I had a very special opportunity to chat to the front-man of The Jungle Giants, Sam Hales. Lounging on his sun soaked veranda, we listened through the fantastic, soon to be released album Learn to Exist. The deck was Sam’s choice of location, being his favourite place to read. “I love this deck. I remember them putting it up and thinking: this is the coolest thing ever.” Sam reclines in his chair as the opening track begins to play.
I soon discover that Learn to Exist is filled with cool sounds, each of which Sam would point out as they became audible. What I mistook for some clever EQ-ing in ‘Come and Be Alone With Me’ was actually a jumbo jet. “It flew over the studio while I was recording the vocal track,” recalls Sam. “It actually rumbles at the end.” Play and experimentation seem to be the key to bringing the sounds together on this album.
“We didn’t care about being meticulous or anything. If I had an idea we couldn’t mess with that or it just wouldn’t sound right.” Although seemingly a departure from the sounds of the She’s a Riot EP, Sam doesn’t differentiate the two. “I don’t see it as different. But it is kind of electronic.” Certainly, the epic ‘Truth May Hurt’ is the oldest on the album. “This could have been written around She’s a Riot,” Sam guesses, “I probably wrote it in early 2012.”
Yet, making an appearance like a long lost friend is ‘She’s a Riot’, a track of the band’s eponymous 2012 EP. “Our manager was really on top of this being included, because we went independent,” explains Sam. Away from this comfort blanket though, the tracks are very much brand new according to Sam. He pauses to draw attention to the high pitched, repetitious melody off ‘Come and Be Alone With Me’. “Most people think that’s a keyboard, but it’s actually a guitar.” The pursuit of an electro-indie vibe has gives Learn to Exist its playful feel more than any other aspect, whether achieved through catchy lyrics or clever audio manipulation.
At one point Sam enlightens me on the use of a sped up laugh track, inserted behind the driving melodies of ‘Home’. And again with the ending of ‘I Am What You Want Me to Be’: featuring an exciting drawn out textural sound at the end, which Sam explains is a giga delay. “Cesira’s just played a chord and we’re just fucking with it,” smiles Sam. In ‘Truth May Hurt’, Brisbane producer Magoo inserted a guitar loop that adds to the track’s feel. It feels like there are little Easter eggs scattered throughout Learn to Exist for all the attentive listeners.
“I write the melodies,” continues Sam. “Cesira’s really good with tone. But I feel like the guitars are just as important as the drums, so I’m really focused on them.” It turns out that Sam is a competent drummer alongside being a singer and guitarist, laying down the beats for ‘Got Nothing to Lose’ (the demo version of Sam’s drums made it onto the album) and ‘Home’. “The solo [in Home] is note for note as on the demo. I liked it so much I re-learnt it.” Sam recalls, “It took a while because I’m no Herbie Hancock.”
He certainly knows his way around a fret-board though, writing and recording ‘Devil’s in the Detail’ in his bedroom. “In the second verse I was pretty much just making up the lyrics” he laughs. “I had some good ideas but the guitar is so shittily played, probably because this was the second take.” The end of the track features a cool rumbling sound which builds up for ‘Skin to Bone’. “That’s a bass guitar,” Sam points out, “I pressed record on the guitar while my ex was playing around with it, then looped it.” With gentle prompting, he reveals that she may not even know. “We haven’t spoken in a while,” he admits.
It’s not the only track which hints at Sam’s girl issues. The intro of ‘Got Nothing to Lose’ prompts a laugh, “This one’s about having sex with girls you don’t really know.” We jokingly confirm that Cesira didn’t write this one. And of course, there’s the popular ‘Skin to Bone’, with its not so subtle lyric “I wanna tear you skin to bone.” Sam smiles as he explains the concept: “It’s about this girl I was seeing; you know those people who are just so sexually attractive that you’re very lustful towards them all the time.”
Sam pauses to grab a rolling paper before commenting on the track ‘A Pair of Lovers’, which wasn’t an easy one for the band. “This one was quite a troublesome song, because we could never really get the aesthetic right. I just kinda wanted to throw in elements of Led Zeppelin.” Although finally reaching a place that the band were happy with, it seems to be the black sheep of the album. “It’s just been through so much that it’s hard for me to think it’s my favourite on the album.”
Learn to Exist has its funny, upbeat moments tempered by slower and emotional tacks such as ‘Devil’s in the Detail’ and the heartfelt ‘Home’ which is fitting as the closing track. Sam is open about his more mellow songs: “I’m not scared of slow songs. A lot of pop bands don’t really like putting slow songs on, but I feel like: if that’s how it goes, then that’s how it goes.” Sam frowns before adding: “You know what sucks? People who get famous and they think that makes them any cooler. If you’re famous it doesn’t mean you’re cooler, it just means more people know you.”
He continues, with quite possibly the best description of the ethos behind Learn to Exist: “It’s not always acoustic, but it’s always heartfelt. I try to be anyway. I guess you could write music that isn’t heartfelt, but I find that evil and scary. Nothing scares me more than not enjoying fully the music that you’re making.”
Learn to Exist is still streaming on Facebook, and is released on August 30. You can pre-order it from JB Hi-Fi and iTunes. Although only in the concept stage, Sam hopes that the band will tour the USA soon. “The fan-base looks really strong over there; we have a lot of fans in Mexico. I talk about tacos all the time, so maybe we’re bonding over that.”
In the meantime, an Australian tour is happening this October and dates are shown below. You can also check out more exclusive, funny excerpts from this interview at the following links: one where Sam tells a story about his time at Splendour in the Grass, and another where we discuss Ferraris and leopards. All that’s left to do now is count down the days.