Jungle: ‘We’re not making music for anybody but ourselves and our fans’

Tom McFarland of the duo on writing their third album and leaving their label

On the opening day of Glastonbury, 2014, Jungle were scheduled to play the John Peel tent at 1pm, a few weeks before their debut self-titled album was released. The previous year, the singles and videos for Platoon and The Heat came out, introducing what would become a dominant and lasting aesthetic for their music videos, all of which are dance pieces, often directed by one half of Jungle, Josh Lloyd-Watson.

By the time Busy Earnin’ landed, a song that became almost ubiquitous across radio, advertising, and television shows, the level of anticipation that surrounded the then mysterious outfit, signed to XL Recordings, and about to make what would become a landmark festival appearance, was high. The band had perfected a soulful, instantly memorable electronic sound from behind closed doors, music that skipped across decades and genres creating a fully formed, buoyant energy, seducing fans from all quarters.

As people scrambled into festival tents that year to see what this band actually looked like, and whether they could possibly translate such a pristine studio sound to the stage, audiences was greeted with a level of slick, sophisticated perfection that demonstrated what could surely only emerge from 10,000 unseen hours of graft, musicianship, and a sense of self-belief and assurance. Seven years later, it feels as though Jungle have pressed a button marked both “reset” and “progress”, with their third album, Loving In Stereo.

I talk about that with one half of Jungle, Tom McFarland, while he wanders around Copenhagen, where he and his partner are introducing their new baby to his partner’s family. Open, honest, chilled out and ready to tour again, McFarland talks about the album and how it marks a new era for a band that struggled through the creative process of their second album, For Ever. They left XL by mutual agreement, and are releasing this record on their own label, Caiola, named after the guitarist and composer Al Caiola. The album itself is less busy, lighter, more liberated. Largely completed towards the end of 2019, mixed and mastered earlier in 2021, Jungle held off on releasing it until they could tour again, and injected new energy into the album by recording 14 videos in five days during lockdown in a disused military building in Dover, a remarkable process with brilliant results.


The album is beautiful. Floral and breezy, it’s the sound of musicians who know what they’re doing, and have zero interest in getting bogged down in who or what they aren’t. Keep Moving feels like a sequel to Busy Earnin’. Talk About It slouches into a b-boy stance before springing skywards. The song Truth is an unexpected surf-inclined guitar tune. For a band that briefly took cover in the shade, this is the sound of them basking in the sunshine. Throughout it all is a sense of fun and invigoration.

McFarland founded Jungle with Lloyd-Watson, his friend and childhood next door neighbour, in 2013. Both are from Shepherd’s Bush in London, a place where they were “overexposed to live music culture from quite an early age,” McFarland says. When he was much younger, he daydreamed about being in The Strokes or Kings of Leon, on stage with long hair, skinny jeans, and Converse, but ultimately, what drew him and Lloyd-Watson to becoming the musicians they are, was the energy of a crowd in a room, “and watching the people on stage soaking that up and giving it back to you during the next song. I think that’s what really grabbed us, that cycle of energy that is recycled and repurposed in the room on a minute-by-minute, song-by-song basis.”

With this album, they had, “a strong desire not to spend too long on it, and not to dwell on ideas too much and capture the ideas in their earliest form, in their most nebulous form.” They shed their tendency to overwork things, and healed the scars of their second album process.

'We just feel like we're at the top of our game, and really enjoying life as musicians and artists'

McFarland says at the end of 2018, they sort of knew XL were “umming and ahhing” about picking up their third album, “We were kind of cool with that, do you know what I mean? We knew that our relationship with them had a certain limitation. There had been issues with creativity in the past. There’s a really famous quote from Adele and she’s like, ‘I’m not going to let some guy sit behind a desk and tell me how to make a record because he’s never made one in his life before.’ And I think we were in that position. It’s like you start to doubt yourself because you are letting other people’s opinions affect your creative process.”

Following the unexpected and massive success of their first album, Jungle quickly realised how true the difficult second album cliché actually was. It’s also hard to not end up with the process bleeding into the feel of an album, and that is what happened with their second, but in a manner that was, ironically, artistically successful. Anyone who has struggled with a creative project can’t help but feel empathy with and find solace in the track House In LA, with its line, “Two whole years on the rewrite.”

“Look, XL were amazing,” McFarland says, “They gave us a real platform… For west London artists growing up in the 1990s, we were very aware of what XL stood for and what XL was. So being part of that family for a few years was really glorious and gave us a lot of confidence in the early years. But then, sort of, it reversed itself a little bit during making that second record. Now we’re just like flying. We just feel like we’re at the top of our game, and really enjoying life as musicians and artists. So it is what it is. There’s no bad blood at all.”

One wonders if a band ended up feeling at sea with an indie noted for a focus on creativity and artistic integrity, how on earth do acts cope within the confines of major labels?

“I wouldn’t sign to a major label literally if you paid me, because you’re just beholden to a machine,” McFarland says, “I think being able to have such a singular vision as we do and follow that through to the end, that’s really precious to us. That’s essentially what drives us to it. We’re not making music for anybody apart from ourselves and our fans. That’s the way it should be with everyone.

'I have to bury myself in this whirlpool of artistic pain to make something great? I think that's bulls**t'

“Look, I do understand that we’re sitting here in a slightly high castle because we’ve had the chance, we were given the leg up early doors. And there are artists who do potentially need a structure around them to introduce them to writers, introduce them to producers, and some people do need a bit of A&Ring here and there,” he says, referencing the Artists and Repetoire section of a label, which is responsible for finding and developing new artists.

“But I think the way that they [major labels] viscously churn out artists – they sign them, they drop them, they sign them, they drop them, they sign them, they drop them… At the end of the day, record labels are just banks with posters on the walls. That’s sort of how we see it. In this era of a sort of backlash against the machines and the mechanics of the systems that we live within, I just think it’s so important for artists to have the blind faith in themselves that they can pull it off without anyone around them.”

Now, Jungle are wearing things much more lightly. Perhaps it’s a state one can only reach by traversing rocky terrain, and emerging into a wide open vista, where things feel expansive and unlocked. Having tortured themselves with their second album, the process for the third was a complete reaction against that.

“I think space is important, being able to remove yourself from what you’re doing. We struggled to do that on the second record. When we hit a barrier we were like ‘no, we’ve got to stick with it, we’ve got to keep f**king smashing our heads against it to f**king break through it.’ But actually, if you walk away from the barrier, you often find out that just around the corner there’s a gap in it. That was definitely a process we went through on the second record. We were like just beating ourselves up: it’s not right, it’s not right, how do we make it right, we’ve got to keep working, keep working, 12 hour days, 14 hour days, 16 hour days in the studio.

“And actually, you can do everything you need to do in two hours, three hours, if you’ve got the right perspective, and you’ve had enough space from it. Again, that comes from confidence. It comes from that understanding that you can go and play golf for six hours, and step into the studio and write a banger. Whereas before it was like: no, my only vocation is making music, I have to bury myself in this whirlpool of artistic pain to make something great. I think that’s bulls**t,” McFarland says, with, of course, a smile.

Una Mullally

Una Mullally

Una Mullally, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly opinion column