In Conversation With Glass Animals
It was Valentine’s Day. I’d just had an essay marked in front of me and then Dave from Glass Animals wasn’t picking up the phone…what a nightmare. Fortunately, he was in the studio and had lost track of time – he called me back and was lovely, so I’ll let him off.
We began talking about the band’s new(ish) album How to Be A Human Being, which he reveals is partly autobiographical and partly fiction. Although he won’t disclose what’s what, he cites the full on nature of touring as a key part in influencing lyric-writing- meeting so many people through promotion, doing radio and playing shows, “you kind of get back and crash, you end up having so many experiences, great for picking up a couple of tales to write songs about.” Lyrics are one of the main ways in which this album differs from their 2014 debut ZABA, which started out with “music and noises” before putting in the lyrics, which Dave described as “writing words that almost help the soundscape, like another instrument”, which makes the nonsensical lyrics of songs like ‘Gooey’ easier to understand. When making this album however, the words were the base, allowing them to make sounds that fit lyrics. For example, on ‘Season 2 Episode 3’ Dave explained the fun he had sitting in the studio creating his own video game sounds with retro synths because the lyrics are about “a girl that plays video games all day and sits around smoking and watching television”. ‘Season 2 Episode 3’ is part of the album’s impressive aesthetic that’s present throughout its artwork, their website, the video for the song, and a game they created for the song, which you can play online. The idea for the game came from wanting to make a video that was half-animated, which then resulted in them making a game on the side, which Dave describes as “a bit cheeky because you end up a bit like the character in the song: sitting around playing the video game, it’s a bit funny, a bit meta”. The aesthetic, he tells me, took a bit of time because it meant going through a constantly building stash of photos saved on his computer and phone.
One part of the aesthetic that was virtually out of control is the pineapples, which, as he describes on ‘Pork Soda’, “are in my head”. “It started on the first record”, he explains “we were working with an illustrator to draw the cover and we sat there telling him what to include from different animals. I wanted there to be a flamingo with a gold chain around its neck and a Rubik’s Cube and a pineapple.” After that, someone brought one to a show, which he put on his guitar amp and “it sort of spiraled out of control, now people bring loads to the shows, we end up with about a dozen a show!” You don’t even need to go to a show to see the extent of this. The band performed on James Corden’s U.S. talk show ‘The Late Late Show’ in January and there was an abundance of pineapples, even as instruments. I asked Dave about performing on the show and he was thrilled to reveal they were allowed to have a lot of food requested, and James is “a really lovely dude, it was great to be a part of that”. Their performance, as well as being pineapple-heavy, is always very energetic, he confessed “we used to be really shy and I hated performing live and over the years I’ve learnt to have a bit more fun and dance about like an idiot”… thankfully he does, because it’s so much fun to watch.
We delved deeper into the world of touring, which includes covering songs on radio shows like Triple J’s ‘Like A Version’ in Australia. I was curious to find out what his favorite song to cover has been: “I liked doing the ‘Love Lockdown’ cover, it was cool, it was different. We did a mashup that I really liked: ‘Gold Lion’ by Yeah Yeah Yeahs and ‘The Healer’ by Erykah Badu, I think that was my favourite – it was the most interesting one for me”. It’s clear from listening to their covers that a lot of work goes into making them – he compares it to making their own songs, and their desire not to do a simple copy of the original. Even with their own work, one of the top priorities is always to do something different, “something that hasn’t been done before, finding noises that haven’t been done before, finding chord patterns that haven’t been used before–weird melodies and structural things you don’t hear very often”. He admits “it’s never going to be super mainstream; I’m amazed it’s taken us this far because there’s some weird shit going on”. Speaking of weird, we touched on the most obscure addition to the album, ‘[Premade Sandwiches]’, a 36-second clip of Dave’s “stream of consciousness, a weird rant”, which was, impressively, spoken to the speed it was recorded at (he even does it live sometimes), although the original was 5 minutes long. It wasn’t meant to be on the album, but after he showed it to the others as a joke it ended up on there.
He describes the second album as “a progression” when I enquired as to whether he thinks they’ve improved since their debut: “I feel like we’re doing bolder things, we’ve improved in bravery, we’re a bit better musically, better at our instruments, we know more about harmony and melody and arrangement structure”. Adding to the drive to be different he proudly says “I’ve never heard whole tone scales and things on the radio before”. He hopes that the album is still digestible despite the “musically interesting stuff” they built it upon.
Despite the freedom that is ever-present in Glass Animals’ music, he does reveal that there was a bit of pressure in making the record due to the size of their label, which only has 2 other artists and 1 other album to its name. Essentially, if the album didn’t do well, the label would have suffered. Luckily, it’s done fantastically, reaching 20th on the Billboard 200. He added “you can’t think about that stuff when you’re making music, you’ve got to forget everything and focus on what’s at hand”.
Glass Animals will be touring until 2018, taking them all over the world. Dave describes it as “the dream job” because he gets to “sit around and make noise most days”. I did ask him how to be a human being, but he declined to comment, insisting “I can’t just give it away”. They do, however, own many actual glass animals thanks to the woman whose tattoo was inspiration behind ‘Pork Soda’, who bought them 30 as a gift – “a glass menagerie”.