The bof­fin rock trio open up about hang­ing with Mi­ley Cyrus, be­ing on David Cameron’s iPod and why they’re against dish­wash­ers…


The trio on iffy fans (David Cameron), Henry VIII and how to pro­nounce Δ.

With over 200,000 of the old­est books in Ire­land – in­clud­ing pre­cious me­dieval man­u­script The Book Of Kells – Trin­ity Col­lege Dublin’s The Long Room is one of the world’s most im­pres­sive li­braries. It seems a fit­ting lo­ca­tion for alt-J, here to play in the grounds as part of a sum­mer se­ries of gigs. Hav­ing met at Leeds Uni­ver­sity, the trio have over three al­bums – 2012’ s Mer­cury Prize-win­ning An Awe­some Wave, 2014’ s chart-top­ping This Is All Yours and this year’s Re­laxer – spe­cial­is­ing in mu­sic of a more cere­bral bent. A shape-shift­ing hy­brid of in­die, folk and elec­tron­ica that takes in both Mi­ley Cyrus sam­ples and field record­ings made at Ely Cathedral, their mu­sic has ranged in sub­ject from French poet Al­fred de Mus­set to the ef­fects of watch­ing John Hurt’s chest burst open in Alien. “I know be­ing pho­tographed in a li­brary isn’t a good place to play down our book­ish im­age,” jokes singer and key­board player Gus Unger-Hamil­ton, flick­ing through books along­side drum­mer Thom Sonny Green and guitarist Joe New­man. “But I am wear­ing a leather jacket.” Per­haps a grilling from the Q read­ers might un­cover some pre­vi­ously hid­den rock’n’roll bad be­hav­iour, then…

Peo­ple have crit­i­cised alt-J for be­ing nerdy. To dis­pel that, tell us the worst trou­ble you got in at school. Luke Goodachre, Stow­mar­ket Joe New­man: I wasn’t a trou­ble­maker at all. I didn’t like get­ting told off. Gus Unger-Hamil­ton: I copied my friend’s home­work and de­nied it. It was a shitty thing to do. My friend and I were no good at Bach Cho­rales in mu­sic so we got into our friend Josh’s ac­count and emailed our­selves his home­work. We got busted. Pauses] Yes, I am aware that has done noth­ing to dis­pel our nerdy im­age.

When you were still called what would you say if peo­ple asked you what your band was called? Phil Saf­fer, Teign­mouth GU-H: Tech­ni­cally we are still called I think. It was writ­ten as the “delta” sign and pro­nounced “alt-J” – in prac­tice that was a bit stupid. We once played Ken­dal Call­ing and they mis­tak­enly listed us as “The Tri­an­gle Band”, which we were an­noyed about, but then they tre­bled our fee, so we got £ 150! JN: We were a bit naive with a lot of things early on, like not show­ing our faces in photos. Then we re­alised as we got a bit more pop­u­lar we didn’t want to be the band who were al­ways be­ing dif­fi­cult.

You said you’d spend your Mer­cury Prize money on tak­ing your par­ents out for a slap-up meal af­ter win­ning. Did you or are they all still wait­ing? Paul Wright, via Q Mail GU-H: Groans] They’re still wait­ing. We’re just try­ing to choose the right restau­rant. It was all a bit of whirl­wind af­ter the Awards]; we didn’t get time to do any­thing ex­cept play gigs. I have taken them out since, though...

Have you ever been recog­nised in pub­lic? Janet Fel­stead, Selsey JN: Ninety-nine-per cent of the time we can walk through large crowds and it doesn’t hap­pen. I once had a weird en­counter with some dude in a café near where I live who said: “It’s Rhys, isn’t it?” I looked up the names of the guys in Royal Blood, be­cause I look like both of them, but nei­ther of them are Rhys. Maybe, it was The Hor­rors. I don’t think he re­ally knew who I was.

I heard an in­ter­view where you said you wanted your mu­sic to be like “chew­ing gum that doesn’t lose its flavour.” That’s not very am­bi­tious, is it? Amy Til­son, Broughton GU-H: Well, Willy Wonka made a lot of money from chew­ing gum that didn’t lose its flavour. I sup­posed it sounds quite pro­saic when you put it like that. The idea was it was some­thing you didn’t get bored of. You keep chew­ing and it keeps tan­ta­lis­ing your taste buds.

