Music interview – Alt-J: ‘We’ve wanted to work with hip-hop artists for a while’

Alt-J's new album Reduxer is out now.
Alt-J's new album Reduxer is out now.
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To call Alt-J’s latest offering a remix album of their most recent studio record isn’t strictly the truth, according keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton.

Rather, it is a reinterpreted extension of the original, a bevy of new material built up from the basics with a distinctly hip-hop flavoured DNA.

Reduxer, he says with excitable warmth, isn’t Relaxer; it is its own distinct beast.

“It’s nominally a remix album but it’s a lot more than that to us,” he remarks one late afternoon shortly ahead of the record’s release late last month.

“This is, for the band, nearly all-new material, albeit not strictly written by us as such. It’s something we commissioned and curated; we gave free rein to different producers and rappers to reworking the whole thing into this hip-hop vision.

“We wanted to have a global album, and it has artists from Spain to Australia and Germany to Ireland on here.

Alt-J formed while they were students at the University of Leeds.

Alt-J formed while they were students at the University of Leeds.

“It’s something quite diverse and special to us; we really wanted it to be that way.”

The Leeds-formed trio have, Unger-Hamilton says, always likely had the idea for a hip-hop tinged approach to their music nestled in their subconscious, but that it was pushed to the forefront during the recording of the song Deadcrush for Relaxer, where it bloomed into the concept of a full project.

“We wrote it with a track underneath that we thought sounded super hip-hop. Somebody – I can’t remember who – said that it’d be cool to get a rap verse on it and from there the whole thing came together.

“I think we’ve wanted to work with hip-hop artists for a while; we used to say, half-jokingly, that Dr Dre would be our dream collaboration every time our producer asked us during the making of our first album if we wanted to work with anyone.

We used to say, half-jokingly, that Dr Dre would be our dream collaboration every time our producer asked us during the making of our first album if we wanted to work with anyone.

Gus Unger-Hamilton

“I’d say the seeds have been there in the back of our minds.”

He states that the band had a small wish list of artists they hoped to recruit, including Danny Brown and Pusha T, but otherwise sought out acts they were unfamiliar with around the globe to add extra flavours.

“It was just as exiting for us discovering new artists as much as getting who we admired on the record.

“That was the best part of the project for me, to be honest, getting to know people like Rejjie Snow and Kontra K who we hadn’t heard of before; that was as exhilarating as getting the go-ahead from our favourites.

“It was a double joy; working with people we loved and finding people we didn’t know we loved yet.”

While Relaxer featured eight separate cuts, Reduxer ups the track count to 11, with Unger-Hamilton adding that the increased number came around initially as a failsafe in case some collaborations didn’t hit the mark.

“There’s an element of also getting a few extra tracks in there for security; the idea of having a baker’s dozen or thereabouts was so that if one version didn’t work out, we had something to fall back on.

“But they all did work out and I think that rather than pruning it back down to eight, we decided we should just include them.

“They’re all such great pieces of work in different ways that we didn’t feel it was worth it trying to cut some out to exactly correlate to Relaxer for the sake of it.”

The band embark shortly on a run of UK shows, and having ticked off most of the major venues available in Yorkshire, will add another notch to their tour history when they return to Leeds to play the Grade I-listed Town Hall.

“We’ve never played there before. I think we just wanted to create more of a performance environment for these gigs, something more classical.

“It just feels a bit special to play these sort of venues that not everyone else thinks to.

“This tour is a little bit of a celebration to culminate the end of the Relaxer cycle, to say goodbye to the UK until the next time and I think it’s great doing it in these old-fashioned venues.”

That cycle arguably brings the curtain down on one of British indie rock’s most impressive first acts – but Unger-Hamilton says that the group is in no hurry to start work on their fourth LP any time soon.

“I think we all feel that we’ll need a little break after the end of this tour; we’ve all got other things elsewhere in our lives that need some attention.

“I think once we’re into next year though, we’ll certainly be getting back in touch with our musical sides and seeing what we want to do.

“We’re always looking forward to doing the next album; we’re never just sure when it will be but we’re always intrigued to see where it goes next.”

Alt-J play at Leeds Town Hall on Tuesday October 23. Reduxer is out now. www.altjband.com