Through a spirit-crushing and motivation-draining pandemic, The Jungle Giants’ Sam Hales relied on positivity, self-reflection, and the joy of independence to create a new, dance-y album to propel them into their upcoming tour. With three and a half years between this and their previous LP, ‘Love Signs’ comes to fans with a fresh ’90s-inspired sound.
by guest writer Lilly Eason
Stream: “Treat You Right” – The Jungle Giants
As is the case with many artists, The Jungle Giants’ musical mastermind, Sam Hales, tends to write with the live experience in mind. “I always have this thing when I’m building up to a chorus, I’ll imagine myself being in the crowd and what I expect the drop to feel like,” he mentioned from his living room in Melbourne over a Zoom call. The process of imagining being at a concert now seems commonplace to songwriters and music lovers alike, with each corner of the world locked in a different stage of Covid pandemonium.
As their newest LP since 2017 is less than a month away from release and an international tour is on the horizon, the concert-daydream inches its way to reality for the Jungle Giants, having played a few one-off festivals and shows already. “I think we’re all appreciating it more than we used to,” Hales revealed. “Our first show out of lockdown I was just like ‘who are all you people!? It’s so nice to meet you! What’s going on!? Where’d you come from!?’ It kind of blew our minds.” Hales said that he also looks forward to a family atmosphere at his live shows, a group of like-minded kindred strangers collected with one goal-to enjoy his music. “Imagining going back on tour it’s just going to be enjoying all those little things on a bigger scale and it’s gonna be our show so I think it’s just going to feel more like a kind of family environment where everyone’s going to be sharing in something. I feel like my mind’s going to be switched onto it more than ever before so I’m just really looking forward to appreciating every single moment of it and just watching people enjoy it.”
The prospect of visiting the band’s un-met family comes as a great juxtaposition to the solitude which their upcoming album, Love Signs, was partially crafted in. The writing process began long before the pandemic, during a period of recuperation for Hales and the rest of the band. “It’s definitely been a more fragmented process than in the past,” he said, “but in a good way. Once Quiet Ferocity came out, I wanted us to have a bit of a breather for a while and I did heaps of traveling.” Hales toured for a bit with another group of musicians, giving him space to travel without the pressure of a headliner-tour. “I wanted to not worry about writing for a while and just do other things for a bit.”
There was no way to anticipate what “other things” would be for Hales, who went from a period of travel and exploration to one of isolation. Hales is a self-described “positive person,” which is evident from a few seconds in his presence. He’s a person who exudes happiness and positivity, but total seclusion does a number on the best of us, even those who have optimism and hope coursing through their veins. Hales stated, flat out, “it was really sad. We weren’t allowed to leave our house so I grabbed all my gear and brought it to my house. It was a blessing cause I finally had time to just work on music but that daily motivation was really hard to get. I had to get total tunnel vision and focus on what I was doing.” Like many during the pandemic, motivation was hard for Hales to come by as each day bled into the next and days in stage three lockdown racked up numbers in the hundreds. Yet still, Hales found positivity in his situation, relying on daily mantras and imaginings to push him forward.
“One day at a time” was an essential phrase which pushed Hales through the production of Love Signs, imagining he was a mountain climber attempting to scale Everest.
“I had a deadline coming for when I had to deliver the record and I felt like it was a lot, like I couldn’t do it, so I was imagining I was a climber at base camp and instead of looking at the top of the mountain and freaking out that I had heaps to go, I would just climb and climb and climb until I was exhausted. Each day I would say ‘that’s enough for today’ and pretend I was setting up camp. I’d focus on not looking at how far I had to go but I just made sure I was doing a good job each day, and then, one day, I realized I was at the top of the mountain, I was done! I remember putting in the last little bit and I was like ‘this is done,’ I got goosebumps all over.” This positive imagining was essential to the completion of the album without daily cruxes like visiting with friends or, god forbid, leaving the house, to give Hales energy and support. “I couldn’t do those things that usually would give me extra energy, it had to come from within so I felt so happy at the end of that, felt like I got to know myself more. Making songs is just a real good, happy place for me, it took me out of a sad place.”
When the writing process began for Love Signs, it wasn’t initially a Jungle Giants project, so much as it was more of a thought experiment, writing anything and everything that came to mind.
Hales described his process as starting with an initial beat, creating the bed, and then wandering around the room singing whatever feels right. In this case, the “right feeling” caused the general sound of the group to shift into something more dance-y, deeply inspired by 90s R&B artists like Timberland, for his drum patterns, and Ashanti’s vocal riffs and 8-bar phrasing. “‘Heavy Hearted’ was one of the first things I made and I was kind of freaking out about it, I was really excited about it…the songs did the talking first and then I was just really excited and thought ‘maybe Jungle Giants can sound dance-y!’” Reassured by his girlfriend that Heavy Hearted was, in fact, “a banger,” Hales let the dance-beats drive the album.
