After almost two decades of friendship, Jungle’s founding members Tom McFarland and Josh Lloyd-Watson are closer than ever, and they have their new album to thank.
Released last month, For Ever is the album that nearly broke the modern soul collective’s back. “I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times when we both sort of questioned if we were cut out for this, or good enough,” says Tom of the process. After the breakout success of their debut self-titled album in 2014, pressure began mounting for their highly anticipated follow up. New material was written, and then scrapped. Josh moved to Los Angeles for love, then back to London when it didn’t work out. Tom dealt with the dissolution of his own long-term relationship. In theory, it sounds like a classic case of shit times. But the heartache spawned something really great: honest music.
Back in May, Jungle dropped their single ‘House in LA’, a hazy, soulful slow-burner of a track. It was the first song Tom and Josh wrote that signalled a new direction for the group, their sound, and their writing process. It was also a turning point for their friendship and the way they communicated as men. Basically, they realised it was okay to talk to each other about their feelings, and that vulnerability isn’t gender specific. The floodgates opened, and the result is what you hear over 13 tracks on For Ever.
Over the phone, Tom speaks openly and earnestly about his personal and musical growth. From the time between Jungle’s debut and their new record, he’s matured as a man, and is eager to explain what it took to get him and Josh to create the best music they’ve ever made.
Let’s start with writing the new record. How does the co-writing relationship work? How do you tap into Josh’s feelings about LA when you aren’t there, and how does he relate to circumstances in your life that you’re writing about?
Tom McFarland: Because we’re best mates, and we help each other through—it was almost weird, with this record, it was like helping each other through each other’s story. Talking through each other’s problems obviously gives you great perspective on that other person’s feelings and emotions. Y’know, there’s a lot of songs on there that are incredibly personal to me rather than to Josh, songs like ‘Pray’ and ‘Cherry’ that are sort of my story from my perspective but we both embrace each side. I think in a weird way the press have taken this LA story and blown it out of proportion a little bit, y’know. Josh moved there because he fell in love with a girl, and then he broke up with her and so he moved home again. I think everyone sort of has this perception that we like went to LA to chase our dreams, like a classic LA scenario.
Right. Speaking of Los Angeles, in ‘House in LA’, the lyrics mention spending “two whole years on the rewrite.” Is that really what happened with this album?
Um, yeah, in a way. We wrote stuff early on and we realised that it wasn’t the direction we wanted to go in, it felt very generic and very safe. I think we had a big turning point when we started writing ‘House in LA’ as a track, we realised that actually, it was okay to make songs that were emotional and meaningful and told a story, because I think we were kind of just floating around in no man’s land, writing about nothing. And once you’re writing about nothing, you might as well not be writing at all. It was just a big turning point and a really pivotal moment, and ever since that sort of epiphany, everything’s felt so much more natural and beautiful and I think we’ve made a record that we’re really proud of now.
You guys must have the patience of saints. Were there some pretty tense moments while you were stuck in that no man’s land?
Of course! I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times when we both questioned if we were cut out for this or good enough, but I think that’s a natural progression in a musician’s journey. Fundamentally we’re much more close than we were before this process—we’re better writers, we taught ourselves a lot and we’ve learnt a lot of lessons. I actually think we’re looking forward to working on a third record now and carrying on with this, because we’ve pushed through a lot of issues both personally and creatively together and we’ve made an album that we fucking love and we think is more emotional and more meaningful than anything we’ve ever done before, and to us that kind of validates the whole process.
Obviously tapping into your feelings has affected your creative output, but have you noticed that you’ve opened up a bit more in your personal life, too?
Yeah, I definitely think we’re more emotionally mature as people, and me and Josh are more emotionally connected as friends, and I do feel like I sort of got over that…y’know, I’m almost 30 now, and most of your 20s is working out what you want to do with your life and who you are and how you feel, and I feel like I’ve definitely become more of a man. But obviously, during that whole process, this whole gender equality debate has been raging, and the #metoo movement, and I actually read a book by Grayson Perry called Descent of Man. Effectively it’s just a critique of society’s vision of men and how damaging that is for society and men, like society’s idea of masculinity is actually destroying masculinity. So y’know, just thinking about what it is to be a man in this day and age, and I think there are some tracks on the record that deal with that issue too.
It’s so important for men to drop the bravado and know that it’s okay to talk about what they’re going through and ask for help if they need it.
Yeah, exactly. And that’s what actually causes a lot of these issues in the first place. Men just need to like… fucking open up!
Obviously putting a record out about such personal experiences is cathartic for you guys. But I imagine it’s helping a lot of your fans who are struggling, too. Have you had much feedback like that yet?
We’ve had that a lot from the first record, because obviously it’s had a chance to render itself in the real world and people have had a chance to grow with it. So yeah, we’ve had a lot of people who’ve always been very open with us about how much our music has helped them through difficult points of their lives, and I’m pretty sure this record will have an even more profound effect on our audience.
That must be a pretty rewarding feeling.
It’s like nirvana for a musician. When you’re creating something that’s original, honest, and also simple enough to connect with a load of people on an emotional level, then you’re in a really good place.