Press the “alt” key followed by the “J” key on your PC keyboard and up pops “∆”. Alt-J, the London band that Rolling Stone dubs “Mumford & Sons with laptops,” discovered this back in 2007, and named itself after the geometric shortcut. Joe Newman (guitar/vocals), Gwil Sainsbury (guitarist/bassist), Gus Unger-Hamilton (keyboards) and Thom Green (drums) released their debut album An Awesome Wave in May of 2012 and by the end of the year had won both the coveted British Mercury Prize and BBC Radio 6 Music Album of the Year. “[After winning these awards] everything goes up: fees, demand, expectation, venue sizes, free stuff, etc.,” says Newmann. “It’s great but just so long as you stay grounded and keep thinking about the quality of your next creative step.”
And the band, which is about to take to the stage this weekend at Coachella, is finally hitting its stride in the States. Its track “Buffalo” was featured in the Oscar-winning Silver Linings Playbook, and currently Alt-J is in the midst of a country-wide tour. After Coachella, the boys will be making stops at Bonnaroo and the Governors Ball. Though Newmann says that just getting to travel the country will be the best part of the experience. The one thing he must do when he gets to New York City? He simply replies, “Stay.”
Here is a sampling of the band’s best beats:
Photo: Jory Cordy
When did you know that you wanted to be a comedian?
I knew I wanted to be a comedian from a very young age, I’d say about ten or 11 years old. I thought comedy was a very noble and impressive thing to do. I’d watch comics on TV and think to myself, these guys really have a handle on things, they’re on top of it. I finally went on stage for the first time during my sophomore year of college.
And how did things evolve from there?
In 1984, I spent the summer in Boston doing open mics and drinking, it was pretty brutal. After that summer, I was pretty annihilated by the heartbreak of the whole thing—the insanity of the lifestyle—so when I went back to school in 1985, I put comedy on the shelf for a while. And then when I graduated in ’87, I moved to Los Angeles and became a doorman at The Comedy Store in LA. From ’87 on, that was it. The whole point of life was comedy.
Your life has changed profoundly since you started “WTF With Marc Maron,” what has your podcast meant to you?
I've found that this is a medium that affords me a lot of freedom. It allows me to speak my mind and move through feelings and thoughts without anybody monitoring me. The show is also not about getting laughs which adds another element of freedom. It's nice to see the effects that these conversations seem to have on others, the help and company it provides for people. And of course it's raised people's awareness of me and given me a bit of a career.
What are some of your favorite episodes?
I find most of them to be surprising and good. But the ones in which something was really dealt with are always fulfilling. Norm McDonald, Judd Apatow, and Conan O’Brien were all big ones. Mel Brooks was a very exciting one.
Who would you like to have on the show that you haven’t yet?
There’s an ever-evolving list, but, Iggy Pop, Bob Newhart, Will Ferrell, David O’Russell…
Because you’re so forthcoming about your own issues (drug addiction, career anxieties, relationships, etc.), it seems like you can always get to deeper places with your guests than they expect, even if they know you. Have you always been this open and vulnerable?
I have always been sensitive and a bit needy even as a kid. I wanted to be seen and heard. But I used to be a lot more aggravated and bitter. I frame my conversations from a different place now. I’ve grown. I wasn’t always like I am now, but I pretty much always needed attention.
You’ve become a sort of paternal figure in the ever-expanding podcast community, but does it ever annoy you that everybody has a podcast now since you were one of the original guys?
I mean I carved a place out, but I didn’t invent people talking to each other on microphones. It’s just like anything else – there’s a million comics out there and a million podcasts, is it a personal attack on me? No. Do you want to feel special? Yeah. Am I one of many now as opposed to one of a few? Yeah. But just because another podcast shows up doesn’t mean anyone is going to listen to mine less.
Your book of personal essays, Attempting Normal, comes out on April 30th. You reveal so much in your podcast, are there things in the book that your fans will still be surprised to learn about you?
There are some things that people will kind of have an idea about and other things that I haven’t talked about before. But writing is a different animal. The medium changes the way the stories are told.
Your new TV show, Maron, premieres on May 3rd on IFC. What will it be like?
