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February 2021

Glass Animals: "We've done some stupid stuff; it's very lucky that we're all here"

A lot can happen in just four years, and Glass Animals have been through more than their fair share.
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Published: 11:50 pm, July 08, 2020Words: Jessica Goodman.
Glass Animals: "We've done some stupid stuff; it's very lucky that we're all here"

"Some people like playing video games, I like making music," Dave Bayley shrugs. "It's weird that it's a job." Making music has never been considered one of the most viable of career paths, but for Glass Animals it feels like part of who they are. The road that brought them here hasn't been an easy one, but with new album 'Dreamland' about to be released, the four-piece are making the most of their ability to keep doing what they do best. "We've done some stupid stuff," Dave laughs, grinning fondly all the while. "We shouldn't be alive right now. It's very lucky that we're all here."

The sun is shining in London. Holed up in his home studio, where he's been spending his time through lockdown, the frontman is in high spirits. "I spend most of my life in here anyway," he shrugs as he gestures around the room, "making music, so it's kind of back to that." He pauses, then laughs. "It's weird when I leave." With the world in the middle of a global pandemic, and the country in a state of lockdown, these are strange and difficult times we're living in. For a band who put so much of their creativity into their live performances, the current hiatus the live industry is going through has hit them hard.

"We were on tour in America, and I was ready for two years of touring after that," Dave conveys. "We'd basically pushed 'go' on the big plan." Midway through a tour of small venues, building up to a mini-festival show at Red Rocks in Colorado with the likes of friend and collaborator Denzel Curry on the bill, the group were deep into creating something "trippy and theatrical" on stage to announce their new record when the COVID-19 outbreak forced them to put all their plans on hold. "I was in tour mode, super heavily in tour mode," Dave recalls. "It was all based around touring."

Their last album, 'How To Be A Human Being', saw the band – completed by drummer Joe Seaward, guitarist Drew MacFarlane, and bassist Ed Irwin-Singer – earn no shortage of acclaim both on and off the tour circuit. The record was Mercury Prize-nominated. One of their singles spawned a mobile video game. The group triumphed on tour, stirred up a gleeful sense of hype when they inadvertently caused pineapples to be banned from festivals, and everything looked to be coming up Ass Glanimals. Until July 2018, when Joe was hit by a truck while riding his bike in Dublin, an accident that left him fighting for his life.

Thinking back to that time in their lives isn't easy. The conversation is hard. Dave speaks carefully, but candidly, reflecting back on one of the worst times of his life with openness. He wasn't in the same country as his bandmate when the accident happened. When he heard, he got the first flight he could to be there for his friend and his family. "When I was landing [Joe's dad] called me and I could hear it in his voice how much he was worried," he recalls. "I could just feel it. He was trying to keep it cool, but he wasn't – and he's a serious man," he states. "I've seen Joe's dad cry twice: once when we played him the song 'Agnes' off the last record, and then once in that circumstance - that's it."

The accident left Joe with a severely broken leg and brain damage caused by a complex skull fracture. "It was bad," Dave conveys. "I'd done a few years of medical school, and I was really into neuroscience, and I kind of knew how bad it was. I could see it." Understanding the gravity of the situation didn't make it any easier to handle. "I was trying to play it down," he recalls. "I was like, 'oh, he's gonna be okay, it's gonna be okay'. But deep inside, you know..." He trails off before he admits, "it could have really gone either way. It was actually probably a lot more likely that he was going to suffer from some kind of issues the rest of his life. He couldn't talk. He couldn't walk. He couldn't really move, at all." He pauses. "And then he had a miracle surgery."

The road to recovery hasn't been easy. Joe had to re-learn how to walk, how to talk, how to read, to write, to do the most basic things, and build onwards from there. "He started just saying one word at a time," Dave recalls, then grins. "His first words were 'I' and 'fuck!'" he exclaims, laughing. "Then he got 'you' and 'me' and it just grew from there. It was amazing." It was slow going, but the time was full of small victories. "I remember I put headphones in his ears and played him some music. He started wiggling his toes, and I was like, 'it's gonna be alright, it's gonna be right.'"

