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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
Alt-J formed at Leeds University in 2007 when – according to the group’s Wikipedia page – frontman Joe Newman showed guitarist/bassist Gwil Sainsbury some songs he’d written inspired by his guitar-playing dad and hallucinogens. Like Wild Beasts and labelmates These New Puritans, Alt-J have a very distinctive, idiosyncratic sound that makes them hard to pin down. There is also a psychedelic feel to some of their tunes. You wonder if there’s a drug aspect to their music?
“Not massively, no,” replies Gus. “The whole hallucinogens thing was basically that in first year, Joe took mushrooms with his flatmate and had a really bad time. He had to go home to his parents for a few weeks and really wasn’t the same when he came back for a good year or so. I think it improved his songwriting if anything; something seemed to click in his brain, and his songs got much more mature and dark and interesting. That was probably quite important actually in how the band went, because his songs after that did change and he seemed to grow up a lot.”
Bands who attain the sort of buzz that surrounds Alt-J usually find themselves the subject of much celebrity interest. Have any interesting people been turning up to the gigs lately?
“Moby was at our gig in show recently, which was really cool,” says Gus. “Yoko Ono follows us on Twitter! There have been a few people who’ve given us some really good support on Twitter – Harry Styles from One Direction mentioned us and we got about a thousand followers from that. Similarly Rizzle Kicks right now are quite keen on us. Ellie Goulding as well seems to be a fan, so we’ve got a nice little following in that respect.”
The aforementioned Styles has had a punishing schedule recently, between dating the stunning model Cara Delevingne and tweeting Emma Watson. Gus says Alt-J themselves are possibly “closing in on the model stage. I don’t know if we’re quite there yet. When you’re in America, they all look like models, it’s great!”