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There’s no other J
It’s been a hectic 12 months for English art-rock quartet Alt-J, who have gone from obscurity to music press darlings and Mercury Prize favourites, thanks to their UK top 20 debut album, An Awesome Wave. Alt-J’s rollercoaster year continues with a US tour, which is where Hot Press catches up with the group’s keyboard player, Gus Unger-Hamilton. The previous night they'd played a show in Las Vegas, which, unsurprisingly, proved a somewhat surreal setting.
Paul Nolan, 23 Oct 2012
“It was an amazing view,” enthuses Unger-Hamilton. “The stage is in the middle of the hotel, by a pool. You look down from the stage and there’s a massive swimming-pool there, and there are people in it watching you play. Just behind that, you see Las Vegas, and there’s an Eiffel Tower, this massive globe thing – it’s kind of bonkers really.”
It turns out there’s been something of an aquatic theme to Alt-J’s gigs this year.
“We played the Into The Great Wide Open festival in Holland this summer,” recalls Gus, “and right in front of the stage was a big lake. You had people around the edge of the water and people on boats watching the band. It was quite cool. It seems the marine-themed gigs are slowly making their way over to Europe.”
Alt-J’s big break was undoubtedly receiving the Mercury nomination for their debut, an example of the prize doing what it’s supposed to do – bringing daring music to a wider audience. Considering the band would have kept tabs on the event whilst in school and university, it must be a bit odd to find themselves as favourites to land the gong.
“It really is,” admits Gus. “I remember being in bed listening to Radio One at night and there was a live announcement of who’d won. It was the year it went to Anthony and the Johnsons. It was really exciting, and I’ve always had this immense respect for the Mercury award. I’ve always thought it was kind of the be-all and end-all of the music scene for the year. If one particular year you haven’t been paying attention to the albums that have been released, when the Mercury shortlist is announced, you could catch up, or cram, through listening to those records, and have a fairly good ideas of what was going on.”
Is being a big band important to Alt-J?
“Undeniably it’s become something we’re aware of,” considers Gus. “It was never something we set out to do, and I would never say it’s something that we want to do. But it’s really exciting to be selling out bigger and bigger gigs, it’s exciting to be on the A-list at [BBC] Radio One... critical acclaim is something we’re probably much more keen on than mass appeal, simply because we’re an indie band. And all indie bands have this dream of people loving the record. We don’t care how much it sells, we just want to get some good reviews!”