Gus owns Dandy, a café in London. What’s the worst café you’ve been to? Eva Peters, via Q Mail JN: My worst café ex­pe­ri­ence was at one I used to work in. Some­one who started the same day as me got fired that lunchtime

be­cause while she was cut­ting limes she cut her­self but con­tin­ued to serve peo­ple. She was hold­ing plates and bleed­ing ev­ery­where. She couldn’t be­lieve they fired her. GU-H: Is that meant to im­ply mine was the worst they went to? I do look at the re­views some­times and there are some funny ones. Are mu­sic or café re­view­ers the tough­est? The café ones are harder to take – they of­ten high­light things I know I have to ad­dress, whereas the band stuff is all sub­jec­tive. You can ar­gue about the mu­sic, but not the fact that I re­ally should have got more toi­let rolls.

You sam­pled Mi­ley Cyrus on Hunger Of The Pine – have you ever hung out? Mark Kirby, via Q Mail JN: Yes! We went to her O2 show. She’s very po­lite. We don’t have much con­tact with Mi­ley now but she’s still friends with Thom, though it’s more on­line than face-to-face. She’s on Hunger Of The Pine be­cause Thom was remix­ing her song 4x4 and we heard it so much it in­flu­enced us with­out re­al­is­ing. So we thought: “Fuck it, let’s sam­ple her.” GU-H: I don’t think our pub­lisher was too pleased with that de­ci­sion. It was a bit of night­mare to sort out. Thom Sonny Green: I’ve not had the chance to hang out with Mi­ley much. She’s very nice. She sent me some dry vo­cals to edit and they sounded in­cred­i­ble. I wanted to use them but any­thing I put over them kind of ru­ined it.

Gus, your brother works for a record la­bel, how come he didn’t sign your band? He­len Young, St Austell GU-H: I don’t think there was any ques­tion of Ferdy pres­i­dent of Columbia Records UK] sign­ing us. He prob­a­bly thought it wouldn’t be a great idea to work with fam­ily. He was al­ways very help­ful giv­ing us ad­vice. He lis­tened to our de­mosde and told us to do less down­warddo stroke gui­tar, which was a re­ally good tip. JN: Do you think he got any grief from his com­pany for not sign­ing us? GU-H: Maybe… but prob­a­bly not.

What’s the worstsmelling dress­ing room you’ve had? Jake Wat­son, via Q Mail GU-H: Early on, you’d be so grate­ful if you got a dress­ing room it didn’t mat­ter if it smelled, but I vividly re­mem­ber shar­ing a re­ally small dress­ing room with Brook­lyn hip-hop act] Das Racist in Manch­ester. The room was fine but they were very badly be­haved. Smok­ing and spit­ting food over the floor. JN: I re­mem­ber watch­ing the lead singer tak­ing a big bite of a sausage roll, chew­ing it un­til it was smooth and spit­ting it out on the floor. I was just like… GU-H: “Do you want that?”

What are your favourite vourite shapes to tes­sel­late? Kate David­son, Hat­field GU-H: I like putting things in the fridge ef­fi­ciently, so I’d say: shop­ping ing shapes. Am I good at load­ing dish­wash­ers? I’ve never owned one, be­cause I don’t be­lieve they save any time. I’m very against dish­wash­ers.

Guys, , you’re my sec­ond favourite vourite band and it’s the e same for my friends. Are re you happy be­ing ev­ery­one’s very­one’s sec­ond favourite band?

Ross Mitchell, Peace­haven GU-H: I was think­ing

this the other day. You don’t of­ten see peo­ple wear­ing our T-shirts, so I thought: “I reckon we’re not a lot of peo­ple’s favourite band, but we’re in a lot of peo­ple’s top fives.” You don’t only go and watch your favourite band, so maybe that’s the se­cret to our suc­cess – a lot of peo­ple quite like us. What do you think of that the­ory? JN: I’ll buy that.

