Space synths, the Cats movie, and Pez dispensers: we sat down with Glass Animals frontman Dave Bayley to chat their striking new album and some other pertinent topics.
Throughout the last decade, Glass Animals have always been there. Their dreamy melodies and whimsical storylines have provided an escape for so many, each track as comforting as your dearest memories and as constant as time itself. From ZABA to How To Be a Human Being, the British quartet have carved through almost every indie-adjacent playlist, set-list, and compilation created since their 2012 debut. Yet, recently, the band did something that neither them or their legion of fans could’ve possibly imagined: they stopped.
Tragedy can do incredible things to a person, particularly to their outlook on the world. For Glass Animals, this change of pace came when Joe (drummer) fell victim to a horrific traffic collision. Learning to walk, talk, and drum again, the event forced all the in the group to take stock of their momentum and reflect back on where they have been. They found a haven in Dreamland: the product of sombre reflections mixed with a Glass Animals dreamscape.
Rumination, anxiety, and appreciation all underpin the band’s latest release. Sonically, the record boasts the band’s quintessential stylings; glossy indie-pop laid over quirky narratives. But there is something weathered about this record. The band refrain rather than saturate, providing the perfect balance of vibrancy and melancholy to filter through. It is bittersweet in every sense of the word: agony, old and new, crystallised into sticky-sweet toffee. Welcome to Dreamland.HAPPY: Hey Dave, congrats on the record! How does it feel to have it all finished?
DAVE: Really good! You don’t really realise how all-consuming it is until it’s finished. I just finished the deluxe version too. So, you’ve always finished the album and then you’re like “yes!” And then your manager is like “alright five more.” So, I’ve just done that and we’ve got a bunch of remixes and some other like weird versions some of the songs. So, it’s like ultimate “woo,” feels good!
HAPPY: Yeah, I can imagine. Like you said, it must’ve been such a consuming process to write it. Could you walk us through the process of creating the record?
DAVE: Yeah, it was quite different to the other ones. I guess the first album very much started with instrumentals and then I put vocals on top. Then the second album was a little bit of that and a little bit of starting with vocals, the song, and the chords. Then this album was like almost entirely the song first. I wrote most of it with… you can see them right there [points to guitar], those are my favourite little things. One’s a guitar that I got for five dollars at a market.
HAPPY: Oh really?
DAVE: It’s a really shit guitar. Whoever owned it before me had animal stickers put on all them and I saw it and was like, yeah, that’s the one isn’t it.
HAPPY: As if you didn’t keep the stickers?
DAVE: I definitely did.
HAPPY: Oh, you did?
DAVE: Yeah, can you see [shows off guitar]? There’s an alligator.
HAPPY: Oh my God.
DAVE: A giraffe and a zebra.
HAPPY: Love it, damn I wish I had that. I’m gonna start putting animal stickers on everything now.
DAVE: Do, it’s really helpful… actually it’s completely useless. Just a laugh. But yeah, I started all the songs either on that bass guitar or this guitar and just singing, making sure that the lyrics, the chords and everything are solid. I really spent a lot of time on the words and getting the melodies right and everything. I think when I did that, I just kind of fit the music around it and felt a lot less pressure to overcrowded it with production. I just sat back on the song a bit more.
HAPPY: Yeah, that’s definitely what I picked up on. Feels like a lot more refined than your past albums.
DAVE: Yeah, I think so. I had a bit of a thing of just throwing everything in and like finding a place for it. I just realised that you definitely don’t need to do that, you need to let the words breathe.
HAPPY: Yeah for sure, something I found really interesting is the fact that you included a couple of collaborations on a record that was basically about your life. What inspired this decision, rather than keeping the project really personal?
DAVE: They help me get something that I can’t get on my own. I’ve previously been a little bit stubborn, that I have to do this myself. I also didn’t know any better. I didn’t know that when we started it was such a small thing, no one wanted to collaborate. We were just a little team, we had a Toyota Camry and we drove it around and that was it. I guess I realised some people can just do things that I’ll never be able to do but can really help take that song to another total level that I couldn’t myself. If you want to get a certain type of emotion or something like Denzel Curry, for instance, just has an energy and swagger that I really wish I could have. And that says quite a lot, I think having a presence like that. He’s untouchable.
