15 Questions with Jungle by Night
By Olga Ellinghaus & Eline Stapel
Third time's a charm – and this one comes nine-fold. We are extremely excited to share our newest 15 Questions with PanDam, featuring Amsterdam's very own Jungle by Night.
What do you think of when you hear the term ‘instrumental music’? Whatever it is, when you listen to Jungle By Night you’re bound to experience something new, finding yourself gripped by their rhythmic, rich, and danceable grooves.
We spoke to Gino, Sonny, and Tienson, the rhythm section of the band, in the cozy Amsterdam home in which the band first started out. Now, 12 years later, the band has grown to nationwide and international success. Much-beloved by Amsterdam locals, Jungle By Night has sold out countless shows across the city from the main hall of Paradiso over Skatecafé, to the Carré theater – to name but a few.
The sound of Jungle By Night is now borderless, transcending the limits of the city. Having performed at Fuji Rock in Japan, the Montreal Jazz festival in Canada and all over the world, really. It was a great joy to be able to talk to them about their music, creative process, most memorable moments over the past years, and what they’ve been up to over the last year of lockdown. Read or watch the interview below, and enjoy!
Watch the interview here
Camera by Lotta Puhl
Gino: It actually started off in this house, my dad has a studio here – an analog studio where we rehearsed. And little by little everyone just got together and we added more and more people until we were Jungle by Night. So, yeah, it all started here. And just for the fun of making music together - it wasn’t really a super thought-out process, really. It was almost 12 years ago now. Almost 12 years ago because I was 17 when I started and I’m 29 now. So, almost 12 years.
How did you guys start playing music together as a band?
How would you describe Jungle by Night’s music?
Sonny: It’s instrumental music and I guess you can describe it as a kind of groove-based music with synth elements and a horn section and then some, yeah, some 60’s influences with some modern-day vibes.
Which instruments do you have in the band?
Tienson: So, we have a saxophone, trombone, trumpet, a drummer, a guitar player, a bass player, a guy who plays organ and synths, and then we got a bass player. My cousin (Gino) plays percussion and I play percussion as well so we’re with 9 in total. We have a lot of options I think to make a groove so that’s really nice, and it gives a lot of energy to a groove.
You started out 12 years ago, I assume you were all already musicians at that point. How did you realize that music was more than just a hobby?
Gino: I think it grew during the band actually, because as I said I was 17- I’m like sort of the halfway point in the band, the youngest was 14 when he started, so he was already doing jazz at a school and stuff. Initially, I don’t think anybody was saying “this is what I’m going to do now” but that grew. After a couple of years, you realize, oh, we’re actually doing really good and this might be a career option for us. After a year or two, we started doing shows and pretty big shows at festivals, and then when you notice that there are lots of people coming to your show, you feel the acknowledgment. Holland is very small, but especially with instrumental music, there’s no boundary of language. After a year or three we started doing France and stuff and people came to our shows there, and we realized even people from outside our little country still enjoy us and you start to realize maybe it as sort of global reach if you work hard for it.
Tienson: I think for me it was when we did Lowlands in 2011. Three years before that I went there for the first time to a festival with Gino and I could never have imagined playing there three years later. I was playing African traditional percussion in a lesson every week, but I could never imagine playing in a band with my friends and my family.
How has your sound evolved over time?
Tienson: Yeah, we started here like Gino said, and Sonny came up with a band which he really liked and he saw them in Paradiso (the Budos Band). They were out on Daptone, a really nice label based in New York. So, we actually started covering a song of them, 'Up from the South.' And that was a starting point for us to discover our own taste and start making our own songs.
We were inspired by a lot of African grooves, and funk and also a lot of hip hop, and over the years it became more and more of a mix of a lot of stuff, so like Sonny said it’s dance now, it’s still got hip hop influences, and it still has African influences, but it’s really getting more and more into a sound that we really like. We want to create our own Jungle by Night sauce in a way. It’s really danceable music, but also listening music - it’s got a lot of different things in it. Also, rock elements sometimes because we’re with 9 guys we have a lot of tastes, so it makes it really nice. Also hard because you’ve got a lot of different views. But it’s really interesting to combine these.
How do you write new music?
Sonny: Well, we used to jam a lot. Just hours and hours of playing and improvising and taking small ideas that someone has or something that came up during a soundcheck and working from that. Lately, we have been producing more and more at home as well, which I actually really like as well because you can go into a rehearsal with a real idea already and you don’t have to search so much and then you have a more steady base to work from. Then you can make more music faster and more detailed music as well because your starting point is more evolved.
Especially now at the start of the whole lockdown situation, we just said, “let’s everybody just make an idea every week and work from that and bounce off of each other’s ideas.” Then we said, “next week everybody makes an idea with this particular concept,” and we just did this for weeks. And then when we went into the rehearsal room, we had like 50 grooves to work with, which that was also difficult to choose from. But you don’t have a moment like, “ah, what should we do? It’s difficult to be original.” You have so much to choose from which is really nice.
