The build-up to Jungle’s debut album, coming out via XL Recordings on July 15, has seemed carefully planned and perfectly executed. Out interest was piqued by the simple but engaging “Platoon” video, featuring a young girl breakdancing to a song that seemed rooted in the past but felt oh-so-current. By the time “The Heat” video came out, filled with more smile-inducing dancing (now with added roller-skates), people were starting to wonder who exactly was behind this smooth, funky, richly textured music.
When Jungle signed to XL Recordings, there was still no press picture or information about them, and even at their live shows people were surprised to see seven musicians on-stage. There was an undeniable air of mystery to their album roll-out, but in conversation, Josh, one half of Jungle’s core duo J and T, is keen to stress that everything happened naturally and that the mystery element never even occurred to him. In fact, speaking to him, even over the phone, his genuine excitement and passion for music was palpable.
Read the interview below, which touches on Jungle’s collective spirit, why we all self-edit, how Bon Iver influenced their album, and lots more.
How does it feel having your debut album coming out on XL Recordings?
It feels really good. It’s a really cool label it’s nice to put a line in the sand and have something actually finished. Thinking about why we started Jungle, it was almost because we had finally finished something and when you are finishing stuff you start to build up archives and start to have better perspective on stuff. It’s a really good feeling to finish something properly.
So you had finished a lot of the songs on this album before deciding to release them as Jungle?
Well… a lot of journalists ask, when Jungle started. Me and T met when we were 10 years old and we’ve been friends ever since. We grew up together and we were always making music, always making beats, or having fun roller skating, doing whatever. When we finished one of those tracks on the album, that brought us together and made us realize we should get together again and do this more regularly.
We get a lot of fun and enjoyment from just hanging out. That’s what Jungle is. But when you finish something you feel a sense of purpose. Before that we had demos and sketches, we had a verse and a chorus, this and that. Over the last ten years we’ve built up folders and files of music, and then last year we actually started finishing stuff. I suppose that kind of propels you and gives you more energy. When you finish something you can put it out and share it with the world.
What changed so that you finally started finishing these songs and feel ready to share them?
I think it was the first time we felt we were really doing something that was honest and were really making something that we were happy with. As you grow up you try to be things that you’re not. You see other bands when you’re 16 or 17 and you try to be The Libertines, you try to be The Strokes or whatever. That’s just what happens when you’re in school, when you’re learning, you always try to be something different.
With Jungle we grew and realized that self-satisfaction and happiness actually comes from within. Once you’re happy with who you are and happy with what you’re doing you actually create something that’s personal and means something. And when music means something it’s much more powerful.
There’s a distinct sound that runs through this album, have you been making music like this for a long time or have you recently clarified your own sound?
I’ve been experimenting with production and making beats for a while and it just kind of came out of me. Like I said, we were friends making music, we’re producers—it’s what we do. Whether or not we were having this interview, me and T would be still be doing music. If we had wives and kids we’d still get together every Thursday, sneak to the shed and get the synths out! I think that’s what its about, that close connection. Just doing it because we enjoy it. Some people meet up and play football, some people go out and have a drink, we just make music together. That’s how we do it.
If we had wives and kids we’d still get together every Thursday, sneak to the shed and get the synths out! I think that’s what its about, that close connection.
The beats… well, obviously lots of people have access to the technology now, but the kind of rhythms and groove is something that happens quite naturally. We make music that we want to listen to and that excites us. At every point on the record there’s a moment that we’ve been massively excited about. I feel that’s what’s important. That’s your guide to know whether what you’re making is good or bad, because if you put something out and you’re not sure of it or you don’t think it’s right, then it probably isn’t right. Your only judge is yourself, and if you’re happy or excited about it, that’s what’s important.
You’re joined live by a five-piece band. Are they involved in the recording process at all?
It depends, they came on after we started and everything developed naturally from there. So, we kind of called what we were doing Jungle last year and our manager Sam told us we should put a track out. We didn’t want to push it too much, we wanted to just let it develop organically, so we just put it on the internet. We didn’t throw it to any blogs or anything like that, we just let people come to it authentically.
We wanted to just let it develop organically, so we just put it on the internet. We didn’t throw it to any blogs or anything like that, we just let people come to it authentically.
From there we decided we wanted to challenge ourselves and try to play it live which was a bit of a big thing for us because it’s very easy to create on your laptop or create in your studio. But then to transfer or transpose that to a live environment is difficult because it wasn’t recorded as a band. I think you get a lot of electronic producers who get obsessed with their sound and try to recreate that exactly with their laptop live or with a synth pad.
I think we get a lot of joy out of the live experience, the way the music evolves. It’s always going to change—the way we play “Platoon” now is completely different to the way we played it six months ago, and that’s the beauty of it. You’ve got to allow change to happen naturally, even with something you’ve created. Take the Rolling Stones, if you listen to a version of “Sympathy for the Devil” from ‘69 and you listen to one from like Hyde Park a couple of years ago, they’re completely different.
