It's not often that a band makes an offer to be eaten whole sound romantic, but experimental British group alt-J manages to do just that in the lyrics for "Breezeblocks," named after the U.K. term for cinder blocks. Keyboardist and singer Gus Unger-Hamilton told us all about the song, off their Mercury Prize-winning debut album, An Awesome Wave, before alt-J played a sold-out show at The Crocodile tonight last night.
The Song: "Breezeblocks" was partially inspired by Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. In the song, the listener is asked "Do you know where the wild things go?" and told "Please don't go/I'll eat you whole/I love you so," which is similar to what the Wild Things shout to Max, the young boy in the story, as he prepares to return home.
Unger-Hamilton says the story and the song share similar ideas about parting with a loved one.
"What love can do to you in that moment where one person wants to just leave the relationship or something and the other person has such a strong love for them that they don't want them to leave and they're willing to essentially hurt them in order to stop them leaving," he explains. "That's quite a powerful idea that resonates a lot with maybe a lot of people."
The Video: The music video would not exist without a website called Radar Music, where directors can pitch ideas for a variety of projects. The quartet posted a brief of "Breezeblocks" on the site and eventually came across Brooklyn-based director Ellis Bahl's treatment.
Bahl's idea of a shot-in-reverse, cinder block-heavy video caught the band's eye and he got the job.
The man in the video, Jonathan Dwyer, met alt-J at several of their shows prior to the video shoot and has what Unger-Hamilton calls a classic half-English, half-American accent. Eleanore Pienta is bound and gagged in a closet for half of the video while Jessica DiGiovanni plays a woman scorned. The latter, Unger-Hamilton notes with a laugh, looks a lot like Kate Middleton.
Unger-Hamilton says that reactions to the video have been varied, with some people questioning whether DiGiovanni's or Pienta's character is the man's wife and others finding the video easy to understand and calling people who are confused by the video moronic.
"I think it's got a fairly established narrative for the video," he says. "You don't know exactly who the woman in the apartment is ... but she's a bad sort so maybe she's a wronged lover, maybe she's just an attacker but yeah, I think there probably is a right way to interpret the video. Well, not completely."
Leaving Well Enough Alone: When asked, if given the opportunity to reshoot the video, whether he would change anything about "Breezeblocks," Unger-Hamilton immediately says no, adding that once you have created something, it's not worth it to think about what you would change.
"If you put something out there, it's public domain," he says. "It's not fair on your fans, on the people who project your art, if you then start saying you want to change things about it because as soon as it leaves the hands of the artist, it's no longer the property of the artist."
The guys in alt-J see making music videos as an opportunity to create something interesting, almost like a short film. According to Unger-Hamilton, inspiration for video treatments can come from almost anywhere; the only requirement is that the idea has to excite the band.
"We're big fans of music videos ourselves and so I think you've got to think of the kind of video where it's going to actually add something to the song and it's going to make me enjoy the song more."