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ALT-J

alt-jAcclaimed UK trio Alt-J have just released their second album, This Is All Yours, and are set to perform at Southbound, happening at Sir Stewart Bovell Park, Busselton, on Saturday-Sunday, January 3-4, 2015. KEIRON COSTELLO reports.

When you record your debut album in relative anonymity, with almost no expectations, and it goes on to sell over a million copies worldwide and win the Mercury Prize, how do follow that up? How can you possibly recreate that magic for the next album with all this new pressure?

That was the problem faced by Alt-J when they decamped to Hackney in London to record This Is All Yours, the follow-up to 2012’s An Awesome Wave.

“The way we wrote the first album, we couldn’t really recreate that,” says drummer, Thom Green. “We could come close, but it would never be the same – it could’ve been a fluke. Could it be done again in different circumstances? We were slightly worried actually, but once we started we realised it wasn’t a fluke, we definitely knew what we were doing, it came to us quite quickly and quite easily as well. It just started to happen, so the pressure became a lot less.”

While any second album anxieties were quickly allayed, the band also had to deal with the shock departure of bassist, Gwil Sainsbury, just days before beginning work on the new record. Sainsbury quit the band in January after realising that touring the world as part of Alt-J was not something he wanted to do. His decision took Green completely by surprise, although with hindsight he says he should have seen it coming.

“He was never really that happy. He hated touring, didn’t like doing any promos, didn’t like speaking to people outside the band,” says Green. “He was never that interested in anything other than playing guitar; it was always for him just a hobby that kind of went further than he intended to. So it made sense the more I thought about it.”

Green was initially upset with Sainsbury, but with the passing of time he’s come to accept his decision and respect him for following through with what he wanted.“I slowly kind of realised that it was the best thing for him and the best thing for the band as well. It’s kind of a good thing; it’s made us come together and work harder.”

Although the success of An Awesome Wave and their subsequent newfound fame cost Alt-J one of their founding members, it was something the group had been trying to avoid from the beginning. While the band as a whole may be famous, Green and his bandmates have managed to largely avoid fame on a personal level, partly by design and partly as a result of their natural character.

“To start with, we didn’t actually show our faces on the posters and stuff like that at the very beginning,” he says. “We weren’t really too bothered about people knowing what we looked like. We haven’t quite got famous; we’re not like a famous band or anything, we never get recognised. We’ve never been in videos or on album covers or on the posters or anything like that. We never get recognised, even in London.”

And even though Alt-J have since realised their audience’s need to connect with them and opened up a little, it remains a situation they aren’t entirely comfortable with.“I don’t think people really need to know what we look like. We’re not after that kind of attention, really. We like to think that our music speaks for itself. It’s not like we don’t want to be recognised, it’s just we don’t think that our faces make that much of a difference.”

While fame and the prospect of putting himself in the public eye might still sit uncomfortably on Green’s shoulders, Alt-J’s rise did produce one positive side-effect: the favour of Miley Cyrus. A friendship forged between Cyrus and Green on social media has led to her vocals being sampled on Hunger Of The Pine, the lead single from This Is All Yours.

“I realised she was following me on Twitter, and knew she was a fan of Alt-J. We’d heard she used Fitzpleasure in her live show – during costume changes she played it over this weird video. So I thought, ‘Fuck it, I’ll ask her to do a remix’. She said yes, she was really into the idea and she sent me the stems and we got talking.”

After remixing Cyrus’ track, 4×4, Green and the band were working on Hunger Of The Pine in the studio and realised that part of that remix, specifically Miley’s ‘I’m a female rebel‘ vocal line, fit perfectly with their track. Cyrus was more than happy to be sampled and even intervened on behalf of Alt-J when her label was requesting an exorbitant amount to license the sample. As a result, Green speaks very highly of the oft-controversial pop starlet and her contribution to This Is All Yours.

“We really liked it – it’s as simple as it just sounded good, really. It doesn’t really mean anything that it’s Miley Cyrus, it just happens to be her voice,” he says. “We have a lot of respect for her, she’s a really good person and she’s a very hard-working performer, she’s got an incredible voice and it’s quite inspiring. She’s very in control – a lot of what you see in the papers and media and stuff like that is not really what she’s actually like.”

Even though they are frequent visitors to our shores, having toured here three times in the space of nine months following the release of An Awesome Wave, Alt-J are planning on seeing plenty more of Australia. In addition to their sold-out East Coast shows in October, they’ll be returning for the Falls Festival and Southbound for the New Year, and Green and his bandmates can’t wait to get back.

“For us it’s quite an exciting place to be. It’s like a holiday really, doing what we’re doing, doing what we love,” he says. “We did Laneway Festival last year, and it was one of the best times we’ve ever had, it was like a holiday. I think, overall, it’s the place we look forward to coming to the most.”

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