"It’s almost like a rebirth for Jungle", says Josh Lloyd-Watson, one half of the Mercury Prize-nominated dance titans when delving into the creation of their sublime new album Loving In Stereo. "The songs and the music are on a whole new level to what they were before."
Loving In Stereo, their third studio LP, represents a shift change for the London-based duo consisting of Josh and lifelong pal Tom McFarland.
The follow-up to 2018's deep-yet-kaleidoscopic For Ever, Loving In Stereo sees the boundary pushing pair return to their roots and create music for the sheer enjoyment of it.
Written in 2019 before lockdown hit and recorded in London, Jungle's dance ethos remains at its core but they're more expansive and experimental sonically. Ultimately, Loving In Stereo marks a new chapter.
Take new single Truth, for example. It boasts a more guitar-orientated sound that stands out lining up against their previous catalogue – and wasn't even meant to be a "Jungle song", explains multi-instrumentalist Josh.
In another Jungle landmark, New York rapper Bas and Priya Ragu appear as their first-ever featured artists on Romeo and Goodbye My Love respectively.
"This album is a realisation of how to make music", Josh told Daily Star. "This simplicity, this letting go, and acceptance of whatever idea presents itself to you. Following your gut instinct to make that idea right and not work too hard to push it into something it’s not trying to be."
Early singles, the huge Keep Moving and Talk About It, earned Hottest Record in the World status on Annie Mac's BBC Radio 1 show while the latter's perfectly choreographed video has notched up four million YouTube streams alone.
With an eagerness to crack on with new music and a headline residency at the iconic O2 Academy Brixton in September, Jungle's future as remains as bright as ever.
Daily Star’s Rory McKeown spoke to Josh from his London studio to talk about Loving In Stereo's creation, its captivating accompanying videos, newfound collaborations, and Jungle's new chapter.
Hi Josh. How have you been keeping over these past few crazy months? Has lockdown provided any positives or challenges?
“It’s probably been the same as it is for you. A bit long isn’t it? (Laughs).
"Everything’s coming back to usual in the UK now. Hopefully we can crack on and hopefully get our lives back.
“It’s definitely good to see people getting back out there and enjoying themselves in terms of live music.”
You’re returning with your third album Loving In Stereo. What was the writing and recording process like this time around? When did it get underway?
“We were working on the record at the end of 2019. We had the intention to put it out March 2020 and then, boom. We all know what happened.
“It slowed us down, to be honest. We wanted to get back quite quickly. We took our foot off the gas. We sat on it and were writing music of the fun of it, for other things, and for the joy of it.
"Ultimately it made the record a lot better. We had this grace period with it. It allowed it to grow properly. It definitely matured it in some way.”
You guys went back to your roots and made music for the sheer enjoyment of it all. How much did that help with your creativity?
“You can get lost in music quite easily. You spend your whole life doing it. It only really prepares you for making it or having some sort of success in it. You’re set up for failure, really, especially in Great Britain. We’re not too open with all the pressures of it.
"We had a difficult second record for sure, both in terms of the creative process and understanding why we were doing it. You’re doing it because you want to continue what you’re doing but you don’t realise the reason people have liked it in the first place was because you were doing something you were enjoying, something they were peeking on and obtaining that energy from.
“It was that mentality in some way. It’s almost like a rebirth for Jungle. The songs and the music are on a whole new level to what they were before. It’s like a realisation.”
Do you think this is a true representation of what Jungle is all about?
“I think so. Ultimately we just want to get lost in the music and escapism. On our basic levels, you can go back to lockdown. We’ve been in lockdown in studios for six to eight years. It wasn’t really that much of a big lockdown for us because we just carried on. But it is that escapism, you know? When you are making something you’re completely lost in it. At that point in the song, nothing else exists, no problems exist."
That feeling you were describing there. Is that what you always set out to achieve as an artist? Is that what the excitement is?
“I do it for myself, really. We do it as a hobby. It goes back so far. I started writing music when I was 11 or 12, playing guitar and writing songs from a very young age. It’s been part of me. It’s hard to say why I did it then.
"You grow up and get to 14 and pick up the guitar because a mate did. You’re not really that in to it when you’re 10. You don’t look at bands and think ‘wow’.
