A Strip Club, Pineapples, & Loads Of Cereal: Glass Animals On The Stories Behind ‘How to Be a Human Being’Written by Sally McMullen on December 19, 2016
Strip clubs, split personalities and loads of cereal. Sounds just like all the makings of a killer second album, right? Well, it was for indie rockers Glass Animals.
The follow up to their 2014 debut Zaba, the UK quartet’s new record How to Be a Human Being is a chronicle of different characters across 12 tracks. Lead vocalist and frontman Dave Bayley was clearly overwhelmed by sources of inspiration from their two years on the road. So, rather than purely drawing on his own experiences, he also decided to retell the stories of others for the narrative of the record. While some are strange and some are sad, a lot of them are just from random conversations Bayley had (and sometimes even secretly recorded) with strangers.
An extremely visual lyricist, Bayley does a beautiful job of recreating the stories so that you can’t help but picture the characters in your mind as you’re consuming each track. To create something unique, they also avoided listening to any modern music during the writing and recording process. Plus, rather than starting with beats and electronic soundscapes as they had in the past, the skeleton of How to Be a Human Being was shaped by chords, vocal lines and lyrics. The final product is much more stripped back and varied than the first record.
This creative and sonic vision ties into everything from the album artwork and the music videos to the stage set up. And you can see the latter for yourself in the new year. Glass Animals will be bringing their new record down under for St Jerome’s Laneway Festival in January and February 2017, as well as for two extra sideshow dates.
With Laneway fast approaching, we had a chat with Bayley about the creative process behind the album, harnessing his influences for the record and why you should consider packing a pineapple and a protective helmet for their next gig.
Music Feeds: Congrats on the release of How to be a Human Being the other month, man.
Dave Bayley: Thank you! It feels good. Feels proper like having a baby (laughs).
MF: Your little bundle of joy.
DB: (Laughs) Yeah, exactly.
MF: So it’s been a few months since the album was released. Have you been happy with the reaction to it so far?
DB: Yeah, it’s been wicked! It gets to the point where you’re so close to the music that you don’t really know what to think. You kind of go through these phases of thinking “Oh, maybe this is good, maybe this is awful” and you really don’t know. But, amazingly, people have been singing the words back at shows and yeah, it’s been amazing.
MF: You wrote the album in a week and a half. Was it difficult trying to pack two years of experiences and influences into a new body of work in such a short amount of time?
DB: Yeah, it was tricky! (laughs). I think the main thing that was tricky was trying to get everything down quickly enough. I had loads and loads and loads of ideas and they were coming out a million miles an hour. So, in a way, it was easy because I wasn’t sitting there smashing my head against the wall trying to come up with ideas but it was a really intense period of life. I was just recording everything and running around and sleeping for three hours a day maximum and eating loads of cereal (laughs). So, it was difficult in that way and probably not good for my health. But, I was actually quite lucky it was easy in other ways.
MF: The album is driven by the stories of different characters, some of which were inspired by conversations you’d recorded over the years. What was one of the craziest, funniest or most inspirational stories you heard that inspired a song?
DB: Yes, oh my god, so many stories. Some of them are disgusting, like really disgusting. Some are hilarious and some are really sad. I don’t know, what do you want to hear? Sad? Disgusting? Scary?
MF: Whichever was the first story to pop in your head when I asked that question!
DB: The first one that popped into my mind? Quite a dark one but I don’t know if I want to say the dark one because it can weird people out (laughs).
MF: Even better. Go for it!
DB: Ok, so this lady was driving me and my little brother in a taxi in Atlanta when he visited me on tour for a little bit. We drove past a strip club and the taxi driver pointed at the strip club and said, “I’ve got a story about that strip club.” And my brother and I were like “Yeah? Tell us then.” So, basically, she told us that she used to drive these trucks long-haul across the country and the best way to make money driving long-haul trucks was to do as many drives as you could quickly. And the best way to do that was to take loads and loads of hard drugs like cocaine, crystal meth, and uppers to stay awake and do a couple of laps of the states and deliver the packages and scoop up loads of cash. She said that one day she was driving a truck full of packages and was taking crystal meth and cocaine, I think, and basically took too much and totally blacked out.
