Big Times

8 August 2012 | 9:50 am | Tyler McLoughlan

"The first EP was very naïve; we hadn’t done a gig before, we were trying a lot of the sounds in the studio, whereas now these songs are toured and tested – especially She’s A Riot.adventures ahead of a national tour supporting sophomore EP She’s A Riot."

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High school is a common place for sonic experimentation and the formation of musical friendships, though it wasn't until Sam Hales had graduated in 2009 and was struggling through a university degree that he realised that guitarists and school pals Andrew Dooris and Cesira Aitken were the key to his musical future. “We were still at school, but I still remember the Facebook message that Sam sent me,” says Dooris, adopting a geek voice to explain Hales' first approach. “'I know you can sing and play guitar, like I was just wondering if you want to start up a band with me and Cesira? I know you don't play bass yet but do you wanna try?'” The pair erupt into fits of giggles as Hales apes: “Do you wanna play bass?” before Dooris comes clean on the reason he said yes.

“It's really funny because another friend had asked me a very similar question and I said no. But it was only because I'd heard Sam's songs before and I knew I really liked them – I had an overwhelming faith in his songwriting. I've never actually told you that,” he says, turning to the frontman who was last year awarded the Billy Thorpe songwriting scholarship. “But I always thought that we'd actually get something done if we did anything [together],” he divulges of the quartet, fleshed out with drummer Keelan Bijker.

“It was a pretty easy change because I used to do singer/songwriter gigs, and I would play at Bar Soma when I was 17,” says Hales. “I loved doing that but I got really over doing that whole singer/songwriter thing just because people never really pay attention, you're sort of just there and people are having drinks and stuff, and I was like, 'I feel like I just want to let loose on stage, but I can't – I'm playing my little ditty'”.

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By this time, Hales was taking in a musical diet of Cloud Control and Local Natives, devising how his path could lead to such explorations. “I was like, 'wow' – I really want to write music like this,” Hales continues. “I just had this inspired vision and then we just started working on everything in our rooms. I dropped out of uni at that time and then got two jobs so we had enough cash to splash around for recording. I worked a lot for six months… McDonalds and a convenience store; two of the worst jobs I could find!

“It was weird, I was on a mission! If I tried to do that now I would so not be able to do it. I was working like 60-hour weeks easily, both jobs… It was actually really funny 'cause in the same day I'd get someone come to Night Owl convenience store and buy like a bottle of Coke, and then they'd come get dinner at McDonalds. One guy was like, 'dude, do you have a brother?' And I was like, 'nah man' and he was like, 'there's someone who looks just like you at Night Owl' and I was like: 'that's me!'”

The result of the hard labour was The Jungle Giants' eponymous 2011 debut EP, spawning the jangle pop loveliness of Mr Polite and No One Needs To Know that gained a following and triple j rotation straight off the bat. “We recorded it and we'd never done a gig,” explains Hales. “It was a weird approach to record before we gigged... We were just like, 'we have all these songs, lets record them', and I think it was sort of to do a demo so we could get gigs, but we were really proud of the EP and [producer] Yanto Browning did such a good job so that it turned out more than demos – it was a good, quality EP.”

With a management deal and an action plan soon hatched, The Jungle Giants were thrown headlong into gaining their gig legs, supporting Ball Park Music nationally, co-headlining an interstate tour with San Cisco and accompanying Boy & Bear as main support on a two-month, 30-date haul which finished in June. “…It's a bit of a softer crowd to what we're used to, I mean we weren't playing sweaty pub gigs, we were doing [Sydney's] State Theatre,” Dooris says, still in awe of the Boy & Bear experience. “Maybe not necessarily what we're suited to but definitely something that was a very big learning curve – not relying so much on a crowd to be drunk and sweaty and screaming your name.”

“Their crowds were really mixed,” Hales mentions. “There's older people and really young people, so at each show we'd have a few people getting kinda loose then there'd be lots of people sitting down or lots of people just listening, whereas in a San Cisco gig like almost every night, 50 people would run up on stage and kick our stuff over and kiss us while we're trying to sing. And it just got so ridiculous by the end – we had so much fun – but people were just going crazy,” he says, as Dooris admits there was only one gig of the tour in which he didn't crowd surf.

Opening their new EP She's A Riot with a title track full of handclaps and hope, fans are reintroduced to the vibrant outfit who crashed onto the scene less than a year-and-a-half ago, though Create/Control's most recent signing showcases a broader musicality spurred on by the successes of their various tour buddies. “The whole idea for this EP was to be a lot less sugary,” Hales says seriously. “The first EP was very naïve; we hadn't done a gig before, we were trying a lot of the sounds in the studio, whereas now these songs are toured and tested – especially She's A Riot. We've been playing that for a few tours now, we've just been working on it really hard so now we have a way more sure way of how we wanted to record them. There's a lot more depth of sound,” he admits. Dooris offers his thoughts: “Because the songs were so ready… there was more time to put embellishments and stuff on it, and more time to experiment not on the structure of the songs so much, but tone and just like the whole recording process.”

As for the lyrical themes, Hales looks to one of the more common points of inspiration for young blokes like himself.

“I love love,” he shouts, suggesting that the cat-and-mouse games of EP track Don't Know What Else To Do would summarise his current romantic situation. “I'm just a free pup – got no chains!” Hales giggles, without realising that his off-the-cuff funny likely sums up why the Australian public has become so quickly enamoured with the free-spirited Brisbane quartet.