“Sorry, I’m in the middle of Tokyo in a storm. It’s all a bit bonkers,” says Jungle’s Tom McFarland on the phone to ShortList, moments before
(as if to prove his point) thunder rumbles in the background. If there’s a more fitting atmosphere to sum up the whirlwind of the band – essentially duo McFarland and Joshua Lloyd-Watson, plus extended live musicians – we’d like to hear it.
In a few months the west Londoners have gone from determined anonymity (most people thought they were skate-dancing duo High Rollaz from their Heat video), to viral videos, packed-out Glastonbury performances, a top 10 album and now a worldwide tour.
Amid the chaos, we grabbed a moment with the electro-soul collective on everybody’s lips.
Your music mixes R&B, disco and soul. How did it come about?
T: We were writing instrumental music and realised that, to connect with people, we needed a third dimension, an emotional element, a vocal. It came to a point where we were like, “Who’s going to sing?” and we just said, “Let’s both do it.” No one wanted to put their head above the parapet as the lead singer, so why not make it a duo?
J: We listen to a lot of music, but we try not to when we’re writing because you end up mimicking other people if you’re not careful. We tend to get places in our head, almost imaginary places. We start with a drum beat, and then you have this idea of where the song is set, and that triggers the track.
You also chose to keep your faces and names under wraps until recently. Did you always plan to ditch the secret?
T: I don’t think we planned to hide ourselves, it was more trying to remove our egos from the whole thing. We’re quite shy people. We were in this weird place where we’d produced all this music and realised we had to play it live. It was a way of getting over our fears of that. Removing ourselves and making it about the music presented Jungle as an entity rather than two individuals.
Are you uncomfortable with people finding out who you are?
T: I guess you have no control over it. That’s the nature and the beauty of the internet. Anyone can find out anything. Part of me feels like people’s thirst for knowledge is slightly irritating and it would be nice to be left to our own devices occasionally. Sometimes it gets difficult to ignore things people say about you, but you have to keep doing what you believe in.
What’s the weirdest rumour you’ve heard about yourselves?
T: The funniest one was that we’re a Hot Chip side project. It’s a compliment, I love Hot Chip.
You were both previously in indie band Born Blonde, which didn’t do as well. Did you approach Jungle in a different way because of that experience?
T: It was definitely a hugely important part of our lives. But we weren’t really part of the creative process. We got an insight into how the industry works and how to manoeuvre yourself so you’re not put in a position by labels you don’t
want to be in. Born Blonde were under a huge amount of pressure to write singles or change the lyrics if the label didn’t like it. It gave us a heads up to stay away from major labels when we signed.
Do you think it’s hard for musicians to retain mystery?
T: It’s sad that people look at the history of a person and judge them on what they’ve done before, rather than what they’re doing now. But no, I don’t think so. It was just a way for us to hide a bit and keep ourselves away from the limelight.
This year’s Glastonbury was the first time that many people got to see you in the flesh. How was it?
T: Quite overwhelming. We all came on to the stage and literally burst into tears. You build it up in your head and, being English, Glastonbury is the cream of the crop. We were all very nervous. To have the reaction we had was absolutely amazing.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
J: A big one would be Snoop Dogg. Chance The Rapper as well. We want to work with hip-hop artists, the connection there is strong because it’s the genre we grew up listening to.
You’ve been friends since you were nine years old. What’s your first memory of each other?
T: We got in fights when we were younger. Josh moved into my neighbourhood. I had my group of friends, thought I was top dog and he moved in and there was
a bit of a power struggle. But we used to play football, skate, listen to music, play music.
There’s no Jungle Twitter account. Are you fans of social media yourselves?
T: Not at all. It bypassed us. We were too obsessed with having real conversations. As soon as everything becomes digitised you lose touch with people. It’s so much easier to Snapchat someone than to ring up and go for coffee. I use Facebook to connect with people across the world, but I’d much rather sit in the pub and have a pint.
Did you keep Jungle a secret from your friends and family?
T: We never told our friends, and that’s the cool thing. I never wanted to put my music online and ask my friends to listen because they’d form dishonest opinions. I get people texting me who I went to school with going, “No way that’s you in Jungle!”
So have people started to recognise you on the street?
T: It’s funny you should say that – I’ve just stepped off the plane and, through the airport, people were taking photos and asking for autographs. But I think that’s the Japanese for you. It’s a pretty strange experience. It’s absolutely bonkers. I’m really surprised. It’s been a crazy ride, and if everything goes to plan and we keep writing great music and sticking to what we love, it’s only going to get better.
Jungle’s album Jungle is out now on XL Recordings; junglejunglejungle.com