Interview with Sam Hales from the Jungle Giants

One week after the release of their sophomore album Speakerzoid, I sat down and spoke with Jungle Giants frontman Sam Hales about love, deception, greed, unbridled enthusiasm, and the dirty game of world diplomacy and international intrigue.

Nick: So you’ve just released Speakerzoid. How’s the reception going with it?

Sam: It’s going good.  I’ve read the Rolling Stone review – it’s fucking awesome.  It’s the best review Rolling Stone has ever given us.  But yeah, I feel like people will be divided and won’t get the album.  They would have expected an exact repeat of Learn to Exist, which is fine with me; I figured there would be people like that.  On the other hand there’s people giving us great reviews. Those people really get the album.

Soon we’ll find out about the chart placement, where they review our sales up to midnight tonight, then we find where we are.  But for me I don’t really care about placement in the charts.

One thing that really inspired the twist in the sound was listening to fucking good music and having multiple favourite bands for the first time in my life.

Nick: Obviously there’s a different sound with this album – what inspired the change?

Sam: Well I think the first thing was the music I was listening to.  During the first two EPs and Lean to Exist I really only listened to like 5 bands max.  I had my favourite bands and I really didn’t give a fuck about anything else.  I think that really reflected in the old music.  When we were doing Learn to Exist, I had only heard Jeff Buckley for the first time after that album was finished.  I only heard Radiohead after; I hadn’t heard Caribou; I hadn’t heard Beck.  I hadn’t heard of anyone good.  There was so much shit I hadn’t heard yet.  These last two years me and Cesira have been living with 8 different people and everyone is in bands and everyone is a music lover so there’s a bunch of music floating around.  One thing that really inspired the twist in the sound was listening to fucking good music and having multiple favourite bands for the first time in my life.

Also, when Learn to Exist finished there were a couple months where I would go to the studio and write stuff but none of it felt very good.  I feel like it only started to feel good when I hit the reset button.  It was a healthy mind frame where nothing is right or wrong.  It was just playing around and having fun.

Nick: What were those bands that you used to listen to when you were on your first album?

Sam: Definitely Two Door Cinema Club – and I still love them but they’ve flipped a switch in my head – Cloud Control and Bon Iver.  I’d pretty much just condense them down to those bands. When I was first starting out in Brisbane I would play acoustic shows, little Bon Iver-Josh Pyke style songs.  And then I heard Two Door Cinema Club and thought I want to make music like this.

Nick: How was it different writing in Paris when compared to writing in Australia?

Sam: I didn’t go there thinking it would be different.  I just went there to get out of my comfort zone.  I had a lot of demos for the new album and I thought the one thing I needed to do was go somewhere really far away, really uncomfortable, and get out of my routine and then see how I felt about all the songs.  It was just to clear my head.  I wrote some crazy shit. I took my guitar, my flute and went to the nearest Cash Converters and bought a little drum kit.  It was like music camp for me.

I took my guitar, my flute and went to the nearest Cash Converters and bought a little drum kit.  It was like music camp for me.

Nick: How was the production of this album different to your last?

Sam: It was definitely more realised.  I personally had a better idea of how to make sounds and what sounds I wanted.  After Learn to Exist I’ve just been demoing on computers.  I record on my own stuff, so I just learnt how to make a sound.  The language was condensed; things happened faster and easier.  After the demos, it was sort of like a year of pre-production so when we went into the studio I was pretty solid with the sound I wanted.  We definitely just did more crazy shit.  We wanted a cool guitar line going in so I went into the shower and closed the door and had the mic in the little shower tube and that was the sound.  There’s also more instruments.

Nick: Which song was the hardest to produce/write? 

Sam: I think maybe Kooky Eyes, weirdly enough.  It’s one of the simpler tracks but that was the song we started recording it all with so we were really rusty.  We started with Kooky Eyes because we all thought it would be easy.  The famous last words; don’t go into anything thinking it will be easy.  I had a demo of a cool groovy drum beat I recorded, I liked it so much that I said to Keelan, “you have to play it exactly like this”.  Keelan did a fucking great job first time but I really wanted that beat exactly the way it was.  I think we went over it for 5 hours.  It turned out to be one of my favourites, but we went into it thinking it would be easy straight up: the cardinal sin.

Nick: What can fans expect for the upcoming tour?  Will it be a lot of the new material?

Sam: Yeah song wise it’s a good mix of both.  We appreciate the fact that people don’t really know the songs and can’t get into it as much. We have a touring keyboardist now and it makes it sound so much better now.  We never knew that’s what we wanted to do but once we had the keyboard it makes everything sound huge and thick.  It sounds more like the records.  We also have this lighting show we put together to match the set which will be fucking sick.  We have that dynamic visual element now and it’s coming along nicely.

I know some bands get tired of [touring] after a while but we look forward to it weeks in advance.  We can’t sleep the night before.

Nick: Considering you’ve played the big festivals and done your own tours. Does touring get any easier as time goes on?

Sam: Fuck yeah, it gets easier and better.  I know some bands get tired of it after a while but we look forward to it weeks in advance.  We can’t sleep the night before. It’s like school camp.  We love it and we love hanging out with friends in each city.

Nick: Where do you stand on the whole Spotify/Apple Music streaming debacle?  I notice you guys hold back when releasing your albums on Spotify – is that related to the same issue?

Sam: Yeah, when we heard about that Apple Music thing, that was pretty fucking freaky.  When they decided to do that free trial and stream anything on iTunes, we were smack bang in the middle of that with releasing Speakerzoid.  Thank fuck for Taylor Swift.  Being an independent band we would have sunk; we would have lost the revenue.  I use Spotify – I’m not against it – but we hold back when releasing our albums there because it gives people the extra incentive to go and buy it, then we will release it a couple weeks later.

Nick: What’s next for the Jungle Giants?

Sam: After the tour, we go to America for a couple weeks and we have a couple festivals.  After that I’m really looking forward to the point where we don’t have any touring and no rehearsal and I’m going to go away to the studio and start on a new record.  I’m feeling really good after releasing Speakerzoid and people liking it.  It’s a new recipe and seeing how people have taken a bite and enjoyed it, it makes me feel that you can write anything you want if you’re smart about knowing what people want.  I can’t wait to start working on shit.  I have no idea what the next album will sound like, but that’s exciting.

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