Interview: The Jungle Giants

If you haven’t listened to The Jungle Giant’s latest album – Quiet Ferocity – stop what you’re doing right now and hit it up for a dose of infectious tunes bound to get your feet tapping wherever you are.

2017 has been a huge year for the risk-taking band, after they played to lively crowds at the Groovin the Moo festival and are now touring Australia and New Zealand with their new album. Read on for a chat with leading vocalist Sam Hales about Quiet Ferocity.

First up, I can’t wait to hear the full album tomorrow. So far all the snippets and the couple of songs you’ve released have been extremely rad. 

Sam Hales: Thank you! I’m not going to be able to sleep, I’m so excited.

How does it feel to have three albums under your belt?

SH: I feel really good at the moment. This record was kind of a ride somewhere, so yeah, it feels really good to have three under the belt because this means we’ve got a burner going and there’s heaps more to come.

The title of the album is such a visual juxtaposition as well- how did the name come about? 

SH: It’s the lyrics from one of the songs … that were popping around in my head for a little while, I guess it’s kind of a parallel …. I guess, like, I was toying with that idea for the song because it could be like an introvert who’s got a crazy thing they do at home that no-one sees. It’s that idea that everyone’s got a willpower or an intensity you can’t really see on the surface. So that’s how it came about for the song and it seemed like a really nice name for the record.

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You met the rest of the band at Mansfield High, didn’t you? I also went there but I think I missed you by a couple of years. 

SH: Oh really? Wow! Yeah, we’re 4122.

Did the band form during the annual Battle of the Bands competition or sometime after?  

SH: A few of us were in one of the bands, I think it was Cesira and I. We kind of formed after- I was in the grade above the other guys, which sounds weird but we were all in the same kind of classes, and then I started the band in the year that I left and I got two jobs. I went to uni for a little while during this, but then I just put uni on hold and got two jobs, at McDonalds and Night Owl near the Metropol- you’ve probably seen that area before- and saved up like five grand for our first EP while the guys finished school. And when the guys finished school, we just recorded it and that was that.

What do you think you’d be doing with your life if you weren’t in the band? Did you ever have any other dreams?

SH: Um, I guess I’ve always wanted to do music … If I wasn’t in the band I reckon I’d be an astronaut or something. I’d do something that was a lot of work involved that I was really into, so I could be a workaholic but it would be like, really not. And also I’d get to go to space, and that’s fucking awesome.

Oh yeah, so did you do science at school?

SH: No, I was really bad at science at school. I’d have to start fresh … I like science but I really like space.

Anyway, back to the band, what was the process for writing Quiet Ferocity? 

SH: It was a completely new process this time … I did a writing trip to Paris for Speakerzoid, and while I was there I kinda wasn’t writing that much. I wasn’t really in the mood for writing, which was really annoying because I’d gone all that way to get there. So I just started reading lots of books while I was there, and long story short I picked up an Ernest Hemingway book and really enjoyed it, so I started researching him and I found that he released this essay on how to write better. It was full of all these dot points and paragraphs explaining all these ideas that worked for him and the thing that I picked up is that you should treat it (your writing) like a job … and make your studio somewhere away from home so that you could actually go to work. So I did that, I got a studio in Moorooka at a pedal store, but underneath they had writing rooms, so I set up there for like a year and it was really good.

That’s super interesting! 

SH: Yeah, and it changed how I look at writing and it seemed less of like, a treat from heaven when you got a song idea and it made it more practical and more responsible for my output. So I would just be there everyday working and stuff, and I got good at not writing. Like if something wasn’t working, that’s okay. I learnt to be easier on myself, and in turn I was being more productive. But yeah, it was just a really cool year of self-discovery.

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Was that process way different to your previous albums? In the past have you been more carefree and looking for inspiration, whereas this time you’re more focused?

SH: Well, yeah! I guess, totally. With the last records I was always writing where I was living, and that was okay for me at the time but … I wish I was doing this for longer, having a place where no-one can hear me sing into a microphone and not being worried if anyone can hear. In the past, I’d be down in my room and someone upstairs could hear me and be like, ‘Oh what are you working on?’ and it’s really distracting and pulls you out of what you’re doing. The last records were written in rooms with people going, ‘What the hell are you doing in there?’

Was it enjoyable taking full control of this album by producing it entirely on your own? 

SH: It was, yeah. With Speakerzoid, we used our producer Magoo, who’s done all of our stuff. During the last record, because I’ve been recording my demos for the last couple of years and getting better at knowing what I want and describing sound, toward the end he sat me down and said, ‘You have to start producing your own stuff now, because you’re stopping me at every point.’ And I realised I was slowing down the recording process because I was like, ‘Why don’t we do this?’ and stuff like that … So I was like, let’s just give this a shot, and it was kinda easier at first. I’d never tried it before but it’s actually not that different, I’m doing the same thing in the demo room, like just recording and working on sound, and when it comes to record I just do that, but with an engineer who will help you set up the mics and press play while you’re running around with a tambourine or something.

