Alt-J explain the characters behind Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell and Marika Hackman’s guest slots on new album ‘Relaxer’

Gus and Joe detail the collaborators on the band's latest full-length.
Alt-J had a little help emptying the cupboards on their new album ‘Relaxer’, out this week.

Lead single ‘3WW’ features Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell, while the beautifully stripped back ‘Last Year’ sees a guest performance from none other than Marika Hackman. “What’s interesting about those two cases is that both times we’re not just using a female voice for the sound of a female voice, they’re playing characters,” says Gus. “Those two songs are probably the two most literal narrative songs on the album. In ‘3WW’ Ellie is doing two voices, playing two girls who leave a note for the protagonist of the song, and then in ‘Last Year’ Marika is playing the ex-girlfriend of a guy who’s killed himself. We see our songs as being quite filmic, so in a way, we’re casting them in roles within the song.”

They’ve cast the roles well. Ellie’s performance on ‘3WW’ is rich and dark, vaguely ominous in a way that you can’t quite put your finger on. Then there’s Marika’s lilting vocal on ‘Last Year’, which floats on top of Joe’s picked acoustic guitar to create a touching and melodic portrayal of a former partner left behind after suicide. Alt-J might say they struggle to identify specific moments of darkness and light on ‘Relaxer’, but some tracks do seem to fall quite clearly on one side of the divide.

“‘Last Year’ is one of the darker songs,” Joe observes. “And ‘Pleader’ to a certain extent is quite a dark song. It taps into a sense of pride I think you may have for your country, that you don’t know you have until you listen to it. It’s quite pastoral, kind of longing for a country that used to exist.”

Gus arches an eyebrow. “Maybe.”

“Maybe,” Joe emphasises. “Post-Brexit it can be seen as satire.”

“Yeah, kind of ironic. You know, those UKIP people talking about some version of England that never really existed?” Gus says.

This is an excerpt from Alt-J’s cover feature, taken from the new issue of Dork, out next week. Pre-order a copy below or subscribe here.

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