-By Luke Keatinge
Brisbane indie-pop rock outfit The Jungle Giants are prepping to hit the road again later this month for their latest national tour. The ‘Together We Can Work Together’ tour will see the group with support from indie-rockers The Lulu Raes, electronic artist Machine Age, and former Preatures guitarist turned solo act Gideon Bensen. They play through Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney before ending the tour with two WA shows in early July – one at Players Bar in Mandurah and one at Jack Rabbit Slims in Perth.
With their debut album Learn to Exist in 2013, The Jungle Giants built on the sound of their first few EPs to craft a distinctly fun brand of high-energy indie-rock defined by vibrant, colourful guitars and soaring, lively vocals backed by pumping basslines and percussion. The quartet – which features Sam Hales on guitar and vocals, Cesira Aitken on lead guitar, Andrew Dooris on bass and Keelan Bijker on drums – then went on to surprise everyone with their 2015 sophomore album Speakerzoid by taking an extremely different direction from their previous work. The acclaimed follow up record took their sound to exciting new places, infusing their original energy with inventive blends of new influences, styles and rhythms.
Between steadily working on album number three and preparing for the upcoming run of shows, Sam spared some time to have a chat about the band’s original influences, the process and impact of Speakerzoid, and what fans can expect from the upcoming tour.
First up, what have you been up to the past few months? Have you been working on anything or taking some time off before the upcoming tour?
Actually yeah, I’ve been working like full on since November. I got a new studio in Brisbane. Recently a friend of mine found a place called ‘Empire Studios’, which is ten minutes from my house and it’s like a pedal store. The guy who built it, built it in an industrial complex and underneath he put all these writing and rehearsal rooms. So I moved in there in November and I’ve had this insane routine of getting to the studio at 9.30 in the morning and leaving at 4.30 – kind of a full day. I bring a back pack full of stuff, like a packed lunch and shit [laughs]. It’s really funny.
Oh cool, so you’ve been working on album three?
It was quite a whirlwind last year when Speakerzoid dropped, followed by the national tour. How does it feel now that you’re distanced from that and it’s settled down a bit? Are you guys happy with how the album was received?
Yeah, totally! I think it did something that we really wanted to do and that was to not pigeon-hole ourselves, I guess. And to let people know that there’s more to the band than our first couple EPs. And we saw from the tour different kinds of people coming to the shows, new kinds of fans. And yeah, it turned out really nice. It kinda opened a window – like a freedom. We don’t have to be pigeon-holed, we can just do what feels good and keep going. And I’m really thankful because there’s always a risk with pushing your sound, but it worked really well and everyone responded really well so it made us all feel really good.
That’s something I did wanna ask about, because Speakerzoid was very different to Learn to Exist. So the intention behind such a big change in sound was you guys wanting to show a different side?
It originally didn’t come as an intention. Since Learn to Exist, I was just writing and writing and listening to all kinds of different music. So when I was writing for the album and it came time to look at all the demos, they all just sounded different. I was just writing what felt good and when Speakerzoid came around we just had like a million tracks that sounded of a different flavour. So we just picked the best and went with it.
Last year, you guys played overseas quite a bit – Asia at the start of the year and America towards the end. How were the shows over there? I imagine you’d have a pretty universal appeal.
They were really good! Asia was insane, we actually sold out a couple shows, and they turned out to be fucking insane. I remember there was one show where we walked on to play and my pedal board just exploded! Like an actual little fire came out of it, and I was like ‘Fucckk’. Then there was smoke coming out of it, and into the mic to my tour manager I was like ‘Hey, what do I do?’, and he’s like ‘Nah, can’t help you dude. This is it’. And so then I just unplugged from my pedal board and plugged into the amp, and it wasn’t specifically what we’d rehearsed but the crowd was so good that after two songs I didn’t really give a fuck. I was like, this is an awesome show, who cares if it doesn’t sound perfect?
And then America was this whole fucking crazy thing. We just played a bunch of insane shows. We did a bunch of cool in-house things – like an in-house show for this company that we signed on for publishing in the states where we were just driving around LA with some acoustic guitars. That was pretty cool. All the shows were great. We actually had to cancel a bunch because our visas didn’t get approved in time, which was really annoying. But that gave us some time to do those in-house things and play lots of pool and ping pong [laughs]. It was fucking awesome.
The high-energy guitars and vocals across your early stuff established a really unique sound that I struggle to draw any direct comparisons with. Which I think is a testament to you as a band. Did you draw influence from anywhere when you first started playing together and crafting that original sound?
