I arrived at The Mercury Lounge on Sunday while JUNGLE. was conducting their soundcheck. T and J flew in from London the day before with their 3 band mates, sound engineer and manager, after completing a tour-leg opening for HAIM. Their first U.S. show was a few hours after landing, and they brought an energy that left the crowd begging for more.
What struck me most about their soundcheck was T and J’s attention to detail. They hopped right into “Busy Earnin,” but after a few moments, they’d cut it off to communicate with the sound engineer. Both seem to have the ability to pick up any instrument they fancy, as they played guitar, keys and even a bit of percussion while singing live. They made a few tweaks to their arrangement and repeated this process until everything sounded perfect (though I couldn’t hear any difference between takes). During our chat, their attention to detail became more vivid. They talked about their passion for the arts, but stressed the importance of sharing those passions with others. They’re far more worried about putting out the best possible piece than the spoils that come along with it.
Set to release a debut album this summer, they brought along some mics and are planning on doing a bit of recording while they’re down at SXSW. Not in a fancy studio, mind you, the singing/songwriting/producing duo will be just fine in the comfort of their hotel room. After that, they’re off to another sold out date in L.A., then back to the U.K. before embarking on a European tour. For a couple of guys primed to set off this summer, they’re as cool and funny as you could hope for. Enjoy — Brad Beatson
Where do you meet all of those guys from the videos?
J: All that sort of stuff from the beginning kind of happened–
T: Kind of accidentally–
J: Yeah accidentally, and like you know it kind of fell into place–
T: I think one of the guys who helps us with our videos, we were discussing the idea of like, we love the idea of dance, I think dance is incredibly important. It’s that freedom of expression and when you give dancers music to work with, you see a whole different set of emotions that you wouldn’t necessarily have found in your own–
J: It’s about the presentation, isn’t it? It’s about the presentation of the person and I think we’re all about honesty, and I think [most] music videos lack that at the moment. A lot of people are trying to do all of these things, and it [The Platoon video] was just about presenting that talent as like: there you go, she’s not standing behind loads of lights, there’s not like a thousand cuts, it’s just she’s dancing. That’s what I love about it.
That’s the thing, it’s just one long shot for the most part.
J: Yeah, when you see loads of cuts and stuff like that, you’re kind of going like, well how much of that is real, you know? Whereas when you see something continuously you can actually see the development of it and it presents the characters very naturally. And it’s about those people, it’s about those emotions. It’s about them telling you something or telling you a story, and you don’t actually get that in a lot of big music companies and labels and stuff like that, who think it’s all about, like: bang bang bang!
Yeah, it’s like they’re trying to show off some big huge band and look at all this stuff we have and we’re such a big deal.
J: Yeah and you know it’s just about us keeping it really simple and letting it flow I suppose, and all of the things [for the videos] happened naturally and we YouTube’d those. And then we get people going “Oh well who are these guys, these mysterious fucking guys?” And you know, what the hell’s going on with that? We just kind of made a video for a song, and I’ve been making videos and loving videos for years, and this was a chance to make something for our own thing, and we just made that and then somebody was like: “you need to put out a shot.” And we’re like, what? We put out a song, we put out a video, what do you mean a shot?
Yeah what does that mean?
J: Like a press shot. And we were kind of like oh god, well okay, we had that picture of the room [at the end of The Heat video] and that kind of felt right. We built that room and like, it just looks good, so we started going with that–thinking that everything’s cool, you know–and then we kind of do it with the second one and all of these things start coming up that are like: “yeah these mysterious guys or whatever” and it makes us go: well that’s the art, that’s what it’s about. It’s about ego, really. There’s no ego.
Yeah, it all seems very selfless. You’re like: “You should see this, look how incredible these guys are.” And you guys have great music, but you want to show us these people, too.
T: Well thank you, and what I find really great about having that attitude, and like [performing] live as well, is we could have sat there as two producers with laptops and done the whole Disclosure sort of thing. But that’s not fun. That’s not like sitting in a van on the way to a gig with 7 people having a beer and having a great time. And like watching our friends help us express that on stage as well is just like, it’s incredible, man. That’s why we do it. It’s to share it with other people and to watch how other people react to, to watch how other people interpret it, to watch how other people enjoy it. You know, you turn around and George is just hammering away on a groove and it’s like “thank you so much for being around and being such a great drummer.”
