It’s coming up on four years since the release of How to Be a Human Being, the acclaimed second album from indie-pop adventurers Glass Animals. It proved to be their most successful endeavour to date – it cracked the charts in nine countries, hitting the top 40 in four, and also scored an impressive three tracks in that year’s Hottest 100. Needless to say, following up such an effort would have been a big deal regardless of anything else – but it’s safe to say that Glass Animals are a band that take the idea of an LP with considerable weight.
“Albums are a big thing for me,” says Dave Bayley – Glass Animals’ vocalist, guitarist and chief songwriter. “I think they’re kind of like novels and films, in a way… I just like that format. I think it means a lot more, and by extension I think that songs mean a lot more in the context of an album.”
“When you put out a single, you haven’t built a world around it. I see the album as a kind of universe in which you contextualise all of your songs of that time. The artwork, the stage design, the way you play live… everything. It can even extend to your fashion and your social media nowadays. You have fans calling album cycles an ‘era’ in your career. The music has to be good, first and foremost, but the only way I’ve found you can really make sense of it is by making an album.”
Fans of the London natives were first alerted to new music on the horizon with the release of ‘Tokyo Drifting’, a collaboration with fellow triple j favourite Denzel Curry, that was released in November 2019. Produced by Bayley himself – as is all of Glass Animals’ material – the song originally stemmed from creative work he had picked up outside of the band. “I was originally just working on some beats,” he says.
“This wasn’t for anything to do with Glass Animals – I just had a few hip-hop projects going at the time, while I was over in America. ‘Tokyo’ started out as one of those beats, and I ended up liking it so much that I decided to keep it for myself. As I worked on it more, I started getting a vocal melody in my head to go along with it. At first, I was adamant that I wouldn’t sing on it – at the end of the day, it’s a hip-hop beat and I’m a blonde white kid from England. By my own admission, I have no swagger whatsoever. After we added Denzel’s parts, I came to the conclusion that I would just have to step up.”
Bayley’s vocals were added to the song, although he provided them conditionally: He couldn’t do it as himself. “If I’d have just sung on it the way that I normally sing, it truly would have been pathetic,” he says. “I mean, I normally sing about very very silly things – mayonnaise, assorted fruits, cookies. I had to forge out this Sasha Fierce-esque alter ego. I look to Beyoncé as my general hero to begin with, so it came in especially handy when this was coming together.”
From this, the persona hereby known as Wavey Davey was born. By establishing a Mr. Hyde – or perhaps even a Slim Shady, given the context – Bayley was able to make considerable process insofar as building the album was concerned. “I’m honestly quite a shy person, normally,” he confesses. “I know I do interviews and things like that, which might make people think I’m not, but when I’m making music I’ll be the first to say ‘that’s shit’ or ‘that won’t work.’”
“More often than not, I need to talk myself around and convince myself to make creative decisions when it comes to my music. I feel like that’s something everybody goes through in one way or another – whether they’re writing songs, or posting on Instagram, or completing some sort of unenviable task. We all create this vision of ourselves that’s just a little bit super-human. You have to talk yourself up. You have to build this statue in your mind – and that’s what I think Wavey Davey is.”
As evidenced by what we’ve already heard from the band – both in ‘Tokyo Drifting’ and last month’s ‘Your Love (Déjà Vu)’ – Bayley is further exploring the experimental potential of his voice. Rather than making it the central focus, as Glass Animals have done in the past, these songs tend to treat the vocals as another instrument. Much like one can put guitars through pedals and various effects, Bayley endeavoured to do the same with the voice.
“I’ve always enjoyed toying with the idea of harmony,” he explains. “I’ve done it in little pinches in the past – there’s a song on our last record [2016’s How to Be a Human Being] called ‘Cane Shuga’ where I used different effects. There’s a quick track that follows it too, called ‘[‘Premade Sandwiches’],’ and that’s part of it too. It’s been around for awhile as a musical concept – everyone knows ‘Intergalactic,’ that Beastie Boys song, and that’s probably the first really famous use of it. It’s come a long way, and I find that trajectory from the Beasties to Daft Punk to Justice to the hip-hop of today really fascinating.”
Although Bayley confesses he’s not sure how much of a role it will play in the third album overall, there are definitely parts in which he’s gone from dipping a toe to diving right in. “There’s a couple of different things that I’ve used,” he explains. “Take ‘Tokyo,’ for instance – on Denzel’s verse, there were a couple of words I really wanted to emphasise and accentuate. I highlighted those parts of the phrase, and I ran them through a device called a [Antares] Harmony Engine. I played little stabs of chords on my keyboard and ran a separate track of Denzel’s vocals so it would come through roughly at the end of every line. If you listen closely enough, you can just hear it.”