What’s your for­mer band­mate Gwil Sains­bury done since he quit in 2014? Sarah Cooke, via Q Mail GU-H: He did a mas­ter’s de­gree and is en­joy­ing life do­ing other projects. It was gen­uinely an am­i­ca­ble split. It was hard to take at first, but we’re good now. It was up­set­ting be­cause we liked him so much. JN: There was a funny bit when Thom turned up late for the meet­ing when Gwil told us. We were all sat there look­ing grim when he walked in, so when Gwil told him he was leav­ing the band, he went: “Oh fuck! OK. I ac­tu­ally thought you were all go­ing to fire me!”

When was the last time you wrote an an­gry letter? Laura Paulsen, via Q Mail GU-H: I do this quite a lot, I’m a com­plainer. I can’t re­mem­ber the last one, but the first one was when I was nine. I de­cided the thing that told you which cho­co­late was which in a box of Black Magic was re­ally un­clear, so I wrote to Nestlé to com­plain. I ended the letter with: “I de­mand com­pen­sa­tion!” I did get a letter back apol­o­gis­ing, but I didn’t get any free choco­lates.

David Cameron put alt-J on a playlist for for­mer US pres­i­dent Barack Obama and other lead­ers. If Theresa May did one for Don­ald Trump, what song of yours should she pick? Ruth Kelly, via Twit­ter GU-H: I thought it was cool when Johnny Marr said Cameron wasn’t al­lowed to like The Smiths, but if I’d gone, “Hey, Cameron, you’re not al­lowed to like alt-J” peo­ple would have just gone, “What­ever, mate…” But Trump doesn’t de­serve mu­sic. JN: I don’t think he lis­tens to mu­sic, he’s a psy­chopath, isn’t he? We’d write a spe­cial song for him in nurs­ery rhyme form so he can process it. Pol­i­tics aside, it didn’t bother me that some­one told David Cameron what songs are good and then he sent it to Barack Obama. I got a kick out of the fact that the leader of the free ee world had one of our songs Tes­sel­late],

and it was a racy one! What’s your favourite his­tor­i­cal era? Erin An­der­son Kymes, via Twit­ter GU-H: I’d like to go back to see Henry VIII and stuff like that, or maybe a bit earlier to me­dieval times. I like things like cathe­drals and build­ings like that. TSG: I think maybe the ’ 80s in New York. I’d liked to have been around the graf­fiti era. It seemed like a good time to be a young artist. JN: I know it wasn’t that long ago, but I’d like to re­live the ’ 90s as an adult in the mu­sic in­dus­try. It’s the pe­riod I grew up in and I’ve got this deep-rooted fas­ci­na­tion with ev­ery­thing ’ 90s. I’d love to have gone to the gig where Alan McGee first saw Oa­sis.

What’s your favourite re­lax­ant? Emma Styles, Hor­sham TSG: Mu­sic. GU-H: You can’t beat booze for me. Booze is great! I do like reefer now and then or a bit of ec­stasy, very oc­ca­sion­ally, but re­ally it’s good old brother booze. JN: Yeah, brother booze def­i­nitely. I’m not in­ter­ested in the pre­scrip­tion stuff. I took some­thing once for a flight and it knocked me out, but not in a good way. So yeah, booze!

Can each of you de­scribe alt-J’s sound in three words? Rose­mary John­stone, Liver­pool GU-H: “Very. Very. Good.” Or how about “Pro­gres­sive. In­die. Folk”? JN: We could prob­a­bly nail that ques­tion, but it would take us a week to do it jus­tice. GU-H: Can we write a letter in next month with our de­fin­i­tive an­swer?

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“I got a kick out of the fact that Obama, leader of the free world, had one of our songs and it was a racy one.” Joe New­man

agents “And the award for es­tate Alt-J (with of the year goes to...” far ex-mem­ber Gwil Sains­bury, Prize in 2012. right) win the Mer­cury

“It’s from Ed Sheeran… he wants to use the for his next al­bum.”

Smi­ley Mi­ley: Cyrus is “very po­lite” and “very nice”, say alt-J.

“Alt-J? I’ve heard of the alt-right, Dave.” Obama gives a cau­tious wel­come to Cameron’s iPod playlist choice.

King of aeon: Gus fan­cies a trip back to the days of Henry VIII.

He should cocoa: an “un­clear” cho­co­late box menu prompted a young Gus to com­plain.

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