The videos have been a big part of Jungle for a lot of people, how did they come together? Are visuals very important for you?
All the videos just kind of happened. For us, the songs are very visual and we write them from that visual place. We start with just one visual aspect, coming up with places. You think about “The Heat” for example. To us that’s the beach. We see the waves rolling in and little monkeys on motorcycles being chased by police cars. Once you have that visual place, it changes the way you record and play the music. You’re not just recording it in a room in Shepherd’s Bush. I’ll say to T, who’ll be playing an organ part, “That’s really cool, that’s the right part but close your eyes and play it like you were in a nightclub off this beach, off this strip.” And he’ll close his eyes and play it differently. It won’t be a different chord, it won’t be a different rhythm, but there’s a different energy.
Think about “The Heat” for example, and to us that’s the beach. We see the waves rolling in and little monkeys on motorcycles being chased by police cars.
When you talk about the videos, it’s almost about us repainting that picture. For “Platoon,” we had the simple idea of a kid dancing and it all fell into place. To me, that was quite special, it all happened for a reason. I think everyone’s been part of something that feels forced and when it actually happens naturally it’s blissful. Actually, we wanted a 10 year old boy to body pop to a track called “Son of a Gun.” We had an idea for this 10-year-old boy and a friend of mine was like “Have you seen this girl B-Girl Terra?” We got in contact with her through this friend of mine who knew her. It was just like, “Fuck! Wow!” when we saw her dancing to our song. We sent her “Platoon” and then I saw a video of her doing a head spin in her living room to the song. It’s about the pure expression of her dancing and the connection between the audience and that person. We’re not the first people to put dancers in music videos. It’s been happening since forever, but we tried to present it in a very simplistic and honest way.
She’s an expression of the emotion in that song. I think thats what people can relate to. If you think about the High Rollers, that’s Dwayne and Icarus from “The Heat” video, what they’re saying with their eyes is so important to us. It embodies the message of the song.
You keep mentioning things happening naturally, have you been in situations where you’ve felt forced to create or that you aren’t creating in a natural way? Is Jungle a conscious reaction to that or more of an evolution?
Well, it’s probably an evolution, as you grow up most kids will start bands at some age. We were in bands at 15, me and T. I’ve been in like—I tried to play acoustic guitar, be a singer songwriter and all that. You evolve and never think about it until you do something really honest. That’s what this record’s about, it’s about that simplistic honesty.
Some people get it, some people never get it, but it’s something you can only find within yourself, you can’t seek it from anywhere else. We never told anyone about Jungle—I never told my mum, I never told my friends. Because it’s not about us, it’s not about ego. A lot of people ask about this anonymous stuff and to us it was like, “Oh shit!” We never really realized that was happening, that people were creating this mystery. All we did was put out a video which we put so much effort into and a photo of the girl in it. My name’s Josh, but the reason “J and T” exists is just because those are our nicknames and that’s what we call each other. For us it was about removing the ego from the project. Jungle is bigger than me, I don’t want to be the front of it. I want to be the producer. Unfortunately, in a way the press has kind of dragged us to the front.
For us it was about removing the ego from the project. Jungle is bigger than me, I don’t want to be the front of it. I want to be the producer. Unfortunately, in a way the press has kind of dragged us to the front.
So you were surprised people focused in on the mystery element?
That’s out of our control. What people write is what people write. The press, the internet, the blogs, they wrote that story. They wrote that part of the script and that’s part of Jungle’s evolution—we can’t stop that and we can’t change that. It’s a conversation between the artist and the world. Everything we do we feel complete with before we share it. We never really seek gratification or validation from anyone.
You get people who post stuff on Facebook like, “Yeah I just did the makeup for Cara Delevingne,” and everyone’s got friends like that. We’re growing up in this age where anyone under 30 is trying to prove themselves in their own career. We’re under such pressure to deliver more than our parents. It’s hard, not everyone can do that. That pressure almost leads people to lie and self-edit. People only post great stuff on Facebook and put the best photos. You are your own editor. Which means you’re kind of living this life… where is the genuine happiness?
What we found with Jungle it was a place where we could leave that ego out of it. I get more satisfaction from somebody talking about Jungle than talking about me personally. My name’s never been associated with it and some people ask me why I don’t want to take credit personally. It’s not about that. It’s not about credit. We get the most happiness if people are enjoying it in their own time without it being forced upon them, if they’ve come to it themselves.
It’s the difference, maybe, between interacting purely with the music or interacting with the person behind the music as a celebrity or an individual.
You’re a journalist, you must get people selling you stuff and trying to get you write about stuff and sending you loads of demos. I think it’s nice to be shown stuff but you’re never going to connect honestly with something. For example if I sat my girlfriend down and said, “What do you think of this track?” she’s never gonna fucking tell me what she thinks. I’d rather she just heard it or randomly picked up on it. I think that’s so much more of an honest connection. You never like things that people force upon you or beg you to like. I think that’s one of the things we go by really.