What have been some of your favorite live performances?
Tienson: The first one that pops up in my mind, immediately for me is Japan. When I think about this, it’s the biggest outcome of a dream for me. Going there and playing shows – we were at a festival called Fuji Rock, and that blew my mind. The people of Japan are so humble and so happy with the music, and so that was really nice.
Sonny: Favorite concert? I think the second time we played Lowlands for me was amazing. Your hometown, your own crowd – I guess you could say that. It was like 8,000 people and I was really blown away by the crowd and the energy they brought to us. We played at 2:00 pm in the afternoon, so I was a little bit skeptical. It’s a big stage but probably everybody is still half asleep, I’m always a bit skeptical just to protect myself or not to expect too much and then rather be very pleasantly surprised afterward. Also, the first time we played the big hall at Paradiso was really amazing. These are all things in Holland, but yeah, also things we grew up with and then to be there yourself is really, really nice and something to be proud of.
Gino: Yeah, basically the same. There was also this concert in Down the Rabbit Hole, which we would really like to be back for - but that was also really special. such a warm reception, the whole crowd was singing a song with the PA that was on right before our song so from the get-go it was a burst of energy. But there have also been smaller festivals like Into the Great Wide Open, I always love to go there and that was really amazing. Um- yeah. There are so many special things to pick from. Also, one time we went to Canada, to Montreal and Quebec. That was really also a special moment for us.
Tienson: When they are telling me their favorite concerts, I don’t know, sometimes I tend to forget stuff because it’s so much. We’re always taking it seriously, always thinking about the future also, so that’s also kind of nice about this period. We saw each other for the first time again with the whole group after months, and we just had a projector installed and we were looking back on old pictures and videos. And you’re like, wow, we’ve done a lot. Sometimes you forget about it because you’re really in your own mind. It’s also this world where you have to be successful and do new stuff and come up with new ideas and you forget about the things you’ve done already.
What are your favourite Jungle by Night songs?
Tienson: I love the song Desdemona. That’s my favourite one because it’s really driving. I like the guitar part in it a lot and the breaks we do as a rhythm section.
Sonny: Yes, I like that as well. Stormvogel is really nice to do live. There’s always a nice energy between us and the crowd with this song which gets my spirits lifted. And there are also songs which I don’t particularly like playing live which I maybe like as much like Pangea or Tasmatica. These are our more mellow songs I would rather listen to at home.
Gino: I like Hangmat, also from our last album. I tend to like or think about the songs we did last because I feel like we developed most, so I’m most happy about the things we did last. But there are also songs from other albums that I totally forget about that have a good atmosphere. But Hangmat is a really nice one and it’s also doing really well. It’s more of a mellow tune, which it’s hard for some of the more mellow songs that we have to play live. But Hangmat is sort of something chill which always works for the crowd, everybody feels like there’s sort of a weight lifted from your shoulders and you can just relax you know that sort of vibe? Hangmat means hammock. So, you know, just hang back and relax.
What inspires you?
Gino: I think it can come from anywhere, also a lot of different styles, so now we are sort of trying to maybe work in sort of projects based and try to find different styles so we have playlists. Multiple playlists that everybody puts together and they’re like inspiration playlists. And then we have certain types of styles, or dance or mellow, and people put songs in there. That’s always a great way to get inspiration from. Just to see what other people listen to from the band, because as we’ve mentioned the tastes are very diverse sometimes, and there’s a common ground. There’s always something to discover in somebody’s personal music. You realize oh, I’ve never listened to that and it’s also very interesting. It’s not something I would put on, but it has interesting views on style.
What are your guilty pleasure songs?
Tienson: I really like this song from Mario, ‘Let Me Love You.’ It was my favourite song when I was 11 or 12. I was singing and looking at myself in the mirror with my shirt off. It doesn’t have anything to do with Jungle by Night but maybe it’s got the mellow vibe of Hangmat a bit.
Gino: I saw a video about Shaggy a while ago, and some of the songs he did I really like actually, they’re fun and the beats are actually quite bumping, yeah- like ‘Mr. Boombastic’ and stuff? Haha, yeah, those are quite cool.
Sonny: A modern-day guilty pleasure which is maybe not a guilty pleasure because it’s just nice is Dua Lipa. She did a Tiny Desk Concert a while back and it’s just a beat machine, bass and guitar, and three vocalists. She’s really nice and there’s some fucking groovy baselines and stuff. I isn’t a guilty pleasure, it’s just good. Who is a guilty pleasure? Justin Timberlake… (sings) Señorita, I fall for you!
Tienson: What about Ritmo De La Noche?
Gino: No, haha. I don’t like that song.