Yeah it was awesome, I mean you guys killed it last night, it was great. [speaking to T] You’re dancing around the whole time, I was like, where did he learn these moves!?
J: Fuck I didn’t see ’em (laughing) I never do.
And when you guys went off stage, you kind of looked out and smiled at the crowd, you guys looked so happy. Everyone in the audience was so hyped up, dancing the whole time.
T: It really, honestly, was a really overwhelming reaction, we weren’t expecting that at all. When we found the shows had sold out, it was like “how?”
Yeah, the tickets were going on StubHub for like $40, $50, $60 bucks each.
Yeah, you guys should up the tickets.
J: It was me selling them on there.
T: Yeah I bought all of the tickets
J: We made a shitload! (laughing)
Yeah it was just cool to see everybody react to it so positively, like half the crowd was singing along
T: A lot of people were dancing around. In London, London crowds are great don’t get me wrong, we love playing in London, but I think everyone’s a bit more self-conscious.
Really? Here too.
T: Yeah and that’s what we found out, a couple of people were like “we never see people dancing at gigs in New York.”
Yeah it’s mostly like, you know, steady head-nodding.
T: Judging by that I would have thought it was the norm!
No! That’s the thing, like when I heard The [Heat] EP for example, what it made me think of was like “if I put this on at an outdoor BBQ or something, at literally any point on this whole EP, within a second people will find that groove. That’s what it seems like. And I was talking with [XL publicist] Nikki (Bennett) before, I didn’t even know SBTRKT was also on XL Recordings, but I remember with his album as well it’s like–
It makes me think of you guys too, just because it’s kind of like that absence of somebody taking a crazy guitar solo. It all kind of blends together into one sound, which is really cool.
J: Yeah I like the sound of that. I’ve got this image of everybody standing on the beach somewhere, and there’s this festival on the beach and everyone’s having a really great time. There’s like people surfing, sharks in the ocean, police cars are like pulling up on the beach. And there’s this band, you know, this amazing band, just the whole stage is bouncing. And you can’t actually hear individual people, you just hear this one continuous sound, this one continuous note that keeps changing. That’s the way we kind of picture it, but it never actually sounds like that (laughs). It’s a bit like “Pharaohs.” It’s really like, you know, it’s just many sounds making one thing quite cool.
T: Fundamentally, I love rhythms and making people move, that’s a really important thing. Dancing, and if you think back to why music was a really important social thing, even if you go back hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, it was to bring people together in ceremony. Especially in Africa, like all of that drumming was purely: A. Fundamentally a religious thing, a spiritual thing where you bring people together in one place and B. it’s kind of like that release of communal energy. I like the idea of that, that’s kind of how I see it as well.
Have you guys studied music at all?
T: No J: We just grew up together, and like as everybody does, you ride a skateboard, you pick up a guitar, you–
You were shooting videos too, right?
J: Yeah I mean, pissin’ around with cameras and I love the idea of making films and doing things like that, it’s something I quite enjoy, and uh, we kind of just grew up together and played stuff and were in various types of you know, indie bands, (*All of the sudden a loud-ass noise kicks in behind us, we’re in the basement of The Mercury Lounge*) and as you’re trying to sound like The Strokes or whatever, as you know everyone is (bursts out laughing at the sound)
Someone’s having a beer
T: Someone’s having a beer (as he shuts the door to deafen the noise, while the keg keeps pouring). But yeah, I kind of picked up bits at school and I got really into minimalism, like Stephen Reich, all that kind of stuff. And from that, found out that crowd-work was quite boring with it, but then my brother dropped a P-Funk CD on my desk when I was 14, and I was like what the hell is this?
And it just blew your mind
T: (mimes it blowing his mind) So it’s just, I think what we’re doing now is–
J: It’s a combination of things, it’s like GTA (Grand Theft Auto), isn’t it? GTA was written by a guy in Scotland, and they’d been to America, you know? And that’s just fascinating, because everything is a reference, and people go: “what is originality?” And like, originality is your experience, and that in turn becomes original. Obviously you can become pastiche and you can become cliche from that, but if you don’t think about those things, originality should come through the experience. I always have this thing, like: what happens if you put a baby in isolation, grow it up to 21, teach it how to play an instrument, but don’t let it listen to any music. What would that person create?
It would probably sound you know, a little bit like something else, but it’s still their original–
T: It’s still their original thing. I guess what this is for us is this is a culmination of our experiences up to now and the next record will be a culmination of our experiences up til then.
