When Jungle shared their debut single, ‘Platoon’, back in 2013, they quickly became the most-talked-about band in the country. While the song raced to over half a million views, it wasn’t just the music that had people hooked in fascination. Jungle’s identities were anonymous from the out-set, and even now, it’s still all about the music for Jungle.
Although the duo has four shows lined up at the legendary Brixton Academy, unlike most artists who achieve that kind of success, a large portion of their Spotify listeners would struggle to recognise the band members if they walked past them in the street – which is exactly what they’ve always wanted. The duo, which comprises childhood friends Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland, doesn’t appear on their album sleeves and have never popped up in a music video. Instead, they usually let the music do the talking on their behalf.
Their eponymous debut landed at number seven in the charts and earned Jungle a Mercury nomination in 2014. This effort was followed up in 2018 with For Ever, which again proved to be a top ten record in the UK but, in truth, it didn’t quite get tails wagging in the same way. Now, Jungle have left XL Records behind and set up their own independent label, Caiola, with their third record, Loving In Stereo, arriving this summer.
The album is expansive and sees the duo invite collaborations into the previously insular world of Jungle, most notably with appearances from New York rapper Bas and Swiss-Tamil artist Priya Ragu. Loving In Stereo is a confident effort from Jungle, which sees the group execute their most ambitious album to date.
A lot has changed for Jungle’s Tom McFarland since their last major release. Not only has there been a global pandemic like we’ve never seen before in our lifetimes, but he also became a father a few weeks ago, which put a last-minute spanner in the works of when we were originally set to do the interview. The latest love in McFarland’s life has given him a new perspective, and there’s a buoyancy to his demeanour during our Zoom conversation.
“It’s been mental so far,” McFarland says about fatherhood. “But lovely and ultimately really great. I’m loving every day,” he adds enthusiastically. “We’re rehearsing as well, getting stuff ready for the live show, so it’s all go, really. I’m expecting to be a broken man by the end of June.”
Releasing a record as an independent artist rather than through a major is another new experience that McFarland is revelling in. “We had two amazing albums on XL, and they really gave us a great platform to be where we are today, and I wouldn’t swap it for the world,” he adds. “But now we are on our own label. It’s given us that extra competence and an extra boost of freedom. It’s allowed us to take things at our own pace and do exactly what we want creatively.
“What me and Josh have always loved doing is being in complete control, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” McFarland laughs while taking a drag off his cigarette. “We’ve always had the confidence in our abilities and our creative vision, so having that chance to drive home that belief has been really good for us.
“It’s a joyful record, it’s energetic, it’s positive, and it’s affirming. It’s sort of everything that we’ve always wanted to make,” he adds. “I think our fans will hear that, and I think people that are new to it will hear something different,” McFarland proudly says about Loving In Stereo. As the singer states, Jungle have been building towards this album since their formation, but for the first time, the building blocks are in place to pull it off.
“‘It’s been a bit like a wave,” McFarland reflected about Jungle’s journey to where they are today. “I think with the first record; you’re very much naïve. You’re blindly confident in yourself and what you do, so you don’t think about it. Then classic second record syndrome, do we stick or twist? I think we both felt like we ended up in a bit of a middle ground with that record.
“The sonic was never really something that we felt like we nailed on that record,” McFarland critically says. “But now, with the hindsight of both those records and the freedom of being on our own label, we can actually get back to doing exactly what we want.”
Unlike their debut, For Ever was met with a grain of hostility from critics; however, the album was a learning curve for McFarland. Ultimately, it’s a blissful record to listen to but lacks the energy of its predecessor, or that special something you get from Jungle when witnessing them perform live. The reality of the project is that it simply doesn’t grip you vehemently as a listener. Thankfully, that vivacity has returned to Jungle’s work with comeback singles ‘Keep Moving’ and ‘Let’s Talk About It’, both surpassing every track from the duo’s last project.
“It all just felt a little, not necessarily contrived, but I think we forced it a bit too much,” McFarland says about For Ever. “We didn’t have necessarily the confidence in the original ideas, and what we’ve done on this record is keep it pure, don’t change it too much. Don’t overwork it. Once you overwork something, it just loses its soul and its edge.”
While the creative process and vision for Loving In Stereo has altered since For Ever, one thing that hasn’t changed is Jungle’s knack for visual storytelling. McFarland tells me that they’ve made videos for every track for the record, which Josh has co-directed alongside Charlie Di Placido. Choreographers Nathaniel Williams and Cece Nama have brought a whole new dimension to Loving In Stereo, unlocking an extra degree to the songs — although shooting fourteen videos in five days was a taxing task.
When it comes to the visuals, Jungle are almost unrivalled. They helped create a sense of intrigue around the group during their infancy as an outfit and, to this day, they continue to tell a narrative through the medium of dance which sets them distinctively apart from their peers.
“That was a decision that we made really early on,” the singer notes. “It was like in 10, 30, 40 years when we’re in our 50s and 60s. I want to be able to look back at our artistic output and not be really embarrassed by it. If we’d been in the videos, I’d look back and be like, what was I doing? Or what I What was I wearing? To be able to remove ourselves from that gave us more confidence and freedom.”
McFarland continues: “Even taking the first album onto the stage to play live was a big leap for us because we never really thought that we’d have to get that far and be the guy with a microphone saying ‘Hi’ to everyone. That’s not our personality. We’re not Olly from Years and Years, bless him,” he laughs. “We were quite happy in the shadows and conjuring up these amazing worlds and soundscapes and allowing other people to help us with the visual aspect of it.”
The initial mystery surrounding the group provided the duo with plenty of laughs, especially when people thought they were Gorillaz, says McFarland. However, the reasoning behind their unknown identities derives from a previous bad experience of the industry and fears that it will all come crashing down once more.
“A band that we were playing in recorded a record and got assigned to a major label then got dropped before the record came out,” McFarland reveals. “That was quite a scarring experience. Rejection for anybody, however zen you are and however much you have that strength inside you that says that other people’s opinion doesn’t matter — ultimately, you want to be respected for what you do.
“We didn’t want to be tarnished with the same brush that band had been painted with, and it was actually a decision sort of to keep ourselves away from out of the line of fire in a way and say there’s no real ownership of this. Jungle is Jungle, and it’s not just the two people making it,” he earnestly adds.
At the time, it seemed as though the mask of anonymity they hid behind was a genius scheme cooked up by someone at a major label, but the truth is a lot more simple. They’d been burned before, and they wanted to stay as far away from the fire as possible. Despite being an artist that has shied away from being in the limelight, there’s no hostile edge from McFarland. The duo makes delectable music that hundreds of thousands adore but are wary of an industry that has a penchant for chewing people up just to spit them out.
After making one of the bravest debut albums of the last decade, Jungle second-guessed themselves when it came to For Ever, but Loving In Stereo is their coming of age record. They’ve had the time and freedom to create the album they’ve always wanted to make. With nothing holding them back or restraining them, Jungle could have fallen flat on their face, but this liberation has led to the most heavenly incarnation of the band yet.
Loving In Stereo is released on August 13th, visit here to purchase a copy.