Seated at a table on a Fitzroy rooftop, Sam Hales lifts a pint of beer to me in celebration of finally being out of quarantine. The Jungle Giants’ frontman had recently returned to Melbourne, where the press cycle would begin for the band’s new album, Love Signs.
A full new collection of material from The Jungle Giants has landed with fans four years on from Quiet Ferocity – a record that showed the group moving further into sleeker, more dance driven territory. For Hales, this transition couldn’t be a more fun or engaging process.
“I feel really excited,” he says of the new material.
“There’s been a big shift since we started releasing the long lead singles like ‘Heavy Hearted’, ‘Sending Me Ur Loving’ – these have been our biggest tracks. Things have been going awesomely. Every time there’s a new song coming out I’ve been like, “It’s been a bit different, we’ll see how it goes!” and then it’s been really positive.”
Love Signs brought Hales out of his shell as a songwriter and producer more than on any other The Jungle Giants effort. With this record, he acted as sole songwriter and producer; a creative move that has fulfilled Hales more than he thought possible.
With the pandemic forcing touring to a hault, Hales was able to instead focus his time on completing the new The Jungle Giants project from home. Though not originally planned, the album became a home studio project, with Hales working on writing and recording with award winning engineer and frequent collaborator Konstantin Kersting on mixing.
Watch the official music video for “Sending Me Ur Loving”
“Once everything shut down, I just got all my studio stuff, put it at home and tried a really weird thing with Kon who mixes with me,” Hales remembers.
“We did a thing where we got a program that could mirror his screen and his audio in real time. I think we just paid for a subscription, so I could be sitting there with my studio headphones on with my notepad, going over and over, while having another computer there with a zoom call. We’d do eight hour sessions of that and you’d forget, you’d feel like you were at the studio yourself. I felt like he was an extension of my brain, it was wild.”
The impending release of Love Signs has also coincided with The Jungle Giants’ tenth anniversary of their debut, self-titled EP. From working two hospitality jobs in Mansfield, Brisbane to fund studio time for the initial project, to now looking down the barrel of The Jungle Giants’ second decade, Hales opens up about how the band’s dynamic has strengthened.
Though this album was far more isolated for Hales in terms of the creative side of things, his bandmates still remained crucial in how he managed to navigate the process.
“At first, I remember it was really hard for Andrew [Dooris] at first to understand that I wanted to do all the writing,” he says.
Watch the official music video for “In Her Eyes”
“It had always been leading that way but at one point, I had to jump off and say, “Guys – I want to co-produce this and I want to write it myself”. Now, we are still the same: we’re best friends, we talk all the time, we always see each other, but that professional dynamic has changed.”
With Dooris also in Melbourne, Hales has come to rely on the emotional support of the bass/keys player more than ever. He gushes over his fellow The Jungle Giants Cesira Aitken and Keelan Bijker, though he notes with Dooris, their friendship has particularly grown over the last year.
“A new thing has happened where I’m seeing Andrew for instance, has become this amazing support system for me.” Hales says.
“At the end of lockdown, it was the last day of finishing the record. My girlfriend Grace was somewhere else and I was alone, I’d gone kind of crazy. I’d convinced myself that my handwriting had changed, I was questioning everything. It went deep. Andrew made this care package for me, he ding dong ditched it at my house. He called me like, “Dude – I’m so sorry, I just drove past your house and someone’s done graffiti all over the door,” and I ran to the front door and saw this car screaming down the street. He’d left this box with wine, chocolate, a sandwich…it had everything. I teared up. That’s a sign of where we’re at.”
“The guys are very supportive of the way I’m writing. Especially seeing how people are responding to it and how they’re responding to my production. Even though that input, though they’re not writing with me, the importance of being together is still there. Dooris reads me like a fucking book, and he knew just in the way I was messaging, that I needed something. And he care-packaged me. He’s my ride or die, I love him so much. He always takes care of me. Cesira and Keelan as well.”
From Love Signs, fans have already gotten a vibrant idea of the full album’s scope. There’s the irresistibly dance-y “Sending Me Ur Loving” and “Heavy Hearted”, juxtaposed with the glossy “In Her Eyes”, “Treat You Right” and the album’s title track. Throughout each track, there’s a bolstered sense of awareness and confidence within Hales’ writing that could only have come from accepting and embracing his own self-worth as a musician.
Watch the official music video for “Treat You Right”
Reflecting on his career ‘til this point, Hales is open about the different anxieties that worked their way into previous The Jungle Giants records. The band, who has been Australian indie darlings – for lack of a better term – for the last decade, has graduated from jangly pop beginnings, to being a lasting presence outside of the country’s 2010s indie pop boom.
“When Learn To Exist, our first record came out, that was by just a bunch of kids. I’d never produced anything,” he says.
“When it came time to do the second record, I had all these weird feelings. It was a really scary time in my life. I’d developed this anxiety around putting myself out there and I was really scared. I’d made a choice that I didn’t want to do the same thing. I wanted to do something different, I wanted people to still like it, but I wanted it to be something I loved. Something legitimate and real. I was questioning everything.”
Embracing new influences and taking the steps to filter them into a sound that was very much defining Australian indie music at the time, wasn’t without its risks, Hales acknowledges. But looking at it now, two records on, an album like Speakerzoid (2015) still had its own role to play.
And now with Love Signs, Hales is definitely hitting that sweet spot as a producer and writer. With the realisation that each album has its own identity and purpose, The Jungle Giants are equipped to consistently build on some exciting new tapestries of sound.
“I went through this big development stage by releasing Speakerzoid, which was a challenging record for me because I think that it was a tough record,” he admits.
“Some fans were like, “I don’t like it,” and that’s totally fine. For me, retrospectively, I did like it but I was confused about what I wanted. You can hear that. That’s okay, everyone goes through that. I was thankful that I’d made the change, because it did feel good to change. As I keep changing and developing as a person, I make my music reflect that. I’ve found that there’s a good way to do it.”