"It's A Survival Instinct" Clash Speaks To Glass Animals
Glass Animals have learned to let their guard down.
A riveting art-pop experience, the band's two albums to date have born more than their fair share of frenetic, forward-thinking melodies.
In 2018, though, disaster struck: drummer Joe Seaward was knocked from his bike in Dublin, rushed to hospital in a potentially life-threatening condition.
Shaken, songwriter Dave Bayley flew to Los Angeles, burying himself in recording sessions as a means to cope.
Gathering the fragments he had been able to get down on tape, he returned to his East London studio to piece together the most personal and explicitly honest album Glass Animals have ever made.
Clash spoke to Dave Bayley about lockdown creativity, communicating with fans, and allowing his emotions to show.
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It’s an ambitious return, did you set out your stall to make something so involved?
We did, yeah. I basically always think of albums as cohesive units that should be listened to from start to finish. You can get a lot more emotional weight like that. A lot of my favourite novels, movies, and albums have that – there’s a lightness to some of it and there’s a weight to some of it. And because of that the light bits are lighter, and the sad bits are sadder. That juxtaposition allows you to have a lot more weight to throw around.
Is songwriting a continual act in your life? Or do you have to be more focussed for creative projects?
I tend to write in phases. Especially for Glass Animals. I tend to spend most of the time letting things stew at the back of my head, trying to come up with an umbrella idea… and then I basically take the sound world, the lyrical ideas, and what I want to say, basically, and I just throw it all up over the course of six months. The second album, actually, was only two weeks! I like to think things through before acting.
It was must feel strange, then, to explain those motivations afterwards.
This is the thing! A lot of the time, people ask: what does this album mean? And it’s like… I’m still kinda working that out! It all just sort of happens, it’s like stream of consciousness… you’re in too deep to realise any of that. It’s only later you can step back and look at it.
What’s it like when you’re in that flow? Is it meditative?
I think I’m probably a bit more manic than that. Doing certain things that don’t really have any pressure associated with them, definitely. The covers we did at the beginning of lockdown were so therapeutic. The song was already written, there’s no pressure. That’s very therapeutic, but making the album you’re obviously quite conscious that people might hear it.
Especially with this one, it’s very personal, and I really wanted to make sure everything was right and finessed, and that the words were chosen carefully. I always get a bit caught up in deciding whether I’m revealing too much, and make sure all the sounds are right. I think with the first record I was so afraid of fucking up that it was almost too clean, too perfect. There’s a balance between spontaneity and making it actually sound good and listenable.
Where does that pressure come from? Is it internal?
Well, you don’t want to let people down. That’s the worst. But you also can’t think about that when you’re making the record, because you can’t second guess what people are going to like and dislike, you have to trust your gut instinct. That initial rush wears off quite quickly sometimes, and you just have to trust that it was there towards the end of the process.
The pressure is definitely there. We did at one point – and still do, to an extent – have a team that is very dependant on it being successful. We have a touring crew, we have a management company, our label used to be very small and depended on our album to be a success for the label to be able to survive. So that was always something that was at the back of your head, but really when you’re in deep it’ll destroy you if you start thinking about that.
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It’s a very personal record, markedly so in places; why has it turned out that way?
I think there’s a couple of reasons. The first reason was ‘Agnes’, a song from our last record. It’s the only real personal song that we’ve released before this. It was a tough one to write. I actually didn’t want to put it on the last record, but I was convinced to by the rest of the guys in the band. We didn’t perform it live because, really, it’s very sad. We started to perform it live as Joe the drummer fought for it, and the response was nuts, basically. We got a lot of letters about it. And ultimately you realise that when you’re that personal in a piece of music it maybe makes someone feel a bit less lonely. It’s a much less selfish thing to do than I had previously thought.
And then there was Joe’s accident… which was just really awful. We ended up spending a lot of time in the hospital, and of course when you’re in the hospital with your best friend, and you don’t even know if he’s going to survive, walk again, talk again… you can’t even look to the future because it all seems so bleak. Everything around you is really bleak, you don’t want to think about what’s happening, so you think about the past. You think about memories. It’s a survival instinct, to think about re-living things that you did in your past.
So that was what was floating around my head, and during Joe’s recovery I went to LA, and wrote some songs for people. The personal stuff was coming out in the writing, and people liked that a lot more than the abstract stuff I was doing before. And those three things really made this album happen. I was like: fuck it, let’s make this personal!
There are personal elements on your earlier work as well, of course.
A little but it’s a lot more obscured. I tended to frame things in a different way. I was writing about what I relate to in other people. The stories on the first record weren’t exactly fantasy land – it’s always personal, I suppose. But this one definitely isn’t hiding behind anyone else.
Was there a moment when the over-arching structure of the record became apparent?
The moment is clicked was actually at the beginning. The idea comes into place, and it’s all floating there, and I guess it all clicked when I wrote the first part of ‘Dreamland’. It’s the first song that I properly sat down and wrote. But what it really made me do was create a table of contents for the record, where every line was going to be a reference to one of the other songs on the record. Each line will ask a question which is then explored.
I wrote the first two thirds of the song in one go, and then I knew I’d be able to fill in the end when I was done. I found when I did the first two thirds of those lyrics that I could see the record, it was all written down.
Is this a direct emotional response to the circumstances the band were in?
I’m not sure. Parts of the album are like that. But a lot of it isn’t a response, as much, but more trying to paint with those ideas, memories, and emotions. And trying not to react super-hard. It’s more about opening all the gates, letting stuff come out, but not necessarily trying to form opinions about those things.
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The performance clip for ‘Heat Waves’ made a real impact, it must have been fun to shoot.
It was the most heart-warming thing I’ve done in a very, very long time. I have to thank all my neighbours a huge amount for that. We’d put these pieces of papers through people’s letterboxes, just saying: at 7pm we’d appreciate it if you leaned out of your window and filmed this and uploaded it to a Dropbox. And it got to 7pm and no one was leaning out! But then suddenly one person leaned out, then another, and then another, and then the whole street was leaning out. It was that sense of togetherness that you feel at a live show. And that’s what live music is about, and it’s so difficult to replicate through streaming. I mean, some live shows have been incredible, but there’s a missing factor… and I felt that for the first time in a long time shooting that video
. It all made the final part – in an empty venue – just so much sadder. But it was an amazing thing… so thanks to all my neighbours!
Releasing music is almost a conversation, with fans representing the other voice. It must be slightly odd to release the new album with no live shows planned.
Well, there’s always social media. I don’t tend to look that much, but my mum sends me them! She’s very Israeli. She calls ‘memes’ me-mes… ‘have you seen this me-me?!’ But I read a few of them, and they’re very heartwarming. I mean, the conversation can be a bit one-sided we’re finding ways to change that, to get a little of that togetherness. Because we miss it! We’ve had to be a bit creative, but we’re doing it.
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'Dreamland' is out on August 7th.
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