Thanks man. Yeah, my favourite band when I first started writing was Cloud Control, from Sydney. I was really obsessed with them and I kinda learned to write by listening to them a shitload. And Cesira was really into The Strokes, so she was really into dry-sounding pumping guitars. And I guess at the start, Cesira and I would write a song and I’d come to her house and say ‘Hey Sira, you play these chords or you play these riffs for a sec, and I’ll figure out the other thing and we’ll jam’. So yeah, I guess both those influences kinda melted together.
She’s a Riot off that first album has gotta be one of my favourite song ever. I don’t have a specific question about it, but I guess I just wanna know a bit about how it came together. At what point did you know you had a hit?
Well, I guess we never really thought it would be as big as it was. I remember writing it specifically because it was a real bitch to write. It took ages. We were on one of our first tours in Sydney and we were staying at Cesira’s auntie’s house. Her aunty has this big bathroom and the acoustics were really awesome in it, so I just sat on the floor in the bathroom playing guitar and I came up with the chords. I kept playing around and I was really liking the idea so I recorded it on my phone. I went for a bike ride and I was listening to that recording over and over again. I got back to Brisbane and finished the song, and we did a little demoing session and showed it to our manager and I remember he just said ‘That’s a cracker’. That’s good in Stu’s terms. When something’s a cracker, you know it’s good.
That’s awesome. And Sam, you’re probably one of my favourite male vocalists. Are there any vocalists you yourself admire or look up to?
Thanks man! Hmm, I don’t really know. I don’t really go for ‘big singer’ types. Actually y’know what, I really like Bon Iver – Justin Vernon. I love him, I’ve always been obsessed with him. I would also say Beck. I mean, he kinda ‘talk-sings’ but I’ve always loved his voice. He’s kinda got the perfect cowboy-style voice for talking-singing. So, two really different ones. Bon Iver and Beck [laughs].
So, my favourite track from Speakerzoid is Lemon Myrtle, and this one really has a lot of the record’s experimental undertones like the street noises of cars and people in the background. Every Kind of Way is obviously another one that’s very experimental with its marriage of sounds. What was the decision behind infusing these tracks with these unconventional flavours?
Hm, I dunno. It just kinda happened. My biggest thought for Speakerzoid was to have as much fun as possible in the studio. We rented out a house in the middle of nowhere and brought all kinds of crazy instruments. Not Bad has like whip sounds and weird little parts. We were making the track and we got to a point where I’d be like, ‘It needs something here’. Then I’d walk into this big lounge room where we had a bunch of mics set up, and I’d just walk around to a different instrument and just kinda feel the track. So it became a kind of sound design thing within the session, which is really fun. And we were doing that with Magoo, the guy who’s done all our records and EPs. He really digs that kind of off-the-cuff running around and filling the gap in the song with something different. And it was even his idea to use a microwave sound whirring along.
A microwave, yeah [laughs]! We put something in the microwave and mic’d it up, and then we were recording it and we just left the song going and it did the ‘Ding!’ right at the perfect point, so we just kept the whole thing.
We just did that with every track. We’d listen again and again and when we thought it needed something we’d walk into the crazy lounge room filled with shit and see what we could do.
What was the vision behind Every Kind of Way?
Well, it started as a completely different song that had really similar lyrics, but it was all sung. And I loved the lyrics and the premise but I stopped liking that song eventually. So I canned everything and just kept the lyrics. Which was new to me because I usually do the lyrics last but I was starting with lyrics for this song. I just played around with stuff for a while, and I was trying to sing all those lyrics into a melody but I couldn’t really get the syllables right. So eventually I started talking it into the microphone, and it just worked. It just seemed like the way the song had to be. So yeah, it took on the flavour of an Eddy Current Suppression Ring kind of pumping song where the bassline kinda stays the same but the song’s melting around it. I like that, it’s just a big jam that keeps going.
Are there any songs from Speakerzoid that you’ve been surprised at the reaction they’ve gotten live? Maybe songs that went off more than you expected?
Hmm, well we expected Every Kind of Way and Kooky Eyes to pop live, but we’ve started doing Creepy Cool live. It kinda just became this fucking awesome point in the set. I guess it’s kinda simple and rhythmic and easy to sing along with. We always try to tailor our set to have like a strong start and then simmer down to some slower songs in the middle, and we thought Creepy Cool would be just a nice slow song to put in the middle. But it slowly started going off, like really crazy! So we started saving it for later in the set. It was just one of those songs where we were like ‘Ah fuck, this one’s cool’. And I started playing the flute in that one too which also helps [laughs].