Accompanying a general shift in sound came a shift in narrator. As Hales strutted around his studio singing anything and everything over some funky 90s beats, the lines that flowed from his mind became detached from himself. “The beats were making me feel a bit sassy, they were dance-y but they were sassy and I was just feeling this character. I was singing these kind of 90s R&B melodies with these lyrics about love from all of these different perspectives.” These “different perspectives” gave way to the title and opening track of the album, referencing “love signs” as these little things people do in respect to love. “I was piecing together all these songs with different perspectives on love so maybe if someone was receiving it, someone was giving it, someone was hiding it but wanting to say it, and I was kind of realizing that, when ‘love signs’ came about, it was just kind of this lyric that came out and I felt like it embodied all of these little messages. It’s these little things that we either hide or we share but there’s all these different ways to show love and I felt that each was a sign.”
From this “character” narrative, the videos which accompany the previously-released singles from the album exemplify a great deal of characterization. From the narcissist who falls in love and starts a family with himself in “In Her Eyes” to the cult-like leader of a rehabilitation center in “Sending Me Ur Loving” to the gardener/cloner in “Treat You Right,” Hales plays these character who are far removed from his true self. The fascinating thing about these videos is the narrative of the video almost completely opposes that of the song. “In Her Eyes” is about seeing love within someone else but centers around a very wholesome narcissist who creates a beautiful life with himself. “Sending Me Ur Loving” describes feeling love all over whereas the video shows a lovers rehabilitation center. To Hales, though, the video should be just as much fun to make as the song. “I hate it when the video is the exact meaning of the song, it’s a bit boring to me. I reckon if you can find other meaning through the visual, or at least explore a whole different thing and connect it in these loose little ways, it more fun to me, it makes you question because you don’t really know what’s coming up.”
Though this album is driven by characterization, it’s still a very personal one to Hales. The album as a whole deals a lot with independence in context to a relationship, which is something very close to Hales who mentioned the positive effects of being independent people within his own relationship. “[Independence] is the perfect gateway to true intimacy, being a fully formed person that loves yourself and at least has methods and ways to understand yourself, it’s easier to understand someone else once you understand your own perspective.” Hales noted that he finds himself to be very independent, in his romantic relationships as well as with his own band.
The Jungle Giants came together when Hales was a senior in high school, pedaling his own acoustic EP while wanting to be more “bandy,” inspired by bands like Two Door Cinema Club and Cloud Control. He gained the support of his bandmates Cisera Aitken (guitar), Keelan Bijker (drums), and Andrew Dooris (bass), but does a majority of the composition on his own, inviting the rest of the band to hear the album after studio production at margarita-sponsored listening parties. “In the collaborative sense of the band, it’s not creatively collaborative but it is an emotional thing. We’ve got so much history together, we’re more than best friends in the band, we’re like the better version of a family cause we don’t actually fight, we’re better than siblings, so we know how to press each other’s buttons but we also know how to help each other, we know how to read each other’s minds so it’s more of an emotional collaboration.” Hales noted that he finds his most independent self while making music, which clearly bleeds through in this album, allowing for characterization without alienating the audience or the artist. The album comes across as deeply personal, supported by fictional narratives.
In the end, Sam Hales claims one particular goal – to get better with each day. As lockdown comes to an end, he seems to retain his mountain-climber-mindset, taking it one day at a time and doing only his best, because that’s all he can do. “I really want to maintain being able to love what I’m making and being able to make exactly what I want to make.” His personal and musical independence gives way to his ability to create distinctly unique and idiosyncratic music and with each day, each divergence in sound, he only gets closer to the peak of the mountain. In a pandemic which crushed the spirits of so many, there’s a lot to take away from Hales’ philosophies, be it viewing his job as more of need to create than employment, a constant desire for improvement, or simply trying to do one’s best every day.
Hales mentioned some of his anxieties surrounding his work, that he would lose sleep weeks out from the release of an album, but along with a desire to improve his work comes a desire to improve himself. “Now these days, if I get a bit anxious about something, I like to go through this little checklist in my mind of did I try really hard, did I put my heart and soul into it, did I make sure it was good and did I reference the right things and if I can tick off those things, I can let that anxiety go.”
Loves Signs will be available on July 23, 2021 and the Love Signs Tour will kick off on September 3rd in Hobart, Australia.
A lover of music, writing, and literature, Lilly Eason is a senior English student at Sewanee and calls Nashville, TN home. She has an infatuation for the music and style of the 1960’s, a funky bassline, and a strong cup of coffee. Can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Instagram @lu_loveday99.
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