In the interests of full disclosure, I must warn you that the following feature contains quite possibly the most boring quote you'll ever read. So let's get it out of the way nice and early, eh?

"He wrote some lyrics for it based on the book How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn, which is about mining in 19th century Wales."

ZZzzz.... Wake up!

Look, things pick up from here. Promise.


The perpetrator of that crime against being interesting is Gus Unger-Hamilton, keyboardist for indie-rock group Alt-J. But he really can't shoulder all the blame. I asked the question.

But at least now when listening to the group's brand new album, Relaxer, you'll know exactly what the outstanding closing track Pleader is all about...

We're chatting because Alt-J has just announced they'll play shows at Auckland's Town Hall and Wellington's TSB Bank Arena this December and their third album, Relaxer, is released next Friday.

Subsequently, there's a lot to talk about. Unger-Hamilton is in good spirits and is good company as we discuss the new album and what they've been up to in the three years since their last record, the critically acclaimed This Is All Yours.

He says that after taking six months off to recuperate after a world tour, he briefly swapped careers.

"Me and a couple of friends opened a restaurant," he says. "I was cooking in the kitchen three days a week. It was great. It kept me occupied. I was making porridge and I'd do breakfasts. It was good fun."

The band came here for the 2013 Laneway Festival but Unger-Hamilton admits, "it's been a long time".

"We got a small taste, just for the day, of Auckland and we loved it. Hopefully this time we can actually see a bit more of the country and get a proper feel for it. We can't wait."

As the title of the new album suggests Relaxer is a (mostly) quiet album. At moments pastoral, at others hymnal. A heavy classical influence runs throughout, as does the slow groove of hip-hop. Luxurious orchestration rubs shoulders with raw indie rockers. For an album of just eight songs, there's a lot going on.


"What we always try to achieve is to make music that we like, that we find interesting. We're always conscious of not trying to sound too 'Alt-J', even though I don't think there's much danger of that because we don't really have a particular sound," Unger-Hamilton laughs. "Relaxer is really just an expression of where we are at the moment. We take things on a song-by-song basis."

He explains that they're not one of those bands that write a lot of material and then start scrapping songs as they piece together an album.

"We don't make albums. We write songs and we put those songs together on to albums is the harsh, slightly boring, but true reality of it.

"At first we thought, 'Oh man, do we have enough songs?'. And then we thought that eight songs are really cool. It feels like a compact, muscular album. And that's what we wanted. We wanted to make a departure from the first two albums, which were longer. We thought eight songs, four songs per side and bam! That's it. We liked that. It feels more retro."

Looking over the track list there's one song that immediately demands attention and, perhaps, an explanation...

"The song itself is a folk song, there's no one definite story of where it originated. It could be American. It could be English. So it's really our version of a folk song," Unger-Hamilton says. "We don't see it as a cover."

We're talking about that dusty old classic House of the Rising Sun. Here it's quiet, reflective, almost ambient. It sounds great. But why, did Alt-J want to cover it?

"Well, most of it's original. The first verse is largely taken from the Woodie Guthrie version but the second is all our own lyrics, the chorus is our own. We feel it's an original piece of work and not just chucking in a cover to fill space as it were.

"But it also feels like on our third album we've got the confidence to go, 'Hey, we're gonna do a version of House of the Rising Sun'. It feels like the right time to do it. If this had been on our first album it would have felt weird, it wouldn't have felt right."

It's this confidence, he says, that defines Relaxer.

"We have become more confident in what we're doing, who we are and what we do. On your first two albums you almost can't believe that you're a band doing this for real. That's sunk in now. We feel more chilled out."

WHO: Gus Unger-Hamilton, keyboardist for indie rock band Alt-J
WHAT: New album Relaxer and a New Zealand tour
WHEN: Album out next week, the band play Auckland Tuesday, December 12 and Wellington Thursday, December 14. Tickets on sale Tuesday June 6, 12 noon.