Alt-J on Their Mysterious Sound and Upcoming Jakarta Show
We got in contact with Gus Unger-Hamilton from alt-J to talk about their upcoming show in Jakarta for We The Fest, their newest album, Relaxer, and on the topic of indie bands selling out.
Words by Ghina Sabrina
Foto: Evening Standard
Most people would classify them as a British indie-rock band although they are not exactly indie by numbers. More often than not, they would also be called as experimental rock or art-rock. Either way, alt-J (or ∆) has pushed themselves into massive success since winning the 2012 British Mercury Prize with their debut album, “An Awesome Wave”. Half a decade later, the trio released “Relaxer”, a dark and surreal third album which drew inspirations from a vintage exploration game, English literature, to a traditional folk tune.
This year is your third time playing Coachella, were there any highlights during your set or during your whole Coachella experience?
I think the main takeaway is not to worry about the media or any kind of pressure and just to have fun. We didn’t go to any showbiz parties, we just partied with our close friends and our road crew, which was much more fun.
After releasing two albums, what were the biggest lessons that were taken into consideration when making “Relaxer”?
Not to listen to other people. We always have the best instincts for what our music should be. Charlie Andrew, our producer, helps with this a lot.
We always have the best instincts for what our music should be.
During the process of creating your first album, the style of music produced, which was quite distinct, was due to the fact that you were living in student halls and noise had to be kept at a minimum. Seeing now that noise complaints are out of the question, has that affected how you produce music for “Relaxer”?
I think we have tried to keep that student vibe by always finding unusual, hidden, scruffy studios to write in, thereby eliminating the danger of sounding like a band with too much grandiosity.
Upon releasing “Relaxer”, you launched a web game and a song video for “3WW” on YouTube that was influenced by LSD: Dream Emulator. Did the game influence the song or vice versa? And how did it came to being?
The game didn’t influence the song, but we felt that the sense of discovery and uncertainty in “3WW” really suited the dark world of the game. Thom discovered LSD Dream Emulator by seeing a screenshot from it on Twitter.
Compared to your previous albums, the cover of “Relaxer” was a darker, more bizarre digital imagery, which mirrors the colours of your music. From this, is there an interconnection between the artwork and the music direction on your albums?
Not exactly, but we always make sure that the artwork suits the music once we’ve finished an album. We wanted something mysterious with a hint of darkness and death this time.
We wanted something mysterious with a hint of darkness and death this time.A lot of your lyrics were inspired by literature or certain narratives. Is there any reason why you took inspiration from it?
We always say that good culture will work its way into your own creative work. I guess literature is one of the most influential forms of culture due to its ability to be easily quoted.
Your music could be seen as sitting somewhere between the experimental niche and the mainstream, how do you take that into account when creating music?
By always remembering that there is no rulebook where our music is concerned. If we want to write a banging three minute bass-led track like “Deadcrush” or a six minute orchestral prog hymn like “Pleader”, that’s OK.
What are your thoughts on indie bands who are a sellout? Because on one of your previous interviews, you mentioned that, “We don’t have a conscience about the idea of a band selling out to a company”. Which is your top priority, getting famous or earning money?
I don’t think either of those is a priority for us. However, given the choice, I would choose money over fame every time. I don’t think ‘selling out’ is always a bad thing. However, we have turned down commercial opportunities that seemed like they would embarrass us.
I don’t think ‘selling out’ is always a bad thing.
Do you have any future projects planned?
We are releasing a cool reimagining of “Relaxer” soon, which is really exciting. It’s very collaborative and unexpected.
Last year, you played in Bali for Bestival, and now you’re in Jakarta for We The Fest. Do you have any expectations on the crowd seeing it would be quite different?
No, but we can’t wait to return to Indonesia.
What can new and old fans expect from this tour? How will this new sound take shape on stage?
Lots of songs from all three albums, cool lights and a few thoughtful quips from yours truly between the songs. That’s all we can promise.