Cover Feature: Glass Animals

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Sat in frontman Dave Bayley’s mum’s kitchen the afternoon before they embark once again to foreign shores, every thought is geared towards the future. “We’re going to France, then straight to Australia, then straight to America,” he states. “And then back, and then back to America, and then here, and then Europe, and then back to Australia – I think,” drummer Joe Seaward adds, tentatively. “Tomorrow is like the apocalypse,” Dave concludes.

Indeed there’s every sense that, sat in the “epicentre of Glass Animals”, this is the eye of the storm. The shed where the group first played together sits, slightly damaged, at the bottom of the garden. The living room where the band chose their name is behind a closed door a few metres away. But none of this really matters right now. With their second album about to see release and a seemingly endless string of tour dates about to start, the group – completed by Drew MacFarlane and Edmund Irwin-Singer – are on the verge of something truly spectacular.

“It’s a good apocalypse,” Dave affirms, supported by his band mate’s likening of the situation to “an apocalypse full of unicorns.” “It’s the a-pop-calypse. THE A-ROCK-ALYPSE!” the frontman exclaims, laughing. Shooting down the idea of naming one of their tours as such as quickly as the notion arises, the group contemplate how they “might sell the name of that tour to Slayer.”

The band are no strangers to madcap ideas. Debut album ‘Zaba’ is a tropical venture through abstract lyrics and “peanut butter vibes” that captured the imagination of hearts and minds across the globe – though it’s been a gradual rise. Birthed from all the strange and sensational experiences the group have encountered since then, their new record ‘How To Be A Human Being’ showcases the band at their boldest yet. With a history stretching back a number of years, they had a lot to draw from.

Friends since high school, the four-piece began to make music together in their early twenties. “It’s Dave’s fault,” Joe accuses. “Yeah, I forced everyone,” the frontman admits with a smirk. Initially born out of Dave’s habit of early morning creativity after his late night DJ sets, the group’s addictively out there sound didn’t take long to garner the attention of producer extraordinaire Paul Epworth.

“Dave was so nervous that he fell over on the stage,” Joe fondly recalls of their first performance. “It was awesome!” “Our first show ever, and that was the first thing I did,” Dave cringes, “tripped on a cable and SMACK!” Thankfully, what followed was plainer sailing. The first band to sign to Epworth’s label Wolf Tone, Glass Animals released their debut album in 2014. Vibrant though ‘Zaba’ is, the record gained little momentum upon release.

“We sold about five copies in the first week, but we thought it was cool,” Dave shrugs. “I think our biggest sales week ended up being a couple of months ago for that record.” Reaching new heights two years after it hit shelves, it’s a slow burner, but for those who encountered it ‘Zaba’ is a record with no shortage of spark. The adoration that surrounds the group is impossible to miss, even at home. Part way though this interview Dave’s mum arrives back to the house. “I love them!” she exclaims, throwing her arms around the band, “and I’m their greatest fan!” Such statements aren’t uncommon to hear around the Oxford outfit.

Adoring though their supporters are, it’s taken the four musicians a lot of hard work to reach the point we find them at now. “We kind of got completely ignored by all of the press,” Joe remarks, thinking back to the release of their first record. “So after that it was either sink or swim. We were either going to do something or just disappear off the face of the earth.”

Not ones to vanish completely, the band instead disappeared abroad, where they nurtured a strong following over a series of increasingly large tours. “For some reason, we managed to skate around underneath the radar, and grow this thing in quite a natural way,” Joe explains. “It’s a really cool way round because I think it’s meant that people feel some sort of ownership of [the first album].” Amassing something of an underground following, the group’s status has steadily been on the rise ever since. “Seeing this thing grow has been a really satisfying way of doing it. It’s meant that we can make a record now that we wanted to make without anyone telling us what to do.”

Cue ‘How To Be A Human Being’, an album that explores the very nature of human life in all of its twisted beauty, sadness, and wonder. More direct as it delves into darker topics, the record is a stark contrast to the first album the band released. “We were living alone in our isolated world making music in a shed,” Dave remembers of their debut, “then we were put in this tour bus and shipped off and made to be real people in the real world.”

