The boys talk weird interviews, shopping sprees at Tokyu Hands, and sharing love hotels with royalty.
Fresh off the release of current smash album, Relaxer, Grammy-nominated British rockers alt-J took to the Akasaka Blitz stage on November 24. The band are currently touring the world with this being their only stopover in Japan. Weekender jumped in during rehearsals on the day of the show, and caught up with band members Gus Unger-Hamilton and Joe Newman during their flying visit.
How does it feel to be back in Tokyo?
Gus: It’s been a long time.
Joe: We love everything about being here. It’s the closest thing to another world type of experience on this planet.
Have you had time to do anything besides work?
Gus: We’ve had a couple of nights here and we haven’t wasted a second. We’ve done lots of shopping, went to a hedgehog café in Harajuku, looked at vintage watches, and had great food and sake.
Joe: Everyone bought everything from the Tokyu Hands store.
Gus: It’s like a cross between John Lewis and Poundland (in the UK). It was incredible.
For those who haven’t downloaded the new record yet, can you tell them what they’re missing?
Joe: If they know the other two, I think they are missing out on something. This album is more muscular, it’s shorter, packs a punch, and jumps from different feelings and emotions. Nothing’s really similar between the songs except for their concepts which are always about love, loss, death and odd experiences. We attempt to communicate them in an original way.
Do you think some of the lyrics are a little saucy for your Japanese fans, or do you think it unleashes a side to them that is bursting to come out?
Gus: Maybe, but the thing is you hear a lot of different characterizations of Japanese fans. We are who we are when we write, and we’re not going to write lyrics that any particular group will like or dislike. It’s so interesting because while I hear they are quite reserved, there is also a reputation for people here being incredibly dirty. I hear about guys buying used knickers in vending machines and reading violently pornographic manga on the train. So maybe our lyrics wouldn’t really shock? I guess that’s what I love about Japan – it’s some of the contradictions.
You count in Japanese on “Hit Me Like That Snare”, was that difficult or do you already speak Japanese?
Joe: My girlfriend is Australian and for a lot of them Japanese was part of their curriculum. I kind of got quite a few snippets from her. She can say rude things in Japanese, knows how to ask for someone’s number and obviously how to count. Her brother even lives in Japan. I guess I was interested in Japanese and it’s an interesting lyric, though in the song it doesn’t mean too much.
Gus: It’s also the funny idea of someone having it as a safe word in an S&M situation, that’s incredibly hard to say or remember … kind of like the worst safe word ever.
Joe: Exactly, so if you have a safe word when you’re having violent sex, it needs to be quick and easy to say and remember, like “stop”.
So, you’ve had one member leave the band already. If someone else left, would you continue as a duo, or would you bring in a new member a la Michelle Williams?
Gus: (to Joe) I think if you left the band it would be hard to continue. If I left the band I wouldn’t like to think that I would end the band.
Joe: As a three piece we make alt-J. If Gus were to leave I wonder if we would then be looking for a pianist, but then we’d be constantly trying to recreate “Gus.” I think if one member left we would reconsider whether our next work would be alt-J work, or whether it would go under a different name.
Who is the Beyoncé of the band?
Gus: Definitely Thom [Sonny Green]!
Joe: I don’t know much about Beyoncé…what does she do?
Well, she was everyone’s favorite in Destiny’s Child, and the one with the best curves…
Gus: Oh, well Thom has the curves! Haha.
Joe: I think a lot of fans are drawn to Thom because he’s very open, and also a lot of fans identify with him.
Gus: He’s got more followers than both of us! In a good way, he has an emo appeal, and he has a lot more to say on Twitter.
You’ve interviewed all over the world. What is the strangest question you’ve been asked?
Gus: In France, we were in a town where some French writer was born and they kept asking us about him. They asked “Are you inspired by him?” and we were like “Not really, we don’t really know who he is…” and they just continued with “What is it that inspires you most about him?” It was funny because we were like, “Well nothing, I’m sorry.”
If you could stay in a Japanese love hotel with anyone, who would it be?
Joe: My girlfriend.
Gus: The Queen, because who can say they’ve ‘etcetera’ with the Queen?
What would you do with the Queen in a love hotel, Gus?
Gus: What wouldn’t I do with her?!
Would she have to say a safe word?
Gus: YES! Haha.
Joe: I mean if I wasn’t with the love of my life, I would say a royal too…maybe Fergie! She would be a handful.
alt-J’s album Relaxer is out now.