Q&A With Glass Animals

British indie rock band Glass Animals were just getting going on the tour to support their Dreamland album when the pandemic hit and closed everything down. The group, particularly songwriter Dave Bayley, were devastated, concerned that the record wasn’t going to get the chance it deserves.

But this is a new world and, after a moment of reflection, they rolled up their sleeves and got on with the job of promoting Dreamland using whatever methods they could. That determination resulted in a hit album, the “Heat Waves” single going triple platinum, and the band getting nominated for Best New Artist at the GRAMMY Awards.

Knock on wood, but it feels like things are going to be getting better as the year rolls along. The effectiveness of the vaccinations against the Omicron means that venues are returning to something resembling normal, and Glass Animals are ready to get out there. We spoke to Bayley about all of this and more.

Music Connection: A bit of background first—how and when did the band form? What was the mission?

Dave Bayley: We’ve been friends since we were 12 years old; so, for a long, long time. Really, it started then. A long time ago. The first time we ever played together, we joined forces. I was asked by a to play at his 16th birthday party and the other three guys in the band were the only musical people that I knew. So, I asked them if they’d play some covers with me, and they said yes. I didn’t actually sing then. Drew [MacFarlane], who’s our guitarist now, was singing. I think we played some Strokes songs, and a Libertines song as well. We just fucked around for 20 minutes. That was the first time we were an actual band.

The mission at that point was just to play some covers, but really when we started we didn’t have our eyes set on stardom or anything. We just wanted to have fun making music. It was an excuse to get together and we were best friends. We were looking for a way to spend some time together and thought it would be fun to do more shows.

MC: How quickly did you realize you would be singing?

Bayley: It happened only because, after that performance when we were 16, nothing happened for, like, four years. We all went to college or university, and it was in that time that I basically started writing songs. I was actually a DJ, and I would come back from doing DJ sets really buzzing on adrenaline and Red Bull at 3 a.m. I started making songs with a little synth and an old computer. I started singing over the top. That was it. I was too shy to sing, I really didn’t want to. I actually spent the first EP, recording the vocals sitting under a blanket. It happened slowly but it happened.

MC: And all of this was in Oxford, England?

Bayley: This was actually in London. We grew up near Oxford as little kids, but then I moved at college age to a place called Peckham in London. I was 18 when I moved out of Oxford, and 13 when I moved there.

MC: What is the music scene like in Oxford (obviously a college town)? I know of the Zodiac venue, which is very cool…

Bayley: I was always going to the Zodiac! That was why we became friends, when we were 13. Those guys were the first people I met at school. Drew, our guitarist, was the first person I met because he was the other American at school. So, I remember on my first day, I was introduced to Drew by one of the teachers saying that he was the other American, and we ended up being mates. We started going to see music together at the Zodiac. We’d sneak out of school and go to in-stores at HMV [a record/CD store in the U.K.]. We’d bunk off early.

MC: Describe your sound. How has it evolved since the Zaba debut album in 2014?

Bayley: I’m the worst person to try and describe the sound. It’s like trying to describe your own personality. Ask one of my mates. But the first album was definitely quite abstract and ethereal, and the vocals are really low in the mix. Some of the songs are nine minutes long. It sounded a bit shy, and I was a bit shy. Like I said, I was singing with a blanket over my head so nobody could watch. For the second album, we’d been out touring for quite some time, touring the first album. I think the second album was affected by that touring. I really liked the energy of touring. We ended up remixing a lot of the songs on the first album, making them heavier and shorter, punchier, faster. I think that bled into the second album.

This latest album is the most personal. Finally, I had the confidence to write something personal, properly. Right on the nose. It takes from all of my childhood influences. Every song that I’ve ever listened to has bled into this latest record. It’s definitely the most representative of us. 

MC: That’s Dreamland, which came out in 2020…

Bayley: Yeah, but sometimes I still feel like it’s 2020 now. Then sometimes I think 2020 was two decades ago. Time is weird.

MC: Did the pandemic hinder it? I know it came out in August 2020…

Bayley: It was all written pre-pandemic. We were getting ready to tour it. We’d actually started touring it. We were doing a warm-up tour across America, and I think we’d got two weeks in. We were in San Francisco, and we started hearing about the virus. A few days later, all the cities were locking down. We were going to drop the album two months later, in April or May, and halfway through the tour, BAM. It was all pulled, we got sent back to England, and honestly I felt we were going to be going back and finishing the tour after two weeks. But it didn’t turn out that way. 

We had two show nights booked at Red Rocks, Colorado. We were going to play there for two nights with our friends. It was the big launch. But we just tore the whole plan in half, and I was torn apart, to be honest. I thought this album was the most personal album, like my baby. It felt like it wasn’t going to have a chance. Everyone was listening to older records. There didn’t seem to be any space for new music in that climate.
    So, I was absolutely distraught. I didn’t leave my room for about two weeks. And then I started to realize that the reason everyone was listening to older record and music from their past was because everyone was in this weirdly nostalgic state of mind. Then I saw the parallel, that I’d just written this album about nostalgia and the past. It all started to add up. I pulled myself together, and we managed to get it out. It was hard. Anyone who’s released music in the pandemic deserves a medal, or done anything creative and put themselves out there in any way.

