Slipping Through Dreamland: A Chat with Glass Animals' Wavey Davey
The lead singer talks childhood memories, live music, and the band's dreamiest album
Photo by Ollie Trenchard
I have a confession to make.
Around five years ago, I was an angsty high school student who yearned to have a cool group of friends, much like the ones you see in pretentious coming-of-age films. These friends would ideally have the same taste in music as me, and we would all get fake IDs in order to traverse the local 19+ concerts. If we're getting specific with the details, these friends would also be super hot and well-read, they would have Gustav Klimt prints on their walls, and at least one of them would be a tall indie boy who played guitar.
I did not have this friend group.
So instead, I spent my earlier years in high school admiring the older kids who fit that description, who I was vaguely acquainted with through student council or drama club. They would go to Alt-J concerts with each other, and post feminist zines online. One fateful day on Facebook, one of them shared a link to "Gooey" by Glass Animals.
I am utterly grateful for that post.
Thus, I was introduced to the world of Zaba, the English band's first full-length album. It is an album that took me out of suburbia, and placed me smack dab in the middle of a mystical jungle. Each song is as intricately layered as the album cover promises, with its hidden figures and collage of intersecting plants. Fast forward a couple of years, and I am leaving high school behind and heading into university. The band releases its second album that August, the acclaimed How to Be A Human Being. It is a hot summer album, weaving stories about unique characters against a backdrop of oranges and yellows. It is like being inside of a video game; choosing a song is the equivalent of choosing your player.
Earlier this year, Glass Animals announced the release of their third album, Dreamland. They played some intimate shows around North America, returning to venues they had played on their very first tour. One of these was Toronto's Mod Club, where they teased our small crowd with (then) unreleased songs such as "Tangerine" and "Space Ghost (Coast to Coast)".
It is genuinely perplexing to me that every project this band puts out can be so vastly different from their previous work, but still retains the same level of intricacy and creativity. Just before the official release of Dreamland, I spoke with the mastermind behind the music, Dave Bayley.
Hi, Dave, how are ya?
I'm really good, thank you! How are you?
I'm very good! My name is Mena, and I'm so excited to be talking to you today!
Oh, likewise! Thanks for taking the time to speak with me.
It's Wednesday, we've got 2 days before the album - how are you feeling?
Oh my God, so many things. I feel excited, I feel nervous, I feel a little bit like I might pee. Yeah, it's a mixture of stuff, but overall I'd say excited, I think.
I can safely reassure you, as a fan, the new album is the best thing I've ever heard. Your excitement is very valid!
It is the best album I've ever heard in my lifetime, I'm obsessed. This is just going to be 20 minutes of me obsessing!
[Laughs]. What!? This is going to be fun then, I like this! I'm really glad you like it.
I'm so glad you guys made this album! Again, I have to confess that I'm a huge fan, and what strikes me the most is all the layers in your music. How do you build those soundscapes up?
I don't know [if I can] explain the process. I have a really cheap acoustic guitar – it's not even acoustic, it's a classical guitar that I bought when I was really young, 16 or something, in the market for five bucks. I start everything on that, and that's where I try to get the core of the song – like the lyrics, the chords, vocals – as solid as possible. That's something I really tried to do on this record compared to the others. Like, really make sure that it's finished and ready before moving on to the next bit, which is adding some sounds! I guess I normally just think about the lyrics and what the song is trying to say, and sort of imagine it like a film, and try and soundtrack it. So if the song is about – for instance, there's a song on this record called "Space Ghost (Coast to Coast)". It's about that age when I was discovering hip-hop music and rap and Dr. Dre and Timbaland. I just thought about what I was listening to when I was that age, what I was eating at that age, what I was watching on TV, all this stuff and I tried to just look around my studio and see what I had that could make those noises. Usually I see something really weird. Actually, that one started with, there's a little ray-gun noise at the end, I have a little plastic toy sonic ray-gun in the studio and I did that. Yeah, I don't know! Just look around and do it. A lot of sounds in that song are made with my mouth [he demonstrates over the phone], like that and the kissy sounds. I just sort of start stacking what I hear and what makes sense for the lyrics.
Each album you guys put out feels like its own world. Zaba has that mystical jungle feel. How to Be A Human Being feels like a daytime video game. How would you describe the world of Dreamland?
