Interview - Jungle
One of Splendour's most hyped acts get deep with Liam Apter.
Jungle quickly became a sensation by the end of 2013 with only two singles, Platoon and The Heat because of their brilliant videos. Featuring B-Girl Terra and High Rollaz respectively it was hard not to love the simplistic but irresistible nature of their music. Come 2014, Jungle rolled out with Busy Earnin', Time and now they're on their way down for Splendour In The Grass. Liam Apter got a hold of one half of Jungle, Josh, the other being Thomas which is short for J and T respectively. They quickly dispelled the anonymous tagline of Jungle, something created by the internet, and got down to the importance of being honest in music. Furthermore, they grappled with the issue of ego, dealing with expectation in a world that demands so much and how seeking appreciation from others constantly is ultimately corrupting. It isn't your typical interview where the band pumps out fluffy answers, and if you're lucky you might come away thinking about things differently.
Along with Splendour, east coast peeps can catch them at one of the following:
How have the recent run of shows been?
Yeah yeah, amazing. We just got back from Europe and we played some cool festivals. Some big festivals, some little festivals, ya know? That was the first time we done that kind of stuff so for us it's been a really cool, new experience.
Sweet man. Something you guys are known for is that people don't know you. How does that work live?
I think the fact that people don't know us is because we aren't really that big. So on-stage we are just normal people and I think the whole kind of anonymous thing which we get asked about a lot is something that the internet has kind of taken and made into our tagline. And I think that kind of happened because of the videos and the way we put out our art out. We haven't really put pictures of ourselves up yet and that felt kind of awkward. It's like taking a selfie and putting it up. It's just like taking a picture of yourself and putting it online. It just feels a bit weird and obviously other people can do that and that is fine. It's just that sort of self-promotion thing which we are against.
So what would you say your tagline is then?
Ummm [laughter] what would you say our tag-line is? I don't know. Easy-going nice guys? [Laughter]
Fair enough. Something that has crossed over into all the press shots and music videos you have done so far is dance. You guys seem like to dance?
I think we are very heavily inspired by visual influences when we are writing the tracks. It tends to start with a place or a location. For example, The Heat, that's the beach for us. That's like a metaphor for a feeling and when it comes to videos it's always about trying to re-paint that feeling that we had before we even wrote the track. And with dance I suppose that is the subject, that is the expression. For us, dance kind of feels like the most basic, simplest form of human expression to music, visually. We haven't created anything different by putting a dancer in a music video but what we are trying to do differently is by presenting it simply, it's about that character. It's all about honesty for us.
What do you mean by honesty?
For us it's about not trying to hide the details in the video. You see dancers in videos and a lot of those dancers will have been in music videos before but I don't think anyone will ever remember them because they have probably been cut, they have lights, everything has been flashing at a million miles an hour. With what we do, we wanted to present them in a very simple way, showing that they are human, they are very normal and that is their performance. Not many cuts, no need for extravagent lights or any of those stupid things because it's all uncessary. It's just about the performance. It's about the connection between the audience and the performer really.
And what does your music add to the performance?
It's almost like the soundtrack to it. Each track on the record feels like a film. They all start from those places, every single song has a geographic location, whether that is imagined or an amalgamation of everywhere we have ever seen or been. For us, The Heat is a like a mash between Venice beach, Miami and Rio all kind of mixed into one vision. That's where we start with the tracks and they then become quite soundtrack-esque. It then becomes a space for us to add more stuff to it and create that visual landscape.
You talked about how all songs have a visual element to it. Is that the case when you write, is it always about the visual first?
Yeah, I think it happens quite naturally but it does come on very early - sometimes before the track is even written. For example, Lemonade Lake, which is the last track on the album, that starts with something like that. Or The Heat which became about the beach when we put the drum beat down. It's almost like the music inspires a place, you play a chord and you'll see this feeling. And once you can step into that place you can then begin to write stuff with that mind. It gives you the confidence to not be in the real world where you have all these if's and but's and, 'I can't do that!' or this sounds like that... Or, 'You can't do that, that's not how people record stuff'. It just allows you to be free because you live in this escapist reality and from there you can go on and write the lyrics because you are in that mode, in that character. You are not inhibited by the restraints that exist in normal life.
