A little while back – last summer to be exact – the lovely people over at MS Dockville Festival were kind enough to invite me to interview a few acts. One of those were Jungle, the tropical West London outfit who took the world by storm and have been skyrocketing to well deserved acclaim, releasing their solid debut album with XL Recordings.
After catching them live, I got the chance to sit down with founding members Tom and Josh to pick their brains on a few things. At one point someone from the management team came to conclude the interview after about 15 minutes, but the lads were kind enough and let it run for much, much longer. So bigups to them for that.
First off, when did you guys first meet? Can you tell us how that happened, and when you started making music?
T: Basically one summers day in 2001, 2000 maybe, this breh literally jumped over my garden wall (laughs)! I was playing football in my garden with my brother and a couple of mates, and his dad had moved in a couple of doors along and I guess he was bored of unpacking boxes so just jumped over… and musically we’d been picking up guitars and trying out Fruity Loops, but I guess for Jungle we really came back together January 2013, and just finishing ideas that felt much more honest to who we were as people at that point in time, and yeah… I think it’s grown really naturally from there.
And how did the transition form J&T to Jungle come about? What were you doing before then?
T: Yeah, I mean we were doing bits and pieces, like in a shit indie band when we were 15, trying to be the Kings Of Leon. Then we were session for a friends band for a few years, which was really good experience. That’s the good thing about music… as long as you’re doing it, you’re always learning, and as long as you take away things from those experiences, it puts you in a really good place for things to come…
J: Yeah we were always writing. I was working on beats… I’ve always kinda produced music and thought I could make it myself…
and yeah last year, early January, we finished tracks, and we’re like…Fuck! This is actually turning into something.
…and you can then use that to give you a benchmark of what you’re doing. So we finished tracks like “Son of a Gun” and “Platoon” early on, and were like “ok, this sounds good”. But there was no pressure to make something work… it was more about making something that sounded good in a room, and as you do you get together and piss around, get high and fucking play with synths… and it builds from there.
Yeah that is something you feel in the music, especially when seeing you live, the synths are really central to your sound…
T: For sure, they’re the heart of it. We spent so much time on those sounds, and I think that’s what we really love… expanding our minds in terms of what sounds we can make from quite limited amount of equipment. All that album is done with a Prophet and an organ really, and I think that’s a very cool thing to do… limiting yourself… and in doing that you have to be more creative and find more space within that limitation.
So how did you come to the decision of signing with XL Recordings? How did you lot link up with them?
J: I think XL was always a dream from the start, it’s a label that’s fucking cool from the outside, that you can’t really touch, and what they do is amazing.
T: Well the thing about XL is, you look at their roster and 100% of the stuff they put out is amazing…
J: And they trust their artists… like if you say this is the next single, that will be the next single. They’ll advise you, but they won’t tell you what to do… which major labels will do. They tell their artists how to make music, which in turn fucking squashes the creativity.
Did you get a chance to work with Rodiah McDonald?
T: Yeah, he didn’t help us produce the record, but obviously we worked in his space – the XL studio – for a couple of months, so we met him a few times, got some advice, taught us the room, taught us the set-up, and yeah, he’s a nice guy.
Nowadays you look at live sets, and producers got their laptops out, and maybe a bit of hardware… what pushed you to go for the full on set-up?
J: I guess to challenge ourselves. There are people who do it, and we want to be one of those acts. I feel we would be letting it down… we could do it, and probably earn 5 times as much money, come in and walk away with a bag of swag (laughs)! But you’d feel shit about it. It’s so fucking easy to come in and press play! People have a preconception about live electronic music, so it’s a challenge for ourselves but also for the audience, like “where’s that sound coming from?!”
Do you consider yourself in that electronic music space?
J: I think we tread the line between live and electronic, because nothing is really synthy besides the synths. And it’s a tough one because when we go to electronic, I feel it sounds too electronic, and when we go to live, I feel it sounds to acoustic… and that applies to everything from a horn sound to a snare.
T: I mean we program all our drums using sample pads and stuff…
So you program it using the software, and then it’s a question of reinterpreting it live.
J: Bits of it will be played, like the hats, the patterns will be played. We only recorded drums on one track.
T: But then you come back to the studio and cut it all up, because you can and that’s at your disposal. I think the great thing with being a modern musician is that you get thousands of opportunities handed to you by the power of laptops.
Well I guess it’s a blessing and a curse, because you can eventually just go mad and loose yourself in it all.
J: Oh yeah, yeah… eventually… I mean look at Jai Paul, fucking hell… that’s an example of that.
T: When’s that album coming out…
I read that “Lemoade Lake” was inspired by Bon Iver’s story of going into a cabin in the woods and recording.
T: It’s more of a vision. A lot of the times when we’re writing tracks we have in mind this very clear mental image – might be Bon Iver or might not be – of someone sitting in a log cabin in Wisconsin next to a lake, and suddenly they’ve been there for so long they start to hallucinate (laughs).
J: I think the vision kinda came and we put Bon Iver on it, because you know that’s what he did with his first album… went away and had the experience. He might have lied for all we know, he might have made the whole thing up and recorded it in New York (laughs)! And I guess this ties in nicely with the recording process.
I’ve heard you guys don’t listen to other stuff when you record, you kind of isolate yourselves from other music.
T: Yeah, I mean it becomes dangerous to just directly reference other peoples music, because it just becomes dishonest.
After listening to your Maida Vale session with Zane, hearing the record and watching you live, it feels like the sound’s different every time. It feels like you’re constantly experimenting with it. How do you see it grow and evolve?
