Interview: Alt-J (âˆ†)
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It has been confirmed; Gus Unger-Hamilton can make a cracking cup of tea. Aside from his beverage making talents, Gus is more so renowned for being a quarter of the Mercury Award winning band, Alt-J (âˆ†) who have rocketed off the ground with their debut album, An Awesome Wave. They have been one of the biggest bands in 2013 worldwide, yet they retain the nature and humility of a local city group. Instead of spending their university life like most students, predominately getting drunk and clearing up from the night before, âˆ† spent their undergrad fairly withdrawn, cultivating and critiquing their music. We met with Gus at the Bristol leg of the UK tour to talk about possible collaboration exclusives, the hipster association and sex. Many people associate the âˆ† symbol with being alternative and ‘hipster’. At university, and even now, did you have to battle with the cool factor? Well, at university, we weren’t actually called Alt-J, we were called Films. So, no one really knew about us, we just kept to ourselves and played a few gigs. People think we are complete hipsters and whatever. But I think that once they see us or meet us they realise that we are quite normal and boring as people. So, being cool isn’t too much of an issue but we try and come across as unlike that as possible. Do you think that your university degrees had an influence on the band? I think it’s given us a critical approach to what we do, and a certain kind of academic rigor in our approach to song writing and general creativeness. We spend a long time crafting our songs, we don’t just bash them out and I think that’s to do with how we’ve been taught to work. We scrutinise every element of the song in a critical way and that’s probably something to do with the degrees we did. Many of the songs on the album are directly related to books and films too. Yeah, I don’t know if that’s so much to do with our degrees, but more of our interests. If you look at the film and book references, they aren’t really high brow. They’re not low brow but they are popular references; it’s not Marcel Proust. What would you say is the best backdrop to listen to your debut album, An Awesome Wave? I really like the idea of people listening to it whilst just doing everyday stuff, like getting the train or doing an essay; I can relate to that. People tweet us about going on long drives and listening to the album the whole time, which is really nice as it’s unpretentious and real. That, or sex probably. What were your original plans after university? I don’t really know! I think after we graduated, Gwil was a year behind us because he had a year abroad, so Joe and I got jobs in Leeds and gave the band a year. We just wanted to see what was going to happen. The song 'Taro' references Robert Capa and Gerda Taro. How did this influence come around? We were living in Cambridge together and we had this book of different photographs taken by Life magazine, and in there, there was a short section about Robert Capa and Joe was incredibly inspired by the story; who wouldn’t be, it’s a brilliant story. We lived in this house and we had no TV or internet. We just had loads of books and sat around reading a lot. It was quite nice, but boring. I think it broadened our minds a lot. To try and get on the internet, we used to have to go to the library in town to use the computers for an hour a day. We used to all go in together and go on the computers for an hour, realised it had run out then go home and read books again. I bet you’re sick to death of people asking you about the genre of the band. Critics and listeners find it hard to place it in a category. I was wondering how important do you think it is that there is a genre at all? I don’t think it is very important. Particularly now it has become very easy to listen to music free online. If someone says ‘I like a band’, and they reply ‘what type of music is it?’, before they go and buy the album they can go online and listen to the music right there. I think that has eradicated the need to label types of music.
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