Do you have any creative direction over the music videos?  

SH: Yeah, I do! I really like storyboarding the film clips. I would love to learn how to use the camera- I would love to do more with the videos but I know nothing about film. But I do really like coming up with ideas and think-tanking. So like, with the last film clip, my manager and I, we sat down and came up with this stupid idea that there was this space man falling down to Earth and he was lonely so he had to turn things into dancers.

In your last album (Speakerzoid) you incorporated a lot of strange ambient sounds. ‘Every Kind of Way’ is such an eccentric song, with you almost narrating the verses and that razor-edge whirring noise jutting in between the lyrics. What was the drive behind this? 

SH: That was exactly what’s always been going on. Just like, experimentation and using what you have to get the sounds you want. We wanted to push what we could do in the studio, so like, we used a whole bunch of weird stuff. We used a microwave in one of the songs, and on this record as well we used a deodorant can and all kinds of weird shit.

Yeah, sometimes I literally had to pause the song because I thought something weird was going on outside!

SH: Hahaha! Yeah, in one of the songs on this record I wanted to use like a ringing sound from a phone, but people listening to the record would think their phone had gone off.

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So would you say there’s a major difference between Speakerzoid and Quiet Ferocity?

SH: Yes, sonically the influence in the songs are really different. In a production sense, right now I’m really into 60s and 70s drum-kits, really tight sounding drums and really punchy. They’re the basis and platform everything works around. Speakerzoid was a really percussive record but from a completely different point, like the drums were wetter and looser and there was a whole range of cymbals behind it. This record is more ‘one’ in terms of all of the songs, which I really enjoy, like they all have the same sound. I guess the music influences all change, like in two years we could be listening to really different music than we are right now and that’s just how it goes … I also feel like with this record we’ve landed somewhere really happy … like we’ve arrived to a sound that is really exciting for all of us and we just want to explore more.

You’ve performed all around the world, from LA to New York, Toronto, Jakarta… Do you have a favourite venue? 

SH: Hmm, I don’t know if I have a favourite venue. I love the Enmore in Sydney, that’s a really cool place to play. I really want to go back to Singapore- I reckon one of our best gigs ever was in Singapore. We had no idea it was going to go down well but we played a sold-out show and it was really awesome. All this stuff went wrong at the show, like my pedal-board exploded and so I had to plug my guitar straight into the amp, and when we finished the gig we wanted to do like, an encore, but we couldn’t find Keelan. He was in the toilets and was sick from eating like, all kinds of strange food from around Asia and so we went on for the encore and Keelan wasn’t there, but all in all, it was the best gig. So yeah, I would say Singapore is a great place to play.

Are you keen to take this tour to New Zealand this year as well? 

SH: Yeah, totally. I have no idea why we haven’t been there before but it’s so close. I guess it’s going to be a new experience and it’ll be interesting to see how the set goes and how much people know over there. It’s going to be really fun, and I hope we’ll be able to add that to our tours from now on.

What’s it like performing in the Australian music scene compared to overseas?

SH: Well, I guess as far as I can tell, Australia has a really close-knit scene, like everyone’s really influenced by each other. But I do think that definitely happens overseas. It’s hard to explain, but I feel like in Australia everyone knows each-other … because the cities are so far apart, that’s something really really singular to Australia. I guess in America it would take a while to get to other places but it’s not the same as Australia. We’re kinda small in terms of how many cities we have, but it’s so big in between, and that really reflects in the music. There’s a touring circuit and people follow this circuit, and you know, we’re always influencing each other and it’s really nice.

Do you have any advice you’d give to aspiring artists or musicians looking to you as inspiration?

SH: I would say: play with the idea of separating your writing, or your work, to where you live. After I tried that, it changed me forever, and it made me so much happier as well. It made me feel really good, and for someone who writes, if I don’t write something in a day, I can get really down and pissed off, but what I learnt was that you don’t have to be like that. If you have this place and treat it like a job from 9-5, you can be easier on yourself in a really positive way, because you can say okay, it’s not my day, but I’m going to keep working. If you do that, you actually open all these doors and something that sounded shit on Monday might actually be really important for a song you learn on Friday. People who aren’t sure should give that a shot.

Well, have a blast at the opening party tomorrow night, and I can’t wait to see the show in August! 

SH: Yeah, tomorrow we’re doing a DJ launch set at the Foundry. Thanks very much, I appreciate it!

Catch The Jungle Giants’ Quiet Ferocity tour at the Triffid on 18 August at 7pm.

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This article was originally published on The Creative Issue.

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