Soul Punk
10:25 pm
Wed January 22, 2014

The Jungle Fire Is Catching On

From left: Matt Berra, James Fields, Justin Haltmar, Kristen Luther, Adam Barr, John Wright, Dan Johanning
From left: Matt Berra, James Fields, Justin Haltmar, Kristen Luther, Adam Barr, John Wright, Dan Johanning
Credit Provided by the band

The Jungle Fire is a seven-piece soul group that has been playing the local scene since early 2011. The sound comes from the musical backgrounds of its members: jazz, classical, punk, alt-country and hip-hop.

Those players start with songwriter and guitarist Dan Johanning, who brought the band together. The rest of the group consists of drummer Matt Berra, bassist Justin Haltmar, organist and vocalist Adam Barr, tenor saxophonist John Wright, flutist Kristen Luther and lead vocalist James Fields. 

The Jungle Fire is developing a reputation as one of the most exciting groups playing around town right now (named one of eight St. Louis bands to watch in 2014 by the Riverfront Times). It has found a signature sound, and after taking a few weeks off from performing is back at it. The Jungle Fire will be at The Demo in the Grove Friday, Jan. 24. We sat down recently with Dan Johanning to discuss all things The Jungle Fire.

Q. This band has an interesting combination of players. How did everything come together?

Johanning: When I started putting the band together, I knew Matt would be interested. I had played in The Argyles and A Picture Book Of Saints with him. Same deal with Justin. We played in The Disappeared together, and I knew he’d be down. I played with John in The Chill Dawgs.

Kristen and I work together, and she overheard me talking about how we needed a flute player. She’s classically trained, so this kind of a band is new to her, but she’s gotten great at finding her voice.

James and I also worked together, and talked a lot about “Struggle Music,” or music with a message. Protest music. I could hear tones from this music in his hip-hop record Open Book. It turned out that he’s an amazing singer, as well as a mathematical Emcee.

I heard Adam while he was playing with Bald Eagle Mountain. He was warming up his keyboard with some jazz one night, and I bothered him until he joined. He’s become one of the anchors of the group since.

Q. You guys have several recordings out. Tell me about those.

Johanning: Carol Ann Session was released in January 2012 on CD and is also available on our Bandcamp page. The New Blood came out in August of that year, and is available in the same format. And, Brothers & Sisters just came out this past July. That’s on CD and online, too.

Q. You’ve been in the studio over the past couple of months, correct?

Johanning: We’ve been recording with Gabe Usery again. We have four songs we are completing right now; two will be used for a split 7-inch with Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band from Minneapolis (which will be put out by local labels Throwing Things Records and Do What? Records), and the other two will be used for another 7-inch that we will put out ourselves. In the past, we just kind of went in the studio, and hammered the songs out. We are spending more time on these songs.

Q. The Jungle Fire calls its brand of music “Raw St. Louis Soul.” What are your influences?

Johnanning: We really like The Meters, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Sly & the Family Stone. We like to think of our songs as “Social Justice Music.” We want peace and fairness for everybody. Keeping government corruption on the forefront by writing protest jams. We bring it a little different from those in the past, but hope to inspire people to love and demand justice for all people. We sing for peace, we sing for people.

Q. Talk about some of your gigs and plans.

Johanning: We played Fair Saint Louis this past summer under the Arch. It was the day after we played a Fourth of July party at Chill Dawg Cove, which is just our friends’ living room. In October, we played the Riverfront Times Best of St. Louis party at Plush, and we won “Best Soul Band.” Schlafly Tap Room and Off Broadway are some other places we regularly play. So you see, our shows have a lot of variance.

In December, we were finalizing the new recordings. And Adam, our keyboard player, was expecting a child. So between those two things, we figured we would take a little time off from playing out.

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