Jungle

Jungle: “We’re in a place now where we know what’s good. We’ve got our instinct back”

The funk-loving British duo break free in their third album, Loving In Stereo, and tell us how they’ve evolved from bedroom beatmakers into studio maestros.

Jungle’s Loving In Stereo is everywhere right now. Billboards, TV commercials, podcasts, playlists, Apple Events, the London Underground – you name it. And yet, despite their eminence, the British duo, comprising Tom McFarland and Josh Lloyd-Watson, are dazzlingly down to earth. They are, at heart, just a pair of kids who love listening to music and making beats in their bedrooms.

“When we’re making stuff, whether it’s me or Tom, we just need a laptop, a great mic and a guitar,” Josh tells MusicTech. Their third album, 2021’s Loving In Stereo, began in their home studios and was developed at professional spaces in LA and London. Much like with the creation of their previous albums, 2018’s For Ever and 2013’s Jungle, the two Londoners preferred working in what they call “playground studios”. These “playgrounds” are simply rooms where Jungle can be surrounded by gear, all plugged in and ready to record when creativity strikes. Such spaces remind Jungle of the setups in their childhood homes in Shepherd’s Bush. “We’d be in a bedroom with our stuff, surrounded by our gear. [These studios] take us back to the basics.”

Jungle
Image: Fiona Garden for MusicTech

We’re sat in one of the rooms at Paul Epworth’s Church Studios, where Josh and Tom crafted parts of Loving In Stereo. Along the side of the live room is a valley of synthesizers: a Moog One, Minimoog, Mellotron, Sequential Prophet-10, and a Roland Juno-60, among plenty of other musical icons, all hooked up to the gargantuan Neve console. Shortly before our conversation, Tom and Josh tinker with the instruments, occasionally smiling at each other when a synth patch or melody sounds particularly groovy. This is how Jungle’s ideas are born.

“We listened to albums. We didn’t sit there and cherry-pick singles like you can now”

“Ultimately, it’s about finding things that make us feel something. We might just be messing around. Yesterday, I was pissing around with an EBow,” Josh says. He beams at Tom and chuckles: “Your mum brought round a box with a Roland SP-404, an old Game Boy, a Tascam four-track and a little EBow, so I stole that.”

Josh, the more talkative of the two, then explains how he set up a microphone and started recording the wild-sounding slides and wahs he played with the EBow – a handheld electronic guitar ‘bow’. Unforced sessions like these “start a thread that might inspire something else”, he says.

Tom had his first experience with a Prophet-10 earlier in the day, spending a good half an hour tweaking it and experimenting with chords. “As soon as you play a synth that you’ve never played, it immediately excites a part of your creative conscience that triggers something,” he says.

Jungle
Image: Fiona Garden for MusicTech

Jungle’s inspiration may come easy, but transforming an idea into a full track has its complications. The multi-instrumentalists and producers have said that, on their earlier albums Jungle and For Ever, some tracks took months to finish. With about 300 draft tracks floating around for their previous albums, it’s no surprise that compiling the running order took a while. “It’s easy to sit there and enjoy half a song that you’ve made,” Tom laughs.

The lads found a new groove with Loving In Stereo. Before the album’s bouncy, disco-laden lead single Keep Moving took its final form, it existed as a 25-minute stream of consciousness in their DAW, with about 15 different variations. Channelling his inner Bruce Lee, Josh proclaims that creative ideas “should be like water. They should always be able to change”.

These musical streams of consciousness are becoming an integral part of Jungle’s workflow. Josh’s 2020 mixtape Kosmos, released as J Lloyd, was the result of a 72-hour binge of writing, creating and recording. He was inspired by friend and collaborator Inflo, the Adele producer at the helm of mysterious UK collective SAULT. Josh claims Inflo has created entire mixtapes in just one day – much to his initial disbelief.

Josh Lloyd-Watson of Jungle
Josh Lloyd-Watson of Jungle. Image: Fiona Garden for MusicTech

Josh’s experience in creating Kosmos, coupled with the three albums he’s made as Jungle, has changed his view on the length of time needed to create a good track. “Casio [from Jungle’s second album For Ever] took an hour to make. The bare bones of it, at least,” he says. Now, he’s convinced that if the idea is good enough, a track can come out of it within five minutes. Songs should also be completed one at a time, rather than working on multiple songs at a time.