Tienson: So, this is a thing that we have in the band, six people really like this Spanish song, ‘Ritmo De La Noche’ but Gino and Sonny don’t like it. But that’s just a big part of Jungle by Night, some people like stuff and they want to cover it in a show in Spain and you think, do we have to do this? Yeah, we have to do this! Sometimes you have to go with the flow and it’s also part of it. But Justin Timberlake I also don’t think is a guilty pleasure, maybe we have to think better about this.
Tienson: Maybe in a practical way, most of our parents are also artists. For example, our parents are musicians, so that influences you from a young age to kind of have the courage to just go for the stuff you like, for example, music. That inspires you a lot. We did our third show in a squatted place for my brother ten years ago. That was in his gallery in the middle of the center, and he gave us the opportunity to play there.
Sonny: Yeah, I agree with what Tienson said about having creative parents. It helps a lot. And also places like Pacific Park, which isn’t around anymore. Well, a modern version but not what it used to be. This was a really nice place for us. I think it started when we started as a band, around the same time. We used to go there a lot and hear all this like 60’s music but also cool hip hop parties and we got together as a band there very often and were really inspired by the whole creative scene over there. And places like AprileFeeste which is really nice and the Parade.
Gino: I think there are a lot of opportunities and places where people get together, also just from music school. The people who teach you are your mentors all through your career. And if you go to music school, you meet musicians and you keep in touch. There are jam sessions sometimes in the Maloe Melo or Noordelicht, Amsterjam. You have all these things where you can jam with musicians, people alike. There are a lot of nice cool bars and places where people perform their first time, their first gig and you meet a lot of people that way and you stay in contact. People are always very supportive of each other. There are so many friends who make different styles of music and you can help each other out. There’s always somebody who is willing to give you advice about something, so I think it’s just a very supportive community in general.
How has Amsterdam’s musical landscape influenced you as artists?
Which Amsterdam-based musicians should we all be listening to?
Gino: Ah, there’s My Baby and Gallow Street, they are friends of ours. We share a studio together. New Cool Collective are in a way our jazzy predecessors because they are this group of people who have been playing since they were 18 or 20. And now they’re around 50 but they’re still playing together and they’re one of the well-known Dutch jazz-funk bands. They’ve also sort of mentored us. A lot of people who play in that band have kept in touch with us and sometimes we’ve even played together.
Tienson: I think there are a lot of good bands in Amsterdam. There’s a really cool new name, Hang Youth. The drummer is the brother of my girlfriend and they are really doing something great. It’s punk music and I really like their energy. I also like the collective Smip, so, from the Bijlmer, I think they are doing a really good job and also have a big crowd of youngsters behind them. I think my best memory still is hip hop concerts because people are all pumping their fists in the air and you feel kind of in a community when you go to a hip hop concert, so I really like what they do. And also, Josephine, the girlfriend of Sonny.
What advice can you give to aspiring musicians?
Tienson: Don’t be scared to just make stuff. It doesn’t have to be difficult. Just go out and do it and there will always be people who will appreciate what you are doing. We saw some videos of us when we were still small and… We weren’t great. But we just had a lot of energy and that positivity and that eagerness I think sort of transcends skill. Just give it with attitude.
Sonny: I think just work hard. And that’s a cliché, but I think that’s true. There’s so much information out there, on the internet, but don’t only watch those things, do something with it. Don’t be afraid, don’t judge yourself too much when you’re working, just work and experiment. Also try to find people around you to work with and get inspiration from, or get advice from. Try to find those creative bubbles and creative people you like to work with.
The past year has been very difficult. Have there been any takeaways from a year in lockdown?
Tienson: I think it made us stronger in the end. We made a lot of new songs during the period. I actually don’t want to think too much about it because we are doing a good job even with this pandemic. I think it’s really important to not rush too much when you are in this thing. If you want too much nowadays, you get depressed because you can’t do a lot. So, try to fix everything you can and figure out a lot of things, like the stuff you want to do besides music or the stuff you never did before. I never made music at home, so I’m figuring it out right now. And that’s a really positive thing, actually. It brings you a lot of space to clean your house to go through stuff, to clean your mind by cleaning your house, haha!
Sonny: Yoga! Yoga with Adriene, haha. I agree with Tienson. Drink wine and, yeah, try to enjoy it and don’t be too rough on yourself.
We know you have been working on new music. What can we expect from Jungle by Night in the future?
Gino: What can we tell?
Tienson: We probably will be releasing stuff this year. We can’t tell a lot about it. But there will be new music this year from Jungle by Night. And we’re really happy with it. I can’t wait to release the new music. In what way it will be there, in an album or an EP, we don’t know yet. But it will be there. So that’s good news.
Since this interview was recorded, Jungle by Night have announced the release of their 6th album which will be coming out later this year.