In the Princess Victoria pub in Shepherd’s Bush, London, Tom McFarland (better known as T), half of the brains behind Jungle, explains his former locale like a flight attendant. Although he now lives in Bethnal Green, his family home is this way, his school can be found here, partner in crime J (Josh Lloyd-Watson) lives thataway, Queen’s Park Rangers are over there.
It's a welcome return to their roots after three years of constant touring. Through the strength of their evocative post-funk sound, proved by a Mercury Music Prizenominated debut, he and J have barely wandered around their stomping ground, instead touring far-flung places from Bogotá to Auckland.
“That’s the upside with streaming sites – your record sales will take a direct hit, but essentially they do their distribution for you, so you can go to places for the first time and have a crowd there,” says J. “Which means it’s been pretty intense everywhere.
“Our most recent tour was in South America, and like, Mexico hits your senses,” picks up T in their expertly orchestrated tag team. “There are new smells, new sounds, the weather’s different, you’re boiling hot or in monsoon hell. It’s a vivid way to experience life.
“We’ve played gigs at -10 degrees in the Alps, where our fingers have gone blue and frozen up – I mean, imagine being outside for an hour touching metal. And then we played a gig in Perth where I got sunstroke, and all the equipment stopped working because they overheated in those temperatures.”
J chips in: “And the more you play, the more things go wrong. We’ve missed flights and had to cancel shows, strings have broken, I’ve fallen on stage, Tom has fallen on stage, microphones have stopped working . . .
“But you get all these incredible experiences. Touring is like watching TV – but really fast; there’s a lot of information to take in.”
Blitz of hype
Jungle's self-titled debut album – preceded by lead single Platoon in 2013 – was released in a blitz of hype, stoked by the interest in their sound. Noel Gallagher dropped his witticisms to describe them as "f***ing amazing". They appeared on the US's biggest publicity tool, Jimmy Kimmel Live! They have earned an exponential live following, as evidenced by their second-place billing at Forbidden Fruit. Similar to Foals, they have evolved their relatively low-key studio work into a startlingly slick live performance, with the help of a seven-piece backing band.
“We wanted to play up to the live setting from the start,” says T. “We recorded the album ourselves, but as soon as we realised what was taking shape, we knew when we were playing live, it had to be live. We could have used our samples, but, like, when you bring a drummer in, they’re doing things that you could never do unless you’ve been playing the drums for 20 years.”
Blending into the surrounds of their local pub, they are an unlikely pair to manage a significant music operation, which also involves directing their well-received videos. But their smarts are on display when they discuss the artistry of the follow-up album.
“If you plateau on your second album and deliver the same calibre of record, you’re all right,” says J. “If you deliver something like Kendrick Lamar, who’s delivered something out of this world compared to his first album, it can be game-changing.”
So they’re aiming to emulate their success rather than step away from it, a la MGMT?
“They probably saw how poppy and mainstream it went,” says T. “That’s what happens; you see bands who have psychedelic sounds and good songs on the top of it, and then they go mainstream. I would say we experienced some of that. We’re not miles away from what happened with MGMT, but obviously they experienced it on a much grander scale.”
You can tell the pair have been friends for a decade, especially when they eventually come to the same conclusion.
“In our heart of hearts, what we want to do is build on what we’ve created,” says T. “I mean, we want to impress people, but we want to impress ourselves.”
How do they expect it will sound?
“I think it’s going to be more intense,” says J. “Our first album might have been quite lo-fi, but we thought it was massive. Once we had it out, it gave us a bit of perspective: it’s actually quite small and petite. Depth in sound is really important, it should be 3D rather than flat. And people respond to 3D.
Their live standing will undoubtedly play a part in shaping the direction. “It does influence it: when we’re here, it’s like it’s just us and normal life, but when you’re out on the road you get feedback, a call and response, and we realise we have a responsibility to entertain,” says J.
“I guess it’s a case that it’s honest as long as we create what we want to create, and it’s not too watered-down by the business side of things.
“Like I’m really feeling hip-hop at the moment, so if I was to go into the studio today, I’d make a hip-hop record, but I’d have to think about how that would fit into Jungle. So it’s about being true to what we hear and like, embracing what we make and what comes out first, and making it understandable to ourselves.”
Free from the pressure of major-label deadlines – one of the benefits of signing to XL – they have decided to take their time in piecing together their next instalment. “We’re not going to put something out for the sake of putting something out. If this is our last record because we don’t write something better, so be it. We’ll retire and say, ‘There you go, there’s one album’,” J says, although we don’t know if we believe him. “If we happen to write a bunch of songs that we like, we might put them out.”
“Our creative process is like a cloud that grows from the sea, builds up, gets bigger and bigger. The cloud gets heavier and heavier, and suddenly it starts raining,” says T. “We chip away for ages and then suddenly it focuses itself. Some parts don’t get finished straight away, some do, or you judge it afterwards and it might not be relevant. You have to remember you’re changing all the time, too, so something that we like six months ago might not be something that you like now.”
Although we are guessing we shouldn’t expect any new songs in time for Forbidden Fruit, do they have a cover version or two for this summer’s shows?
“That’s always the temptation,” grins T. “But we wouldn’t want to ruin other people’s songs.”
- Jungle play Forbidden Fruit festival at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin, June 3rd -5th