HAPPY: He’s an absolute God.
DAVE: Absolutely incredible. And coming to terms with the fact that you don’t have that insane swagger. Part of this record is a lot of realisations like that and being cool with that.HAPPY: Well, the record is definitely different to your past work. Was this the kind of album that you had planned on releasing for the group, or did it just come naturally?
DAVE: It sort of happened. It was a strange one because I’ve always pointed the songs and made them about other people, for the most part. I think that was quite easy for the rest of the band to get into. This being a lot more personal, I think; one, it was about sometimes things that I didn’t really know, and two, I was really protective about stuff. And it’s your baby, when it’s about you, you want to be really careful and make sure you’re not saying anything you don’t want to say. Just want to get it right. So, I think I was definitely more protective and a lot more critical of other ideas coming in. Ultimately it worked both ways. I wanted them to be more critical of stuff I was presenting as well. But I think it worked well. We’re really good at taking criticism from each other which I think helps a lot [laughs]. It’s really important to get criticism and to mediate it and to understand it.
HAPPY: Yeah, you’ve said yourself that the whole concept of a really introspective album kind of ties in really well with the current situation. What role do you feel that music plays in uncertain times like this?
DAVE: It plays a huge role. I’m just trying to think about how I’ve been listening to music lately. I’ve definitely been listening to a lot of stuff that makes me feel comfortable, I think a lot of us are quite uncomfortable. Just because, as I said, I think the future is really just so up in the air, you want things that ground you and make you feel like everything’s actually okay. So, I’ve been listening to a lot of my old favourite records, which weirdly was a lot of the stuff that I was listening to writing this album. I started writing this when Joe had his accident, so I was feeling in that kind of way. I was feeling really shitty about the future and then was just starting to come out of that when COVID hit and I was feeling really shitty about the future again. Yeah, weirdly it has a parallel. I think for a lot of people, this nostalgia is sort of taking over at the moment. I see it a lot in what my friends are like watching on TV, what they are eating, what they’re listening to. Everything has become something that, in a way, reminds them of their past and opens up those old memories for them. I think those have a new freshness for them, they feel kind of new. That’s how we’re experiencing things now. Getting that old shit up.
HAPPY: Getting that good nostalgia going. Obviously, the record itself was very personal to you, but do you ever find it a bit difficult to balance considering the audience when you’re writing a record versus using music as a tool for self-expression?
DAVE: I thought about that a lot more with the second album. We’d been on tour so much at that point that it’s kind of subconsciously all you can think about – how the crowd’s going to react to certain elements in the song you know. When I was starting this record, I didn’t know if we were ever going to tour again. At least not in the same format. I don’t know if I’d want to tour without my friend [Joe]. So, I didn’t really think about that at all. I just thought about how can I make it as vulnerable as possible. Because I started to realise that a lot of my favourite songs by my favourite artists are actually them being really vulnerable. I figured if I could do that, if I could be really vulnerable, maybe it’ll make someone else feel heard.
HAPPY: What are some of those songs for you?
DAVE: [It’s All So] Incredibly Loud is definitely the most like delicate and exposing, Helium as well. It’s actually maybe that one and Domestic Bliss is obviously really sad. There’s a lot of sad stuff on here actually, I’m just looking at the tracklist. Yeah, there’s some vulnerable, deep shit in here. The next album is gonna be all House bangers I promise!
HAPPY: Yeah, pure EDM just to balance it out.
DAVE: [Laughs] See you say that but… Oh, I can’t tell you, I can’t tell you. Something’s coming, there’s something EDM coming.
HAPPY: [Laughs] Well, I’ll expect a full House banger coming from your next release.
DAVE: [Laughs] We’ll see.HAPPY: Something I’d really love to dive into is your open-source website, which is such a great idea. I know for a lot of upcoming artists, it’s really reassuring to have all these amazing resources at their fingertips. What was the purpose of releasing all this material?
