For a band whose name keeps getting brought up in close proximity to the word “anonymity,” Jungle’s sound sure suggests a strong sense of identity. The two men behind this project, who are going by their first initials J and T primarily, don’t view their reclusiveness as a publicity stunt but as a way to keep their art free from egotism. Even in the course of interviewing them via email, there was no delineation of who was answering what question.
“One of Jungle’s key mantras is that we never self-promote ourselves,” they say. “The only way that you can ensure that people make an honest connection with your work is by letting them find it themselves or through word of mouth. I can safely say that Jungle will never have a Twitter account. It’s just not about that for us. If people want to spread the word on our behalf then that’s the coolest thing, and the most humbling.”
The crazy thing is how well this word of mouth approach worked for them. Their debut went neck and neck with Morrissey’s latest upon its release and still made a huge splash. Their ticket to the top has to be their authenticity. Their songs may be conversant with the musical advances of the digital age, but they see their work as a call toward legitimate person-to-person connection. “At the end of the day, if your output as an artist is good enough, people will connect with it in which ever way they want. But people do need to remember that the best relationships and the best experiences are conceived in the real world, with real people and honest intentions.”
This view of community and connectivity also colors the way they promoted their debut. Their music videos featured dancers and other talented friends, not J or T themselves. Whether Jungle is best viewed as a musical project or artistic collective is still up in the air, especially considering how much faith the two centerpieces have in their compatriots.
“The group of creative and artistic individuals that have helped us on our journey so far are here purely because we love them, and they love the music and art that they create, not because they want to use Jungle as a means to promote themselves. Jungle will always be bigger than the individuals involved, but it wouldn’t be the exciting project that it is without them.”
Still, you can’t avoid how the music centers on the ingenuity of two men in particular.
One thing we do know about J and T is that they’re longtime friends, growing up together in England. They spent their formative years together, experiencing life and art for the first time by each other’s sides.
“We’ve spent 15 years digesting culture and music together, sometimes together a friends and other times on our own. It’s incredibly hard to pinpoint exact moments of bonding over music, it’s generally an everyday experience for us still. I guess one of my strongest memories of our childhood is skating in London and listening to hip hop.”
The hip-hop these two must’ve grown up listening to definitely factors into their sound, given the emphasis on beats and basslines. Add to that a healthy smattering of soul and dance and you’re beginning to get a handle on the treat you’re in for when you listen to this record for the first time.
J and T are happy to draw influence from even the recent past, learning from those who came before, but they worry too much reliance on other people’s sounds for inspiration may become disingenuous. Moreover, they view the idea of influence more holistically than just a cursory survey of what’s been playing in their cars lately.
“We seek influence from everything in life, not just music. It’s dangerous to directly take influence from other artists because you find that your creative process becomes dishonest. If we had to pinpoint a few records we’ve been loving this year though, I’d say that J Dilla’s Donuts and Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE have been on repeat.”
Jungle’s debut definitely sounds like progress. It knows enough about what came before it, both musically and on a more wide-scale level, to be able to take 2014 a few steps forward in the soul, R&B, dance and alternative rock departments. Opening track “The Heat” hearkens back to the first time you heard TV on the Radio’s “Wolf Like Me” or Blood Orange’s “You’re Not Good Enough.” From that point onward, they keep up their sleek sounding magic act all the way to album closer “Lemonade Lake.”
The success of their debut has to make them think about the future but these guys are pretty cerebral. So when they think about what’s next for them, it’s also about what’s next for music, the planet and the human race.
“It’s a matter of evolution,” they say. “Humans created the car thinking it was the most wonderful thing in the world, but 100 years later we’re struggling to save our planet. The same will happen with the internet. Who knows where technology will take us, but we’ll have to adapt. The same goes for how people receive, digest and connect with music. We have no control over the evolution of streaming services, so we’ve just got to go with the flow and not let it affect our own processes.”
Even though a record as aware as this existing at the same time as Spotify makes an awful lot of sense, it’s refreshing to hear the important thing for them is still the music. Even though everything is changing, Jungle wants to be on top of the present without giving in to its pretenses and weaknesses. And, with an attitude like that, it’s pretty exciting to think of what they’re going to come up with next.