A Conversation with Glass Animals

Glass Animals portrait Osheaga

As the frontman of British act Glass Animals, Dave Bayley is gregarious and animated. Behind the scenes, he’s more measured, thoughtful, as if he’s saving his energy for the next burst of inspiration. But in any context, there’s an eagerness to him. His band’s most recent album, How To Be A Human Being, dives into his own experiences, and humanity’s collective experience. We sat down with Bayley at Osheaga to chat about their live energy, making albums in the studio, and his catalog of stories from around the world.

PMA: Is this your first time at Osheaga?

Dave: We were here in 2015 as well. It was nuts. It felt like a British festival.

PMA: In what sense?

Dave: People get down and dirty. At least they did when we were on stage. Lots of flags.

PMA: Union Jacks?

Dave: No, like flags with Bill Murray’s head on them.

PMA: You seem to bring it out in the crowd. There’s an energy you have on stage that doesn’t show up on record.

Dave: You can do totally different things in the studio, and it’s a solitary, introspective event. Live shows are the opposite. I guess you can either try and make the live show sound like the studio, or you can embrace it for what it is, which is a crowd of drunk, excited people. It’s way more interesting when artists present their music in a slightly different way. I see a lot of people these days show up, push play and a backing track for a studio recording comes on and then five people stand there, perfectly still.

PMA: How To Be A Human Being struck me as a bit more restrained than Zaba. Is that you embracing the solitude and introspection you find in the studio?

Dave: You think How To Be A Human Being is more restrained?

PMA: In the sense that it looks inward. It feels calmer to me.

Dave: Most people say the opposite. I don’t really know, I’m too close to it all. People say Zaba is more chilled. How To Be A Human Being has moments that are intimate, like “Mama’s Gun”, and then there’s “Life Itself”. There are more extremes on the record. Zaba, we were really naïve, we really didn’t know how to make a record. We’d never been in bands before.

PMA: You’ve all known each other for a long time, though.

Dave: Yeah, but we never played together. We did one silly show of Strokes covers for a friend’s birthday when we were 17. We’d always go to the local venue and see our favorite bands and stuff, but starting our own band came about way later on.

PMA: You said you were naïve. What would you have done differently with Zaba, if you could do it again?

Dave: We were a bit too clinical. Everything had to be perfect and polished, with multiple takes. After playing live a bit, you realize the little mistakes are what gives it a bit of soul. The new album is a little more shambolic.

PMA: Any plans to get back in the studio?

Dave: Well it’s festival season, but there’s always stuff going on. We do shows on weekends then fly back to England for the week.

PMA: You’re commuting?

Dave: Yep. Every week. During the week we mess around in the studio, but we’re just making noise and seeing what happens. I’m doing some production and writing for other people, as well. I like thinking about records as a big picture thing. All the songs need to be cohesive with one another, the artwork, the live show. It all needs to create a universe.

PMA: So what’s the starting point for that?

Dave: You know when you have it. Like with How To Be A Human Being, I’d recorded all of these stories people had been telling me when we were touring for Zaba. I sat down and had like 24 hours of stories, and I saw how they could all be put to music. They were stories from all over the world. And you notice themes that run through all of them. Some of them were disgusting, some were hilarious, some were heartbreaking. And you could relate to them all, no matter how dark, sad or weird.

PMA: So how much of the record is those stories?

Dave: Some of it is my life that I fill in, and I created some of the characters, but some of it is the stories, too. You meet some amazing people and hear some weird stuff. Sometimes I’d get someone to tell me a story again and I’d record it, or I’d record it in secret. I just didn’t want to forget. I have terrible short-term memory

PMA: Well technology is here to save you.

Dave: Thankfully.

PMA: Favourite album of the last 12 months, give or take?

Dave: New record? It’s probably more than a year old now. Malibu by Anderson Paak is a really great record. It’s clever in so many ways, very colorful. But the rhythms are what get me. Every drum hit is perfectly placed. And one old record that I’ve been revisiting is Pet Sounds by Beach Boys. One of my favorites of all time.

PMA: You guys should do a cover album and call it Animal Sounds.

Dave: Maybe one day.