide what it is you’re looking for, what’s good for the band and what’s good for the track. Whereas if it’s just me, I can do whatever I like. I would like to make a metal album, for example, in the future. I’ve always loved metal and I used to play metal in grunge bands when I was a teenager.”
So when can we expect the return of Alt-J?
“Since January we’ve taken time off from the band, just to be at home a little bit. We were getting a bit, not sick of it, but like we needed to be ourselves, we needed to remember who we were a little bit before we carried on, otherwise we might compromise. But we’re meeting up at the moment to talk about the next album. I mean, we never stopped thinking about it, we just needed a break. Alt-J is by no means over.”
Has any of the third album been recorded?
“Nah, not really. There’s been a lot of ideas. We’re very excited about it, I think it’s going to be pretty interesting. I feel like it’ll be different, but I don’t know. It’s funny – we write together so well and it comes pretty naturally and pretty quick, but I can’t predict it. We write what we feel.”
Any idea when it might be coming?
“Nah – I wish I could say but I have no idea!”
Thom Sonny Green’s solo album ‘High Anxiety’ is released August 19