It’s a slightly heightened and fictionalized version of the life I am living now. Every element of my life is involved in the show. Celebrities will be playing themselves as guests on the podcast, there will be stories about my dad, the business, household problems, dating, everything. We got a lot of great people to come on the show. We’re going to have Mark Duplass, Dave Foley, Jeff Garlin, Bobcat Goldthwait, Ken Jeong, Andy Kindler, Dennis Leary, Aubrey Plaza.
How does it feel after all of the ups and downs to be finally getting your own show at 49?
By the time I started the podcast, I’d really given up on the idea of ever having these opportunities. The podcast was a hail mary pass, it was a desperate act to continue working and being viable. I thought I was washed up and that my career was done. The fact that this has all happened and happened in the way that it has feels great and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to act and write in the way that I get to now. I would like to do it more, and continue to make better and better things. It’s all really exciting, who knows what will happen, but I think what we did is pretty astounding and I feel good about it.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It never stops really. I try to interview for the podcast as often as I can. I gotta prep for those, and then I gotta talk to people like you. This morning I went and met with directors, then I went to therapy, I have two interviews later, I am going to look at a new house I might buy, then I have to set aside time for things like Twitter. It never ends.
Photo: Max S. Gerber
Last week on SNL, Justin Timberlake hosted and Jay Z, Martin Short, Steve Martin, Dan Aykroyd, Candice Bergen, Tom Hanks and Alec Baldwin all made surprise guest appearances. What was it like writing for that show?
It was crazy! I had no idea what to expect but the whole experience was amazing. I figured I was just going to be like getting coffee for people or something, but everyone was so welcoming and supportive. The SNL staff didn’t make me feel like the new guy at all and to share a space with so many of these icons, to be doing the same thing they’re doing and competing for laughs with them, was bizarre.
Did you get to meet all the guest stars?
I saw Dan Aykroyd in the hall and I had to go up to him and say hello. I also got to talk with Steve Martin. I’m a huge Steven Martin fan. I asked him so many questions about stand-up and he gave me some great advice and insight from his career. But really, I couldn’t get past the fact that I was talking to Steve Martin.
So many famous comedians talk about how difficult it is to get a sketch on SNL. Sarah Silverman and Mindy Kaling noted in their memoirs that neither had a sketch air during their writing stints at 30 Rock. What was it like to have your sketch "Romantic Comedy", featuring Justin Timberlake and Nasim Pedrad in a fake movie trailer, air during your first week at the show?
I wanted to go on the floor to watch the show instead of watching it in the writer’s room so that I could see it live. I walked out to the little area and there was Tom Hanks, Martin Short, Steve Martin, and Lorne Michaels. I was sitting right next to them and they were laughing at my sketch. I didn’t even want to look at the stage, I just wanted to watch them laugh at it. It was such a crazy experience.
Che performing stand-up.
What’s next for you?
I would love to do more TV and do movies for the experience but my ultimate focus is stand-up. It’s the number one thing that I love most because there is nothing like being with a live audience. This has been a crazy, exciting year, and I am hoping that what comes out of it is really quality material. I am working on an hour-long performance right now, and I want it to be something really special that people will love.
How did you finally work up the courage to do your first open mic?
I was so nervous. I went the week before just to check it out and see what I was getting into and then I decided that I was just going to do it. I drank a good amount of E & J and then got on stage. I don’t even remember it that well, but I do know that something clicked in me, the perspective of being on stage and looking out at the audience, I wanted more of that.
What’s your writing process like?
If I think something’s funny, I try to mold it into a joke as soon as possible. Once I have a joke, I say it a million different ways on stage until I find a rhythm and it feels like its as good as it can be. You know how when you’re speaking to someone in a different language, like asking for directions or something, and you have to try and figure out a way to make them understand what you mean? That’s what a joke is like for me. I know why I think it’s funny. I just have to figure out a way to package it so that other people will see why it’s funny too.
What was it like to do Letterman? How nervous were you?
