Jungle: "I think there’s an added sense of purpose in performing now. To me it feels like you’re not just going to play a gig, you’re being part of something bigger than yourself."
Alice Gee | 19/07/2022
Calling from Brighton I check in with Jungle’s Tom McFarland. Having had all of about 3 hours of sleep he’s energetic as he mentions how the last year picked up. “It’s been constant. We drove in overnight from Paris yesterday, which meant getting up for the border at three o’clock to get on the ferry. It’s been pretty intense.”
Intensity is also certainly what the groups audiences are feeling now they are back on the road, I tell Tom I haven’t danced like i did at one of their 4 sold-out Brixton shows in quite some time whilst the audience of one of their . It’s an interesting point to touch on, having just started to move into some form of normalcy post-pandemic, the anxiety I felt arriving at such a packed-out venue,
“I understand you, even for me on the first gig back we were all a little bit anxious. Everyone was a little bit like am I gonna wear masks? Are we going to dance and sing? But once the show kicked off, everyone realised why they were there, why they enjoyed it and why they missed it so much. So the energy of those shows was really special and something I don’t think we’re ever going to experience again.”
It’s an energy that felt homely throughout the well-choreographed set as I ask how they’ve felt getting back to normal pace for them.
“I think there’s an added sense of purpose in performing now. To me it feels like you’re not just going to play a gig, you’re being part of something bigger than yourself. And that’s exciting and quite humbling in a way. I think for artists, it’s quite easy for us to get wrapped up in our bullshit, you know what I mean? It’s quite easy for us to sit down, let the hype happen and sort of like get carried away with it. It’s not just about you, you’re also doing it for the audience. Doing those shows in Brixton in September and the US tour in October felt like everyone’s gig.”
Having grown up together in Shepard’s Bush, literally next door at one point, both Tom and Josh remain close in person and on stage, almost brotherly as they navigate the stage and the close relationships they have with the rest of the band, including past members like Andro who featured as one of our first issues covers.
“They are a huge part of what we do. I mean, Josh and I are essentially brothers. So it’s always going to be like a family business. We’re all in it together. We’ve all been doing it for so long, and the fact that Andro could open for us in Brixton was really special, we are so grateful for everything he did for us over the last couple of years. To have him doing his own thing, really expressing himself in his way, is beautiful to see.”
Being born and bred Londoners, I can’t imagine the gravitas around being able to perform a night at the infamous Brixton Academy let alone selling out 4 shows, it’s something so many could only dream of. “It’s interesting, I’ve always thought why wouldn’t people make it everything you want it to be? These shows are the dream” Tom tells me “That’s our perspective on it. We grew up going to these incredible shows when we were kids. Being lucky enough to live in London meant it was accessible to be able to see gigs so easily.” It’s a sense of imagination, what you do and don’t want Tom explains “It’s what you think your audience wants to see on stage. We’ve always been quite driven in trying to achieve that. I think if you’ve got an artistic vision, you’ve got to run it full pelt and make sure that you pull it off”
And pull it off they do time and time again. If you have ever attended one of their gigs or happen to be experiencing one of their upcoming tour dates I challenge you to find someone who isn’t moving to the music. Although Tom tells me he’s noticed a few I laugh and exclaim that with about 90% dancing I think we can let the minority go. As I touch upon the energy in the room from those in the crowd it’s impossible not to mention both his and Josh’s families who stood next to me, definitely their biggest cheerleaders. “It’s nice to have your biggest fans there. They’re always so supportive. Ever since we started creating our music our parents have always driven us forward. They never pushed us to study law or science. There’s always been the support from them.” I curiously ask what their advice has been? “They would say if you want to make this happen make sure you do it to full capacity and enjoy it. Don’t do anything half-assed. There was never a question of what we were going to do. It was always a question of how much effort can we put into it”
You can see the time put into every moment, with choreography and hooks that are a letter of love from both Tom and Josh. As Jungle releases ‘Good Times’ and ‘Problemz’ in their ever familiar symbolic double drop manner, we see the new dawn moving from their third album into new yet old territory focusing on pure enjoyment in their oh so iconic neo-soul/funk style.
“We had a week in February, with some time off, so we got straight into the studio and made those two songs. They were finished quite quickly, which is quite rare for us. Afterward, it was like what do we do? Do we just release them? There was no real like plan. There’s nothing in the future, no 12-month plan moving forward in terms of like releasing or anything. But I think it’s just a really good exercise in letting go of something and realising that, those two songs happened in a moment. Yes, they might pop up in a larger format, or record later on down the line, but we didn’t want to sit on them and get bored or overthink them for the next year.”
Is it something you’ve become less precious about when it comes to releasing music rather than in a set schedule I ask?
“That’s something we got to the point with on the second record, we were over-emotional with it massively. So with the third album, we wanted to make a record that loosened those chains a little bit and to take off those shackles of thinking about it too much and carry it onto these tracks.”