J: You gotta take it one day at a time. We kinda suffer from over ambition, like having seven members in a band before your first album has come out is pretty ridiculous in itself, as it’s so hard to maintain… one, financially, and two, it’s a lot of people. But it’s a lot of fun and is a big part of why it works, so you wouldn’t want to change that. So yeah more musicians coming in the future, when we’re ready for that you know, and there’s a new set coming for the UK, Europe and US tour, with a tighter light show and everything.
So when you record the album, is it J&T in a room as the focal point? What’s the process like?
T: We’d written half the album before we decided we wanted to play it live, so the process was pretty set in stone.
J: But we didn’t have the musicians, we didn’t know what the live band was gonna be, so we started writing and playing in January 2013 and put the band in place in October, just with friends and people we knew.
T: It was easier in the studio just the two of us, given our relationship, we know each other so well, we’re not scared to tell each other when it’s a bad idea.
J: And it’s a very difficult process, you can’t ever really have seven people in a room.
Yeah, then you get a little Wu Tang situation and it all just explodes!
T: Haha! And then we only make one copy of our next record and sell it for millions (laughs).
J: Yeah it’s very difficult to have something spontaneous with seven people because if you were to record a seven person band they would need to know exactly what they need to play, whereas we don’t know what we’re gonna make when we’re in the studio. It’s all about creating in the studio. You know a lot of bands, write, rehearse and record, but that doesn’t give you much room for experimentation. That’s why Tame Impala are so fucking good, because it’s just him, but it’s a band… he’s kinda taking it backwards and taken it to a four piece indie psych band, but he’s already had the time to make it amazing.
I read somewhere that you guys wanted to make a “hip-hop album”…
T: (laughs) sorry to disappoint you mate, haha!
J: Well yeah, I thought I was making a hip hop album.
T: I mean we didn’t really have an idea of what we did.
J: And the vocals weren’t on it until it became Jungle, so there were a lot of beats, and it was very instrumental hip-hop inspired. I was listening to a lot of Flying Lotus, J-Dilla sounds. And then the vocals came into play, and made them songs. I mean if you take the vocals off “Son of a Gun” or even “Busy Earnin”, you could put Jay-Z and he could have a couple of verses on it.
That would be huge. So talking about rappers, you met Earl Sweatshirt and he’s a big fan of your sound… tell us more about that.
J: The rap world is fucking crazy! But it’s a world that is in it’s own. It’s very difficult to pin a rapper down, it has to happen very naturally. But yeah we’d love to eventually do that, definitely.
T: Or you just send them a track and go “16 bars please”.
J: But then some rappers would come back and go “150 grand please!”
Yeah, Jungle feat 2 Chainz, I can see that. Would you ever want produce for others?
T: Yeah for sure, but I feel you need to earn that right and prove yourself.
J: We’re working with people at the minute. No one named, but you know, young girls who are great singers, who are just starting out, and that is obviously a world for us, because you know we started like that!
All of it was there, and we got to a point when we were like ‘who’s gonna sing on this? Ok we’ll fucking do it, because we don’t know anyone else to do it’.
So when you first started making music it was no vocals?
T: I mean, some electronic music has the curse of being a little two dimensional.
J: Most tracks, if you’ve got an instrumental and it sounds really full, there’s always space for a voice. If you think of RATATAT, which is pretty full on melodically, they could still put a voice on that. Because it sits in that range, in that timbre, and it doesn’t clash. It’s like DJ’ing, you can’t mix to vocals over each other, but you can always mix a vocal over an instrumental that already full, quite easily actually.
I wanted to talk to you about your music videos. I heard you have very simple ideas when it comes to making visuals.
J: Yeah well, with “The Heat”, the initial buzz thing was roller-skates, and it’s quite weird now when you know the whole video, you can easily tie it together, but if you don’t know the outcome. It’s kinda like me just going “trees!” as a starting point, and that could be the most amazing video, but it’s trying to get there which is always interesting.
What role do you guys play in that process.
T: Well it depends. On the “Platoon” video I was doing catering, on “The Heat” video I was location manager, and on the “Busy Earnin” video I was just the general hype man. But he’s the one behind the camera.
J: Yeah, I’ve always loved it, getting hands on, and I mean you have to be to make an idea work. Like with the “Platoon” video, it was crazy, we just had this idea of a kid body popping and a friend of ours introduced us to the girl, and it all just worked. In the end it only cost about 200 quid. It was almost like a beautiful accident. And Oli, who is a good friend of ours, does photography and film, and he worked with us on it, it was essentially a crew of 3. Obviously as the label came in, the crew got bigger and you can’t really pull favours on your fourth video, when the first three where successes, people don’t want to just do it for free.
Another thing I read… no idea if it’s accurate or not. The whole Jai Kai urban myth about him owning the Castle on the Elephant and Castle roundabout. If there were to be a JUNGLE castle, a hut or a bouncy castle, what would it be?
J: Fucking hell! That’s the best question anyone has ever asked. haha!
T: I reckon it would definitely have to be on a beach, or near a beach.
J: Maybe some kind of boogey nights club… that would be one.
T: It would be a combination of like a studio, a live venue, a club, and a beach. All I’m seeing is Tracy Island with Thunderbirds. And this massive whole in the ground opens up and a synth just rises through it.
J: I think we love the idea of things popping out hydrolics. Kind of obsessed with shit like that.
Nice on guys, thanks for taking the time chat.
No worries, thank you man, take care!
Much love to Tom and James for chatting to us, and big thanks to the good people over at MS Dockville Festival for inviting us over to Hamburg to enjoy a fine weekend of live music.