So, she woke up in a strip club and was like “Oh my god, where am I?” and asked one of the strippers “Where am I?”. And the stripper turns to her and says “You’re in the strip club, baby.” And she was like “I know, but what state am I in?” So she literally had no clue where she was and had no idea how long she’d been out for. But it turned out she’d been blacked out for a whole month and she’d lost her truck. And for some reason she woke up with this weird feeling of guilt that she’d killed someone and she doesn’t know why. She still has this unexplained feeling of guilt and still feels like she’s killed someone but she’ll never be able to prove to herself what happened and she said it haunts her every day. So, I was just trying to imagine how that felt and yeah, it was crazy.
MF: Woah! That is a lot crazier than I expected. I feel like that would’ve been so overwhelming for you to process. How did you manage to articulate something so removed from your own experiences in a song?
DB: Well, that’s it, you kind of have to take the emotion and response that you have to that story and try to recreate it with a new character and a new story. So, for instance, with that tale about the driver, I was trying to put myself in her shoes and how she must’ve felt in that particular moment when she woke up in a strip club feeling like she’d killed someone. So my goal was to try to create that atmosphere and that emotion in a song and music.
MF: I’d read that when you create these characters for the album, you go as far as thinking about what they would eat or wear or how they’d behave. Are these characters that you just let go of when you’re finished writing or are they constantly developing so you can revisit them in future work?
DB: It is weirdly constantly developing. We’re doing all of these websites and bits of extra material for each of the characters. We’re doing it so if people want to get a background on some of the characters and lyrics and references that they maybe wouldn’t have got before [they can]. So, they are still evolving in a weird way. So, they do become proper real people to me (laughs). So, I’m doing everything I can to make them exist. One of them has got a Tumblr, one has a weird old GeoCity, I don’t know if you remember GeoCity, but one of them has got one of those. One is about to come out with a video game. Yeah, all sorts of stuff.
MF: Wow, that’s awesome. When you’re performing live, do you try to take on these different characters and make them come to life on stage as well?
DB: Yeah, well even when we were recording the songs I was trying to get into character a bit and put on different voices and get into some of the songs. One of the songs is about a homeless guy, so I went outside to record it so I could get the atmosphere. So, it’s a similar kind of thing on stage, just trying to get into that head space just like in the studio. Sometimes I get there, sometimes I don’t (laughs). It depends on the atmosphere from the show. It’s like trying to get back into that character’s brain for a few minutes every day.
MF: It seems like you weren’t short of sources of inspiration when writing the album, but I understand that you refused to listen to any modern music to avoid it influencing how the album would sound. What were some of the influences that you and the guys drew from if it wasn’t your contemporaries?
DB: Yeah, I guess I was just influenced by whatever noises popped into my head and tried to run with it or catch it on synthesisers. That’s why it was kind of intense running around the studio and trying to make all of these sounds. It could take years for you to try to get one sound that it’s your head, so it was kind of a balancing act of finishing songs and getting sounds close to what you imagined. So yeah, I was just running with what popped into my brain. I guess all of those sounds were probably there because of what I had listened to in the past. I imagine everything I’ve ever listened to is kind of shaken up in my brain and that’s what was coming out sonically.
MF: The first two singles and music videos from the album, Life Itself and Youth, follow the same narrative. Do you guys have plans to release a third video to make it a trilogy?
DB: Yeah, we thought about it for a bit and we might do another one if we release another song as a single that that draws from the same characters. We’ll see. We’re not quite Beyoncé who can afford to do a video for every song. We’re not quite at that stage yet (laughs), maybe we’ll get there one day but for the meantime we’re going to do our best.
