Relax, Alt-J are just getting on with the job

Alt J will play the Empress Ballroom in September
Alt J will play the Empress Ballroom in September

Following the release of their new album Relaxer - and an Empress Ballroom gig in the autumn announced, Malcolm Wyatt catches up with Alt-J’s Gus Unger-Hamilton.

Relaxer comes on the tail of Mercury Prize/Ivor Novello Award-winning 2012 debut An Awesome Wave and 2014’s No.1 Grammy/Brit Award-nominated This Is All Yours.

Those factors alone suggest plenty of pressure on former university friends Joe Newman, Thom Green and Gus Unger-Hamilton.

They’ve already sold two million-plus records, with songs streamed more than one billion times, headlined festivals and sold out venues around the world - yet Relaxer is very much a London album.

“We haven’t changed our approach at all since album one; enjoying hanging out together, writing then going to [producer] Charlie Andrew’s place in Brixton or to Shoreditch, getting the recording done,” Gus said.

“I think it’s best not to dwell on that [being one of the most commercially successful UK bands of the millennium].

“It’s such a huge number, you can’t even look at it directly. You have to step back, shield your eyes! We just get on with the job in hand.

“It adds expectation. You become nervous about maintaining it.

“Ultimately though, we’ve cultivated a large fanbase who enjoy our expertise and eclectic nature... And they get it.

“That gives us freedom to do whatever we want, feeling free to experiment.”

The first two singles from Relaxer, 3WW and In Cold Blood, make for an interesting contrast. Are they indicative of Relaxer as a whole?

“I think so. They almost span the breadth of the album, a good balance of up-tempo and more kind of thoughtful.”

A busy summer awaits Alt-J, an appearance at BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Hull followed by a headline show at London’s O2 Arena next weekend then several festival dates and 19 North American shows.

Those include a Glastonbury return, headline slots at Blue Dot, Jodrell Bank, and Boardmasters, Newquay, and more outdoor shows in Eire and all across Europe.

Gus said: “I love festival season, and it’s going to be such a fun way to start this album tour. Those summer shows are going to be sweet.”

* Alt J, Empress Ballroom, Saturday, September 9.