Getting personal with Glass Animals
Glass Animals are the chart-topping indie-pop group consisting of four childhood friends: frontman Dave Bayley, drummer Joe Seaward, and guitarists Ed Irwin-Singer and Drew MacFarlane. Their debut album Zaba spawned a platinum-selling single, and was unlike anything mainstream audiences had ever heard before. With the
psychedelic weirdness of Animals Collective, the sexy riffs and vocal arrangements of RnB and the catchy hooks of solid pop music, Glass Animals’ offering is a sumptuous experience for the ears.
Their latest album Dreamland is the band’s most personal yet. Following a tragic incident involving a member of the band, Bayley was prompted to do a deep dive into his own memories and psyche. The result is like witnessing somebody’s mushroom trip from the inside. You revel in second-hand catharsis as he gets things off his chest, amidst a swirl of thick basslines and Lewis Caroll-esque metaphor. Last month I had the pleasure of sitting down with the singer to discuss the inspiration behind the album, gender norms, fruit as
metaphor, the price of fame, Black Lives Matter and much more…
Do you want to talk a little bit about the background to this album and how it came to be?
It’s an album about memory, from my first memory to now. The idea came about when our drummer had a really terrible accident, and we didn’t know if he was going to survive. We were scared about him. Obviously, we cancelled everything. We cancelled all the tour and everything we were doing until next year. I didn’t know if he was going to recover, and he didn’t have the best chance of doing it. So yeah, the future just looked absolutely terrible to be honest.
I was at the hospital waiting for news and there was a lot happening in my life in terms of that. So the natural thing for the brain to do is, well, it goes to the past. It starts finding comfort in memory. It started digging up all sorts of weird bits of the past that were floating around my head. When it looked like he was going to make a good recovery (and he has since made a miraculous recovery) he was like “It’s time to recover and go do some writing”. So that’s what I did: I went to LA and I just started writing. And that’s what came into my head, the personal, and memories.
You’ve previously said that writing about yourself was “selfish”, but what changed your perspective?
It’s a couple of things. My mum always told me that it’s selfish to talk about yourself, and I never did it. I liked writing about other people. And then, the first time I did it was a song called ‘Agnes’. I’d written the song, and I didn’t even want to play it to the band. But I did, and they really liked it, and Joe convinced me to put it on the record. I didn’t want to do that, because I thought it was too personal. But Joe was like “You have to do it, just put it on as the last track”, and the response that people had to it was pretty incredible. I found it difficult to perform it live for a long time. But then, I remember the first time we played it live, a lot of people said that song meant a lot to them. If you can write something really personal, and it means a lot to somebody, even more than a song you might have written about them, then that’s pretty incredible. I realised that a lot of my favourite songs and songwriters are very personal. It makes you feel less alone, if you’re feeling strange, to see somebody else being vulnerable. It makes you feel justified, less lonely.
‘Space Ghost’ is another very personal song, about an old childhood friend of yours who would later try to bring a gun into a school. What inspired the decision to use a very upbeat melody alongside such sombre lyrics?
Well, ultimately that song has kind of an optimistic swing to it. Because the person that it’s about really changed their life and is a new person now. But, I don’t know; I always like the
juxtaposition. A lot of modern soul tracks have always done it. A stomping beat and a catchy melody, but the lyrics are much darker. The juxtaposition between something playful and something really dark and sad can be really powerful. A lot of my favourite books and films do that.
You also write about gender norms on the track. Were you uncomfortable with gender norms growing up?
Definitely, I grew up in Texas. That’s a place where gender stereotypes are very heavily enforced. If you’re a boy you’re meant to be on the football team or play basketball, and I was terrible at those things. So I never quite felt right. That ended up being a good thing, that’s how I found music. But for a long time I felt … out of place. Like I wasn’t good enough.
And the track ‘Space Ghost’ is sort of making fun of what a lot of people in America at that time thought was the cause of bad behaviour and of kids acting out. They were blaming hip-hop and video games. I think ultimately there’s probably much bigger things at play, and that’s what the song is saying. It’s going through a couple of those.
What’s the symbolism of the use of fruit throughout your music?
*Laughs* I love fruit. I love food in general. I think that what people eat says quite a lot about them. I don’t know why. I find a lot of inanimate objects, such as foods, have their own personality. I like using them to describe people. It’s just fun.
What kind of fruit are you?
I don’t know. That’s like asking someone to describe their own personality. It’s quite a tough thing to do. Someone else would be much better at it than me. For example, it’s like tangerine is about somebody who on the outside is tough. They’ve got this sour, waxy, bitter skin. Inside there’s still a softness and sweetness but on the outside, they’ve just been completely hardened over by the world. They’ve made a shell to protect them from everything else.
You decided to postpone the release of the album due to George Floyd situation in America. Do you feel that artists have a responsibility to be activists?
I think everybody in that moment had a responsibility to be active, not just us. Everyone had to be vocal and do what they could to make change and make space for that movement. I don’t think artists have to be political, but it can be a good thing. We realised we had a platform and could potentially do some good there. In fact, we were actually meant to release a song the day after the video was released. George Floyd was dead, and it just couldn’t have felt more like a wrong time. It was then that I realised I could my platform for quite good things. I felt a bit of a responsibility. If you want to stay quiet that’s your thing. I recognise that it’s hard. You’re sticking your neck out. You panic so much about saying something wrong. About messing it up and offending somebody without meaning to. And there is a backlash. Whenever you put up a political post you get a lot of backlash from extremists, saying horrible things. So I understand why people stay quiet, although I’m not sure it’s good enough.
Do you enjoy being famous?
I don’t know. I’m quite shy. I’m happy that the project is successful because it means I’m lucky enough to make music with my friends all day. It is really enjoyable. But do I like being famous? Not particularly. I like being able to go to a shop in my pyjamas with no one saying hi. Being able to be normal. Although, I wouldn’t say that we’re that famous. We’re not Instagram celebs or anything. Social media has never been a huge part of our project.
How do you guys settle on a sound for an album? What’s your creative process?
I tend to have a bit of an umbrella idea. This one’s about memories for example. I asked myself about how I would soundtrack my past? What are the backbones of older music that I grew up with? That would be The Beatles, Beach Boys, American hip-hop like Dr. Dre and Timberland. The next is everything produced by artists like Missy Elliot. Those are the two backbones. Those are the pockets I drew from trying to get a sound for this album. I bought a lot of Beach Boys and Beatles equipment and I resampled it with the sort of samplers that Dr. Dre and Timberland might have used. I sort of get a concept and then get a soundscape based on that. I’ll do rough demos of all the songs. And then I’ll play it to the guys. Sometimes they hate it, most of the time actually, and I have to convince them. *Laughs*
What’s a better feeling than performing live, if anything?
Seeing my mum smile, that’s great. I love that. She hated the album initially. She hated it because I used her voice. She told me “Take my fucking voice off”. But I managed to convince her eventually. She’s my one constant and the album is about memories. She’s part of all of those memories.
Is there anything you want to talk about that you don’t normally get asked about?
Well, I hope people enjoy the album. I’m a bit nervous about this one because it’s so personal. And I feel very lucky to be able to make another album, especially in these crazy times.
Dreamland is out now via Polydoor.