So is music an escape for you then?
I think it is for everyone. I don't think you will find someone who it is not an escape for. It's like a video game or a film or the internet. I think everyone escapes. It's just that way of trying to switch off your sub-conscious mind and just be in that one moment. Say when you jump out of a plane or when you are surfing, you are just there in the moment and you don't just sit there thinking about everything. You are experiencing that pure adrenaline and that was quite important for the creative process for us, because if we sit there umming and ahhing thinking about how not to do it or how should we do it or what people want to hear then you are never going to really get anywhere.
Has this always been the case? Have you been in other bands?
Well me and T grew up together and I guess it's the same with you, you might have gone surfing with mates or skating or rollerskating or maybe go to the cinemas. Music is something we do as an excuse to meet up and that is how it's always worked. You develop through that and we played in bands as we grew up so we have done that thing. This creative process is new to us, like your teen career trying to be The Strokes or something. I think that's a product of school, you're expected to be something that you're not necessarily and only once you get out of school, you go, 'Ah shit!' and you have to unlearn those restrictions.
You're talking about the idea of the individual and finding yourself in the world, yeah?
I think that's what it is about. Jungle is the first time that we have been able to do that and you could say that putting the art first and the ego at the door is our kind of team nicknames. Which are J and T, it's what we grew up calling each other so we thought that would be a nice way to bring that into it. It's a way for us where the ego doesn't exist, there is no, 'I'm trying to be better than T'. We're just trying to write the best thing that works for both of us. We all grew up and we had egos and when you reflect on it, it is a scared, scared little man. It's that thing that is part of you saying, 'I don't know if I can do this. What are they going to think of me?' And I think with Jungle that it is the first time, especially inside Jungle. When I'm Josh at the door it can be like, 'What is going to happen?' But when you step into the world and escape into it there is no ego and you can't get hurt. Everything is blissful and that's the most important thing.
Is Jungle a metaphor for escaping the ego?
I think escaping the ego has a lot to do with creating pure art and pure music. I think Jungle is a bigger thing. That's a personal reflection but Jungle for us, is a collective as there are way more people involved. Jungle is more of a metaphor for a wider group of people who are a part of something. A good feeling, a happy feeling you know? We tour with nine people at the moment and yeah that's a shitload of people which is breaking the bank but it's not really about that. I'd rather go around the world and have as much fun as possible because that is what it is about. Happiness is something that is far more important and you don't really realise that till you haven't had that.
And how did you come about that view?
Well, when you aren't doing this, for example spending years finding what you really want to do and not being happy by chasing success. I think anyone under 30 is the victim of the power of the internet, the power of advertising which makes us think that we have to be super successful, super talented, super hot. Basically someone who lives in LA who is killing it and that is just not possible for 1 billion under-30-year-olds. It's just not going to happen and I think if you stop focusing on all of the success, the wealth and the money then happiness does come because you become a little less anxious about it all.
And is this a personal reflection? Is this something you experienced?
In a way but at the same time it's something that you have to battle with and you won't become englightened. Nobody just becomes enlightened. It's more of an idea we try and focus on when we write and play music. Trying to stay true to what it is really about and when money does become involved you have to control yourself because it shouldn't be about that and that dark side does come out. And you feel that greed come over you and you have to battle that. In some respects it can be about that.
You talked about how the music has a cinematic quality, would you consider your music being used in films or writing film scores?
Yeah, the cinematic thing is something that we are inspired by. I do see film as art and if a film wants to use our tracks then why not. If it's an honest expression of someone else's work then it's a cool thing to do.
And how involved are you in all the music videos you have put out so far?
Yeah, we are very much part of the visual aesthetic along with another friend of ours who works with us on it. He is as much a part of Jungle as we are so it's a collective process. And we're all on the same page which doesn't happen very often. It's quite beautiful to see happen. The first video with B-Girl Terra, all the things that happened with that video was done with four people and it was something that happened coincidentally. There were so many things that could have gone wrong that just presented themselves to us and I was like on many occasions, 'What is going on? What is happening? This has surely got to be harder than this?' It was as if it had been placed there by some manner of fate, although I don't like to talk about fate because it's a weird one but it did feel like these things were happening for a reason and that can be quite emotional.
