See the rest of our Mittenfest coverage:
→ Overview of the festival with music samples
→ The Avatars interview
→ The Belle Isles interview
→ Blue Jeans interview
JUNGLEFOWL’s goal is to “redefine cock rock,” and the duo goes about achieving it with an extra fuzzy psychedelic blend of garage-rock and post-punk.
Comprised of married couple Melissa Coppola on drums and vocals and Stefan Carr on guitar, JUNGLEFOWL released its first EP, STRUT in 2015, and this year will play Mittenfest XI on New Year's Eve, just before the midnight champagne toast. Coppola and Carr have been playing music their whole lives and are both music teachers when they’re not blasting out JUNGLEFOWL tunes in their basement.
Pulp talked with the couple to get a feel for their sound and influences and to find out what’s next for the rock duo in 2017 after their year-ending Mittenfest show.
Q: You have a pretty minimalist setup for the band: just the two of you and drums, guitar and vocals. Why did you decide to keep the band just the two of you and why do you think it works so well?
A: Coppola: Stefan and I originally started playing together because I filled in on drums in his other project, The Loveseats, a rock trio with two basses and drums. We moved in together and started playing as a duo because it just made sense. He really wanted to play guitar, and I had some lyrics written. Honestly, JUNGLEFOWL was sort of born out of convenience.
Keeping the lineup small is also somewhat out of convenience because it's just so easy to schedule practice with two people and we practice in the basement. We like the challenge of filling out our sound with just two musicians and think it works pretty well. Originally a bass player, Stefan is pretty good at thinking up ways to cover both bass and guitar roles. However, we have been known to occasionally play as a trio -- Jamie from the Erers will sometimes play bass with us when we play shows.
Q: Stefan, what influenced your guitar sound?
A: Carr: I grew up listening to a lot of the Beastie Boys, so songs like “Gratitude” and “Sabotage.” “Go!” by Tones on Tail as well. I also can't not mention The White Stripes. I've always loved fuzzy, dirty bass tones, and for JUNGLEFOWL I'm sort of translating that to guitar.
Q: You two are married in real life. Did you form the band before or after you became a couple? What about being in a band together adds to or challenges your marriage?
A: Carr: Both of us are teachers, so we spend a whole lot of our time teaching other people's music -- the band is a great creative outlet for us and has made for some fun and interesting experiences. The greatest challenge is probably finding the time and motivation to practice, and life occasionally gets in the way.
Q: Melissa, you had a band previously that had a more folk sound. What made you want to transition to rock? Are there plans to make JUNGLEFOWL any more folk-like in the future?
A: Coppola: I think I started getting more interested in rock music after I started volunteering with Girls Rock Chicago and learning to play drums in 2012. My background is in classical piano, but I've been enjoying progressing as a drummer through the local music scene. And we definitely have no plans to make JUNGLEFOWL any quieter! However, we have been experimenting with our sound recently; we've played a few small shows with me playing keytar and Stefan on drums. It's been really fun changing up our sound, and I suspect that as we record more, we'll be adding in more electronics.
Q: JUNGLEFOWL plays shows all over Southeast Michigan. What do you like about the music scene in the Ann Arbor/Ypsi/Detroit area?
A: Coppola: We love the diversity in the types of music on the scene. The Mittenfest lineup represents it so well! It's also super cool that the network is so closely knit.
Q: You released STRUT in 2015. How has your music evolved since you first started playing together? Is there another album in the works?
A: Coppola: In general, I think we've grown into our sound -- Stefan's added a few pedals, and I've become a more confident singer-drummer. We're working on a new EP with Rishi Daftuar [from Tanager] in Ypsilanti and taking some time to really play around with the recordings. Our first record, STRUT, was a little more bare bones in terms of instrumentation, but now we're hoping to flesh out the sound more this time around. Both Stefan and I are multi-instrumentalists, we're like kids in a candy store inside the recording studio; when we write, I think we really hear it with more in our heads -- harmonies, bass lines, organ -- so recording gives us an opportunity to explore beyond what we can produce on stage.
Q: The sheer number of bands that play at Mittenfest makes for limited stage time for each one. What do you guys like about playing a short set like the ones at Mittenfest? How do you get into the atmosphere of the show in such a limited amount of time?
A: Coppola: Short sets usually mean that bands are going to be playing their favorite and best songs. It's like hearing the "greatest hits" of local music back-to-back, which is fun for everybody. I think it's really easy to blend into the festive atmosphere because it's kind of like a musical relay race -- everybody's excited, you get to carry the energy over from the previous act and pass it on to the next.
Q: Mittenfest is a benefit for 826michigan, an organization that works with young people on writing and creative skills. Were there any organizations or mentors early in your music career that encouraged or influenced you? I know that Melissa works with Girls Rock, and so has been a mentor herself.
A: Carr: I used to be a part of an Aspiring Musicians Club in high school that one of my teachers led after school. That was my first opportunity to play with other people and really motivated me to continue.
Coppola: I started taking classical piano lessons when I was 6 and didn't have too much exposure to other music until I got to high school. I think playing with the jazz and marching bands were really influential on my playing and interests as I continued to study music through college. I think my delayed start to playing other types of music is why I'm so involved with directing the Girls Rock Detroit program -- I wish it was around when I was little! It's the most rewarding thing for me to see young women have these awesome experiences so early on in life.
Elizabeth Pearce is a Library Technician at the Ann Arbor District Library.
Mittenfest XI takes place December 29-31 at Bona Sera, 200 W Michigan Ave, Ypsilanti, MI, 48197. Music starts at 8:00pm every evening. $10 cover benefits 826michigan. JUNGLEFOWL will play Saturday, December 31 at 11:00pm.