“I wish someone had given me the advice to just finish one song at a bloody time,” Josh says. “Because when you do that, it’s so good. It takes real discipline to do that.”

“I wish someone had given me the advice to just finish one song at a bloody time”

Dreaming up albums is Jungle’s speciality. It’s not in their nature to whip up the odd single or EP every few months – Jungle have stories to tell. While For Ever told the tales of the boys’ romantic break-ups, Loving In Stereo is about healing, moving on, and being free. This is best embodied in Keep Moving, but they also take things up a notch in the latter half of the album with the loose, fast-paced rhythms in Fire, Talk About It and Truth. The album’s name even harks back to the band’s humble beginnings – Loving In Stereo was the name of the first track Tom and Josh wrote together in their bedrooms as teenagers.

Their exposure to timeless albums has imprinted the long-listening experience into their work. “We grew up with albums,” says Tom. “Even going back to A-Level Music Tech, we’d have to study two records, finding out about the recording techniques and stuff like that. For me, it was Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, and Pet Sounds by Beach Boys.

“We’re just in tune with the way that albums work, and the way that they have a beginning, middle and end, like a story. It’s got to have that arc. Probably not even consciously, that [approach] translates into the records that we make because that’s what we did as kids. We listened to albums. We didn’t sit there and cherry-pick singles like you can today.”

Tom McFarland of Jungle
Tom McFarland of Jungle. Image: Fiona Garden for MusicTech

The world is now deep-set into streaming services, where there’s a playlist for every mood and genre. The average consumer is increasingly less likely to regularly listen to entire albums. For the album-weaving duo, the instant access to millions of tracks is a double-edged sword.

“It’s great because you’ve got everything at the tip of your fingers, but it devalues your emotional connection to [an album],” Josh says. “When you have everything, you don’t want anything, I find. That’s why people who buy vinyl have a unique connection with that piece of music. You’ve had to part money with it. You own the physical product. You can’t keep changing the track. You’re forced to engage with it.”

“We ain’t beautiful celebrities. But because we make music, everybody wants to know who we are”

Jungle elevates the album experience for Loving In Stereo, premiering it at a Dolby Atmos-equipped cinema in central London in August 2021. A 40-minute movie accompanying the album depicts a dance troupe moving along to every track, cleverly filmed to appear as a one-take movie. The film has since been split up into music videos for almost every track, continuing Jungle’s penchant for dance-oriented features.

Tom notes that choreography can bring new depth and emotion to the music, saying that the dancers “express our music in ways that we couldn’t possibly. Talk About It is a prime example. The way that dancers perform that song on screen gives it way more meaning to me”.

Jungle
Image: Fiona Garden for MusicTech

You’ll seldom see Jungle as the protagonists in their videos. When their first-ever dance-led music videos debuted – Platoon, The Heat, and Busy Earnin’ – they laid low, causing many new fans to assume that Jungle was a 10-piece collective of musicians and dancers. Tom and Josh only really stepped into the limelight when promoting their second album, For Ever. They’d rather be behind the camera than in front of it.

“It’s not part of our personality,” says Josh. “But because we make music, everybody kind of wants to know [who we are].” They both laugh as Josh adds: “We ain’t beautiful celebrities”.

Inspired by Daft Punk and Gorillaz, Jungle want to create fictional worlds with which to surround their music, without revealing much about themselves. Damon Albarn, says Josh, is “just a geezer in Reeboks” who has conjured up an iconic animated band in a wacky universe

The duo finds ambiguity an attractive trait in modern artists. They cite the enigmatic Jai Paul as an influence. “Without Jai Paul, there’d be no Jungle. Without Justice, there would be no Jungle,” Josh tells us. “Child Of Lov as well,” chimes in Tom.

Unfortunately for Jungle, they live in a time where producers and musicians are expected to double as content creators, leaving their studios to face the camera for social media and streaming services. “[Artists] have to basically create content for media partners. It’s a full-time job,” Josh says.