DAVE: By the beginning of lockdown, it was really therapeutic to be making stuff. I found doing those covers, the quarantine covers, was such a calming thing. The song was already written and the pieces were there and I could just sit down and play and sing it. That made it so much easier, that twist on making it my own. That gave me the idea of, hopefully, we could provide those kind of starting points for people. I think it’s really hard to know where to begin in the modern age when you have a computer in front of you and it’s literally just endless possibilities. You can do fucking anything with a computer. But, what you really need is like a bike point place to start. That’s basically what we do with open source, just put all the starting points possible onto the Internet for people to use and abuse them, make some sense of. I know so much stuff has been made with it, it’s mind-blowing, really crazy! We just did like this remix competition and we’re gonna release one of the songs with some other stuff in a bit of time… I can’t really say… I need to stop giving away the secrets!
HAPPY: Do people send you all of the stuff they’ve made?
DAVE: Yeah, so that remix competition was amazing. We had like 400 people send songs in.
DAVE: But it’s not just music. We made all the latest artwork in this 3D programme, you can just scan everything on your phone. People had been making my head do crazy things, making my head explode or like roll down the street of New York City. Crazy stuff! It was so creative; someone printed my head and I asked them if we can put it on a Pez dispenser. So, we’re actually going to make a line of Pez dispensers.
HAPPY: Oh my God! I forgot Pez existed!
DAVE: Yeah, it’s great! So I had to take it apart and scan the insides [shows off inside of Pez dispenser] so we can 3D print that onto our heads.
HAPPY: Wow, that’s the greatest merch idea I’ve ever heard.
DAVE: I think it will be funny. We’ve had a bit of time with this whole lockdown situation to really get weird.
HAPPY: [Laughs] I bet! Well the album to me feels very definite and almost conclusive in a way. You’ve already mentioned about the potential electronic route, but where do you see Glass Animals going after a project like Dreamland?
DAVE: I don’t know actually, a few people have asked me. I couldn’t tell you. I have lots of ideas for albums and I sort of start them and then realise… like, I tried to write a whole album about space and I like got all these space instruments. Like this synth over here [points at massive synth], it’s like a space synth.
HAPPY: Oh, it’s gorgeous.
DAVE: I know! I got loads of space shit and all this stuff over here [shows off space shit] that just makes laser noises, which is fucking cool. But anyway, there’s only so far you can go with space, so that died quickly. Did I tell you about the cats?
HAPPY: No, please do.
DAVE: Oh my God. Yeah, I had this nightmare that I have these cats that keep pooping in my garden. So, I’m going to write an album about how to get rid of cats.
HAPPY: Fuck yes.
DAVE: Yeah, I think I’m doing it now.
HAPPY: I mean the Cats world mightn’t be happy with you, but I’d definitely listen.
DAVE: You know, I like Cats.
HAPPY: Did you watch the movie?DAVE: No, I haven’t seen that. Maybe I should watch it? No?
HAPPY: Nah, don’t put yourself through that.
DAVE: OK. I probably wouldn’t have anyway. I’m not really super into musicals. Is that really bad?
HAPPY: No. I mean, I liked the musical and I only watched the movie because Jason Derulo was in it so…
DAVE: Ooh, is he? Now I have to watch it.
HAPPY: I know. I hate that. Kind of makes the entire thing redeemable…
DAVE: Alright, I’m gonna have to buy it now.
HAPPY: Yeah. Go in with a drink or something though, don’t just approach it head-on.
DAVE: Don’t take it seriously? Alright, get some tequila watch Cats, it sounds like the weirdest Saturday night ever. Pez dispenser, watching Cats.
HAPPY: Oh, my God. Well, good luck. That’s all I can say.
HAPPY: Thank you so much for the chat.
DAVE: Yeah. Pleasure, that was fun! I’ll keep you posted on Cats. My review will go up on Instagram for sure.
Dreamland is available now. Grab it here.