Caught somewhere between a technicolour vision and a dancefloor rave, you’ll find Glass Animals. The English psychedelic band have quickly become one of the world’s best indie counterparts, earning a string of accolades including a spot on the Mercury Prize shortlist for their sophomore album How to Be a Human Being. Currently, their hit ‘Heat Waves’ (from latest album Dreamland) is number 40 on the Global Spotify Chart, number one on the NZ Hot Single Chart and it’s even been remixed into a TikTok sea shanty, which actually, frontman Dave Bayley admits is so much better than the original version. “That’s how it really should’ve been done the first time around. I feel like we really overthought the first version and maybe all songs should just be done as sea shanties from now on.”
I’m chatting with Bayley through a computer screen, the new communication of this unprecedented time. We complain about the problems of Zoom, swap time zones (I’m ending my day, he’s just starting his) and I congratulate him on the success ‘Heat Waves’ is having. As he sits in his East London apartment, surrounded in the neon hazed home studio he’s been creative with during lockdown, he grins and begins to tell me the process of how the track came to be.
“It was about 10 PM and I was in the studio complex in North London. I thought I was the only one left for the day, so I picked up a guitar and played some chords – the ones you hear. Then I did a pass with a vocal mic, put in the sounds of bass and drums and I was listening to it really loud thinking what else to do when I heard someone behind me. I was like ‘who’s that’ and he replies ‘it’s John’.” The pink light behind him flickers a little, as if this introduction of John, the man with long hair in the nice suit playing piano, is supposed to be a warning. “He turns around and it’s Johnny Depp! Turned out he was working in another studio and had just gotten lost. I was like, ‘now is a good time to stop working on this song.’”
‘Heat Waves’ is the fourth single to come off the band’s third and latest album Dreamland, its predecessors being the booming Denzel Curry collaboration ‘Tokyo Drifting’, the bouncy ‘Your Love (Déjà Vu)’ and the aptly named album opener ‘Dreamland.’ It holds a message of longing, and the sadness of missing something or someone couldn’t have come at a more relatable time. Released at the height of the Covid 19 lockdowns last year, the music video paints a perfect picture of such a historical time of our lives. “It was just finding something that everyone could kind of relate to in that particular moment; and it just so happened to be that the pandemic was going on and everyone was locked in their houses and couldn’t see any of their loved ones or go to concerts or have any kind of social life. So, I guess it was just a commentary on everyone being a bit vulnerable and missing something in that moment.”
The video features Bayley walking down an empty and isolated street in London as real people in their homes film him doing so. I wondered how that came to be planned. “It’s not far from my house that road, so I just went down and put pieces of paper through everyone’s mail slot saying ‘I’m gonna be at the end of your road at 7 o’clock on Wednesday evening. If you could just lean out of your window and film on your phone and then upload the footage to this dropbox link, that would be amazing.’ I’m surprised that’s all it took, considering the connection the people seem to have in the end product. “I think no one had anything better to do. But once a couple people leaned out of their windows and started talking to each other, it kind of fuelled other people to be like what’s going on? It was amazing. It felt like that sense of togetherness that you get at a show all of a sudden.”
It’s that togetherness with fans that Bayley appreciates the most, which is mostly why, two albums in, he felt that it was time for Glass Animals to finally put out a personal record. “[For the first album] we didn’t know what we were doing. We were really, really shy, playing shows and just standing completely still just frightened. And then the second album was kind of a step towards being more personal.” Closing How to Be a Human Being is the emotional ‘Agnes’, a track that references a friend of the band committing suicide. It was the first honest thing Bayley had ever written and it’s since become one of the band’s most beloved hits.
“I didn’t want to put it on the album. It was the rest of the band that convinced me to do it, and then it just got a really amazing response from people. Suddenly people were sending loads of letters and the comments were just like crazy kind. That song clearly meant something to people, and I think it’s because it was honest. It just made me realise that maybe I could do that for one more person.”
Dreamland is the pieces of Bayley’s brain all stitched together like patchwork. Digging deep into his childhood, each track is a reference to nostalgia and in some cases, the trauma that came along with it. With topics ranging from domestic abuse and his childhood friend attempting a school shooting to fond memories of Pokémon and Dunkaroos, Bayley admits it was the most challenging album to write.
“Sometimes, someone will say something that actually has a huge impact on your life. Or a little thing [will] happen at school or with a friend that just totally changes who you are as a person, and it has these big shifts later on in life. I don’t know why certain things have such big effects and really, they shouldn’t. But we all have those things, those little memories that we remember for some reason that we don’t really know why.”
In 2018, Glass Animals’s drummer Joe Seaward was tragically hit by a truck as he was riding his bike in Dublin. The horrific incident left Seaward with a life-threatening brain injury and he had to learn to walk and talk again. Naturally, the band dropped everything to be by their bandmate’s side as he recovered, and Bayley admits that those long days and nights waiting in the hospital helped him deal with and process his past memories.
“Your head goes to strange places. I think it’s because the subconscious, the pieces of your brain that are sensible and keep you alive and stop you [from] doing stupid s**t, just shuts down as you get more tired. Then all these weird memories are allowed to escape.” He hesitates, almost as if he’s still processing. “The future looked really s**t. I didn’t know if Joe was gonna be okay, so I think you just go back into the past and into nostalgia. And maybe that’s what’s been happening to people this lockdown, we can’t really be out creating new memories so we kind of go revisit the old ones.”
Dreamland has a lot of heart poured into it and I wanted to know what it’s like releasing something like that to the masses. How do you rip out a page of your diary and just sit back and watch the world read it? “It’s like someone saying something bad about your kid, you’re afraid you’re gonna see something bad so you don’t wanna look.” But what has really blown Bayley away is the creative response fans are having and the artwork they’re producing from the music. As part of Dreamland’s rollout, the band uploaded soundboards and visual elements to their website to enable fans to create their own art, as well as holding a remix competition for ‘Heat Waves.’ “It’s been so heartwarming in an era where there’s no touring, it just makes you feel like … I don’t know, people still like it and that they’re still there. Which is really, really nice.”
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Visuals, for Glass Animals, have never come as a second thought. Just as much effort goes into the aesthetic of an album as it does the music. “I just like creating a whole world. I really like albums, and I see albums like a universe almost. It should tickle almost every sense.” Rather than chasing singles, Bayley tends to focus on making sure each track is thematically linked and lives inside the same universe. “It extends into the artwork as well. I think the artwork can help contextualise the music big time, and so can the live show and the set design and what your website looks like. That’s all part of the album.”
As for what’s next for the band, and if they’ll make another equally personal record, Bayley hasn’t thought that far ahead yet. “I’ve never really sat down and tried to write without having like a big theme and big idea. So, I might try that. I have no idea if it’ll work, it might just lead to a really disjointed [album]. Maybe we’ll have like a folk song, then gangster rap, and then some bagpipes … I don’t know!” For the first time, the excitement is wrapped up in the mystery and Bayley is trying to focus on the present moment instead of quickly jumping to the next.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to tour!” He continues, his heart yearning for that togetherness again. When I bring up a trip to NZ, his hands drum a hopeful tune on his desk. “Oh, I hope so. I could really use some sunshine.”
Glass Animals’s third and latest album ‘Dreamland’ is available to listen now.