And if J Dilla, the archetypal underground bedroom beatmaker, were here today, would he be doing the same thing?

“Would he fuck, mate,” laughs Tom. “It’s the same with MF DOOM. [DOOM] didn’t bother.”

“Dolby Atmos actually brings back the life of the music”

The elusive MF DOOM and J Dilla are also idols of Jungle – along with Madlib, DJ Shadow and Moby – and not just for their ability to avoid the limelight but for their revered sampling techniques. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Jungle sliced up samples for several tracks on Loving In Stereo, particularly Romeo (feat. Bas) and All Of The Time. Both tracks are built around chopped-up vocals and guitar licks with an old-school flavour that makes them sound like they’d been ripped off a record from the 60s. Not quite.

Romeo and All Of The Time are derived from samples but, to avoid the tracks being rejected in the clearing process, Jungle recreated them and then rearranged them into new songs. They recorded vocalists and instruments with a 1960s Sennheiser MD 441 mic. They also used Thermionic Culture’s valve distortion unit, The Culture Vulture, to crush the signal and give it a grittier sound. The result is pure Jungle: retro yet contemporary, raw yet sophisticated.

Jungle employed more impressive production techniques on Loving In Stereo. A full Dolby Atmos mix of the album is now available on Apple Music, offering an immersive listening experience by placing elements of a track in a 3D listening environment. Rather than just hearing from left and right, you can, in theory, hear sound objects from all directions. In a cinema space, where the album was premiered, this is achieved via 64 speakers. Despite the format’s effectiveness currently dividing opinions across the industry, Jungle were impressed with the end result.

Jungle
Image: Fiona Garden for MusicTech

“It actually brings back the life of the music,” Josh explains. “The choruses lift how they’re supposed to lift rather than just being flatlined.”

Mixing a track on up to 64 speakers is a vastly different experience from mixing on two speakers. The producers were met with latency issues when placing rhythmic elements in multiple areas in the mix, making the whole track feel out of time.

“If you’re sitting back left and you’ve got a shaker playing from that area, it will be out of time with the drums that are coming from 30 metres in front of you,” Josh says. Meanwhile, more sustained instruments such as strings, saxophones and flutes can glide around the 3D space, as in Bonnie Hill. In No Rules, laser sounds ping around the listener’s head, adding a touch of psychedelia to the album.

To bring orchestral instruments into the Loving In Stereo, Tom and Josh had to step up and direct string musicians, saxophonists and flautists – something they’d never considered when they were making tunes in their rooms in Shepherd’s Bush. “Self-production is different to these group sessions,” says Tom. “You’ve got to stand there, read the score while [the musicians] are playing, and if they get it wrong, ask them to change the note at the end of a bar, or whatever.”


Josh adds to Tom’s point by quoting producer friend Barney Barncott: “Everyone thinks they’re a producer. But most people who say they’re producers are artists or beatmakers.”

To Josh, a producer is someone who gets the best out of the musicians and takes the song from idea to a chart-topping hit. It’s no longer only about Jungle. “We sat in our bedrooms and home studios, but it’s very safe. You’ve got all day to do it. You can fuck up. You can sing rubbish vocals in front of no one, and it’s great. Then you get in [Church Studios], and you’re on a clock of 10 hours, and you paid for strings, there are 12 people here who are professional musicians, you’ve got to know if they’re getting the take.”

Jungle’s sound is, then, a result of maintaining the child-like, exploratory mindset in the creative process. They may have had to take on new roles and techniques for Loving In Stereo – and it’s all the better for it – but they’re acutely aware that toying with sound can lead to serious productions.

Now that they’ve set up their own label, Caiola Records, the duo have found the confidence to return to the same mindset they had when they were kids making beats in their bedrooms. Instead of having to get a label’s opinion on their music, they are free to trust themselves and release the tracks they love.

“I think we’re just in a place now where we know what’s good,” Tom says. “We’ve got that instinct back. I think that’s just reflected in the sound of this record. The more you produce records, and the more you write songs, the better they get. You improve and you learn a skill set that enables you to fully visualise your imaginations.”

Jungle
Image: Fiona Garden for MusicTech

Loving In Stereo is out now.