Left to right: Emma Collins, Mattie McCall, Adam Obermeier, Adam Miller, Andrew Smith, and Alex Heaney
Photo by Mitch Mitchell
On a chilly night in early November, I ventured out to U Street Music Hall in D.C. to catch the Lemon Twigs on their fall tour. The venue bubbled with anticipation to see the Long Island duo; little did they know, there was another surprise in store. The stage looked too small to hold the opening band, comprised of six people, that sauntered onstage. Somehow, it managed. From their first song, the audience could see that this group was different. Their lead singer energetically bobbed around the stage, his eyes hidden behind black wrap sunglasses. Mid-song, he ripped off his shirt and leaped into the crowd, where he dropped to the floor and began an intense round of push-ups. Onstage, the guitarists switched instruments, and the tambourine player went into an extreme clarinet solo. It was pure chaos.
This spectacle of sound is Chicago’s own Jungle Green. The band, consisting of Andrew Smith, Adam Miller, Adam Obermeier, Alex Heaney, Emma Collins, and Mattie McCall, is an ever evolving musical project. I had the chance to talk with the band over FaceTime earlier this month, and get to know them better.
“I started making music in 2012 under the name Jungle Green,” Andrew says. “I met everyone through school, and we started forming a band in 2016”.
The group started with Andrew playing concerts, before expanding to its full lineup.
“We were just adding people every show,” Alex adds.
“I started out as a background dancer!” Emma recalls with a laugh.
It is hard to put a singular label on the type of music Jungle Green makes. “[It’s] for people who like 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s rock,” Andrew says, describing the band’s style. “It’s upbeat, zany, pop rock music.”
With a wide range of inspiration, including R. Stevie Moore and Elliot Smith, Jungle Green’s hard to pinpoint sound is no surprise. Some songs sound like the upbeat love ballads of the 60’s, while others have a melancholy tone.
“I think we’re drawn to good songwriting...like the spirit of the Beach Boys, but also acts that deconstruct that,” Alex admits. The complex blend is accentuated by their songwriting process.
“We just jump into it, and things kind of happen,” Alex adds. “It’s a very playful process."
There’s ease in messing around with genre and style. “It comes from a lot of us making music on our own,” Mattie says. “But in the end, it always sounds like us.”
Space Cadet, the band’s first EP together, highlights this unique and collaborative sound through a collection of six songs.
“It was before we were going on tour, and we wanted something to showcase us as a band” Adam says.
Recorded at Mattie’s house over three days, they drew the EP’s material from a wide timespan. Songs like “Girl, I Love You” had been written over a year prior, while others had appeared just months prior. Recorded on a vintage microphone set, the record has a DIY sense to it, giving it a more intimate vibe. They recorded the last track “Happiness” live, and its messy overdubs sound like an early Talking Heads song. The album stays true to the group’s wide range of sound, adding an avant garde twist as well.
Though Jungle Green is primarily self-produced, working with other names in the music industry has been just as, if not more, rewarding for the group. The band recently worked with Foxygen member and producer Jonathan Rado on an upcoming record.
“[Rado] took our demos and turned them into much better songs,” Alex laughs. Rado also provided crucial insight into Jungle Green’s signature sound, advising on how to build upon it.
“He gave me the confidence on how to replicate a genre without copying it,” Emma recalls.
“I used to think I was a one trick pony,” Andrew adds. “[Through Rado], I saw you can have a bunch of different identities.”
The artists Jungle Green have toured with have been just as influential. The band unanimously agreed that their recent string of shows with the Lemon Twigs were their favorites, stating it felt like “an internship”, but one that was well worth the work.
“You become a better musician [through touring],” Andrew says. “It’s super refreshing.”
Jungle Green also played alongside old friend Kevin Basko, better known as Rubber Band Gun, for a few shows. On an off day, they recorded a new song at Kevin’s studio Ancient Dinosaur Sounds, and were able to learn a lot in the process.
Traveling the country is giving Jungle Green the chance to bring their rock and roll circus to a wide range of people. It is truly an experience to see the group live. Onstage, each member goes back and forth between instruments, rotating between drums, keys, and the like.
“Switching instruments keeps the show fun,” Emma says. “It’s fun when we can hear each other.”
Playing smaller venues has also made for interesting and intimate shows.
“I really like the idea of being connected with people in a pretty intense way,” Andrew laughs, referring to his tendency to jump into the crowd and dance around. The spontaneity has spread to the rest of the band, breaking down barriers with the crowd.
“Andrew brought so much energy” says Alex. “We had to match it.”
Enamored by their wild performances and catchy songs, more people have begun to come up after shows and express their love for the group.
“The fact people are interested is so cool” Mattie says. Talking with fans and making these connections is a constant reminder of what the music is really about. “We used to perform shows that were not as well attended...it’s just really appreciated,” she adds.
Jungle Green’s success is only expected to grow. “We’d like to have our album with Rado released, and get our album on a label,” Andrew says, sharing what the band is thinking about next.
“We also want to keep touring with bands we like,” Adam adds. “We’re going to keep writing music and keep pushing through...we’re going to stay positive”.
The group has a few Chicago shows coming up this winter, but for the most part, the future is unknown. Despite this, Jungle Green is intent on moving forward. For these six friends who love what they do, and who they do it with, that doesn’t seem like a problem.
Be sure to listen to Jungle Green on Bandcamp here!