I guess you can kind of see it on the album cover, it's a kind of hazey... for me, it's just a dream land! I guess it's just this weird space where [there is] this giant cloud of memories wafting over you, it's misty and you're trying to find your way. That's how I feel. It's very introspective and quite reflective.
The stories you're weaving are clearly important memories, like you said. Do you find it gets easier with each album to share those parts of yourself?
It was definitely easier this time around, yes, I think so! It definitely has been getting easier. It's partly about just being comfortable with being a bit vulnerable on a record in front of people, and I've always been a bit shy and never really liked talking about myself. But you slowly start getting a bit more comfortable in your own shoes. I'm definitely not a natural performer, but slowly start to, get a little bit less shy in certain ways. You get a lot of encouraging things, a lot of things that encouraged me with this new album.
The response to ["Agnes"] has been amazing, that was really encouraging. And the band guys are really encouraging as well, and I've been doing a lot of projects, those people are very encouraging too.
I find it to interesting that you say you're not a natural performer, because watching you guys on stage, it definitely feels like a natural choreography of things, like a natural dance. It's beautiful to watch you guys lose yourselves on stage, so I find it really interesting that that doesn't come naturally to you!
Yeah, I get quite nervous before I go on. You just have to have fun and focus on having fun and pretend you're up on stage with your friends for the first couple songs, and then it's okay, and you can enjoy the crowd. But I do still get pretty nervous.
Are there any pre-show rituals that you have to quell those fears?
Yes, although they're a little secret. But we make our tour manager do a rap for us based on what city that we're in, and there's very fun. What else do we do? I tend to listen to some really hyped-up rap music to get me going. I listen to "Backseat Freestyle" by Kendrick, that's my favourite pre-going-on-stage song.
Speaking of high-energy rap music, we've seen you collaborate with artists like Joey Bada$$ and Denzel Curry. We've seen you encourage fans to make remixes of your music, and you've worked with a number of visual artists and music video directors. What can we expect next from Glass Animals? Are you just going to collaborate with everybody until you take over the world?
[Laughs]. There's definitely a lot of collaborative stuff happening, a lot of people are hitting me up being like "let's make some music!" There's a sort of new open-mindedness, I think, within the music industry. Touring's gone, so everyone's sort of up for stuff, a lot of them have [the] time. Maybe there'll be a collaborative project, I don't know, we've got a lot of ideas! We've got a lot of touring for this record, where we'll interact with people and hang out with people, maybe there will be a streaming show in there. There's a couple more interactive websites – we just did one more you had to close your eyes to hear the song, and the more people on the website with their eyes closed the more songs you'll hear, so we've got more ideas like that.
A lot of these collaborations seem expensive, so I guess I'm just wondering - if you need me to make any of your future music videos, you've got the number. You can just dial it and we'll go from there!
[Laughing]. What kind of videos do you do?
Well, I'm a cinema student so any influence you guys are into!
Wicked, alright! What would you make for "Tangerine"?
"Tangerine" to me feels like a very 'summer at the cottage' kind of vibe. I am at a cottage right now, and it is the summer, and from dancing all around yesterday it just feels like the perfect song to shout out into the lake!
Okay, that sounds great! I don't know if we're gonna be allowed to make another video cause the label will probably be like "you've already made five..." but I'll let you know!
I want to talk to you about these interludes on the album, they feel so much like puzzle pieces. What's their story?
I had a track-list in my head and some of the songs didn't quite flow into each other. So I did these instrumentals for them, it felt a little insubstantial. I liked them a lot and I felt they functioned well, but they felt a little insubstantial. So I thought, if each song is a memory and part of life, what's the one thing that ties all those memories together? In all those ups and downs, and weird funny sad strange parts of life, what's the one constant thing? And that constant thing is my Mum. So I stole these home [movies] – she used to make home movies of me and my brother when we were growing up with a camcorder – and basically I took the audio out of those. I stole her tapes. But she can watch them on her computer now!
Does she have a favourite song on the album?
I think she likes "Tangerine". Everyone seems to be feeling "Tangerine"!
It's a beautiful song, I can see why!
She likes the happy ones.
We've seen COVID-19 influence Glass Animals, with the quarantine covers and the Heat Waves music video [where Dave performs to an empty concert venue, his bandmates on television screens around him]. How was that decision made to incorporate the current situation into your music?