I actually have a crazy Letterman story. It was the week before Hurricane Sandy, I was living in Jersey City at the time and by Tuesday, I had lost power, cell phone service was out, and public transportation had stopped. I had no way to find out if the Letterman taping was still going to happen. On Wednesday night, I was in my room, and I hear a knock on my window. My manager had called a friend, who called another friend, who called another friend to come over and get me. We got in the car and started driving, but because of the rule that you couldn’t cross the bridge with just two people, we stopped at the bus stop to see if we could pick people up! We picked up this guy and a little toddler. I can’t believe this guy brought a toddler into a stranger’s car…luckily we were nice people! Anyway, long story short, I made it to the taping and it went well.
How has your rising notoriety changed your life?
The biggest change in my life is that all I have to do is comedy. I enjoy it so much that it almost feels like cheating, I can’t believe I get paid to do this. I get to do what I love for money. It’s weird to process that.
Photos: Mindy Tucker
In our August 2011 issue, Tilda Swinton claimed that she and David Bowie share the same “planetary DNA.” (Our cover, in which the androgynous actress appears like the Thin White Duke incarnate, would go far to support that claim.) It’s been a long time coming, but the two alien-ish style icons, seemingly separated at birth, have finally partnered up, appearing together in Bowie’s latest music video "The Stars (Are Out Tonight).” Directed by Floria Sigismondi, the six-minute film portrays the pair as a happily married couple whose world is torn apart by their younger and similar-looking neighbors, played by models Andrej Pejic, Saskia De Brauw, and Iselin Steiro. Indeed, it is as brilliant and strange as one would expect.
"The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" by David Bowie
You went from pursuing a Ph.D. in visual ethnography at the University of Oxford to pursuing a career in stand-up comedy in New York. Was there some sort of eureka moment?
No, it was a pretty slow burning process. I dropped out of the Ph.D. program, picked up a master’s on the way out the door, and moved to New York. I was working as a caterer on the side when one of my friends, who was also in the city working as an editor of infomercials and karaoke videos, said, “You know, editing is much more interesting than catering. It pays more, and at night, you can still do your wacky things.”
Do you have a favorite from all those infomercials and karaoke videos? You must have a signature karaoke song by now…
Anything you work on, even if it isn’t the most creatively challenging thing, still feels like your baby. And even if you don’t love each baby equally, you should be a respectful father; it would be uncouth to choose favorites. But look, I really like Neil Diamond’s “Solitary Man.”
Okay, so I won’t ask which one of these two films is your favorite, but what was the draw behind releasing them as a double feature? What was the first double feature you remember watching?
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a double-header. I was a pretty hyper child; the notion of being able to sit through two movies was inconceivable. We thought it would be a fun idea to show two very different films from one director and filmmaker. It doesn’t happen that often.
Red Flag is very meta. What was it like to play a version of yourself?
There was a movie called The Trip by Michael Winterbottom, where Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play caricature versions of themselves. Stuff like that really makes me laugh. Woody Allen used to do this a lot in his early movies, of course, and that’s what I like: to amplify my own fears, neuroses, delusions and ambitions for comedic affect.
Can you share a few of your fears or neurosis?
[Laughs.] I think a lot about death; a lot of my surface frustrations and angers are fundamentally rooted in the fear of my own mortality. So that is something I tried to apply both dramatically and creatively. There is also my commitment phobia. My character has this sort of epiphany moment in the middle of the film; that’s a real breakthrough moment of catharsis.
Red Flag and Rubberneck now playing at the Film Society's Lincoln Center's Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and available on VOD nationwide.
Does that mean you had a similar breakthrough moment in real life?
Yes, I basically squished a bunch of life experiences and small light bulb episodes into one semi-spectacular, 40-second scene.
In Rubberneck, your character also deals with death and anxiety. Not to spoil anything for the audience, but you succeed in being sufficiently creepy. I think people who are used to seeing you in a comedic light will be surprised.
Well, good! It was just a product of circumstance, though. We had originally cast someone else for that role, but the actor had a family emergency and dropped out of the film last minute, so I stepped into his shoes in order to finish the movie.
Directing versus acting, you must use different parts of the brain. Do you prefer one to the other?
I think I would be really sad if I only did one or the other. If I only acted, I would not feel comfortable surrendering my fate to external powers. But I also love acting; it’s a stress-free way of being creative.
I’m glad you’re succeeding in doing both, especially with the popularity of Girls. What do you think about co-directing a few episodes of the show?