As for his – sorry, Wavey Davey’s – vocals, Bayley implemented different tactics. “I ran those vocals through a pretty heavy distortion filter,” he explains. “There’s also a bit of AutoTune that I added on, as well. I didn’t use the most recent version, however – I was experimenting with using this older algorithm, and I thought this older version sounded cooler. How to explain it… it’s more like Daft Punk than Travis Scott, if that makes sense.”
Even after all of this, there’s no definitive guarantee that either ‘Tokyo Drifting’ or ‘Your Love’ will be on the band’s as-yet-untitled third studio album, which is projected for a 2020 release. Even now, Bayley is yet to put all of the puzzle pieces in places: “It’s all in my head,” he says. “I can’t even say too much just yet, but I can’t guarantee that what you hear before the album comes out will be reflective of the album as a whole.
“I’ve got to be honest – I don’t even know if a song like ‘Tokyo’ will even end up on the finished product. There’s a chance it could be more than just a one-off, but it also might not fit inside this world that we’re creating with this album.” What’s clear across both recent singles is Bayley’s love of hip-hop – which one may not have necessarily associated with Glass Animals initially, going off early singles like ‘Gooey’ and ‘Black Mambo’. As it turns out, it’s served as just as big an influence on him as anything to be found in his parents’ record collection. “I actually grew up in America – this tiny little town called Grafton, in the middle of Massachusetts,” he says.
“From there, my family relocated to another really small town, this time in Texas. There weren’t many radio stations there – apart from the local country music station – but if you extended the antennae with a coathanger, you could pick up more from further out. By doing that, I was able to pick up a station that was exclusively playing rap music. For awhile there, that’s all I would listen to – Missy Elliott, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Busta Rhymes. If Timbaland or The Neptunes produced it, I was all about it.”
Across Glass Animals’ career, the group has had the chance to collaborate with hip-hop acts such as Curry, Joey Bada$$, Tei Shi and Jean Deaux. This cross-over into a musical world so different from their own is a real point of pride for Bayley and co., who see it as one of their key collective strengths that they are able to make such team-ups work in the favour of both camps. “It’s a proper honour,” says Bayley. “We’re really lucky, in that regard. We will never be able to do what they do. We’re four boys from England – when we watch these guys at work, our jaws are just on the floor. They’re just so damn good. To have those sort of flavours in the mix of our music – to add that kind of attitude into our music – makes it all the more fun to play around with and see what comes out of it.”
The comeback trail for Glass Animals also coincided with their return to the live stage. Their tour in support of How to Be a Human Being was cut short following drummer Joe Seaward’s involvement in a traffic accident in July of 2018. In November of 2019, however, the band finally came back with a show at The Bullingdon – a super-intimate venue in Oxford. Weeks later, the band returned to Australia for two sold-out shows at the Factory in Sydney and the Prince Bandroom in Melbourne. Completing the run with a string of South East Asian dates, Glass Animals were well and truly back in the saddle.
“They were amazing shows,” Bayley recalls. “The crowd was just incredible. It had been about 18 months since Joe’s accident, and he’d been working back up to being in a position where he could perform again. He’d been slowly getting back into it, so we wanted to ease him into it with a run of smaller shows, as opposed to going right back to the massive stuff.” The experiment, for all intents and purposes, worked. “I
think doing these shows really gave him a massive confidence boost,” says Bayley. “It’s exactly what he needed to get him through to the other side of all of this.”
During these shows, the band played a mix of their two studio albums as well as ‘Tokyo Drifting’ and even premiering ‘Your Love’ months before its studio version surfaced. “We made a deal with the audience,” says Bayley. “We’d play some new songs, as long as they promised not to film them and upload them. Everyone was really considerate in that respect, which is obviously the kind of audience you want to attract. There was
a really good response to ‘Tokyo Drifting,’ as well – we actually opened with it. It’s a nice big, heavy way to kick off a show.”
Sadly, after this interview took place, Glass Animals’ tour plans were again cut short – this time, however, by none of their own doing. A North American tour was cancelled just six shows in, forcing the band to return back to the UK and self-isolate/quarantine along with the rest of us. Still, there’s plenty to look forward to. If all goes to plan, the band will be back in October for the rescheduled Splendour In The Grass. Plus, they’ll more than likely have a new record ready to go – and if Bayley’s commitment to the album proves anything, it’s that you just know it’s going to be a really good one.
As the band bunker down at home in self-isolation amidst the global health pandemic, Glass Animal’s frontman Dave Bayley has launched a new series called ‘Quarantine Covers’ as a way to pass the time while quarantined in his studio. Read more about that and watch a cover here.