I don't know if we had a choice really. It was just new ground, you just had to embrace the current situation. And weirdly there's a lot of parallels between how I felt when I was writing the album, with Joe.
[Note: Here, Dave touches on the serious biking accident suffered by Glass Animals drummer (and childhood friend) Joe Seaward in July 2018. Seaward healed from a fractured skull and a broken leg, and had to learn how to talk and walk and play again.]
The future looked really terrible, we didn't know if the band was going to continue or he'd survive or he'd be able to walk again and talk again. The future looked really bleak and a lot of times the touring and everything was totally up in the air. [Joe was] unable to go out, like have these experiences, he wasn't allowed to do any of that. Just coming out of that state-of-mind, and then lockdown happened! I just sort of semi-paralleled with my friends, who were suddenly thinking about the past and memories and nostalgia. It seemed like a lot of the problems were similar, everyone was sort of feeling trapped indoors. It's kind of sick in a weird way to make videos that embrace the situation of lockdown, but it just fit the context and how the album is and why.
Is there a particular song you're excited for people to hear?
My favourite... Nah, I don't know if I have a favourite, I can't actually... [pause]. I'm excited for people to hear "Space Ghost (Coast to Coast)", cause it's quite different. And I'm excited for people to hear "Tangerine" of course, cause everyone who has heard it seems to like that one!
You guys have been slowly releasing bits and pieces from this album, again it's felt like a very huge and collaborative experience. Was it intentional to fragment it a little, to release things in code for the fans to discover on their own time?
[Laughs]. Yeah I like doing that, I find it quite funny. I'm totally amazed at how quickly everyone cracked the codes. People are very, very smart. I like being cheeky, and I think releasing things in code is a little cheeky. I like releasing things in little nuggets, cause it's a bit more digestible, and people appreciate things more maybe, when from the start they feel they've discovered it.
Do you ever go on the Glass Animals Reddit page and read all the crazy theories about your music?
No, I don't, I don't. I've used Reddit to drop a few little secrets, but I try and stay out. I think that's everyone else's space. I love Reddit, I use it for my own – I like being on Reddit and doing stuff for Reddit. But the Glass Animals part of Reddit, I just leave alone. It would be a bit strange. I want people to be able to say what they want in there. They're probably saying horrible things.
I can reassure you, they are not! No, please don't say that, this is breaking my heart!
People are harsh on Reddit, though! I've been on other people's threads and people are really mean. Some of my favourite records I'll see on Reddit threads and they're like tearing it apart, like jeez!
The Glass Animals Reddit page is a very friendly and welcoming space, there is no ill word on it!
Oh that's so good to know, that makes me so happy! I just want everyone to be happy.
As the pandemic slowly eases back, and live music becomes a thing again, are there any specific shows you're super excited to play?
We've got these big shows coming up at Red Rocks, but that's not until like a year away. But that's going to be really good fun. And we've got this space called Alexander Palace in London that's really amazing, a lot of great shows there, so it will be a lot of fun to play that one. But really, these Red Rocks shows! We were meant to launch our album with this sort of festival really. We had two nights planned, we were gonna get Denzel [Curry] to come down and all of our friends to come play and just take over for a weekend. But the coronavirus... That's one of the things I was most looking forward to.
I know at the last Red Rocks show, the thunder struck down just as you were singing the lyrics "my thunder shook him down". What can we expect from these Red Rocks shows coming up? Are we all going to transcend into a dream land?
Definitely, yeah. [Laughing]. There's this line, "Waterfalls Coming Out Your Mouth", I think everyone's gonna start having water spray out of their mouths! No, I don't know what's going to happen. That was so weird. I couldn't believe it! I didn't actually think it happened, when it happened. I thought it was just a strobe light going off. And then one of our crew members told me "DID YOU SEE THAT?" and I was like "...what?" And then I saw the video. It was bonkers. Absolutely bonkers. Maybe we got a glitch, I don't know!
Well, I'm very excited to see what ends up happening, I'll be there, I'll be supporting you guys. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today!
Yay! Oh, such a pleasure, thank you for taking the time, and I'm really glad you like the album! Bye, bye, bye, bye!
Glass Animals' third album Dreamland is out now. Watch the music video for "Heat Waves" below. Thank you to musical genius Dave Bayley for listening to me fan-girl, and to Allison Philips of Universal Music for arranging the interview.