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Glass Animals are a quartet from the UK that combine an ear for a catchy melody with ’90s R&B and deft electronic touches to create an incredibly accessible yet still multi-layered sound. Interesting production and abstract lyricism help to paint a strong picture for the band, who have released three EPs (Leaflings in 2012, a self-titled EP at the end of 2013, and Gooey in April) and double A-side of “Black Mambo / Exxus” in 2013.
Glass Animals’ music removes the listener from their surroundings, taking them on an auditory magic carpet ride, maybe somewhere in space, maybe somewhere in the clouds. Songs like “Black Mambo,” “Gooey,” and “Pools” (their most recent release), demand multiple listens, whether to appreciate all the layers of production or to see if they really just moaned “sip the wind through lips of lust.” Each song feels like a short story, an abstract sculpture, melting and refusing to sit still.
While Glass Animals anticipate the release of their debut album, ZABA, dropping on June 9, we spoke with lead singer Dave Bayley about linking up with super-producer Paul Epworth and his WolfTone label, hip-hop collaborations, and listening to gangsta rap.
Glass Animals tour the US in July, dates are below.
How has 2014 been treating Glass Animals?
2014 has been treating us very well. We’ve had some crazy adventures… and it’s only May.
Can you tell me a little about how the four of you formed?
I wrote a song. I showed it to my friends Joe (Seaward, drummer), Ed (Irwin-Singer, bassist/keyboardist), and Drew (MacFarlane, keyboardist/guitarist). We started band.
What other band names were thrown into the mix before choosing Glass Animals?
Oh, this is a popular question! We gave ourselves a week to come up with a name. At the end of that week, some seriously stupid stuff had been thrown around. But we looked back at the list, and the first one was Glass Animals. It worked with the music.
You’ve gained a great deal of buzz from EPs and singles. What do you think about the short format versus the album?
Until relatively recently, we were still experimenting and finding out what sounds we liked. Those shorter formats were a way of releasing those experiments. I prefer the longer album format, and I am a big fan of the album as an art form. But I didn’t feel like we could start that project until we had a stronger idea of what we wanted.
With that in mind, are you currently working on a full-length?
The record is done! We finished it in December. Or was it January? It’s all a bit of a blur. Whenever it was, it was cold and festive. I was definitely wearing a hat.
What does the rest of year look like?
Fun and busy and exciting. Our album will come out in June. Then lots of touring. Lots of festivals. Heading to America in July for a big tour. Some collabs, maybe?
On that note, how did you get linked up with Chicago artist Jean Deaux for “Woozy”?
I have a friend who is really into discovering young MCs. He sits me down every once in a while and we listen to stuff. He played me this a cappella she had on Soundcloud and it was totally brilliant. I sent her an e-mail and she was a fan of Glass Animals so I actually went out to New York to do some production for her mixtape. We did the bulk of this in a morning and then she wanted me to sing on it too. Then the band guys had some ideas for it and it just spiraled out of control into a Glass Animals track.
Do you see yourself doing any hip-hop crossover tracks in the future?
For sure. We’re always looking to link up with people who can throw something different into the mix. We all really love hip hop, but sadly none of us can rap yet. I’m working on it. Album two…?!
Your music is a mix of lots of different elements, where do you draw your influences from?
Our influences are pretty broad. I love old soul and R&B songwriters and singers like Nina Simone and Otis Redding. I used to live in a small town in America where there were only two radio stations: a Christian country music station and a gangsta rap/urban station. As Christian country made me feel sick, I listened to heaps of Dr. Dre, Missy Elliott, Snoop Dogg, etc. Then at university, I was living in South London where the bass music scene was blowing up. Joy Orbison and Four Tet and DMZ were all constantly on in the clubs and in my headphones. Drew and Ed love jazz and classical music, and Joe is into quite similar music to me but with extra sprinkles of Destiny’s Child.
I saw you at SXSW and your live show blew me away. How was that experience for you?
South By was brilliant fun. You throw all your gear onstage in five minutes. Then you just start playing and hope it’s all plugged in properly and working. The risk gives it quite an edge.
Was it your first time playing in the States?
Yeah, it was. But we’ll be back doing a full US tour in July. I can’t wait; America has such good food.
Tell me a little bit about the chemistry and environment in the studio.
Most of our time in the studio is spent capturing sounds we can’t get at home, and then doing the final editing and touch ups on things. I get my brain tangled in weird synths and amps. Drew gets cozy with all the shiny guitars. Joe starts hitting everything with sticks. And Ed falls asleep on the sofa. When we record, I like to capture a mood. If a song is dark and scary, we’ll turn the lights off and turn the subwoofers up really loud and have Joe drum in pitch darkness. I think everyone gets a bit fed up with me spending an hour trying to make a synth sound like a certain species of yawning hippo, or me asking people to do ridiculous things like play the drums with handfuls of wooden spoons. We have a good time.
Who would you love to collaborate with?
Ummm J Dilla. RIP. I’d love him to chop up one of our tracks. But who wouldn’t?
Can you tell me a little bit about the writing process?
The vocal melody will generally have been there from the very beginning, but the words are written after the music has been written and recorded. That’s done for two reasons. One, I can create a story in the lyrics that fit the sonics of the song. And two, I can use certain types of words whose sounds contribute to the sonics, and hence to the story, too.
How did you get linked up with Wolf Tone?
Paul [Epworth], the head of the label, came down to our first London show. I hugely respect his work as a producer and grew up listening to records he’d made. So it was pretty scary seeing his name on the guest list. But we met afterwards and talked about music for ages. The next month, we all went to see Flying Lotus together. It was us, our manager, and his Wolf Tone team and he started telling us about his label and how he’d like to sign us. They were such a nice bunch and it’s such a homely vibe at Wolf Tone, which really suited us as we were newcomers to the music industry. Next thing we knew, we were in the studio together.
Do you have a particularly favorite track of yours?
Oh I definitely couldn’t choose. That’s like choosing a favourite child.
Do you have any words of wisdom for struggling artists?
The most important thing I took away from making our album is that trusting your gut instinct is incredibly important.
Any final thoughts, shout-outs? Thank you!
Hi mom. And thank you, you have a great blog going.
07/01/2014 – Rickshaw Shop – San Francisco, CA
07/02/2014 – The Masonic Lodge At Hollywood – Los Angeles, CA
07/03/2014 – The Masonic Lodge At Hollywood – Los Angeles, CA
07/06/2014 – The Sinclair – Cambridge, MA
07/07/2014 – Mercury Lounge – New York, NY
07/08/2014 – U Street Music Hall – Washington, DC
07/10/2014 – Empty Bottle – Chicago, IL
07/11/2014 – 7th St. Entry – Minneapolis, MN
07/12/2014 – Czar Bar – Kansas City, MO
07/13/2014 – The Riot Room – Kansas City, MO