Emotional in what sense?
Emotional in the sense that it is quite overwhelming and euphoric. It's almost like it's coming from some higher power but I don't like to bring religion into it and I'm not a specifically religious person it just felt like a coincidence. It must have been. There were things like finding the girl, the girl being available as she is super busy and everything falling into place for us to make that video on literally no money. Because it was all our money and there was no label involved for the first two videos. If you tried to make that video now it would cost you to the end of the earth. So that was why it felt special.
Are there any directors that inspire you?
Wes Anderson of course. I'm just trying to think of new guys... Well there is Romain Gavras who is quite funny. He directed a video for Justice called Stress, which was particuarly fun. And he did the MIA one, the controversial one with the gingers running through the desert. He is quite out there, he is a progressive director.
Would you want to work with him?
Yeah possibly, when the time is right. I think there are always opportunities to collaborate and for the moment we have only put out three videos so we haven't accomplished the world. It's just about keeping simple and true to us.
Okay, lets talk about your album. You talked about with each song there is a visual image but is there is a broad, umbrella image that comes with the album?
I don't know if there is broad umbrella image with the album. I think that comes with the style, the fact that it's written by two people, that shared friendship/shared goal is the umbrella message. I think each track has its own world, its own landscape and its own counter meaning. The songs live in these two layers, there is the surface layer which everybody listens and we have fun on. That's the bouncy castle layer, the trumpets in Busy Earnin', the beats, the flips, the production and all the fun stuff. It's all about capturing a feeling on record, every part of that record has that moment where we were laughing or jumping around the room. There were tracks that didn't make the record because I can't say we danced around the room to it. So you're always looking for that feeling. I think the other layer is the lyrics, which is pretty much a sub-conscious stream where you actually work out the meaning after you have written it. They then start to mean more and more things depending on where you are in life. I'm sure they will mean a million different things to a million different people.
And that was something I wanted to ask about, the duality of the songs released. But I also wanted to ask about art, you talk a lot about it in relationship to your music, so where do you see its role in society now?
Well, we don't take ourselves too seriously and I don't think you can. Because when you do, you let your ego get involved and you think you are better than you actually are. I think we are like anyone else producing music, we are just two people. There are Daft Punk, there are Justice, there is loads of people who do it. We could go on listing all day so I wouldn't want to say that our music has a relevance in this society. I think that is for everyone else to decide on. We have a self-fufiling circle within our creative sphere where we are happy with it, we really enjoy playing it and it means something to us and that's where we start. Whether or not other people like it, we can't control that, I can't tell someone what to think of the lyrics, I can't tell someone to like a track or not and that started from beginning with us. We didn't play it to anyone, not even our friends, family because it's not an honest way of sharing it. You're going to get biased opinions. So if you create something, you write an article and you then show your best mate, 'What do you think of this?' Already you have kind of drawn them in without even letting them judge something honestly. And that comes from growing up where you try to seek appreciation from people for your work. And actually you should just understand whether you like it or not and be happy with that. And if other people like it, then it should be a bonus, but you don't rely on other people's opinions to boost your own adrenaline levels because ultimately that leaves you with something you need to replace constantly. Therefore you will always be seeking outside appreciation which leaves you with a hole.
Okay, I completely understand that man. I don't have anything else to ask, is there anything you want to say?
I don't know man, I think we covered quite a few things, quite deeply. It's been a good interview.
Thanks. I really connected with that last point but I won't keep you. Best of luck when you come to Australia!
Thanks man, we're desperate to get over there. We come from Sheppard's Bush so there are loads of Australians here, I grew up working with Australians in bars. There is a great feeling about Australians so we are looking forward to getting over there. I think there'll be some great shows.
Well I can tell you there are quite a few people eager to see you.
Thanks buddy, have a nice one!