Love Letter To A Record: The Jungle Giants’ Sam Hales On How A Bon Iver Album Changed His Life

Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.

In this new series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.

Here are their love letters to records that forever changed their lives.

Sam Hales, The Jungle Giants: Bon Iver – ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’

Hmm, so how do I go about saying how this record affected me? I guess you could picture me when I was 15 for a start.

A chubby ginger wannabe drummer, with a slick fringe and a huge obsession for death metal. I was going about writing things like “666” on the front cover of my textbooks, in between bouts of scratching drum tabs on desks. This is around the time I was trying to learn how to do that death metal guttural scream thing so I could do some backing vocals for my band, Toxic Symptom. I guess you could say it was a confusing time, but I do remember feeling happy, and I guess I’d formed some kind of identity…even if it was based on the idea that no-one got me the way double kicks did.

Anyway, so that’s 2008 and that’s me. Fast forward to mid-year and a friend shows me a track from Bon Iver – For Emma… on the computers in music class. It was the title track ‘For Emma’. I think at the time it really did nothing for me. First impression probably was that he’d forgotten to record the drums properly. But then, I was at JB-HiFi buying the record.

I guess something about the track had done something to me. I mean, at the time I didn’t feel that at all, but after my next couple of listens through the album, I’d wiped my MP3, put the album on it, decided to stop playing the drums and I started teaching myself the guitar. I guess 15-year-olds are doing these kinds of switches all the time, but a strange thing is I don’t feel like I ever really came out of that particular switch.

It was a real tangible, resonating thing that had happened. This album had offered me everything my tiny brain wanted or didn’t even know it wanted to musically explore. Things that really struck me were tracks like ‘Lump Sum’ or ‘Creature Fear’. Songs that build and build and create this tension that you start feeling above your eyes, or the back of your head. These real physical things that makes you wanna cry or punch something. I’d felt things like that before, I guess, but the difference here was that I was listening over and over again just trying to figure out how the fuck he was doing it.

This was happening over and over again. Tracks like ‘Re: Stacks’ and ‘Flume’. I was listening over and over, trying to figure out how he had made it sound sad but happy at the same time. And as I went, I was playing around with attempting these things myself, by trying to recreate them in little songs I was writing. A big lesson this album gave me is that subtly can often kick you in the balls way harder than a big giant crash cymbal hit or a big smash of distortion.

That got me onto the production side of things. How you can present music to people. One of my favourite things to do now is listen to a song and try figure out what the crux of each section is. Like what is making you feel the thing? Is it the swing of the drums there? Or the freaky tone on that guitar?. Once you figure what it is, you’ve got to know the song a little better. The way this album plays around with such simple instrumentation, but makes such huge affecting sounds really made me look at music and songs in a completely different way.

To sum up, I’m learning and looking and playing around with music all time the time now, and I can credit this album as the thing that took my chubby little 15-year-old ginger head, and shoved a sense of musical adventure in there, that, for better or worse, made me who I am.

The Jungle Giants play Groovin The Moo next month.

Must Read