Oh I don’t know, maybe. I think we’re in a good groove right now, so if it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it.
I watched your spot on Rookie’s “Ask a Grown Man.” You listed a few things you found attractive in the opposite sex: sincerity, confidence, a sense of humor, humility, style and the ability to dance. Anything you’d like to add or amend?
Don’t you think that list is pretty comprehensive? I’m very happy with it.
Portrait: Adam Desiderio
"Suit & Tie", Justin Timberlake, Directed by David Fincher
"Thriller", Michael Jackson, Directed by John Landis
"Fight the Power", Public Enemy, Directed by Spike Lee
"Under the Bridge", Red Hot Chili Peppers, Directed by Gus Van Sant
"Martini Ranch", Reach, Directed by James Cameron
"Gravity", Michael Sembello, Directed by Ron Howard
"Sabotage", Beastie Boys, Directed by Spike Jonze
"Heartbreaker", Mariah Carey feat. Jay-Z, Directed by Brett Ratner
"I Touch Myself", Divinyls, Directed by Michael Bay
"Touched by the Hand of God", New Order, Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Harlem-born MC A$AP Rocky, who released his debut album “LongLiveASAP” last month, is about as well-versed in fashion as he is in the rap game. This is a guy, after all, who rhymes Dolce & Gabbana with Balenciaga, stars in Alexander Wang’s new collection video, and is reportedly dating the model Chanel Iman. You might have noticed his Instagrams for W—he took a few pics while front-row at Y-3. Here, he gives us the fashion low-down.
What was the first designer item you bought?
A pair of 2008 Marc Jacobs white/gray hi-top sneakers.
What was the last?
A sweater from Phillip Lim.
What's your favorite item in your closet right now?
My Bathing Ape jacket.
What's one thing you won't wear?
What's one thing you think women shouldn't wear?
Foamposite Nike sneakers. I hate that [laughs].
What designers do you like?
Alexander Wang, Raf Simons, Rick Owens, Phillip Lim, Jil Sander, Ann Demeulemeester, Maison Martin Margiela, Jeremy Scott, Toast to the Gods, Y-3. The list goes on.
Who is your style icon?
Pharrell Williams and Andre 3000.
What are you listening to right now?
I’m listening to myself right now. Long.Live.A$AP!
Who are your favorite musicians (other than yourself)?
So many but I’ll have to say Curtis Mayfield and MGMT.
What's the last great meal you ate?
Breakfast. It was oatmeal with crushed bananas, fruit salad, a bagel, and a glass of orange juice.
What's your favorite neighborhood spot?
A$AP Relli’s crib in Harlem [New York City].
What do you cook?
I don’t cook, cause I don’t know how to cook.
What magazines do you have a subscription to?
I don’t subscribe to any magazines.
What made you laugh recently?
A fight video on World Star Hip Hop of a girl knocking out a dude. It was hilarious [laughs].
What's the first thing you do in the morning?
Brush my teeth.
What's the last thing you do at night?
Surf the net.
Who's your dentist?
How often do you get your hair done?
Once or twice every two weeks.
A$AP Ferg's painting for A$AP Rocky
What's hanging on your walls?
A bunch of inspirational pictures and art. The main piece has to be a painting of John Lennon and Yoko Ono above my headboard. A$AP Ferg painted the piece and gave it to me after his dad died.
What do you wear to bed?
Most of the time just underwear. That’s it.
Photo: Getty Images
Downton Abbey, 2010
For those of you who live in a media bubble, this runaway hit delivers all of the expected period intrigue: scheming servants, society scandals, marriage woes, inheritance drama, and a good dose of the impeccably snooty and quick-witted Maggie Smith as the Grantham family matriarch—all perfectly polished by costume drama maestro Julian Fellows.
Season 1 is available on Hulu Plus
Seasons 1 and 2 are available on Amazon Instant Video and iTunes
This two-part series, based on the 1993 war novel by Sebastian Faulks, tells the story of Stephen Wraysford (Eddie Redmayne), an entrenched English soldier who escapes the horrors of WWI through flashbacks to his illicit affair (which is fleshed out in steamy detail) with a French woman, Isabelle Azaire (Clémence Poésy).
