Sometimes it’s a kind of lottery to land a hit and become successful players in the music world. It can be, among other things, the algorithm of a streaming platform that puts you on a famous playlist, the soundtrack of a TV show that features your song, or a simple coincidence. In the case of long lasting British indie pop formation Glass Animals, it was luck in misfortune: their third album Dreamland was released during the first pandemic summer, so they didn’t have the chance to play their new tracks live on stage right afterwards. But since the whole world was in a global lockdown and people were not able to do the things they normally do, Dreamland and especially the single Heat Waves were received in a different way, taking the group we’ve been following for almost a decade finally (and surprisingly) into mainstream pop waters, resulting in an almost ironic Grammy nomination as “Best New Artist” recently.
A personal lockdown
During the first pandemic summer, many people became nostalgic and thought of times when they could go outside without fear of infection. Some of us took refuge in our memories – like Dave Bayley did when he wrote Glass Animals‘ third album Dreamland. Although he started working on the album before Covid hit the world and the global time-out began, he found himself in personal lockdown after the band’s drummer, Joe, was hit by a truck and it wasn’t clear whether he would survive or not.
“I basically wrote the album when I spent a lot of time in a weird personal lockdown. Our drummer had this accident and was locked up in hospital. I was there with him waiting for news. He’s since made an amazing recovery and is back on tour, which is great. I spent a lot of time not going out, not seeing my friends and not being able to do things that you actually take for granted. That’s when your brain starts reminiscing and gets really nostalgic. I finished writing the album, we played tiny shows for three weeks, and then – BAM – the pandemic hit. And suddenly everyone was in the state I was in a year before. I think everyone unintentionally ended up in a similar mindset as I was and what the album is about.”
When I was talking to Dave about the new album, I caught him on a tour bus – they had finally been able to play some live shows after a long break. Not being able to go on stage after bringing a new album into the world was the daily deal for many artists. As Dave puts it, “I felt like I was watching another artist release their album“. But with the start of their tour at the end of 2021, after almost 1 ½ year live break, “it started to feel real again”.
A trip down memory lane
The 16 tracks of Dreamland (including some excerpts from old home videos) take the listener on a journey through Dave’s personal experiences during his childhood and youth in the 1990s and early 2000s. To catapult the listener into these bygone times, the songwriter used many different pop culture references such as the famous TV series Friends, the video game Pokémon or the sweet drink Capri Sun.
“I grew up listening to a lot of these pop culture pieces and the album goes through a lot of different stages of my life. From when I first remembered it to when I finished writing it. With pop culture references, it’s very easy to place a song in a specific time. You can mention one thing – Pokémon – and you’re taken back to the time when you were playing with Pokémon cards. There are certain pop culture references to TV shows, films and even food that really take you back to that time. So I like to use them, especially in the context of an album. They frame the songs very well.”
It’s not just Dreamland’s lyrics that take you on a trip down memory lane, but also the homepage Dave has created for the album. When you visit the band’s website, you enter the interface of an old PC, probably a Windows 2000 version. A desktop with various folders, some pop-ups and lots of things to explore takes you back to the late 90s.
“You are taken back to that time and immediately get a feeling of nostalgia. I feel like a website is now part of an album. An album starts with the music, but it’s also the artwork and the live show. Now it’s what you do on the internet, the website. I wanted people to open up on the website and feel the context of the album. I tried to find a way to create that nostalgic feeling, but I also tried to make it super interactive and super creative and give people lots of things to download and play with. I was staring at my computer thinking about how I could create a website and it was literally right in front of me. I looked at the desktop and thought, this is it, everything is in folders.”
Glassanimals.com is an open source website that offers users various ways to get creative. Fans can submit messages, sounds, animations (the band uses a giant TV during their live shows that shows a submitted fan animation) and anything else they can think of.
“People even helped us make Pez dispensers with our heads!”
Talking about the fans’ contribution to the Glass Animals cosmos, emotions ran high and Dave almost cried. Especially in relation to the pandemic and its aftermath.
“The most important thing I think is that when you do something, the best and highest thing you can ask for is a creative response. And that was so important during the pandemic when we couldn’t see people. The submissions meant so much to me during that time. That was what woke me up in the morning and encouraged me to do more. For me, that’s the biggest encouragement ever.”
Fan reaction to Glass Animals’ music was also the reason Dave decided to make the latest album more personal than the previous two. Although he’s still not very self-conscious about talking about personal things, he did it anyway because of people’s reactions to the other albums and especially to the track Agnes (a single of How To Be A Human Being), which was “kind of personal, but with veiled, cloudy references“.
“The listeners’ reactions to that song were another level. It was so meaningful and we got so many letters saying how much the song meant to someone and how much it helped them. After that I thought, if I can write a personal song and it helps one person, then I can overcome my own paranoia and write even more personal songs. Also, I realised that a lot of my favourite musicians and songwriters have written very personal songs, and those were the songs that made me feel better when I was feeling down. I was listening to ‘Pet Sounds’ by the Beach Boys and what Bryan Wilson writes about is very personal. He’s my hero.”
The soundtrack for growing up
Musically, Dreamland is also inspired by the past, particularly the music Dave listened to when he was younger. Justin Timberlake, Dr. Dre and Missy Elliot are just a few of the main influences the singer named in our little Zoom chat. Growing up in a small town in Texas, America, Dave’s influences came from the local radio station. There were only two stations – country or pop – so he didn’t have much choice. As you can probably imagine, his decision wasn’t in favour of country music.
“I listened to everything on the pop station from 1999 to 2007. That really had a heavenly influence on this album. And then it was also the songs my mother raised me on. Everyone listens to what the family plays in the house growing up. It was the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Otis Redding, Talking Heads…. I went out and bought all the equipment they used to make their records and kind of mixed that with the pop sound of 2001, and that’s the sound of the new album.”
As mentioned earlier, the British band had to postpone their tour until 2021 and 2022 due to the ongoing pandemic. When I talked to Dave, they had just played a show in Dublin the night before. The city where the band’s drummer, Joe, had his horrific bike accident.
“It was the first time Joe had played drums on stage in Dublin after his accident. The sergeant and his family, all the people who are credited with saving his life, were there and I just couldn’t help it – I was crying. It got to the last song and halfway through I just couldn’t sing anymore and I started crying. It was overwhelming and absolutely crazy. He’s really made an amazing recovery, it’s a miracle.”
Like a family
After nearly crying again – Dave seems like a pretty emotional guy, which is really sweet and makes him even more likeable – I tried to end the conversation with a more joking question about the dynamics of the band. After all, they are four friends making music together, and one of them – Dave – is in the spotlight. You’d imagine there’s a kind of jealousy that comes up sometimes because he’s the brains behind the project. He laughts and states:
“I don’t think so. We’re all very busy and have other things to do. Drew does a lot of composition work and Ed does a lot of technical stuff. He builds microphones and preamps and actually most of the equipment we use on the album. Basically everyone is very busy and we’ve known each other since we were 12. We’re pretty open, we’re like a family in that respect.”
Asked about arguments between them – which often occur between family members – he could only think of one small argument that wasn’t even really an argument.
“Joe was playing football on the bus. And you know how all parents tell their kids not to play ball in the house. That’s like the number one rule. So Drew was sitting at his laptop listening to something, and Joe was kicking the ball up and down, and for some reason the ball bounced off the wall onto Drew’s laptop and hit him. That was the only moment. I thought it was absolutely hilarious, I watched the whole thing and knew it would happe. It’s the perfect scenario for a disaster, but I’m just going to sit here and watch and fold my arms.”
Dreamland by Glass Animals is out via Polydor.
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