Main image: Filmawi
Jungle just wanted to be one of The Strokes, and now look at the mess you’ve made them make. Growing up in Shepherd’s Bush, west London, the pair’s early goal was to play as a band like the boys holding it down in New York City. They were particularly keen on playing Ginglik, a public lavatory turned gig space just off Shepherd’s Bush Green. As Tom McFarland, one half of the dance duo remembers: “It’s an absolute shithole – literally – and that was probably our first ambition: ‘If we can play there and put a song on Soundcloud, then we’ll be happy. I think my bike got stolen from the railings outside once.”
When NME catches up with them in mid-July – nearly a decade after they ticked the venue of their (sick) bucket list – the pair are in a reflective mood and feeling particularly philosophical about the gnarly rock heater ‘Truth’, the fiercest track on their upcoming third album ‘Loving In Stereo’. It zips along at the same whiplash pace of The Strokes’ debut ‘Is This It’, but with the production trickery of their 2011 album ‘Angles’. It’s one of the best things Jungle have ever done.
“I think that song is a return to the roots of our friendship – that that song isn’t far from a Strokes song at all” says Joshua Lloyd-Watson, the chattier of the pair. “That song came together in 10 minutes – I think it’s testament to how we were writing and recording this record. With our second album [2018’s ‘For Ever’], we took six-months-to-a-year to write a single track, and these tracks… were just waiting there for us. It’s like trying to paint a masterpiece; the more you try and perfect it, the shitter it becomes.”
‘Loving In Stereo’ is a superb return for the band; looser, smarter and fully realising their sonic palette. There are flashes of disco excess (‘Keep Moving’), a sample-heavy patchwork influenced by The Avalanches (‘All Of The Time’) and Jurassic 5-nodding hip-hop (‘Romeo’). They avoid the overwrought moments of ‘For Ever’, instead harking back to fan favourites ‘Casio’ and ‘Beat 54 (All Good Now)’, embracing a quicker tempo and a carefree approach.
“The older we get, the more we stop giving a fuck,” Lloyd-Watson says. “The more you can release your fears of what you think you can be or what you can do, you’re just in this creative freedom. It’s why Jungle is reaching where it is and why, in our view, Jungle is reaching its creative pinnacle.”
McFarland agrees: “I think we’re too old for worrying about expectations and what people may or may not want from us. We’re in a place where we don’t need validation, and we know that what we’re doing is the best thing for Jungle and we’re making the best music we’ve ever made. We’re the only ones that can judge if what we’re doing is good and what we want to achieve, you end up second-guessing yourself and it fucks you completely.”
Part of that came from their decision to move on from XL Recordings (home to Adele and The xx), where the band released their first two albums, and who helped them establish and refine the shadowy persona that engulfed them in their buzzy arrival.
“Getting over that break-up and deciding that we were going to do this on your own, it gives you an energy that is embedded in the album,” Lloyd-Watson says. “We looked at that relationship and we’d wonder what they were doing for us and what we were doing for them; it’s kind of letting a bird fly in some way. In the beginning, you’re young and seeking the validation of some A&R man and then you grow up and get to the end of your 20s and you’re like, ‘What the fuck’s that about’?”
The band arrived at a moment ripe for a vision like theirs; enough autonomy to upload their own music onto Soundcloud and wait for someone to discover (Zane Lowe played their louche first single ‘Platoon’ on his BBC Radio 1 show in 2013) but with the internet’s digital cloak able to create mystery of their real identities. They’d been inspired by Gorillaz and Daft Punk’s commitment to obfuscation, but it never stays that way for long; by the time their debut was released in 2014, they were known as T and J, but still wanted to keep the focus on the music.
“We’re both Aquarius and we’re hermits,” Lloyd-Watson says. “You get real kind of impress the room, ‘look at me’ kind of vibe, but also we don’t want to be on these fucking artwork covers or videos or do anything like that. There’s definitely a bit of Jungle that’s very showy and jazz-hands: we’ve always been influenced by West Side Story and Grease and that kind of duelling gangs style of musical. But then there’s the also a dark part of it which is like Daft Punk and ‘put the mask on’ and we don’t want to fucking speak to anyone. We’re always caught between those two, I suppose.”
That approach worked: their debut landed in the Top 10, earned them a Mercury Prize nomination, landed a spot at Glastonbury and surpassed over 100,000 sales in the UK – a near-unassailable figure for a debut by a British band these days. But the four-year wait for the follow-up was, says Lloyd-Watson, a “painful” process and ended up with the band assembling lyrics with Venn diagrams and spreadsheets, scrolling websites dedicated to rhymes to express their sorrow.
He adds: “We thought that the first one was fun, but naive and throwaway in a sense. You always try to surpass the thing you’ve just made, so on the second one we decided that we need to take this seriously and have serious emotions and be like James Blake or Bon Iver. And that’s why it took so long because we were waiting to find that emotion – when we both went through break-ups and were like, ‘Thank God – yes, our saviour; we’ve got something to talk about that’s real!’ We were very egotistical back then, pretending that we have to suffer for our art. This album is the opposite; it’s rebelling against that.”
“We were very egotistical, pretending we had to suffer for our art” – Joshua Lloyd-Watson
The pair also started to play with friends to build out their writing capabilities. As well as inviting rising Swiss-Tamil rising star Priya Ragu to contribute to this album, alongside New York rapper Bas, McFarland contributed songwriting to indie upstart Alfie Templeman’s recent EP ‘Forever Isn’t Long Enough’. Last year, too, Lloyd-Watson released sprawling solo album ‘Kosmos’, made up of beat ideas scarcely a minute or two long each.
Their growing relationship with UK producer Inflo, one of the architects behind mysterious neo-soul collective Sault, helped push them forward creatively: he’s credited with co-writing three of ‘Loving In Stereo’’s songs, a favour returned following Lloyd-Watson’s work on Sault’s recent album ‘Nine’. The push-and-pull between the pair spurred them on: “I kind of liken it to The Beach Boys and The Beatles hearing each other’s music and reacting to that, and that’s a beautiful thing,” he says. “Sault massively inspired what we were doing on this album; Inflo is a genius.”
With a UK and world tour slated for September onwards, and no label pushing them for this, that and the other, the next phase of Jungle is yet to be decided. They now have their own record label, Caolia Records, but are ambivalent as to whether they’ll use that to sign new talent: “You don’t want to become the thing you’ve just left,” Lloyd-Watson says, adding with a laugh: “If anyone came to us and said, ‘Can I sign to your label?’, I’d just say, ‘No – start your own.'”
In fact, Lloyd-Watson teases, seemingly with a mix of sincerity and humour: “You never know what’s coming – maybe this is the last Jungle album.” It transpires that McFarland has been invited to do some trial commentating at a Formula One race after the pair curated a Spotify mix for the 2021 British Grand Prix in July, and Lloyd-Watson adds that its “no fucking secret” that his partner has had his head turned by the possibility of sports punditry. McFarland demonstrates his chops with a mock example of his dulcet tones down on the green; not bad, to be frank.
But if ‘Loving in Stereo’ is any indication, this pair have a lot more to give. They’re in a fruitful phase of their career, unburdened by industry politics, with refined sonic capabilities, new friends and the confidence that they’re still approaching their apex. Anything and everything is possible – hell, with this attitude, a night at the Ginglink might even be on the cards.
– ‘Loving In Stereo’ is released on August 13 via Caiola Records