Available Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and iTunes
Wives and Daughters, 1999
Based on the 19th century novel by Elizabeth Gaskell, this BAFTA-winning miniseries follows the drama that ensues when a daughter of a country doctor is forced to deal with a new stepmother, beautiful stepsister, and her own secrets.
On Netflix and Amazon Instant Video
The Misfits, 2009
When a strange electrical storm bequeaths five 20-something delinquents on a community service detail with special powers, they are forced to grapple with their newfound abilities (from immortality to invisibility) and their new charges as reluctant superheroes. Season one took home the 2010 BAFTA Television Award for Best Drama Series.
Season 1-3 on Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and iTunes
Another Elizabeth Gaskell adaptation, this Golden Globe-nominated five-part series takes viewers to Cranford in the 1840s, as the women who rule the roost navigate the inevitable changes of the Industrial Revolution on their rural town.
Amazon Instant Video, Netflix DVD, and iTunes
The Hour, 2011
This Golden Globe-nominated thriller set in Cold War-era England follows the team behind the investigative news program The Hour, helmed by anchorman Hector Madden (played by The Wire’s Dominic West), as they wrestle with fidelity, truthful reporting, and personal ambition.
Season 1 on Netflix and, Amazon Instant Video, and iTunes
North and South, 2004
This four-part series based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s Victorian novel follows a young country girl as she adjusts to life in the North and tries to navigate her feelings for the son of an arrogantly wealthy family.
On Netflix, Amazon Instant Video
Bleak House, 2005
Based on Charles Dickens’s novel, this BAFTA-winning, Emmy-nominated 15-part series explores the British justice system in appropriately Dickensian fashion. The story centers on a trio of orphans (including one played by Carey Mulligan) at the center of a complicated inheritance case and quickly spirals into a mess of corruption and murder.
On Netflix, iTunes, Amazon instant video
The show follows John Luther, an obsessive, self-destructive detective—played brilliantly by the Emmy Award-winning Idris Elba (of The Wire fame)—as he tracks deranged killers through the streets of London while struggling to keep the job from completely consuming his life. Look out for a fantastic performance by Ruth Wilson as the ingeniously creepy Alice Morgan.
Seasons 1 and 2 are available on Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and iTunes
Pride and Prejudice, 1995
This adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy has taken on an almost cult status, catapulting him to fame and garnering a BAFTA.
On Netflix DVD, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video
Photos: Downton Abbey: © BBC; The Hour: © Kudos; Luther: © BBC; The Misfits: Mark Johnson, © Clerkenwell Films
Where: The Sundance Film Festival premiere of Very Good Girls.
When: January 22
What: A Miu Miu top, a Louis Vuitton sequin-embroidered tweed mini skirt and Azzedine Alaia heels.
Why: The slit of bare midriff adds tasteful sexiness without inducing hypothermia. A deep red lip and loose strands strike the balance between grown-up and carefree.
Photo: Getty Images
There are some artists who use social media effectively (Alex Israel’s bizarre Youtube talk show, Brian Piana’s Ellsworth Kelly Hacked My Twitter project), a few who make art explicitly about social media, and very few who do it as cleverly, hilariously, and technically as Yung Jake, a rapper and CalArts grad whose music video E.m-bed.de/d seems to do funky things to your web browser, Twitter feed, Tumblr page, and Instagram account. It’s all packaged around a catchy track featuring lyrics that make viral-era jokes of classic rap-video memes: “I’m trying to get em-bedded/I’m trying to get lay-ed out.”
Wrong Cops Trailer
From writer-director Quentin Dupieux, who made a bonkers horror movie about a killer tire (Rubber), comes Wrong Cops, which feels like Super Troopers meets Secretary—a depraved, blackly comedic take on the cop-gone-bad genre. This film has a little bit of everything: cross-dressing, eye patches, and even Marilyn Manson as a sullen teenager bullied by an officer of the law. 45 minutes of the still unfinished project will screen for the public, and, one can only hope, attract populist financing, a social strategy that also includes a chapter-by-chapter tease of the film online. A wide-open, publicly engaged, “post-theatrical” approach to filmmaking? This sounds familiar.