Published Jul 14, 2014Jungle have become so proficient at the art of genre-bending that it's nearly impossible to define their sound without referencing game-changing artists like Stevie Wonder, Daft Punk or Gang of Four. After writing songs for close to a decade together, the UK duo of J (aka Josh) and T (aka Tom) were approached by XL Recordings to record what would become their debut, self-titled LP. The resulting 12 tracks burn bright, as Jungle's brand of funk/house/post punk has been washed over with a certain sun-kissed sheen that comes off wholly fresh and original. Chatting with Exclaim!, J talks about his group's relationship with the press, turning images into music and their enigmatic origins.
Where am I speaking to you from?
I'm in a cab on the way to a photo shoot for the New York Times.
Can you give a bit of a background on Jungle?
Yeah, me and T have known each other for about ten years now, we've always been writing together, and early last year we started finishing tracks. We finished a track on the record, a song called "Son of a Gun," which is one of the first songs we finished. It was that process of finishing something that gave us the confidence to go on and write more and finish more, and once we started finishing things you have that kind of belief, you believe that you can do it, that you can write more, more and more stuff that works and it was that that really started Jungle.
Probably back in February/March of last year we put a tune up on Soundcloud, we were quite reserved about it, we didn't want to push it too hard or too fast in people's faces, we wanted honest reactions — and if people liked the music, they'd react honestly to it — rather than posting it everywhere, handing out flyers and all that other stuff. It's about doing it really softly and letting the music speak naturally and letting the art do its work, and if people like it, great, that's a great connection to make, and if people don't, they don't, we're happy with it whatever the weather, it's just been cool to be part of this fun journey so far.
Can you talk a bit about your self-titled, debut LP?
We started in my room, that's where it felt the most honest to do something. Me and T have been friends for about ten years now so we've always kind of worked where we worked. You know, wherever it works, it works. We started writing in my bedroom and we started making beats there and that felt like the right place to do it. You can always go into a big studio or you can rent like kings but it just doesn't feel right, we just sort of made the most of the things at home, that's how we made most of the stuff. In terms of producers, we just did it ourselves, it's more fun like that, it's less pressure as well. Then XL came on board quite later on and we fancied a little bit of a change, they have a studio, which we started finishing some stuff in, and that's it really.
Your music has been identified as funk revival, but you say that you and T started out writing beats, do you relate more to electronic producers than you do to traditional musicians?
I dunno, I think we're just producers, you know? We just appreciate good music, categories and genres don't really come into it for us, that's what iTunes does, that's what the record stores do, they make the categories so people can find what they're looking for. Ultimately, good music is good music whether it's J Dilla or whether it's Wild Beasts, it doesn't really matter, it's just about good rhythm and good melody. That's what we love and that's what we try to write, it's irrelevant what comes out, it's up to other people to categorize or pigeonhole I suppose.
Can you talk about your influences and how they've evolved over the years?
Well, our influences tend to be quite visual; we tried not to listen to a lot of music while we were recording the record. Instead we'd see places in our head and write tunes around those. For example, if we were working on "The Heat," for us, that's the beach, that's the one where you can go and it's just a carefree place, like a mix between Venice Beach, Miami and Copacabana, but we've never been to any of those places, so in our heads, that's just an imaginary, surreal place. Once you can get those locations into your head you can use them to inspire a feeling to take you somewhere else that's not a room in Shepherd's Bush. We made a conscious decision to not directly listen to other people's music because if you listen to other people's music straight away and then try to write something, you're going to be so directly influenced by it that what you will do in that session is somehow copy it. It's better to let your influences seep through subconsciously, so something that you might have heard 15 years ago, the rhythm and the hi-hat might seep back into one of your tracks, rather than listening to a track and then directly copying it line for line, which as much as you're not trying to do, it will happen because it's so close to your psyche at that time.
There is a strong visual aspect to your group, with very striking and involved press photos and music videos already being released before the album came out. Was this also something you tried to avoid, absorbing ideas visually?
Yeah, we had images in our heads of what the videos could be or what they should be, whether it was just a starting point, it would just be something like "roller skating," that would have been the initial kind of thing to think about or "body popping" — something like that. Then it develops quite naturally. Using the kind of references in the songs and the visual things that inspired the track, we take them and work them into real life videos.
The idea of videos is to keep everything quite simple and capture the characters and emotions in the most honest light. We worked with a friend of ours, a photographer who's very much a part of Jungle, for us, he feeds off honesty and feeds off naturalism and working with him is amazingly fun, it feels very natural and honest. Our process is part of that collective, whether it's seven of us playing on stage or 12 people dancing in a music video with a little girl doing a head-spin, it's irrelevant, it's all part of the feeling, the journey.
You've received a lot of attention from the press even before your debut album was finished. What's your relationship with the press?
Well, we try not to read stuff about ourselves because you start to believe the hype. We're really happy with what we do and that's the most important thing. It's just like a self-fulfilling circle within the creative process, it's very easy to be influenced and second guess an audience based on a press response but ultimately we're just making art, you have to ignore the opinions of other people, otherwise you'd just go mad with worry. That happens to everyone, it's just not in music, it would happen to you if you were a journalist, if you were a football player. Human beings are just kinda influenced by their peers and that's how it works, we're social creatures. It's just about looking at it and going, "it doesn't matter." But people are entitled to their opinions, whether you write something good or bad, that's not my choice, that's your choice and that's what makes it beautiful. You can't control that and you definitely can't control it once it's out. The only thing you can do is be slightly oblivious to it and get on with what you wanna do.
I know that, at first, you and T weren't revealing information about yourselves and weren't allowing images of yourselves to be released and the press picked that up and started to run with it. Do you feel that was starting to overshadow your music?
Not really, I think it's irrelevant, I think people were still listening to the music and I think that people who actually listen to music don't go on reading what people have written about you. My favourite bands, or my favourite producers, I've probably only read one article about them. If you think about Arcade Fire, I love Arcade Fire and Jai Paul but I've only read one article about them so whatever's written about them or the continuing themes that are written about those people, I'm not aware of it because I'm just into the music.