J: I think there is a conscious effort in trying not to sound like other things. Obviously, with laziness, it’s easy to sound like something else, that’s why when it’s two of us it’s very easy to be like: “wait a minute… I’ve heard that before” and that doesn’t excite me. Even when you’re coming to the end of a record, you almost find you’re copying yourself, and it’s like “what are we even– (laughing together).” When you find an amazing sound, or you find some amazing sort of style of playing something, and you find yourself doing it again–someone like The Strokes, they did that–and for us it kind of feels like, I kind of get that thing where it’s: “ahh I’m copying myself, which, is that allowed or is that not allow-(laughing together).”
T: Can we steal ourselves?
J: I’ve steeled myself a few times. It didn’t pay out.
T: Did you win?
J: Yeah I won once, lost the other. We’re all even now (laughing together)
Do you guys ever write the songs with the rest of the guys in the band? Or is it all you guys making all the production and decisions? Do you ever just jam around?
T: We start as just us guys sitting in a room–
J: It’s an ever-evolving process, everything’s always evolving. You see 5 here, in the U.K. sometimes it’s 7, sometimes it’s 9, sometimes it’s whatever, like it will always change, it’s just what feels right at that point in time. And obviously, kind of, me and T are always together, and you know, that’s just the way it is, I suppose. You don’t really try and pre-define what it should and shouldn’t be, it’s like the same with the music, you know? Like you can’t sit there before you’ve written a track and go: “It’s gotta be this” because instantly you’ve got a wall, you’ve built a wall around something, and then it can never be–
It constricts it
J: Exactly, so if I was to say that this 7-piece or 5-piece is how it is, people will take that right now, and then maybe in 6-months time we might come out as a 10-piece or we might come out as a 2-piece, and they would understand that, do you get what I mean? Like, you might go and do 2 shows as a 3-piece–
T: And there are times in the studio where you go: “the live experience has augmented it” and you kind of sit there with a lame chorus and you’re like: “it would sound really great if we got Rudy to come and sing on this last chorus, because you imagine how it would be live. And because we’ve had that experience of having her come in and sing on choruses live, we’re like: yeah that would really kick things off right now. Or if there is like a drum part that’s way too complex for us to get right, you know, just give our mate a call.
J: It’s that constant line between electronic and live that we’ve explored, hopefully.
I noticed you guys did jam a little bit yesterday, too, but for the most part it sounded pretty much exactly like the record. I was just like: What!? How do they do that?
J: (laughs) Fuck, it doesn’t sound anything like the record! But I mean, we’re so inside it, so we can hear all the little bits and pieces, so it’s cool, because obviously he’s (George) playing the drums live, and he’s going to play different things. It’s like The Rolling Stones for example, their record version in 1969 is going to be completely different 40 years later when they play it live. And we’re obviously only like 3 months into that, so give it 5 years and it might sound–
T: We’re about to play our 13th gig, or something?
J: Yeah, so, it’s always changing, and I think you’ve got to accept that, and like, you know, it’s the same with the record. You’ve got to draw a line at some point and go: “that’s what we did up until then, and like, we’ve got to let go. Give it to people and not worry about it–
Because you always want to tinker with it a little bit, right?
J: Yeah, I mean, everyone will get that it’s never going to be quite right, but like, when’s anything ever going to be perfect?
T: And it’s an exciting thing to think about, like finally doing it, putting it to bed, playing it, and then starting on number two. Because that’s a really exciting prospect now. We’ve had all these experience this year, we’re going to have loads more in the next 12 months. And then we’ll finally sit down and be like, what next?
J: It’s an interesting thing, because people are just coming to this now, and we’re already like two ahead. And that’s the weird thing about putting “Platoon” out on a record. For me I know that song so well, we both know that song so well, it’s been around so it feels like an old song. But there’s people who are just coming to us now who might not have heard that, and I suppose you have to see it from their perspective.
And it sounds like, the way you guys are talking, these songs, say 5 years from now, you could just change them up and that would be completely fine?
T: Yea, why not!
J: You know, it’s that moment, it’s all about the now. That one period right now. What happened 6 months ago doesn’t exist anymore. And like that 5 year moment, why are we thinking about that now? You get dragged into it, everyone does, that like subconscious mindset, which talks you into like: “what if?” or “Ooh you can’t do that because of this” or you know, a regret from the past. You just have to be here and now, what happens happens and accept it. And that’s where you find peace I suppose.