A Chat With: Jungle Green
Originally the moniker for solo songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Smith, Jungle Green is now a six-piece collective that creates timeless and genre-fluid music. Listening through the more than twenty releases on Jungle Green’s Bandcamp page, it’s impossible to pinpoint a specific style for Smith and his bandmates’ sound. There are some songs that sound like they were plucked right off a 1960’s hits compilation, while others play upon more modern elements; Some songs have a hint of twang, while others have a trace of jazz. Some of the recordings are more layered with a full band sound, and some are lo-fi recordings of Smith and his piano. The members of Jungle Green are jacks-of-all-trades, and their discography definitely reflects that. The extensive catalog also gives an insight to Smith’s boundless creative energy as a songwriter.
While I’ve been seeing Jungle Green’s name on bills around town for months now, I finally got my first chance to see them live earlier this month, when they opened up for Shy Boys at the Beat Kitchen. After their set, they took some time to chat with me about their evolution as a full band, touring with The Lemon Twigs, recording with Jonathan Rado and what’s next for them. Tune into Jungle Green and check out our conversation below!
So I know Jungle Green originally started as a solo project of Andrew’s, and now it’s evolved into a big old collective of six people. Can you talk a little bit about how that evolved and how you all met?
Andrew: Yeah totally! I first met Alex in an acting class. We became great friends and started kind of picking up shows every now and then. He would play guitar and we would do comedy bits. It was really not very good, but it was fun. And that’s what it’s all about, having fun! Then I just gradually met everyone else through school and you know, in 2015 and 2016. I just wanted to get shows and have a fuller sound, so I recruited people who were cool and I thought were talented and fun to be around.
Adam O: I met Andrew at a party, the same night I met Adam M. We hit it off and I got his number, and we had plans to see Angry Birds the movie— the Summer 2016 blockbuster. Shout out Angry Birds. And yeah he blew me off, and then I didn’t see him again until September and we got tacos together. I had the large popcorn cause I thought we could share…
Andrew: That’s true, but now we’re friends. Now we live together. It’s funny how things can start one way and fate will turn it another way.
Then Andrew, I know you’re not from Chicago. Is anyone originally from here?
Andrew: Yeah, I’m from Massachusetts.
Vivian: I’m from Texas. Everyone’s from all around. Texas, St. Louis, Kentucky….
What would you say is your favorite part of creating music in Chicago, versus your hometowns?
Andrew: These guys right here!
Adam M: It’s nice to be in a city where there’s just lots of people who are into music and lots of venues.
Andrew: I like the amount of venues. It’s nice! I like that I’ve met these guys.
Definitely! Then in the Fall you toured with the Lemon Twigs. How was that experience?
Andrew: That was really fun! That was in October.
Adam M: It was just really amazing that they asked us to play. We have mutual friends, but we didn’t know them super well. And they kind of just took a risk.
Andrew: You’re taking a big risk asking a band you’ve never met to tour cause it’s like you’re stuck with them for a month, they could be assholes.
Adam M: But it ended up going really well, and they’re great people. It was just a good time.
Andrew: It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.
Adam O: It just kind of came out the blue too.
Andrew: Yeah and we got really tight too, on the tour. We got our stride.
Yeah, I wanted to ask about your live show, and how you all switch instruments at different points and mix it up. When you were putting together the live show, is that something you decided to do from the start or is that more recent?
Andrew: That kind of came about because--We switch instruments, and we do it a lot cause we kind of play multiple things and people want to have a take on an instrument. It spices things up and also makes everyone happy.
Alex: It started more almost because we were forced to. It started with us recording different things cause we just did different stuff. Then when we went to make it a live show, we were like how are we gonna do this? So we just had to switch every song. It was kind of fun to do.
Andrew: I really like it! It’s really fun, and it keeps every song really unique.
Adam O: When we arrange, it’s kind of just like Oh, I sat down at this instrument when we were arranging this, so I guess I’m just gonna play that. It’s a fun, organic way to arrange.
Vivian: Yeah, everybody has a really different take from everyone else on each instrument. If you just mess with those combinations, you don’t really have to try that hard to get something that doesn’t sound like what you’ve done before.
Will you ever mix it up from show to show, or is it pretty much set at the current rotation in your live show?
Andrew: It’s set every show.
Yeah I saw you play a solo set last week, but I haven’t seen the full band until today.
Andrew: This didn’t really directly influence it, but there’s a band I like called Palberta. They switch every song--granted there’s only three [of them] playing guitar, bass, and drums, but they’re switching every song. I saw them and I was like oh, this is really cool. That maybe had some play in it.
Adam M: It helps when everyone is a Jack of All Trades.
Adam O: We all put a lot of effort into the instruments we’re not as good at.
Yeah it’s kind of like a band buffet.
Andrew: Yeah, a continental breakfast.
Emma: I think it also helps Andrew’s persona as the frontman. It makes what he does more exciting. He’s able to nail the drums and be the lead singer kind of hanging back, and then he comes forward.
Yeah, it’s very dynamic and interactive! And it’s not like you’re just going through the motions.
Vivian: It used to be, in comparison to what we do now. We all used to stick to one instrument and never ever switch, and Andrew was always behind the drums.
Andrew: It’s kind of boring [to stick to the same instrument]. It’s boring the way we did it. It’s not boring for every band.
Vivian: It was just missing out on how Andrew is a really good frontman and brings a really cool energy up there. It was like a waste when he was just at the drums.
Andrew: I’m trying to get to the point eventually where I’m just not really playing drums.
Yeah your stage presence is great! When you came off the stage and you were wandering around, it’s very much in your face and breaks the fourth wall. It felt very present. Is there anyone else besides Palberta that influences your stage presence or that you admire?
Andrew: Sure, yeah! There’s a lot. I really like people like Sam France of Foxygen. My favorite guys are like Sam, and David Yow of Jesus Lizard, who’s like the best. I like a lot of punk frontmen, I feel bad I don’t know his name, but the guy from Bad Brains who does back flips. I don’t know the band too well but I love that. I think a lot of punk frontmen, which I guess makes it kind of interesting cause we’re not really punk music.
Adam M: We’re not very tough at all.
Andrew: I have straight up run away from someone who looked remotely scary.
Switching gears to your recorded music, you’ve recently worked with Jonathan Rado as a producer. How did that experience go?
Andrew: Yeah that was a year ago, that was great! It was really fun.
Adam M: It was amazing. This probably goes for everyone, but I feel like my life is sort of pre-recording with Rado and post-recording with Rado. Just the way he approaches recording and he just keeps a really good attitude the whole time. He’s very encouraging but also it was just really inspiring to see how he works a song up from the beginning.
Vivian: He did really keep a lot of positivity— cause it’s hard when you have six people and everybody has their own opinions. You have firm opinions when you’re making final decisions about the arrangements and how these songs are supposed to sound [on the record]. Then you’re doing it for 12 hours for a week and a half.
Andrew: It’s hard to do but I think it was as smooth as it could have been.
Cool, then the last thing I wanted to talk about was the music video that Vivian mentioned you were recording over the weekend. Can you talk about it a bit?
Andrew: It was really fun, Alex directed it and he did a great job.
Alex: I went to film school, and I did really lame projects, but everyone was nice enough to let me take some creative liberties with it.
Andrew: He did a great job and he’s available for hire!
Alex: We’re editing it now and it’s gonna come out pretty soon.
Vivian: We just had a lot of fun with it. I think we kind of tried to do a little bit of what we do onstage and keep it fun.
Andrew: It’s for a song called “Cryin’”
Photos of Jungle Green at Beat Kitchen, April 2019