Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland, the two frontmen of the English band Jungle, are divided in their opinions on whether their hometown of London plays a part in the music they make today.
On the one hand, McFarland reasons, London is an incredibly multicultural city. Wherever you walk on the streets, you’re subjected to every type of music. When he was a kid growing up in Shepherd’s Bush, a district of west London, he’d visit a shop that sold cassette tapes from Jamaica. Then, he’d pass an Indian fabric store, which blasted Bhangra tunes. The city’s omnipresent melodies — coupled with the fact that McFarland’s mother was a pianist and his brother played in bands as a teen — showed him this magical thing was everywhere.
Meanwhile, Lloyd-Watson says he uses music to escape from London. He acknowledges that, subconsciously, his upbringing in the city might permeate what he creates now. But to him, the music is more imaginative — it’s in their heads, and is comprised of their perceptions of places they haven’t yet been to. He prefers to think the tunes Jungle makes are a look inside a different, faraway world.
Lloyd-Watson and McFarland are currently in New York, having flown into John F. Kennedy airport on Dec. 10. They’re in the city to play their song “Smile” on Dec. 11 airing of “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.” (The track, which is on their second and critically acclaimed album “For Ever,” is featured in a commercial for the ridesharing app Uber.) Their equipment sits on the sidewalk outside of the CBS studios building on West 53rd Street, awaiting the performance. Inside, the two musicians are napping with the five other members of the band — or “music collective,” as Jungle has been deemed by the entertainment media — who mostly tour with them.
While they sleep, their publicist describes Lloyd-Watson and McFarland as “the same person.” But once they wake, it’s clear the two friends who have known each other since they were eight and nine years old have their own distinctions. McFarland cracks jokes dryly left and right, and will break into song or beatbox while describing a tune. Lloyd-Watson is more subdued, esoteric and imaginative in his systems of thought. Neither of them could be described as gregarious by any means. They are, as they explain, British and self-aware — more reserved than Americans. And when they come to the United States, they notice the difference in the crowds that pack into U.S. clubs to hear them play live.
“[Americans] appear to be slightly less self-conscious,” McFarland explains. “They’re much more willing to let loose and not really worry about whether they look like an idiot — whereas English people definitely go, ‘I can’t possibly let loose, it’s a Monday night.’”
Their live shows are raucous, instrumental and lively when all seven members are on stage singing high-pitched, layered vocals and playing two types of percussion. Concerts are a big point of pride for Jungle, because, as Lloyd-Watson describes it, live performances can sometimes be underwhelming. The band tries to avoid that.
“There’s a lot of music out there at the moment, especially in the live arena, which is under-delivering,” he says. “People just play a backing track with vocals on and they turn up and jump around. That’s cool if it’s a hyped artist, and you get that initial, ‘Wicked!’ But then you’re like, ‘Well, what’s really happening here? What am I seeing?’ I’ve always been a massive believer in giving people that experience. It might be kind of rough in places, but it’s real.”
Jungle is not interested in notions of celebrity. For them, the music comes first, and that’s how it’s always been. Even when they released their first album as a band in 2014, they went by the first letters of their names, J and T, only. Lloyd-Watson and McFarland shied away from being known or famous. They say the world — and America specifically — is obsessed with fame. But they just want to create good art and perform it.
“We’re not exhibitionists,” McFarland says, while simultaneously conceding that a live crowd’s reaction to the performance is “what you live for, really.”
“It’s all about who you are, rather than what you do,” Lloyd-Watson adds. “If you get locked into who you are and what’s your product, you’re just a celebrity, then. We make music, we’re not celebrities. And I think, for us, the most important thing…
“Is what we do,” they say in tandem.
“Two whole years on a rewrite,” the lyrics from one of the singles “House in L.A.” go. There is a four-year gap between Jungle’s first, self-titled record, and “For Ever.” In order to embark on a writing and recording process on the second album, Lloyd-Watson and McFarland largely lived their lives. McFarland settled with an ex-girlfriend in England, while Lloyd-Watson spent time with his former girlfriend in Los Angeles. Then, within six months of one another, each band member’s relationship ended.
“We were waiting for something to happen to write about,” Lloyd-Watson says. “The reason why it took so long is because we were waiting for real-life experiences to actually happen, without forcing them.”
What followed was “For Ever,” an album of love and breakup songs. At times, Lloyd-Watson and McFarland wrote songs for it in the same room. In other instances, they created the skeletons of tracks and brought them to one another. If they found energy or the space to pour their hearts into that song for the next couple of weeks to finish it and see it through, they’d try and put it on the album. Their separation, they said, led to them surprising each other, and bringing different ideas to the table at different times.
They both agree that, in order to glean new inspiration for songwriting, it helps to move around.
“If you stay in the same place — we did stay in the same place for a while — it gets a little bit stale,” Lloyd-Watson says. “You don’t realize it, but it’s safe. It’s like a relationship, in that if you’re with somebody you’re like, ‘This is safe, this is safe.’ But are you happy? That’s what you gotta ask yourself.”
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