Transcribing an interview with Sam Hales is weird. He hadn’t spoken a single sentence that wasn’t a double – beginning with one topic and veering off to on a tangent to end on another. His spilled sentences reveal his zest for all things music, but they have to be cleaned up to even begin to make sense on the page. It was fascinating though, because he’s a man with a seemingly constant creative engine.
“I enjoy writing the most,” says Hales. “It’s the only way I can have a really good day. What I fear is not being able to maintain it. Or… losing the hunger. No, scrap that. I need to do it all the time. This is a job, so I need to make really good shit so I can make a life for myself. The fear is not being able to maintain it, but that fear is what helps me maintain it.”
Quiet Ferocity is the new album from Brisbane four-piece band The Jungle Giants, ready for release on 7 July. With Hales at the helm, most of our half-hour chat covers his new writing process, which has changed from random recordings while living with seven musical housemates, to a far more structured and disciplined approach.
“For this record, everything changed,” says Hales. “I finally figured something out: doing a nine to five is exactly the way for me to go. And getting a space separate to where I live. I put to bed the idea that something happens in another realm and you get an idea for a song and it’s separate from you. It’s such a romantic idea; for me, it’s a poisonous idea. Makes you less responsible for the output. I work out in the morning because I read somewhere, well, Hemingway said this as well, that working out in the morning is really good for your creative mind. You feel good and you can always look back at that. Then coffee. I read adventure books mainly – I read the whole Jules Verne discography.”
There were a few tangents and other bits there that needed editing out, but essentially Hales broke it down into these rules for himself:
#1 – Have a routine
#2 – Treat it like a job
#3 – Be easy on yourself
“It’s hard at first to keep going. Time felt slower. I stopped thinking about the end product. I could compartmentalise… It was the funnest time I’ve had writing a record. I figured things out, figured myself out. It’s not some godly thing. You have to work, you have to give yourself a chance.”
Hales would have a music blackout after ‘shifts,’ refraining from anything related to music until 9am the following day, building up the excitement the entire time until hopefully exploding with inspiration back at the studio.
“I set up the studio like a cockpit; analogue gear and virtual, everything accessible… When I didn’t know which kick to use, I’d just pick it from my sample playlist of kicks I already liked. I was getting heaps of inspiration for the record by nerding out on the production. It just started from sounds, really.
“I spent ages finding out how my favourite drum sounds were made, from LCD Soundsystem, Todd Terje, a lot of these guys are really open about how they get their sounds, and I’d set up my studio according to these suggestions. I’ve been a drummer my whole life so drums usually dictate the energy of the songs. This whole record was just drums and bass at the start until they were the perfect sounds, then the rest of the song would grow from that.
“As long as you get something right, couple things collect: here’s a flavour, here’s an aesthetic, a rhythm, a texture, so the production had a huge role. By the time the band came in for listening parties at the end of writing, I love doing these coz I’m secretive, I’m too susceptible to being influenced… [excitable tangent].”
Inspiration, explosive or otherwise, also came from a lot of house and disco, with Hales wanting disco drums on the album mixed with ‘acoustic’ elements – like the work of Talking Heads and Hot Chip – as well as more obscure acts such as Fouk from Holland, who Hales says are able to make repetitive six minute minimal disco house tracks that constantly refresh, taking bits out and putting others back in through “genius arrangement.”
Hales has been pulling not just from dance music but also from literature when trying to work out lyrics, his least favourite endeavour in the process, flicking through pages at random just to fill blanks phonetically or to build ideas from. This isn’t the only aspect of the project that gets Hales anxious, though, especially with the 2017 tour kicking off in August.
“The first shows of tours, I always freak the fuck out. It’s a whole new chapter you’re about to commit to for a few years. It’s that initial jumping off point that makes me… just… get SO drunk.”
It’s all good, though, especially as a band in Australia compared to the US or UK, according to Hales.
“In Australia, it doesn’t feel as small. Bands have a competitive edge just for doing their own thing. People can just do whatever they want.”
Just do your thing. Just like The Jungle Giants.
18 August, The Triffid, Brisbane
19 August, Great Northern Hotel, Byron Bay
25 August, Enmore Theatre, Sydney
26 August, Croxton Hotel, Melbourne (1pm, U18s Only)
26 August, Croxton Hotel, Melbourne (8pm, 18+)
1 September, The Gove, Adelaide
2 September, The Capitol, Perth
8 September, Republic Bar, Hobart
9 September, The Beery, Central Coast
15 September, Rec, Auckland