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Alice Glass: “I Want To Expose This World Of Predators That Exists Everywhere”

CONTENT WARNING: The following article mentions allegations of abuse.

Canadian avant-pop trailblazer Alice Glass is coming into her own as an artist with a long-awaited solo debut, PREY//IV, some eight years after she ended her troubling time fronting the electro-noise outfit Crystal Castles – and an allegedly abusive relationship. And, while the past feels ultra-present, Glass emerges as furious, defiant and very punk. “This record is a pile of old energies,” Glass proclaims. “We were gonna call it like Memories Of Dead Leaves because it’s about things that have come and gone emotionally and that have affected you – but we carry on…”

Today Glass – real name Margaret Osborn – is conducting interviews from Los Angeles via Zoom, her video off. At times, the 33-year-old seems cautious, but she’s generally assured and even witty, her speaking voice strong and sonorous.

Conspicuously, Glass never mentions Crystal Castles, let alone her former bandmate Ethan Kath (Claudio Palmieri), by name. The singer/songwriter was 15 when she met the older Kath, a local rock star, in Toronto. Leaving home early due to discord with her Catholic parents, she’d performed in an all-girl punk band, Fetus Fatale, while trying to finish high school. Crystal Castles launched in 2006 and went on to release an album trilogy, collaborate with The Cure’s Robert Smith, and tour solidly – twice hitting Big Day Out (once, in 2011, as Glass suffered from a broken ankle). In 2014 Glass announced her departure on Twitter (see also here and here). Kath dismissed Glass’ musical involvement – which she’s always resolutely challenged – and replaced her with another (shadowy) vocalist. It wasn’t until 2017 when, empowered by the #MeToo movement, Glass felt ready to elaborate. She posted a statement on her website alleging that Kath had subjected her to sexual, physical and psychological abuse starting in her teens. Kath denied the accusations and sued for defamation, but his case was dismissed in 2018.

In 2015 Glass aired a glitchy first solo single, ‘STILLBIRTH’, collaborating with former HEALTH member Jupiter Keyes. In fact, Crystal Castles’ early single, ‘Crimewave’, had been a “versus” with HEALTH. HEALTH likewise remixed Crystal Castles’ ‘Suffocation’, which Glass attributes to Keyes. “I thought it was really sad-sounding – like Jupiter has a very sad soul,” she says. Having reasserted her creative agency, Glass issued an eponymous EP – the video for the single ‘Without Love’ directed by Floria Sigismondi, who made The Runaways bio-pic. She has continued to air loosies. Yet Glass’ music has consistently thematised the dynamics of toxic and abusive relationships – generating a narrative of survival. If Crystal Castles felt nihilistic, then Glass’ new music was purposeful.

In 2017 Glass opened for Marilyn Manson on a North American tour – a big deal at the time, predating last year’s allegations by multiple women that he psychologically and sexually abused them. But, when the rocker rescheduled dates due to a stage injury, Glass pulled out. “I will definitely confirm that he’s a creep,” she says. “To be honest, I wasn’t on that tour that long – and I’m glad I wasn’t on tour that long is what I’ll say.”

The next year Glass returned to Australia as a solo artist with Zola Jesus, selling out her performance at Hobart’s countercultural carnival Dark Mofo. “Oh my God, that was one of the coolest festivals ever.” She admired the controversially blasphemous inverted crucifixes.

In LA, Glass has found solidarity with the queer community, DJing at HEAV3N – the late SOPHIE a regular. “My best friend Lulo, who is trans, has been throwing this party HEAV3N for almost 10 years now – it’s probably been eight years – and it’s the best party in LA. She has excellent taste. There are just so many talented artists there, not to take inspiration from, but it’s a really inspiring community – and the most confident queens and performers.

“You hang out and share a cigarette or something, you find out that people have really dramatic backstories – like I think there’s a higher ratio of childhood damage in that scene, not necessarily… But I can connect with damaged people. And beautiful damaged people are really inspiring to me.”

In the meantime, Glass discovered her own métier, becoming as distinct a pop star as a Billie Eilish. In 2022, Glass’ experimental output slips between goth and cloud rap – a description she appreciates. (“That’s it!”) Notably, on PREY//IV she’s co-written songs with The Weeknd cohort Illangelo (the new single ‘EVERYBODY ELSE’) and MØ. Latterly, Glass has been identified with hyperpop, a genre SOPHIE pioneered. “I have a hard time identifying genres – and that’s becoming more and more important as an artist to put yourself in a little category,” Glass sighs.

