An Interview with Tom McFarland of Jungle

Words by: Alex Ames
Photography by:Ollie Allison

You’ve got to enjoy it. I find if I chase the numbers and perfection it becomes miserable.

Tom McFarland, one half of the Funk and Soul Dance group Jungle, sat with me on the balcony of The Rusacks St Andrews. This is where he launched the 2023 smash hit single, “Candle Flame”. But that’s not what Tom was getting philosophical about. He was looking over the Old Course and the Scottish coast beyond, to reflect on a day with his other love; golf.

We played 10 holes on the New Course at the very last minute today - we didn’t have long and we had to leg it to beat the sunset. It was ready golf, and it was totally freeing. Just walk up and hit it. I’m not even scoring. And over 10 holes I was 5 or 6 over par - that’s incredible for me.

Tom played as a kid, and dusted off the clubs during COVID. Two years later, he’s not just a fully fledged golf nut, he’s an investor in the disruptive UK fashion brand, MANORS. For Tom, the game is so demanding, it takes his attention away from the day to day of the music business. How else is he meant to distract himself from the launch of a new single, or the announcement of Jungle’s new album, Volcano (dropped August 11th), or the major North American and European Tour which came to a head this Summer in New York.

It’s great because I have no idea what’s going on. I’ve transported myself physically and spiritually out of the whole thing which helps - our job is done. People might listen to it, people might not listen to it. Some people will think it’s good and a few will think it’s not and that’s the nature of the universe.

This is what is so captivating about Tom and Jungle. Him and Josh Lloyd Watson, his musical collaborator, have travelled the world, played Glastonbury, and been shortlisted for a mercury prize and yet neither of them are phased by the hype. Jungle keep their feet on the ground and let the work do the talking.

The more you release music the more you realise it’s not the event. If you’re looking for an adrenaline kick and looking at the comments and stuff then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. The adrenaline kick comes in the creation, it comes in those moments when you’re free, creating something that feels new and fresh. In that sense, the best part of Candle Flame was a year ago.

It’s a little like your golf, I offer, unable to remove myself from the setting of our interview. If you’re able to go for it without too much thought, without keeping score, you’re more likely to hit the good shot.

Over thought is a big nemesis. If you can steer yourself away from that you create something honest and true to yourself. If you let it happen and make as much music as you can and play live shows - that’s the fun bit. That’s why we do it. With Volcano, we just wanted to be as free as we could - create quickly without thought.

Freedom is so far the theme of our interview - I ask Tom if his decision to make Jungle a faceless band has afforded him personal freedom.

We’ve never really played the game. We’ve not gone to many gigs and parties and PR events. We’ve kept the personal life and the life of being a musician separate. It allows us to direct the music rather than star in it.

You can see that in the music videos, I suggest. Candle Flame is just the latest in a series of semi-connected, all-in-one-shot, dance videos, directed by Tom’s partner Josh and Charlie di Placido. Jungle remains anonymous throughout.

When we make videos we want to watch them and enjoy them in their own right and I don’t think we’d have the perspective if we were in front of the camera. We met this group called Ghetto Funk Collective when we did Good Times and Problemz and they have an amazing choreographer, Shay Latukolan. Now we’re working with them as well as a returning cast from previous albums.

It’s upbeat, uplifting and energetic. I think it feels a little more dancy - let’s say it feels a bit Avalanche, Soul Wax, Daft Punk, Chemical Brothers - it’s more electronic in its conception.

Roots Manuva makes an appearance - that’s something very dear to us. It feels like we’ve pulled off something that would have excited us so much as kids and it’s nice to feel that naive energy again, it’s like, “Fuck, we’ve got Roots Manuva on a song!” Then there’s Bas, JNR Williams, Erick The Architect, Channel Tres and other great collaborators.

And you’ve announced a new tour - you’re going all over the world - will the golf suffer or do you bring the clubs?

Sometimes it’s an opportunity, sometimes it’s a month without a stick. The US tour is probably too packed. Most of July or August is going to be a write off. But it’s so exciting being away - meeting your fans in that context is incredibly important to us. It’s real world feedback. Nothing else gives you that feeling of how you’re connecting with people until you’re up there standing on stage.

How does it compare to the first tee shot today?

They’re both intense experiences. For me golf is not a safe space. If I’m on stage - the amount of times I’ve done that compared to rounds of golf. There’s nervous energy and excitement that comes with both of them but golf gives me the heebee geebees.

Tom is so cool and collected, I can’t imagine him with the heebee geebees unless it’s the name of a new dance track. We’ve got a round at a championship golf course tomorrow, so I remind him of what he said at the beginning of our interview.

Just enjoy the walk, hit some nice shots. Relax.

The rest will take care of itself.