“It’s a result of being out and about in the world, and experiencing things and people and excitement,” Joe expands of their new release. “I think we’ve probably changed a bit as people. Or I hope we have. That probably is reflected in the music.” Bolder, braver, and richer, the album is worlds apart from the music the band was making two years ago. Travelling from country to country as they forged their strengths and their sound under the stage lights, the band’s exploration led directly to this second record, charting their journey “from being little glass animals into actually becoming real people.”

The songs themselves are inspired by the real people the group encountered along the way. “We were waking up in different cities every day, meeting so many people,” Dave recalls. “I started recording them on my phone and making these little stories. I thought it might be interesting to write my own versions of those.” Tumbling through a rabbit hole of possibilities as he imagined behind the curtains of strangers lives, the resulting songs are each a world of their own creation.

“People say really striking things to you, amazing things,” Dave marvels of their time on the road. “Some of the stories are mad, absolutely MAD.” From heart-breaking tales of loss, death, violence, confusion, to people trying (and failing) to give themselves a blow job every morning, the frontman took this “weird array of stuff” and began to weave a web of addictive melodies and enthralling narratives. Drawn from real lives, the songs paint a picture of existence in all its messed up, muddled up, topsy-turvy glory.

“The way that people tell you all of those things is so funny,” Dave describes. “Listening back to all of it, people tell you things with this frankness. They’ll tell you a very sad story, and be kind of smiling. Not because they think it’s funny, but because it’s conversational.” Pushing the dual elements of emotion and elation into his writing, the resulting songs are upbeat with an undercurrent of very real anguish. Multi-faceted, contradictory, outrageous in places and contagious in others, each track is a glimpse through a usually closed window of existence.

It can be dark, it can be dismal, it can even be euphoric, but whatever the emotion, Glass Animals convey it with an unshakable candour and sincerity. “There are all of these people living very strange lives, amazing lives, weird lives,” Dave explains of the concept. “Their stories are in the songs, along with the things that hold them all together.”

“What I tried to take away from the original stories is the way that people told stories. I’d try to write them in that style,” he continues. “Then I took that even further and I started writing about what they ate, what they wore, where they lived, what their house looked like, what their favourite thing was, their fetishes, everything.” Compiling a series of documents from which these lives bled through, as the band returned from touring abroad the frontman got a taxi straight to the studio to immediately begin bringing these characters to life.

“He crafted these little beasts and brought them to us,” Joe recalls of the earliest demos for the record. “We sat down together and threw as many ideas as we could around.” “It was definitely the most productive week I think I’ll ever have,” Dave chuckles. Building from brainwave after brainwave, it took only a matter of weeks before the group had their second album written and ready to record. “It was this thing that just kind of snowballed,” Joe describes. “It felt very natural. It happened in a very satisfying way.”

Bringing their vision into cohesion, and giving it life, ‘How To Be A Human Being’ was born out of a strikingly different process to the album the group recorded only two years earlier. “I think the main thing that was different is us, in a weird way,” Dave ponders. “We were quite self-conscious making that first record. We over-analysed everything. I was worried what my friends would think of it, and what my mum would think of it. The lyrics are really cryptic. The music is a bit safe in parts. It’s shy.” Having spent two years performing miles from home, the group had shaken off their musical inhibitions, and their reaffirmed confidence became a defining aspect of the new sound they went about creating.

“If we had crazy ideas we weren’t afraid to put them down,” Dave portrays. “There are some crazy, very angular structural chord changes going on. The lyrics are definitely a bit gnarlier. The whole thing’s more raw.” Less afraid of making mistakes, ‘How To Be A Human Being’ incorporates a lot of first takes and cuts from the initial laptop-recorded demos, showcasing a more fervent and more organic side to the band.

“You can get the nicest guitar and amp and studio and microphones in the world and not be able to capture the same thing,” Joe explains of their more instinctive approach to recording. “It may be that you can play it better, and the sounds could be better, but you just lose some of the instantaneousness. Sometimes the mistakes are the things.” No longer striving for a perfect ideal, the band instead drove towards “something that offers more feeling.”