MC: Who did you work with on Dreamland? Where?

Bayley: I did most of it in this room. We recorded most of it in this room. We did some drums at a place called The Church in North London. We worked with some engineers that we’ve worked with for a long time. Riley McIntyre is a genius engineer. I just produced it myself. Paul Epworth, who ran our previous label, was sort of overseeing it and exec-ing.

MC: Did you learn to produce as you went along?

Bayley: I spent a lot of time trying to learn that stuff, since album one. I was making dance tracks when we first started. I know our music is definitely not dance music anymore. I got more into songwriting, but it started with dance music because that’s all I had. All I had was a computer and an old Casio keyboard.
    So, I was doing what I could with what I had, and I kept reading more and more about it. So every time we did get into a studio, I would know what was going on. I could feel my way around. I remember studio time being so rare, and so expensive, that I would plan out every hour of what we were going to do for the whole time we were in there. I knew that, in that hour, I had to get all the drums down, and I had to know how to compress them and EQ them properly. Make sure it was all proper.
    I spent a lot of time buying weird bits of equipment and learning how to use it. That was very much the case on this latest record. 

MC: What was the songwriting process between the band members? Do you write it all?

Bayley: Yep.They’re incredible players, and I’m not the best player. I can faff around and out the chords together. I’ll create a demo, then they’ll come in and play things well.

MC: Tell me about one song you feel particularly good about—how it came to exist—from writing to recording. Tell us your process.

Bayley: A lot of them start in the same way. Let’s do “Heatwaves.” A lot of songs start with an old classical guitar that I bought for literally five pounds in a market. I had a nicer guitar that my cousin bought me, but it got stolen. I went out and replaced it with this. I’ve written almost everything on it. It sounds like shit, but if you’ve written something with something that sounds like shit, it’s only going to get better. Hopefully, once you’ve added the production and things.  
    That was actually a trick that Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine used. He writes all his massive riffs on a guitar like this. He’s like, “If it sounds heavy on this, it’s gonna sound insanely heavy when I put it through my Marshall Stack” or whatever he’s using. I took a leaf out of that book. I start with the guitar and I pick it up and start noodling around with chords. Depending on how I’m feeling, like if I’m feeling whimsical, I’ll write some whimsical chords.
    With “Heat Waves,” for instance, I was feeling really nostalgic. It was late at night, and I wanted to write some chords that told a story. A long chord progression. You can hear that in “Heat Waves.” It goes up and then down, and then resolves. But it always starts with the chords and guitar. Then I start humming over the top. Usually the chords will give me an idea of a moment, a memory, or something to start writing lyrics. I’ll start repeating the words over and over again. I hit record on my phone, and play around with the chords, repeating words over and over again, finding melodies for them, and I spend half an hour doing that. Then I take the recording, listen back, and be like, “verse, pre chorus, chorus, bridge, song.” At that point, I’ll structure it in the computer, and start adding other sounds. Start adding production. It all comes from the chords and maybe a little turn of phrase. All the sounds come from that atmosphere. “Heat Waves” was nostalgic so I tried to add some nostalgic pads and chords, that swell and blossom like memories flowing over you. I normally do drums after that.

MC: At what point do show it to the guys?

Bayley: It depends. Sometimes I have sent songs to them in that form. “Heat Waves” kind of ended up very, very similar to the demo that I sent to them. We tried to take it apart together and rebuild it, but it didn’t end up as good. So, you kind of hear the demo on “Heat Waves.” The first few seconds, where you can hear it really filtered down, that is my phone recording from that original little fuckaround that I did.
    Sometimes they’ll say they hate it, sometimes they say they just like the vocal line and we’ll take the whole thing apart and rebuild together. It just depends what they think of it, to be honest. 

MC: You were nominated for a couple of American Music Awards, losing out to Machine Gun Kelly and BTS. Thoughts on that?

Bayley: It’s amazing. Really wonderful. When we started, it was never about awards or anything like that but it feels incredible to have any recognition, especially after the circumstances of how this album was released. Our drummer had a terrible accident and nearly died, and we were just coming back from that when we were hit with the pandemic. All of those plans were torn up, and with that and with it being such a personal record and having taken quite a big punt on that, it does feel amazing.

MC: That’s right—I believe Joe Seaward had to learn to drum again?

Bayley: It was quite a long process. We were halfway through touring the second record when he had that accident. He’s made an amazing recovery and is back on the drumkit, playing as well as ever.

MC: The “I Don’t Wanna Talk (I Just Wanna Dance)” single was your last release of the year. Why that song?

Bayley: There’s a lot that comes with a record. Launching it is a lot of work. So every time after we’ve done an album, I find it’s quite daunting to start making music again because it’s associated with all that, not baggage, but a lot of other things. So I quite like just going into the studio and making a song. Giving yourself a few days, writing a few songs and just putting one out, so break through the pressure. It breaks the ice again. We’ve done that now after every record—released one or two songs as a stopgap that takes the pressure off. I hate the idea of not writing music at all between albums. It could really hinder the process. So that’s where that song came from. 