"I'd done a few years of medical school - I was really into neuroscience, and I knew how bad it was"
Dave Bayley

Having been there from the start, and having seen Joe recover, there's a reverence in Dave's voice as he talks about his friend. "I've always known he's..." he trails off, considering his words. "He's probably the most stubborn person I know," he laughs. "And you kind of have to be stubborn. You have to be so confident that you're going to be okay in those situations if you're going to recover as well as he did. I kind of knew that if someone was going to be able to recover from injury like that, it would be him."

It was there, in the hospital in Dublin, supporting his friend on the start of his road to recovery, that the initial seeds of inspiration for Glass Animals' new album grew life. "A hospital's a weird place," Dave reflects. "You see lots of families coming together. You see lots of grief and pain and loneliness. You're always awake 'cause there's so much adrenaline. You basically feel like you're in this dream state the whole time. You get quite reflective. You start thinking about your own family, your own life, what you've done wrong, what you've done right…"

"I didn't know if we were going to be able to continue this band, this project," he admits. "I was sitting in a hospital, thinking that another one of my best friends was going to die." With little to do but to wait and to hope for a better outcome, his thoughts turned inwards. "The future looked really bleak. So I was looking backwards, looking at what happened in the past." It took two lengthy, life-threatening operations, but Joe made it out of the woods, started regaining his speech, his strength, his movement. "After a few months we could tell he was gonna be alright," Dave details. "He was walking with crutches, and he was talking relatively normally, missing a few words, and he was like, 'you know what? It's just going to take me some time - go do your thing'."

Assured in the knowledge that his friend was going to be okay, Dave went to LA, where he got to work writing and producing for other artists – the likes of Joey Bada$$, Flume, Wale, and Khalid. "The first session I had when I got back to writing after Joe's accident, I remember sitting down at a piano and just..." his hands hover in the air as he mimes the instrument, playing the notes and humming the opening riff from album opening track 'Dreamland'. "There's something important..." he starts to describe, then shrugs. "It's the first chords back."

It was through those sessions in LA that Dave found the resolve to take a more introspective approach to songwriting, to make the songs for this new Glass Animals record personal. "That's what these other artists were gravitating towards when I was writing for them," he explains. Writing with other performers, seeing them drawn to singing about personal topics, personal experiences, gave him the disconnect he needed to write about things personal to him. "I started writing really personal stuff; then I just kept doing it." The determination to write a personal record was there, but the notion of sharing those songs with others, with his bandmates, was a daunting one. "When I showed [the band] the first couple of songs, I was like 'this is quite personal - that's weird, I feel weird, I feel selfish writing this kind of stuff'," Dave laughs. "They convinced me to do it, 'just freakin' do it'," he grins. "So did it."

'Dreamland' is, at its heart, a record about growing up. The title track, the song written from "the first chords back" after Joe's accident, is something of a contents, its lyrics opened up and explored through the rest of the record. Nostalgic to its core, the album breathes life into childhood memories and long-lost friends, fond favourites and the fervently felt confusion of youth. The tracks are bridged together by snippets of home videos from Dave's childhood, the songs littered with throwback references to everything from Hot Pockets to The Karate Kid. "Every time I was writing something about a certain moment I would think back to where I was, what I was doing, what I was eating, what I did in my spare time at that point, what I was listening to, what was happening at school, who my friends were..."

"You tread a very fine line with worrying that you're going to hurt people and writing something that's meaningful"
Dave Bayley

The songs on 'Dreamland' are remarkably candid, taking in everything from online alter-egos to self-destructive relationships, confusion, sexuality, and aspiration. 'Tangerine' laments what's left of a friendship when the person you cared about grows into someone who isn't who you thought they'd be. 'It's All So Incredibly Loud' hovers in the freeze-frame moment that exists after saying something to someone just because it'll tear them down. 'Domestic Bliss' (Dave's first real memory) surges with love and hope for someone in an abusive relationship. All incredibly personal topics – not just to Dave, but the people he wrote the songs about.