MF: Ok, cool. So I’ll expect a full visual album for the next record then.
DB: (Laughs) We’ll see. We’ll do our best to convince the label to let us.
MF: Nice. Can’t wait (laughs). So, the band is coming down under for the 2017 Laneway Festival. It boasts a pretty insane lineup, who are you most excited to share the stages with?
DB: I was thinking about this the other day, actually. Tame Impala are headlining, who are always great. So that’ll be wicked. Chet Faker who we’ve played with a few times in the States, so that’ll be cool. There are a couple of people who I haven’t seen that’ll be quite cool to see. Car Seat Headrest, that’s going to be wicked. I’ve heard great things about his live show and Nao, she’s from England as well so it’ll be cool to catch one of her shows.
MF: You guys will also be playing a few headline shows. What are you looking forward to the most about that?
DB: Yeah, I’m pretty psyched! It’s exciting to do some headline shows. We have this big set design and a huge gold disco ball and cactuses and things that we tour with. So, we’re working to bring that all to Australia to do something really different and really special. With festivals you can only do so much when you have 15 minutes to get on and off the stage. So we’re excited to bring this whole production over.
MF: That sounds awesome. So there’s obviously a certain vision that drives the album. Do you take the same approach with the live shows?
DB: Yeah, of course. I feel like it’s all got to fit together. The live show, the music, the artwork. It’s all got to come from the music of course, but it’s all got to complement each other and hopefully create a bigger beast. If it all fits together really nicely it just feels better in my head. I’ve seen a lot of live shows where the stage production has nothing to do with the artwork or the music and it feels wrong to me. I like it all to complement each other. The stage show can really complement the music and make more of the music if you do it right. Same with the artwork. It can give you a bit more insight, more context.
MF: What have been some of your favourite songs from the new album to perform?
DB: They’ve all been pretty good, but I think that the best one has been Pork Soda. It’s got a cheeky chorus hook and it’s quite chanty, so people tend to sing it back and it’s quite fun. We also have this thing where people tend to bring pineapples to shows for some reason. I don’t know why. So we’ll get between six and 20 pineapples brought to every show now. It’s crazy! So at the end, I tend to throw all of these pineapples that have made it onto the stage back into the crowd and that normally happens during Pork Soda as well. So that’s always fun. Hurling pineapples into a sea of people.
MF: Hopefully not too aggressively. I feel like pineapples have the potential to be a pretty painful fruit to get hit in the head with.
DB: Yeah! I feel really bad and I definitely hurt someone once. We were on this huge main stage at a festival in Austin and there must’ve been like 30 feet between me and the first row and I threw the pineapple like an American football and this poor girl in the front row, it went straight for her head. Luckily she ducked and it hit this big bro in the chest, but it left like a huge welt on his boob (laughs). So since then I’ve been trying to be a bit more gentle. Gently tossing them into the crowd.
MF: Well, I’ll make sure to wear a helmet at your next show then.
DB: Yeah, bring a pineapple and pack a helmet.
MF: Maybe I’ll bring a softer fruit. A punnet of strawberries or something.
DB: Oh, that’s a nice idea! Not something under ripe, though. Maybe something just beyond ripe so they’re a bit squishy.
MF: Either that or we could go to the extreme and pack some coconuts or something really lethal.
DB: (Laughs) That could be really dangerous! But you’d be fine, just watching with your helmet on as people get lobbed in the head with coconuts.
MF: Exactly. I’ll just be cackling maniacally in the corner.
DB: (Laughs) You’re mean!
MF: Well, you’re the one throwing pineapples at your fans.
DB: Ok, that’s true. It’s a truce then.
Glass Animals will be here for St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival plus two sideshows.
Glass Animals 2017 Laneway Festival Sideshows
Tickets on sale now.
Wednesday, 25th January
Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Tickets: XIII Touring
Tuesday, 9th February
Town Hall, Melbourne
Tickets: XIII Touring