The British band’s singer, Joe Newman, on how the trauma that followed the murder of a friend’s sister led to their songs about dark subjects

Alt-J frontman Joe Newman recently gave the band’s acclaimed 2012 debut, An Awesome Wave, a nostalgic spin. “And I was like: ‘Fuck, I sound annoying!’” It has been nearly a decade since the group, then fresh out of Leeds University, flipped the indie script with a strange, eerie album that was at once deeply experimental and full of undeniable bangers.

Phenomenally successful and criss-crossed with Newman’s distinctive, mischievous falsetto, An Awesome Wave not only won the Mercury prize but helped them become one of the few British bands this century to break the United States, placing them alongside the rarified likes of Coldplay and Gorillaz. “Then I took a step back and thought: ‘That voice has done a lot for us,’” Newman says, of revisiting the band’s debut. “The songs are still great and maybe we do things differently now … but I do think my voice was annoying.”

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