MC: What do you see the future holding for live music in 2022? Planning to tour?

Bayley: Yes, we’re going to tour a lot. I think it’s going to be really busy. We’re going back to the States in March, which will be wonderful. Then we’ve got Europe, then festivals, then there’s even more coming, then there’s Australia. We’re kind of making up for lost time.

MC: Do you have a view on vaccine and masking mandates in music venues?

Bayley: I think people should do everything they can to make shows as safe as possible. We did our last tour completely outdoors, and I think that was particularly helpful. Going into the next tour, we’ll assess the situation as it approaches, because I feel like everything’s changing every week at the moment. We’ve got to be safe. Live music is important, for everyone’s sanity.

MC: What do you think of the overall state of the U.K. music scene? 

Bayley: It feels healthy. There’s a lot of amazing music coming out of the U.K. It feels really good. I think people are hesitant to tour, but it’s happening and shows are happening. I’ve been to a couple and they’ve been absolutely wicked. A band called Wet Leg, and a band called Squid, I really like. There’s a producer called Lil Silva that I love. Arlo Parks, I’ve liked for a long time. 

MC: Do you enjoy visiting the States?

Bayley: I love it. I grew up in the States, so it feels like home. I feel like a kid again every time I come to the States. I grew up in Texas. Bryan, College Station. I spent some time in Massachusetts when I was really young. I was actually born in a place called Grafton. Population 8,000 probably. I was 13 when I moved to Oxford. It was quite a weird time to move because I was just sort of working out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life, and that obviously shook things up a bit. It was a big move and a culture shock, but ultimately I think it was a good thing for me.
    I ended up meeting my best friends, and Oxford, England in general, is a pretty good place to grow up and live your teen years. You can walk everywhere. You’re not trapped at home, which I very much felt in Texas. Bryan is about three hours from Austin and a bit more than that from Dallas, a couple of hours from Houston. You’re not walking anywhere. 

MC: What gear do you use?

Bayley: I’ve got a Mellotron M4000d over here and I use that a lot. Half of the synths that you hear in Glass Animals records is that. 

    I’ve got a Jupiter-6 over here that I use a lot. That’s my baby—I love that thing. I use ProTools for tracking, and Ableton is really good for starting ideas and sketching ideas, because you can work so fast, loop things and pitch things around. I write a lot of songs really quickly, then throw them out because they’re all shit. 

     I’ve got some old amps here that I use, and I have an old Fender ’57 Deluxe. That’s my favorite amp. I’ve got an old Laney VC30 amp over here that I use a lot. 

    I use a lot of UAD stuff now. I’ve got an Apollo, and for recording my vocals I use a U67 mic. I used to go through a Neve 1073 areamp, but now I go through the new Neve Shelford Channel, which is really good, then the Tube-Tech CL1B. For bass, I like the sound of valves, so I usually have a Hofner 500 that I use on almost everything. That is really the bass sound that you hear on everything. I go through that Fender 5’7 Deluxe with the U47 mic, and I go through a Universal Audio 6176 Valve Pre for that. 

    For guitars, I just use an SM57, on the mic going through that amp, and through an 1176 compressor. Usually, Neve preamps for guitars and keyboards. I like the warmth. But I have so much shit. I use these old Hofner guitars that I’m obsessed with. I have like six of them, but they always fall apart. Hofner Galaxie, they’re called. They sound amazing when they work.    

    What else have I got? Old Wems, old Casios, loads of old shit. I can talk for ages.

MC: How about on stage, including the other band members?

Bayley: I know that I use a Strat, a ‘50s Strat, and a Danelectro, but I only use the Danelectro because it’s really light and I broke my back. I use a DiPinto Galaxie. I use that on stage. And a whole bunch of pedals. 

    Joe’s using a modern Ludwig kit live. Because it’s touring and vintage ones get battered. I love Reply vintage mahogany Ludwig kits. That’s my kit of choice—the kit on the records. Ed uses a modern Hofner 500 bass because taking an old one out is pointless. Drew uses a Fender Jag and a Fino guitar. All with those Fender Deluxe amps live, and loads of pedals. 

    And then loads of synths. But we’ve sampled all the synths live, so we actually run Ableton Live. We don’t use any backing tracks or click tracks, it’s all live live. Which causes problems but it’s worth it. But yeah, we sampled all the synthesizers that I have and that’s what we use in the live realm rather than bringing loads of vintage synths which would be a nightmare.

MC: What’s next, in terms of more releases, shows, etcetera?

Bayley: There’s stuff floating around, but really I’m gonna chill a little bit for the first bit of the year. There’s some potential collaborative stuff coming that I’m really excited about, but I can’t say any more. New sounds pretty soon.

Contact [email protected]

Photos By Pooneh Ghana, Meredith Truax

Editor's Note: An edit was made to the online version of this article but not in print. Please note that the “Heat Waves” single went triple platinum, and the band were nominated for Best New Artist at the GRAMMY Awards.