Many people find pleasure in the simple things: cooking, reading a book, relaxing at home, and hanging out with friends. It turns out that award-winning, globe-hopping rock bands find the same amount of joy, if not more, in such unpretentious normalcy.
“That stuff really gets us happy,” Gus Unger-Hamilton, keyboardist and backing vocalist of the British indie outfit Alt-J, says while playing a golf videogame on a PlayStation console with lead singer and guitarist Joe Newman as if they hadn’t sold out their show this Friday at the Fillmore Miami Beach. The band will also headline House of Creatives Music Festival at the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park on Saturday.
They, along with drummer Thom Green, are in the middle of a North American tour for their latest record, Relaxer. The Guardian called the album “short, belligerent, and odd.” Though Relaxer certainly turns up the volume on some of the stranger aspects of a band known for its eccentric musical flourishes, those words hardly describe the members themselves.
The three met a decade ago in college and hit it off almost immediately. The band was originally a four-piece, but founding member Gwil Sainsbury quit in early 2014. Instead of wilting after losing a crucial piece, the group blossomed into a larger, more vibrant outfit.
Still, even after the trio has released three albums and many hit singles, critics, fans, and the media struggle with what to make of Alt-J. At times they’ve been criticized for being boring, yet their music can be bizarrely sexy. For example, on “Every Other Freckle,” Newman sings, “I’m gonna bed into you like a cat prance into a bean bag/Turn you inside out and lick you like a crisp packet,” and earlier, on “Fitzpleasure,” he serenades us with “In your snatch fits pleasure, broom-shaped pleasure.”
It’s no wonder their tracks often end up on sexy-time playlists.
“Believe it or not, people do tell us that kind of stuff," Unger-Hamilton says. "You never know quite what to say, but it’s certainly nice that we are keeping the birth rate up.”
Keeping in line with their strange brand of romance is the fourth single off Relaxer, “Deadcrush.” In previous interviews, they jokingly identified Anne Boleyn and Henry the VIII as “deadcrushes.” Listeners went more Hollywood and less historical with their pick.
“We had a competition with our fans to win something, I can’t remember what it was, and it was to send in their deadcrushes. Sir Roger Moore won for the best deadcrush.”
Aside from all the nuanced filth, Alt-J is also well known for nerdy literary references. An Awesome Wave, This Is All Yours, and Relaxer are figurative-language goldmines.
“It’s certainly cool,” Unger-Hamilton says of listeners who recognize the references. “Some stuff can be hidden pretty deep. Sometimes someone will figure out they’re talking about this book because we have mentioned it, and that’s pretty cool. That said, a good song should be able to be enjoyed on all levels, from the most basic understanding to a sort of academic aspect.”
When it comes to songwriting or the genesis of a new song, the band takes into account both the headiness of its often abstract lyricism as well as good old-fashioned beats and rhythms. Unger-Hamilton says there needs to be “an element of inspiration, a chemistry,” of everything happening at once for a song to come to fruition.
All of that work has earned them plenty of accolades, but they have also had their fair share of criticism, which Unger-Hamilton says they try to avoid.
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“We don’t pay a huge amount of attention to it only because we don’t Google ourselves in such a way. If you don’t search yourself on Facebook or Instagram, it’s quite easy to shield yourself from what people are saying about you. We love positive reviews, but I won’t deny that we sometimes get annoyed or upset by negative things people say."
Ultimately, through the good, the bad, and all of the naughty lyrics, Alt-J's members remain normal blokes. For instance, a night out at the pub with them looks a lot like it does for just about any other group of friends killing time with lagers and lines from movies.
“It’s pretty good,” Unger-Hamilton says. “You’ll generally find us with our crew. We’re a pretty big pack, all one big family. There’s a lot of singing. Usually, the folk songs will come out. I think that we often enjoy quizzes. We quite enjoy quizzes at the moment. We play a game where we go on Wikipedia and we just ask questions and quiz each other on things like films, pop stars, Jurassic Park. Actually it’s quite amazing how long you can entertain yourself by giving your friends trivia questions on Jurassic Park.”
Alt-J. Friday, November 10, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7300; fillmoremb.com. Tickets to the sold-out show cost $69 to $322 resale via livenation.com.
House of Creatives Music Festival. With Alt-J, MGMT, Metronomy, Washed Out, and others. Saturday, November 11, and Sunday, November 12, at the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park, 4020 Virginia Beach Dr., Miami; 305-960-4600; virginiakeybeachpark.net. Tickets cost $75 to $240 via hocfest.com.