We’re growing up in this age where anyone under 30 is trying to prove themselves in their own career. We’re under such pressure to deliver more than our parents.
The album takes influences from lots of different eras, and it would certainly be difficult to place it as an album made in 2014. Are you nostalgic for earlier times?
We try not to think about it, to be honest. If there is a certain sound, it just comes out because maybe when I was ten years old I heard a Marvin Gaye record playing in my dad’s car and then suddenly years later it’s coming out again. In fact, we tend not to listen to anything during the writing and creative process, and just rely on imagination and trying to escape into that place that I was talking about—that visual escape. And we tend to build up that visual element as the song’s being written.
Thinking about “Lemonade Lake,” for me, that’s inspired by Bon Iver. Not Bon Iver’s music but Bon Iver’s story. He went off to a wood cabin to write that record. It’s that experience of him actually going away and sitting by this lake. I actually got this image of these woods in Wisconsin where you’ve got these big trees and little log cabin and he’s sitting on his chair with his guitar by the lake. And he’s sitting there for so long that he starts to hallucinate. And then Bon Iver is irrelevant. It’s about that image, that place, and now we can sit there. You get that feeling like you’re underwater, you see this vision of someone coming out of the lake and it’s something made of candy. It’s that sort of feeling that inspires us to play a certain way or play a certain melody, rhythm, or synth roll inspired by that place.
We try to take ourselves to those places on each track and I hope that people listen to the songs and feel like they’re in different places. It might not be the same place that I thought of but they’ll see something. “Busy Earnin’,” for example, that could be blasted out of a Cadillac going across Brooklyn Bridge. Or “Accelerate,” that’s the second track on the record, I see that as… I’ve got a motorbike in London, but I imagine being in a video game in Japan and you’re in a night race on a fucking amazing motorbike going like 200mph. It’s that feeling, that space, that’s one aspect. Then of course you’ve got the secondary aspect, that’s the lyrics which are the script. Each track on the album is almost a film, a short film because of that visual influence. And the words are the script, they’re the story line.
Other than when you’re recording, do you listen to contemporary pop music?
I think you can’t help it in the society we live in. Me, you—we’re all fans of music, that’s why we do it. Whether you’re writing about music, listening to music—whatever, that’s irrelevant. It’s about good music for us. I think we could probably sit around a record player, me and you, and you could put on a reggae record and if it’s a good song we’re both going love it. I think that’s why people connect. When it’s a great music, everybody loves it. I think styles and genres are kind of irrelevant because there’s going be a great reggae track but there’s always gonna be shit reggae. And shit reggae is just shit reggae, and that just doesn’t connect. That goes for anything. It’s about the good song. A good song is just good melody, good rhythm, a good whatever. It’s almost that simple. You listen to a lot of music out there, you collect albums that have hit you more than others. I think that’s the beauty of it, it’s just an expression.
You guys have just been touring in Europe, how the live shows been?
It’s been really good actually. We’re starting to get to a level where the audience know the tracks and they’re part of the Jungle experience now. For us they’re like the eighth member of these shows and it’s the difference between a great show and an amazing show. They add something to it.
We played a show at the Berghain in Berlin and people were a little more apprehensive than previous shows. We might not have played the most outrageous show we’d ever played. We’re lucky enough to never play to an empty room so that’s an amazing experience and it’s just an amazing feeling that people are responding that way. We’re as much a part of the audience as everyone else. That’s why everyone sings; we’ve got a lot of singers on stage. There’s not one leader, I can get perspective by watching T sing and he can do the same with me. It’s a group feel, and we just love it.
It’s about fun and being happy with who you are and not really caring about what everybody else is thinking or doing. Not having to seek validation from other people, having that in your heart.
You seem to have a strong set of ideas behind Jungle, can you summarize what Jungle means to you?
I think it’s about honesty and it’s about true connection and friendship. It’s about being in a collective and collective energy, like a football [soccer] scenario. When there’s that sort of team spirit, there might be two players who really lead the team but you’re all fighting for the same goal. It’s about fun and being happy with who you are and not really caring about what everybody else is thinking or doing. Not having to seek validation from other people, having that in your heart and knowing that if we’re having a good time—us seven on stage—that’s what really matters.
When you get 400 people who turn up, then they’re part of that as well and they can join us. That sounds kind of idealistic but it’s quite simple. I wouldn’t say it’s easy, and we’re not buddhist, we’re not zen. I struggle with my conscious and subconscious all the time, trying to make my conscious mind do all the things that I preach, but that’s fine. Really, we’re people like everyone else, we struggle with all those worries that everyone else has, but Jungle is a place where we can overcome those sorts of things.
Jungle’s self-titled debut album is out on Xl Recordings July 15. Pre-order here.