When British electronic music duo Jungle, aka producers and multi-instrumentalists Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland, staged their debut performance in India at the SulaFest in February 2019, I was part of an entire bus load of fans that travelled from Mumbai to Nashik only to watch their headlining set.
Their nostalgia-evoking mix of funk, disco, pop and soul, as heard on their self-titled 2014 debut album and 2018 follow-up For Ever, had garnered them a highly devoted following here, which was somewhat fitting considering that they see their albums almost “like a religious text”.
“In our heads, it’s like the Bible or something, you open it up and go into this world. That’s why our name’s on the covers like that,” says Lloyd-Watson when we interview him over a Zoom call on the third Friday of July.
In August, Jungle will release their third collection Loving In Stereo, the aural and visual universe of which represents the world they’ve always wanted to build but weren’t able to until now. “The first two records, there are bits on there that are cool but it’s not quite doing it for me,” Lloyd-Watson says. “I know this one, at this point, is exactly what we wanted to make.”
We spoke to him about the making of the album, why they love the format, their reasons for launching their own label, and more. Edited excerpts:
What are your memories of your trip to India in 2019?
India’s an amazing place. I remember we got to India and we got in this van and we had this really long journey. It was really amazing because we got to drive for four hours, through the busy streets and into the countryside. The sun is different, the soil is different. I had never been before [and our visit] was quite brief. I really want to go back.
When was Loving In Stereo written? Was it inspired by recent events?
This is a common misconception that it was made during the pandemic. The ideas for it and the inception and the birth of it was mostly at the end of 2019. The song tempos and the energy level of the tracks were set out. The track ‘Fire’, for example, was made quite early in 2019, if not sometime in 2018, but it set the tone for what this could be.
I think the pandemic, if anything, slowed us down. It was a sort of excuse to not finish it. But in turn, that took the pressure off, which weirdly made it a lot better because it gave us the chance to have perspective and have a little bit of hindsight. We came back to it in September 2020. A lot of the songs changed and went through rebirths.
The weird coincidence is that it’s about what we’ve been through [personally]. You can only really write about what you know. We went through relationship break-ups on the second record, which was mostly about heartbreak and experiencing that in California. This time around, it was about being free. We found new partners so there’s a lot of lyrical content about love and moving on and getting through hard times. Now that was personal to us at that point, but then something happened in the world, which meant that we all went through hard times. So now it’s like it applies, it makes sense to everybody in some way.
You’ve said this record is the one you’ve always wanted to make. What makes it that record?
I think it’s like you grow up and you learn things and you develop as an artist. You might not have the skill level…the first record is me and T (Tom McFarland), we made it in a bedroom. It’s made on a shoestring, it’s made with cups and things that make it very DIY and homemade, but the ideas were quite grand. We wanted it to be quite big, we had songs like ‘Busy Earnin’’. [On] the second record, [we] went through this evolution of us looking to apply more emotion. We listened to a lot of Frank Ocean, James Blake and Bon Iver, and all these artists that kind of pushed us [towards] emotional intensity. This one was almost a rebellion against that overemotional, overthought process, which has weirdly taken us back to our first, which is the core of what Jungle is but it’s executed sonically. We’ve had the ability to go in and do proper vocals and strings and do it so it sounds amazing. I think it’s because we’ve come a long way in the production of music.
You guys have a love for the album in an age when they’re increasingly becoming less popular. Why?
I think so. We like a body of work. Like paintings, if you just do one, it’s not convincing. As soon as you do a second one that’s similar, there’s a series. That validates it in a way. It makes it real. For me, [when] making records, I like complete bodies of work. I can’t really work in the way [where it’s] just a song. It’s got to be a journey for me. It’s got to be part of something bigger. For us, it’s like a book or a religious text. In our heads, it’s like the Bible or something, you open it up and go into this world. That’s why our name’s on the covers like that.
After releasing your first two albums on XL Recordings, why did you set up your own label, Caiola Records, to put out the third album?
Freedom is obviously one of the most important things. In Jungle, we’d always done everything ourselves; the videos, the art work, the graphics, the live show. It’s just something we love doing. I think there was a point where like the label was just there and I’m going, I’m not listening anyway. I think it’s all about confidence. You get to a certain point where you don’t need to rely on anybody else. This record didn’t have an A&R. It was just us. Nobody told us this is what it should be. I can hear that in the record. It’s better than it could ever be because of it. If you bring in that label, I’ve found that over the years, working like that, it gave me somebody to try to please constantly, which means that I was adapting my pure art to please somebody else. Now this record is adapted to please myself. I trust myself, and you have to trust your own taste. This applies to everything in life, any decision you want to make, you have to follow that gut.
How did your collaboration with Swiss-Tamil singer Priya Ragu come about?
Priya’s amazing. She’s a vocalist who our manager has started working with recently. We did a session with her just for the hell of it. We did a track early in the day and then right at the end, we were like: “We need to do two.” In an hour, we came up with ‘Goodbye My Love’. We were in this amazing studio called Sleeper Sounds in West London. It’s [songwriter and producer] Guy Chambers’ studio. He’s got all this amazing old gear; this 1922 piano, this beautiful harpsichord, this amazing vibraphone. For me, when you go to a new studio, it’s like new toys. You can hear the harpsichord on the track. I was like: “We’ve got to play everything, let’s quickly capture it all and then leave the studio.”
How does the lyric writing process usually work?
I do a lot of the lyrics although I hate lyrics. They annoy me. I’m much more of a production and melody and rhythm person than lyrical. But you do have to put the effort in. It’s one of those things [where we go]: “Ah, we’ve got to make the lyrics really good.” And that is another block. A lot of what I’ve tried to do on this record was write whatever came subconsciously and accept it. I think when we write music, and [for] people who create stuff, your brain puts in blocks [like:] “It’s got to be better, this isn’t good enough.” These voices come to you. That’s what stops people from doing something. I think if you just write from your subconscious and let go, it’s more freeing.
How much have you missed playing live?
I did a DJ set last night at a pool party in London. That was the first time I’d seen people dancing together for a year and a half. It felt natural. I think people are born to do that. They’re born to celebrate and express themselves. Hopefully the world will be back to doing that very soon. It’s such a fun thing.