"That's kind of the toughest part, sharing it with family and friends," he mulls. "A lot of it is stuff they didn't know, or don't know. Some of it's about them." Glass Animals have never been ones for transparency in their lyrics (they still haven't explained what 'JDNT' stands for). Writing in such a candid way for 'Dreamland', the memory or the meaning behind a lot of these songs is readily apparent. "If you keep things just-vague-enough, hopefully other people can see themselves reflected in the words, they can find their own meaning," Dave expresses. "You tread a very fine line with worrying that you're going to hurt people and writing something that's meaningful, really meaningful and personal and honest."

Because that's what 'Dreamland' is all about. These songs might have been born out of Dave's memories, influenced by growing up in Texas and listening to hip-hop radio stations on an old boombox, dotted with references to the TV shows he watched and the snacks he shared with friends, but the experiences and the emotions that come with growing up are universal – an expression of feeling shared for anyone to relate to. "Growing up is fucking crazy," Dave exclaims, laughing. "Really funny things happen. Ridiculous things, really sad things, really happy moments... Mainly you're just confused, and you don't know what's happening, and you don't know what to think about anything." He pauses. "And then, er, you die." An optimistic outlook, if we've ever heard one. "I don't know what my point was," he laughs, shaking his head.

"The world is set up to be a very binary place," he amends. "You're meant to give yes or no answers to things. You're meant to know what you want to do, and know..." he trails off, at a loss, before exclaiming, "You're meant to have an answer for bloody everything. It's not that simple. The world's so much more colourful than that. It's more fluid than that." Life is, to paraphrase Fitzgerald, inexhaustible in its variety. On 'Dreamland', Glass Animals bask in that confusion in a way that's infectiously freeing. "It's okay to not understand something and not know how you feel about something. When someone hurts you, it's okay to not know what to do for a minute," Dave expresses earnestly. "That confusion is good. That confusion's healthy. And those stereotypes that people try to apply to you, it's okay to question them. It's okay to not know the answer."

"It's recognising that being confused is okay. It's actually quite an exciting thing," he summarises, enthusiastically. "If you have everything all sorted out and organised, life's probably quite boring," he chuckles. "It's okay to be a bit lost and not have an answer for a bit, be that with relationships, gender, mental health, politics, the internet," he lists, rolling his eyes his last mention. "I've spent a lot of time struggling with the bloody internet," he scoffs, good-naturedly, before getting back on topic. "It's okay to be confused, especially when you're growing up. It's okay to just not try and fit into that yes-or-no, black-and-white framework that a lot of people try to get you to adhere to because it's easier for them."

Born out of confusion during one of the worst times in the group's life, an expression of all the confusion that's pent up in growing up, and released at a time when what's next for the music industry – or hell, any industry – is, well, pretty darn confusing, that sense of recognition that flows through these songs feels pretty damn important. "Everyone's sitting at home, thinking back, and using their memories as fuel to keep them alive and keep them happy," Dave reflects. "No one's out doing the fun stuff that they want to be doing. No one's out with their friends creating new memories. We're just throwing the old ones into a fire and living off them." Which is exactly how 'Dreamland' was made.

Unable to travel and unable to play live, this isn't how the band planned on sharing their new record with the world. "The standard way of releasing an album is that you put the album together, then you release it, then you tour like hell," Dave details. "That's gone." Which isn't to say the band are sitting idle. There's new merch galore (cereal bowls, nunchucks, and PEZ dispensers – oh my!) and Mario Kart tournaments on Twitch. There's been talk of drive-in shows, and Dave's even made a hologram of himself. "It's made me more confident in trying to be really creative and have weird ideas and new ideas," he enthuses. It's not ideal, but after everything the group have been through over the past couple of years, to still be able to write together, to play together (albeit not in front of an audience, currently), release music that means something to them together, Glass Animals are making the most of every moment. "The landscape has flattened, and there are no more rules." 

Taken from the July issue of Dork. Glass Animals' album 'Dreamland' is out 7th August.

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