THE INTERVIEW: GLASS ANIMALS
The British quartet’s unique brand of R&B-infused indie pop is winning fans across the globe. Natalie Hughes meets lead singer Dave Bayley to talk music, style and home comforts.
British band Glass Animals has become known for the kind of intricate beats and esoteric lyrics that only come with age and experience. After all, the Oxford four-piece – made up of school friends Dave Bayley, Drew MacFarlane, Edmund Irwin-Singer and Joe Seaward – were relatively late to the music game; they each chose to complete university degrees before they released a record, which is rare in an industry where teenage high-school dropouts are par for the course.
Evidently, good things come to those who wait; the band was one of the first acts to be signed to Wolf Tone – the label of Paul Epworth (super-producer for the likes of Adele and Florence + The Machine) and to date, have racked up over three million monthly Spotify listeners, abundant praise from critics and success in the US, where they’re currently touring. But not before a jam-packed few months of live shows across the world. ‘I’m at some festival in Delaware,’ lead singer Bayley tells me when I call him for our interview. ‘We don’t get much time [to explore], but when we do get the chance, we fully try to immerse ourselves in the local spirit and culture. We end up doing some pretty bizarre things. Really divey bars with crazy locals everywhere.’
Eclectic encounters were the main source of inspiration for Glass Animals’ second album, How To Be a Human Being, the contrastingly punchy follow-up to the glitch-laden, tropical-psych debut, Zaba. As the name might suggest, HTBAHB is concerned with human experience – apt, considering that Bayley qualified in neuroscience and Seaward studied anthropology. Bayley captured phrases and conversations with strangers and approached the character development with novelistic precision. ‘I had these little ideas of characters that would come from things I heard or saw,’ says Bayley. ‘Little phrases that people said, people I’d met. [I’d] do a whole spiel on what they wore and what they did with their time and what their house was like and what TV shows they watched, everything. I kind of knew everything about these people, and that would really help develop the rest of the lyrics.’ Soundtracks to the characters’ favourite TV shows even informed the sound of the resulting tracks, in the form of samples and sound effects – an interesting supplement to the record’s captivating riffs, smooth R&B grooves and boisterous melodies.
Glass Animals’ inspirations are as eclectic as you’d expect. Bayley’s influences include The Beach Boys (‘I think they’ve written some of the most beautiful songs’); 1970s German experimental band, Can; and ‘a lot of hip hop’, which soundtracked his boyhood in Texas [his family moved to the UK when he was 13]. ‘I [also] listen to a lot of strange electronic music,’ he says. ‘And new young producers who make strange noises.’ The band members contribute to a collective Spotify playlist to share others’ new music. ‘Every week we add four songs to it,’ says Bayley.
Glass Animals are no strangers to picking a theme and running with it, which loosely extends to their style. ‘I guess, when we first started the band, I tended to wear colours that fit the album artwork and the music,’ says Bayley. ‘So, with the first album, the colours were a lot darker, and kind of richer. Maroons and teals and black. For this album, it’s a lot brighter and wilder and slightly more faded… [more] LA.’ The band’s self-styled tour uniform consists of brightly-hued bomber jackets, tie-dye T-shirts and densely-patterned shirts.
Their sound – and shirts – may be bolder and brighter this time around, but it’s by no means obvious. The musical introverts who favoured Zaba’s fuzzy, indecipherable sounds and intricately layered beats will enjoy discovering HTBAHB’s secret errors, which Bayley purposefully left in. ‘I started liking the little mistakes that you make on the stage. So there are a lot of those in the new album.’
‘Touring will probably end in December,’ says Bayley. Is there anything he misses while on the road? ‘It’s actually a bit dorky, but I miss home-cooked food. I like making chilli [with] lots of vegetables. We don’t get many good vegetables on tour. So, it’s nice to try and get the vitamins back when you come off it.’