UK rock band Alt-J continues its fast ascent after the release of 2012’s debut with two headlining shows at Oakland’s Fox Theater on August 29 and August 30.
We spoke with keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton about performing in larger venues, hanging out at Lake Shasta, and literary and film references in the band’s songs.
What’s your favorite moment from the past six months?
We played a lot of tours this summer and it’s really hard to pick. We had a really good time at Glastonbury this year, but we also had a day off in California a few months ago and went to this place in Northern California called Lake Shasta. We found these two patios with barbecues, with all of us, our crew and Hundred Waters. That was a great moment. Having these experiences together is really fun. It was gorgeous.
Have you noticed that the band’s live performances have changed when performing at larger venues with bigger sound systems?
I think it’s that we have been playing so much, we have more confidence on stage. Having a bigger crowds gives you more energy. When you play a big venue and the a crowd is really on your side, it’s something else. I don’t think we consciously changed in any way. I think it’s evolved naturally along with the venues we play.
Is it true “Matilda” is about a foreign film with Natalie Portman?
Yeah, it’s about the film Léon. Basically, Joe, he’s a really big fan of that film. He just kind of fancied seeing if he could write a song about it. We actually made two song about it, one called ‘Matilda’ and an old one called ‘Léon’ that we don’t play anymore. It was kind of funny we had two songs about the same film. I don’t know why, we just quite like it. The fans like the song without even knowing whats it’s really about.
What inspired the song, “Fitzpleasure”?
It’s about a novel called Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, Jr. There is this passage in the novel when the character Tralala is assaulted by a group of people in public. It’s quite a powerful moment in the book and really sort of sticks in the mind. We like to write songs about books and films and things because they are very perfected things. Obviously, people can relate to them because we’ve read the and seen them; it’s quite cool.
Can you name three things you can’t live without?
Number one: Sparkling water; I’m obsessed! Number two would probably be a good liberal news source like the Guardian. I’m obsessed with reading the news and I’m always on the Guardian website. Number 3: probably Avocado. In England it’s awful, you can barely find any good ripe Avocados anywhere. It’s terrible.
If you could put your life on pause right now, what would you do or where would you go?
Good question. I should probably go see my parents. I think I really owe them a visit. I haven’t been home to see them in a very long time. I would definitely go home to see my parents. They live in the south of France.
All the band members are also school friends. Have you had any funny on-stage moments recently?
Last year we played in Leeds. It was winter, but it was really, really hot in the venue. So Gwil had gone on stage wearing skinny jeans and long johns. After two songs he became unbearably hot, he told out to the crowd that he was wearing long johns and that he had really made a mistake. They started chanting, “Off! Off! Off!” so he had to take his jeans off and just play in long johns and socks.
Alt-J performs August 29 and August 30 at Fox Theater. More info.