"When you get to 14, you get identities and a little bit of testosterone. You want to be in a band or be cool like those guys. It develops from that. When you get to this age you’re like ‘what am I still doing here?’ (laughs).”
When you look back on the process and compare it to the debut and 2018’s For Ever, was there a major difference this time?
“Massively so. It’s a head space thing for sure. Also location, we try and switch up where we are every album, even though we didn’t really find that out until the end of the second. We did the first in my bedroom in my mum’s house, the second was in my mum’s garden. We didn’t go too far, we should have gone further.
“We did bits of the second one in LA. The press made that whole story of it being more of an LA record than it probably was in hindsight.
“The third record is a more settled acceptance of who we are, what we are, and what we do. There’s a lot more confidence in it now.”
Looking ahead, do you think you’ll take anything from this process onwards to next projects?
“100%. This album is a realisation of how to make music. This simplicity, this letting go, and acceptance of whatever idea presents itself to you. Following your gut instinct to make that idea right and not work too hard to push it into something it’s not trying to be.
“Truth is an example of that in the record. Truth wasn’t ever meant to be a Jungle song. It’s just a song I made with guitars on it. Eventually I played it to our manager and he was like ‘this is amazing’. I was like ‘oh god, it’s going on the record then, isn’t it?’.
"Ultimately a Jungle song is one that we create. At that point we learned that it can be anything. A lot of people get trapped in making something but they can’t make anything else because they think people won’t like it.
"Looking forward it will be a catalyst for change, and constant change, and new things for sure.”
With the video to Truth, am I right in thinking you didn’t play the song to the cast before hand?
“That’s right. It was an absolute accident! It was a bit of a genius moment in some ways. It worked out really well.
"Truth is all about that energy. One, it’s not going to lend itself to a choreographed routine. You can’t really do something to that. The idea was about the space and the isolation of these little rooms, and put the people in these rooms to express themselves.
"They’re such incredible dancers and superstars that they just thrive in that situation. It’s like going back to an acting workshop.”
What’s it like from your side of things watching it happen?
“It’s interesting. At that point I was making sure the camera was moving boxes at the right time and getting the cues right. I wasn’t playing massive amounts of attention to what they were doing. It’s care free. There aren’t many videos like that! It’s just being silly really (laughs).
“It’s an expression. All credit to them.”
The videos are a hallmark of Jungle. It must be great looking at the progression of them visually.
“It’s ultimately why we’ve done it that way. Damien Hurst always said with art, you make another one and it clarifies the first one and all of a sudden you have a collection. People can choose which one they like more. It almost backs it up.
"Essentially we put in this framework for these performers to express themselves to the music, which is weirdly the fundamental aspect of what it is – it’s like a tutorial of how to enjoy yourself to the music.”
As music fans, are you fans of music videos?
“The funny ones are really good. Slowthai went down that avenue, which is obviously based on Beastie Boys and Eminem vibes. Those little pastiche moments where things happen and it’s kind of funny.
"We probably went more down the Smooth Criminal vibe where you’d watch Michael Jackson in that restaurant and they all dance and it’s amazing! I want to dance like that. It’s trying to spread that inspiration. I feel that when I watch those videos.
"If I’m in them, there’s no way I’m dancing like that! I’ve got much better skill at creating and directing the world rather than starring in it.”
The singles Keep Moving, Talk About It and Romeo have been met with a big response so far, with Keep Moving and Talk About It receiving Hottest Record status from Annie Mac. How pleased are you with the reaction and support?
“Real good. This record has done better than any other record. Everyone seems to be reacting to it in a really positive way. I just knew before. You know in yourself if the music’s good and the rest is up to chance and luck falling into place over whether people love it.
“We’re just humbled by it. It’s great to see people loving it and playing it. It’s really nice.”
You teamed up with New York rapper Bas on Romeo for your first ever featured artist. Was this something you always aimed to do? How can you sum up the collaboration?
“With the features, for us it was never about trying to get somebody on the track who would elevate it in terms of numbers or notoriety. It was whatever happens naturally.
"Proof with that is with Priya (Ragu). She’s not even that well known. She’s not broken in a major sense of the word. It’s more about the emotion and feeling we had when we made it with them, and ultimately what the song’s like. If it’s a good song, I don’t care if my cousin’s singing it. It’s a good song, Jungle is a vehicle for that.
