As recently as this past June, touring America remained a foreign experience for the members of alt-J. "I feel like we're a bit more exotic here," they said at the time. But after a festival-heavy summer spent slaying audiences at Bonnaroo, Governor’s Ball and Lollapalooza, the British quartet feels right at home on this side of the pond.
"It's starting to feel very familiar to us which is quite cool, really," keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton tells Rolling Stone of the band's recent string of shows, which support their Mercury Prize-winning debut album An Awesome Wave. "It's nice that we're establishing ourselves now to the extent that we go to gigs and we see the same fans we've met before."
The band did spend some time this summer in the studio laying down new demos, sessions Unger-Hamilton says went "really, really good." But the musician says alt-J are in the fortunate position of being able to take their time before releasing new music. "There's no pressure," he explains. When their current tour ends, he says, the band will "take a bit of breathing time" before regrouping to record their second album.
Alt-J has tried writing a bit on the road, but he admits that's not optimal for the band at this time. "We'd all rather wait 'til we're back in one city and able to do it like we did it before. We don't have too much pressure coming from anybody except the fans who want a new album. We haven't felt like 'Oh, crikey! We have to have a new album written by the end of the tour.'"
It's only logical that the band wants to continue basking in the success of An Awesome Wave, which beat releases from the likes of Jessie Ware, Ben Howard, Michael Kiwanuka and Lianne La Havas for the Mercury Prize. "It was certainly a huge, huge boost to our confidence and our happiness as a band," Unger-Hamilton recalls. "It meant the world to us.”
As for this year's crop of nominees, the keyboardist has narrowed down his two favorites that he hopes will win the coveted prize. "Foals' [Holy Fire] or James Blake's [Overgrown] for me," he says without hesitation. "I love both those albums." Unger-Hamilton is also blunt regarding the recent news that My Bloody Valentine's MBV is ineligible for the Mercury Prize due to it being sold independently on the band's own website. "It's a shame," he says. "It's kind of shitty."