In fact, SOPHIE nearly became a part of PREY//IV. The Scottish pop auteur was taken by ‘FAIR GAME’ – a harrowing song in which Glass chants an abuser’s putdowns, demonstrating manipulative control. As such, Glass planned to commission SOPHIE to remix it. “We were about to trade songs. And, yes, I definitely regret not sending it earlier.”

Crucially, Glass didn’t rush her debut – instead tuning into her instincts. How does Glass feel she grew personally and artistically? “Hmmm,” she considers. “Well, I guess trusting myself as an artist – I mean, I have producers and people to bounce ideas off, but primarily all the decisions are made 100 per cent by me, so there’s no backing out of them. I just wanna be able to express myself the best way that I can as an individual and not as much as a unit.”

PREY//IV subverts horror aesthetics, much like CHVRCHES did on 2021’s Screen Violence, as Glass processes past “trauma” but also responds to predatory behaviour in the music industry and beyond, opening with the nu-rave exorcism ‘PREY’. Many songs, including the heady lead single ‘SUFFER AND SWALLOW’, reveal a corporeal theme – ironic since Glass’ vocals in Crystal Castles were often disembodied. Yet PREY//IV is emotional.

The album ends symbolically with ‘SORROW ENDS’, as if Glass is entering a different phase in her life. But, though she has clarity, Glass hasn’t reached closure. For her, healing – and recovery – is ongoing. “I think, because I’ve been doing press and kind of compartmentalising the record – many of the songs were written so long ago – that it’s definitely still like a fresh wound. But, then, sometimes I get triggered by things that I shouldn’t at this point and sometimes I find myself thinking of things that I should have moved on from – and I try to stop myself…

“Yeah, the future – I don’t know. Maybe I could have a record that is helpful in any way. So I definitely would like to help others. That sounds weird, but I just wanna expose this kind of world of predators that exists everywhere. I don’t know – hopefully, the next one won’t be as depressing. Maybe it will be more – it all depends!”

The title PREY//IV references Crystal Castles’ cataloguing with its Roman numeral, Glass declaring it “my fourth full-length studio record.” However, Glass does “feel conflicted” about her artistic legacy with Crystal Castles. In the past, Glass endeavoured to reclaim Crystal Castles songs, even performing them in solo shows. Still, that has been difficult. “On one hand, I am proud of the work that I did,” she starts. “It is weird to have been in the game 10 years but, like, there is no celebration going on over here.”

Indeed, Glass reiterates allegations going back to 2020 that she’s been “gutted” over royalties and calling on fans not to play that material. “My songwriting percentages have been changed to zero,” she states. Glass is canvassing the record label to amend that. “Until then, I would say don’t listen to it – ’cause I’m not getting paid for anything.” She is exasperated. “I feel like I’ve had a lawyer on retainer for so long – and I haven’t broken any laws or done anything.”

Glass now considers LA home – and is “not sure” if she’ll ever move back to Canada. “I love Canada and everything but I don’t really feel Canadian anymore,” she laughs. “We’re all on this earth together, man, and sometimes barriers and boundaries are hard to explain.”

Glass has struggled with reactionary politics in the US. “With [Donald] Trump, it’s kind of a new world of America for me. I never really understood this weird Republican conservatism – but,” she laughs, “I heard songs about it!”

Glass has long ventured out beyond music, previously appearing in an Alexander McQueen campaign. She’s currently living the Hollywood dream, her way. She contributed ‘Sleep It Off’ to the stunningly curated soundtrack for Sigismondi’s “beautiful movie” The Turning, an adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn Of The Screw. Then recently Glass assumed a speaking role (as a rock) in Richard Bates Jr’s King Knight, a satire about New Age witches (she was a fan of his 2012 indie horror Excision). “I really like cartoons and doing funny voices,” she says, “and how could I say no?” She “loves” her co-star Aubrey Plaza (voicing a pine cone) of Parks And Recreation fame.

But first Glass is anticipating international touring, pandemic aside. “I would love to come back to Australia – Australia has always had really fun shows for me,” she enthuses. “I remember them all. I hope that there are more. I will quarantine and take whatever test is necessary. I am vaccinated!”

Ever-vigilant, Glass ends the chat with some counsel about red flags – her concern mainly drink-or-drug-assisted sexual assault (or drink-spiking). “Don’t take any shit from men, just because they tend to have some authority over you,” she says. “Watch your drinks all the time. Watch your drinks, even when you think you don’t have to. Please watch your drinks, ladies… It’s just weird to even have to have warnings. But, like, make sure that you get home safe and have a buddy friend. But, yes, watch your drinks is what I would say.”

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