“Bas came into our dressing room at the Greatest Day Ever Festival in New York. He was like ‘I love your music!’. That’s rare. People backstage are trying to play it call. For someone to come in and say your music amazing is so nice.
"He was in London at the same time when we were recording at the church by chance. We played him Romeo and he started writing. There was some back and forth to finish it Happy days. He’s a great guy.”
It all aligned.
“Yeah, it happened for a reason. We were working on a hip-hop mixtape at that time, hence why we were doing a lot of that stuff. It’s those avenues which allow those things to do it. Those different things excite us which inspires the greater process.”
Is it an avenue you’re going to explore again?
“We’ve been making hip-hop and hip-hop beats for years because it’s the staple of production. When you get your first MPC or production gear, you want to make J Dilla beats. Making beats is like training. Maybe it’s something we might do next.
“I suppose the second record was us trying to fit in and make sure everybody still liked it, but this one is like we’ll poke you a little bit. If you like disco, here’s a rock song (laughs).”
It must be an exciting feeling trying to plot where you can go?
“Definitely. Especially in this world with the internet. You see a lot of records coming out which are genre-less. People don’t really care that they span genres.
"Talking about Slowthai earlier, he’s spanning from grime to old school hip-hop even into punk and rock, and to the stuff with James Blake. It doesn’t really matter, as long as the feeling and intention is there from the artist.”
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How do you think you’ve evolved as an act from 2013?
“Sonically the way it sounds has got more depth to it, more passion, more intention. It’s bigger and badder in some way. It’s not as twee. That’s maybe an insecurity of us with our music, that it was twee previously. Some would look at it and say it was really cool, lo-fi and chill. But you can look at the new record and be like ‘it’s really massive’, and some could say ‘that’s what puts me off about it’. There’s pros and cons to it.”
You mentioned the confidence earlier. That must help with sonic growth and taking risks with sound?
“For sure. I think it’s confidence to execute what you have in your head and have the patience to do that, and know it’s going to work. When you start off you don’t know how to necessarily get a certain sound or achieve a certain thing.
"With Keep Moving, it was having the confidence to go into a room and conduct a choir. When you first start out, it takes a level of knowingness about your own ability, especially when it’s one of your own ideas.”
Your live shows are huge. You’ve got the Brixton Academy residency coming up. How much are you looking forward to it?
“We’re looking forward to it quite a lot. There’s some apprehension because those sort of shows come at the end of a long tour. This time you’re starting with your big shows and it’s straight out of rehearsal room.
"After two years, we’ve got to give it everything in terms of energy. We don’t even know what energy level it is supposed to be anymore. When you do it every night, you know what every level to give. It’s going to be fun – a baptism of fire.”
Have you got ideas of the shows themselves?
“We’ve got some new members coming in and old members leaving. We have some great musicians with us and amazing new content and screens. We have this cage-wrapped video screen that will get revealed. That’s new for us.
"We used to do backlights but now we’re going into a little bit more monochromatic content vibes, which will add a whole new element to show the show. It’ll make it a bit more brooding and intense.”
You sold out Alexandra Palace in 2019. Was that a special night?
“That was really good. Nothing will quite compare to Shepherds Bush. That’s our home venue. At that point it was the first album. To play Shepherds Bush was like ‘whoa’.”
Was that always the dream?
“The dream was more Ginglik on Shepherd’s Bush Green. We didn’t have our heights set as high as Shepherd’s Bush Empire. We played Ginglik a few times with bands but never really sold it out. We got a few people with a few crisp packets down the front.
“London gigs are always hard. Everyone wants to come to your London gig, which puts the pressure on sorting out the guest list half the time! When you manage to sort that out, you have a mad expectation it’s going to be incredible. But often London crowds have seen quite a lot. We’re spoilt for choice with entertainment in London, so they tend to be a bit reserved. British people are reserved anyway.
"You got to Mexico and it’s like you’re The Beatles. Imagine what it was like for The Beatles!”
What’s next for Jungle?
“We’re going to go out on the road. Summer festivals next year, and I think new music straight away. It’s just about cracking on with it. Spotify have made a model we’ve all got to keep up with, so back to it.”
Jungle’s Loving In Stereo is out now via Caiola Records
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