With such momentum behind both new singles I don’t doubt they’ll move towards a larger work of art, but it’s refreshing seeing the band take control of their narrative. Having released both their first and second album through XL Jungle have taken the next step to become independent. I ask Tom whether they feel they’ve taken back creative rein in terms of their decisions and what they are striving towards.
“Absolutely. There’s been no going are you sure about this. Ultimately, in this world, you’ve got to trust your tastes, your instinct, and your plan. No one else can see into the inside of your head, no one else is going to be able to facilitate the things that you’ve got planned for yourself.” Tom continues “The fact that we can go out and make everything happen that we want to in the timeframe that we want to make it happen is amazing. It’s impacted our creative process in a good way. We’re no longer making music for somebody else. And that was a rut that we got into” as he quickly credits their initial journey “XL Recordings were an amazing label to be a part of, the career that we’ve had, since signing with them, wouldn’t have been possible without their help and guidance along the way. But we’re now in a very privileged position where we can think for ourselves again, and get back to standing on our own two feet.”
Speaking about Jungle’s musical evolutions I curiously ask about his evolutions in terms of his mental health experiences.
“A lot of my childhood was very stable. I have a loving family, so I’m incredibly lucky in that respect, the older I get the more I’m aware of that. It’s rare to have that. As a child, the idea of depression, or being sad was something that was either incredibly fleeting, or it just didn’t compute to me. As you get older, you have more experiences, things happen to you, and you get wrapped up in what society expects of you, wrapped up in relationships, and what other people can expect from you. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve appreciated more the moments where I have to accept that sometimes I can’t just brush things off as easily. I can be melancholic sometimes. Which I guess is my version of being unhappy.”
When do you find it presents itself the most I ask? “It happens mostly when I’m tired, stressed, or anxious. I’m not very good when plans change super last minute. It’s ironic as I’m a musician, touring the world, and you’ve just got to expect that sh*t will hit the fan. I recently just became a father a year ago, and that’s helped. It’s really helped me understand that the small things in life don’t matter that much to me. Having my daughter my patience levels have skyrocketed.”
Tom goes on to tell me he’s much better at coping with things without much sleep now in comparison to a few years prior. “Five years ago after no sleep having to travel and get up at 3 am to get the ferry, I would have been f*cking miserable, asleep on the sofa right now.” But it seems he’s found a new resilience “That’s one aspect I’m exceptionally grateful for.”
But it’s not just in terms of their lifestyle that can make things difficult, it seems it has sat deeply in Tom’s conscience when it comes to him previously second-guessing his music ability, “There are times in making a record where I’ve questioned my ability. There have been times I’ve spent the last two weeks writing sh*t songs like asking myself am I just sh*t. But then the week after that, you write a couple of bangers and you’re like, okay, I’m back on the treadmill.” We all have moments but it’s how you manage them I find myself telling Tom. “I enjoy walking with my daughter” as I’m quick to ask what else brings him joy alongside “or playing golf. That’s incredibly therapeutic for me”
As our conversation turns towards the overriding little pleasures, I’m curious as to how traveling alongside the band and crew has impacted the pressures that touring can have on relationships and wellbeing.
“Within the band and the crew over the last nine years of doing this, relationships have failed as a result of people being away on the road for too long.Having someone there as a supportive shoulder to cry on has been massively beneficial to everyone. We value and cherish anyone that comes on board. We’re very keen and very quick to bring them into the fold and let them know that they can always talk to us about anything. Nothing is off-limits, you know, if you need to take time away do it. Because life’s more important than everything ultimately, happiness, love, and feeling good within yourself is more important than standing on stage and releasing records.”
It’s infectious being around those who can help pull you back to a good place. A problem shared is a problem halved I comment. “What I’ve found interesting is it appears that men of my generation, thankfully, appear to be more open, more empathetic, more talkative. It’s great that talking about your mental health has become more encouraged rather than this ‘man up’ or ‘grow a pair’ culture. It’s such a toxic environment. Previously I never really understood that. Maybe that’s because I was more emotional as a child. We lost one of our school friends very tragically in an accident three years ago, and it brought us all together. From then on, we’ve just all been way more transparent with each other, more honest, way more open, and way more supportive. I think impacts us positively on the road and creatively.”
Do you think that’s what enabled you to continue with a schedule like you currently have, you’ve mentioned having a level of spirituality has helped?
“It gives you the tools to be able to do it for longer. If you went through this process, and it was always unspoken, it would just build up and build up and become this negative rather than positive experience. I wouldn’t say that the newfound levels of spirituality and like spiritual happiness necessarily dictate the creative but they’ve allowed the creative to flow more easily.”
It’s a creative flow having a positive impact, with both Tom and Josh in the best headspace they’ve been in, and as we touch upon that I ask Tom what’s the goal when it comes to being in the best creative and mental space they’ve been, where do you go from there? “Ultimately, the goal is to make music that people feel good listening to.”
Words: Alice Gee
Photography: Jamie Waters