The Jungle Giants Talk ‘Love Signs,’ Making Dance Floor Bangers [Interview]
Hailing from Brisbane, The Jungle Giants have steadily become one of Australia’s favorite indie outfits. As they begin their second decade as a band, the four piece have turned a new page with their sound. MP3 MAG caught up with lead singer/songwriter/producer Sam Hales to talk about the band’s recently released fourth album, Love Signs. Hales is the brain behind The Jungle Giants’ unique and emotive style. He’s got a penchant for deeply expressive songwriting, marrying a high energy sound with catchy and heartwarming lyrics.
“Songwriting is a natural thing for me,” said Hales. “I’m an emotional person, and making music feel emotional has always been important to me. It’s not just about the lyrics or how I’m singing [them]; the way the music comes together is just as important. I feel like you should be able to break someone’s heart with a chord just as much as with a lyric.”
In 2009, Hales looked around his high school for mates to help him build an indie rock band. He found Cesira Aitken as a lead guitarist, Andrew Dooris on bass, and eventually found Keelan Bijker for drums. The front man then found out how much it would cost to record and produce an album, and worked two jobs back to back, going from McDonalds to a convenience store while counting down the hours until he had enough money for the studio time. Sitting in the convenience store one morning, he realized he had hit the magic number, so he finished his shift, walked over to McDonalds, and quit.
“Music is the thing that makes me feel best. Nothing else ever felt like an option. I never thought about it being hard or an alternative career. I just knew that was exactly what I was going to do.” Needless to say, Hales never had to go back to working at McDonalds.
Now ten years removed from their self-titled 2011 EP, Hales and the band have certainly made quite the career of playing music, and they’ve done it all as an independent band. Love Signs is their fourth album, and just a few weeks removed from the release, it’s already proving to be a big one for The Jungle Giants. The album marked a major milestone for the band, garnering them their first #1 spot on the ARIA album charts. They’re also seeing love from the rest of the world and their streaming numbers in the States are steadily climbing.
Love Signs follows 2017’s Quiet Ferocity, an album that saw the band begin to incorporate a new electronic edge along with their infectious guitar riffs and beautiful lyricism. Though the band’s sound has evolved considerably since their innocent indie rock debut, their new album still captures the undeniable energy that makes The Jungle Giants such a unique and powerful act.
The spark that would become Love Signs materialized almost two years ago with Hales exploring the new sound that materialized as the album’s first single, “Heavy Hearted.” Asked by their manager whether he was working on anything, Hales brought the band down to his house for a listening party and played the certified banger to the unsuspecting crew.
“It was a mixed reception to be honest. Some of them were a little shocked that it was really dancey.” Though some of the band might have been a little uncertain about the dramatic shift, Sam assured them that this was the way forward for The Jungle Giants. The bouncy, indie-house hybrid quickly became a smash hit, giving Hales full confidence to continue in the new style. “That was the first time I had solely written, recorded, and produced everything. Watching people rally behind that song was exciting and validating.”
This was the first time that Hales took on the task of writing, recording, and producing the album on his own. Confined to a home studio due to the pandemic, Hales received some help from producer Konstantin Kersting, as well as songwriting support and inspiration from longtime girlfriend, Grace Stephenson of Confidence Man. He said that his biggest challenge when producing this different sound was being willing to take chances and trust himself. “As long as you can be kind to yourself and be willing to jump off the edge of the cliff, that’s the biggest challenge to overcome.”
As in the past, guitar was the foundation of the album, but Hales brought in some big bass synths and clicky, organic sounding drums to give it a dancier feel. Drawing on past production experiences and learning as he went, Hales felt that producing his own songs opened up a new creative perspective. “I can’t compare myself to the world’s best producers, but I think I’m the world’s best producer of my music. I feel like it’s a songwriting tool for me now.”
Of course, Hales’ biggest source of support comes from his bandmates, who he says have taken this big step in stride and trusted his passion and vision the whole way. It helps that the four are long-time best friends, and Hales says that their close-knit relationship is vital. “We have just as much of a friendship as we do a band. I’ve taken that for granted before, but these days I am very aware that it’s a special thing and I feel really thankful for our friendship.”
Love Signs is an aptly named project for a band brimming with love for each other and for music, but Hales says that the main message of the album is accepting and loving yourself. The title track perfectly sets the tone with a bouncy beat and subtle guitar that gives way to brassy synth buildup. Though it may be more electronic and dancey than previous ones, this album is still deeply infused with meaning and emotion. “In Her Eyes” and “Charge My Phone” are two standout tracks; they perfectly balance Hales’ silky falsetto hooks with groovy, driving basslines. And of course, previously released singles “Heavy Hearted” and “Sending Me Ur Loving” are sure to be dance floor favorites for years to come.
If Hales’ saccharine vocals and infectious melodies weren’t already enough to endear listeners to the album, the music videos are sure to capture your heart. Hales says that he paid close attention to the videos for the album, working closely with director Julian Lucas. You’ll notice that the album’s theme of self love comes to life quite literally in the music videos. Whether you watch as the singer takes his doppelganger on a date in “Love Signs,” or marvel at “Treat You Right,” where we see the singer nurturing “Sam plants” in a greenhouse until they are ready to go out into the world and love, the finely crafted and utterly hilarious videos are sure to put a smile on your face.
When a band switches up their sound, there are bound to be criticisms, but the love and positivity that The Jungle Giants radiate has been returned right back to them, Hales says. “The reaction has been so incredible. I’ve been getting a lot of messages from people, saying that they are in lockdown and sharing particular songs on the album that have been helping them. I’ve made an effort to reply to every one of those people, because I think it’s so cool that it’s affecting them in such a positive way…music can give you life and be a support. Even if you don’t have anyone, you can have your music….It’s amazing, I’m so thankful that I get to be a part of that.”
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