And now that you have so many big songs, how do you guys decide what to add and what to take out of your sets? I have to say I was pretty bummed to see Come and Be Alone With Me missing when I last saw you.
It’s hard, man. Every time we try and make a set list, we start a Facebook message group and it’s mainly just arguments. And then finally a set list comes out where everyone tries to get what they want but it’s so hard sometimes. I really love playing You’ve got Something, but the other guys in the band are just sick of it now so I haven’t been able to play that one for like a year [laughs]. And I’m just trying to convince them. It’s just one of those things, you have to please everyone in the band and try and please the fans. We try to do a good mix.
What are some songs that as far as you’re all concerned can never leave the set?
Hmm, one that I’ve decided is just one of the best points in the set is I Am What You Want Me To Be. That one is actually my favourite song to play live now because after playing it for so long we’ve started playing around with different elements – like trying to switch up the song. And we figured out it’s the perfect song to have a big jam in the middle, and I’ll just go crowd surfing. There’s the perfect little break area. So I don’t reckon that song could leave the set.
And I guess if we took She’s a Riot out of the set people would get kinda angry so I don’t think we could take that one either.
On the album tour last year, you had a fifth member with Lewis on the keyboard. What was it like bringing someone else into your live shows? Can we expect to see him this time?
Yeah, we loved it man! It just adds an extra element to the live sound and our tour manager has been telling us to get keyboards for years. Cause’ it can kinda just fatten up the sound completely. So when it came time to learn all the songs from Speakerzoid, we realized we needed that extra element and those extra notes and chords behind everything. So we just asked Lewis, who was my housemate. And yeah, we love him. It just feels like he’s always been in the band. So he’ll be on the next tour, wearing his big denim pants and no shirt.
It’s such an exciting time for Australian music, what Aussie artists are you loving right now?
Well, I’m particularly excited about The Avalanches’ new stuff coming out. Also I love King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard from Melbourne. I always loved them. And then I guess my favourite Aussie band right now is Total Giovanni from Melbourne. They are fucking awesome, man! They kind of sound like Talking Heads and LCD Sound System – really good kinda dancy music. They’re my favourite.
Beer or bourbon?
Seinfeld or Friends?
I’ll say Friends because I’m a big nerdy dork.
Who would be your ‘desert island’ band?
Fuck, that’s hard. That’s a fucking hard question! Y’know, I’d take The Belligerents. They’re a bunch of my best friends so I’d probably take them.
I see on Facebook that you guys are big fans of The Bachelor.
Oh, yeah [laughs].
The Bachelor or The Bachelorette?
Definitely….Ah shit, y’know what, The Bachelor. Not The Bachelorette because it’s more fun to watch the girls bitching than the guys bitching.
What’s the mindset heading into this tour? What do you wanna show your fans?
Well I guess we wanna be as good with our instruments as we possibly can so we can make it as crazy as possible. Now that we’ve been touring the Speakerzoid songs for a while, we’re kinda at a point where we can just go nuts, which is really good. And also we’ve got this guy that we found in Brisbane at a random warehouse party with this insane lighting rig! He does projection stuff – he puts a bunch of props on the stage, like big, towering piles of boxes and he projects crazy shit onto them. It’s fucking awesome. I saw it at this warehouse party and I was just staring at it, and I found him standing on the side of the stage playing with some computers and I was just like ‘What the fuck are you doing here?’ and he explained the whole thing. So now we’ve got him for some shows on the tour.
That sounds awesome.
It’s gonna be fucking sick. It’s like the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.
Can we expect a taste of any new stuff soon, or possibly at these shows?
Umm, not yet. I really like to get one completely figured out before we play one live. But the album is pumping along really fast now. I’d say I’ve probably written like thirty songs for it and we’ve been having these little listening parties. Everyone just comes to my studio on a Friday night and we get a bit drunk and I show them a bunch of songs. We’ve done this every six weeks for a while now. It’s been fucking good, I feel really productive. So hopefully the record won’t be too long and we can start playing some new stuff!
The Jungle Giants ‘Together We Can Work Together’ tour dates:
Friday 17th June – The Triffid, Brisbane, All Ages
Saturday 18th June – The Gov, Adelaide, All Ages
Friday 24th June – 170 Russell, Melbourne 18+
Saturday 25th June – The Metro, Sydney, All Ages
Friday 8th July – Players Bar, Mandurah 18+
Saturday 9th July – Jack Rabbit Slims, Perth 18+
Photo Credit: The Jungle Giants