Making a record so focused on human character, feeling is an integral aspect of the record. To bring that to life, the group began to extend the concept of character beyond the album itself. “What we actually ended up doing was running a casting based on my documents,” Dave reveals. “We cast all these actors.” Portrayed in the album artwork and the record’s accompanying music videos, this cast of eleven allowed the band to recreate the worlds within their songs in their own reality, quite literally.

“Actors are pretty good,” Dave embellishes. “They read these documents, and they show who they think the person is in their face. You can really start to do interesting things when you have it scripted like that, and you’re using actors instead of models. It becomes a bit deeper.” Creating varying artworks to be used across the varying formats, each version of the record gives a greater insight is given into the lives of the songs. “In different album covers you can see some of the different aspects of each character,” the frontman illustrates. “Inside the album there’s even more. We built a room for each of the characters: a living room, or a bedroom, or where they worked, so that’s an even further look into their lives.”

An ever-broadening concept, it’s increasingly difficult to tell where the line between each product or tale ends or begins. “It’s one of those things that you can kind of look into it as much as you want to,” Joe clarifies. “If you just want to see a nice picture or listen to a simple song, then that exists, but there’s the opportunity to invest in everything, which is really cool. If someone wants to know more, there’ll be wormholes you can disappear down. It’s been really exciting to create.”

With a bolder sound and a bigger concept comes even bigger stages: the group are gearing up to play their biggest UK show to date at The Roundhouse this October as part of their upcoming UK tour. “That’s why we’ve chosen The Roundhouse, you can fit our new stage design in there,” Dave laughs. Having played shows in America on stages decked out with twenty foot palm trees and giant lamps, the group couldn’t be more excited to be bringing that sense of theatricality back to the UK. “We’ve done some big places in America, but it feels much bigger doing it at home,” Dave enthuses. “It’s what we know, it’s what we’ve grown up with,” Joe continues. “Our friends understand it. And finally we’ll be there.” “It’s definitely more meaningful to us,” Dave agrees. “It’s more personal.”

Venues like this one are a far cry from where the band started out. “I remember going up to our show in Liverpool and we’d sold about three tickets,” Dave admits. “They told us they hadn’t made enough to buy any water for our rider,” Joe divulges. The days of sharing one beer between the four of them have long passed. Since then, the band have sold out every one of their headline tours. “Maybe we’re just booking really, really small venues all the time,” Joe muses with a grin. “It just makes us feel really good about ourselves. It’s a consistent confidence boost. Ten tickets. Sold out. We’ve done it.”

The days of worrying about ticket sales are also far behind them. “Selling out a venue’s cool because it means it’s full, and that normally means that’s the atmosphere’s kind of electric,” Joe describes. “But if we sell less tickets and everyone’s excited to be there and we’re in a beautiful place and having a good time… The performance and the atmosphere and the relationship between whoever is in the crowd and the band is much more important.” Not that they need worry – the excitement that surrounds the band right now is so rich it’s practically corporeal.

With their new album ready to drop, and a lot of tour dates imminent, Glass Animals’ future is shining brighter than ever. As for what else could lie down the road? “Blueberry muffins,” Joe hankers. “I can tell Joe’s hungry,” Dave laughs. “We’ve got a lot of ideas, crazy ideas,” he continues more seriously. “We’ve got huge ideas for the stage, so it’d be good to expand that. There’s a lot of artwork and stuff in the pipeline that I’ve been slaving away on. And then there’s more music…” he hints. “We’re always doing collaborations. We’ll do a couple more. Things are always happening.” Unwilling to reveal any more just yet, for now the group are keeping their tricks hidden firmly up their sleeves. “We’re keeping ourselves busy. There’s always a lot cooking.”

Evidently not ones to slow down, Glass Animals are sat at the start of a brand new chapter of their lives – and it’s sure to be spectacular. “We are really proud of [the new album],” Joe gushes. “Ultimately, we’re the people that have to live with this thing. It has our name on it. We have to play it every day and talk to people about it and be excited about it. If other people get it and like it too, then that’s really fucking cool,” he concludes. “And quite strange. It still slightly blows my mind.”

Glass Animals’ album ‘How To Be A Human Being’ is out 26th August. Taken from the cover of the August issue of Dork – order a copy now.

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