If somehow you found yourself spilling your life story to Glass Animals frontman Dave Bayley while the band had been touring the past couple years, you may want to tread lightly while listening to How To Be A Human Being.
Inspiration for the British indie-pop group’s 2016 follow up to ZABA came from secretly recorded conversations Bayley had with all walks of people while on the road – cab drivers, fans, baristas, radio station employees and more. The end result is an album spanning a variety of different musical genres, held together by a common thread.
Each song tells the story of a different character whose personality and day-to-day experience was drawn from the real-life acquaintances Bayley made on tour. It’s not quite a concept album, but Glass Animals certainly have crafted a unique listening experience.
Bayley sat down for an interview with veteran music journalist Alan Light on Masterclass – a new podcast series on Spotify – back in September before a couple of sold out shows at New York’s Terminal 5.
Here are some highlights:
There were some goals in mind while preparing to make a new record
“There’s always a goal. With an album, the goal is to make something cohesive and that plays really well start to finish and takes you on a journey. Like The Dark Side of the Moon, I think is a perfect example of that. You go in at one end, and it takes you through every emotion and spits you out the other. It takes you to another world. So that’s always one of the goals. The other goal with an album is to do something that you find fresh and interesting and unique. You can spend time second guessing what other people will like, and you just have to do something that’s cool to you.”
Songwriting came easily and naturally while listening to those conversations from the road
“My memory is terrible so I recorded them all. I listened to them back and realized that there are certain themes that hold all these stories together. Certain ways that people talk about certain things. People exaggerate certain things. People leave out things, and that says things about them as a person and their life and their background and really people as a whole. It had a lot of layers to it, these stories. I thought I’d just make up my own characters and my own stories, and hopefully try and fit all of those themes and ideas I learned from those recordings into this record.
“As soon as you start putting pen to paper and you start getting an idea of who this character is, it actually comes really easy to write a song quite quickly. If you get stuck you just start to wonder what they do in their everyday life. What’s around them? What’s in their house? And you can add that into the sonics.”
The band has taken some pretty cool extra steps in order to give these characters life. The Glass Animals website offers an interactive experience where visitors can check out separate pages for the album’s first two tracks: “Life Itself,” and “Youth”. There’s even a retro, Nintendo-style 8-bit game for “Season 2 Episode 3.”
“People can catch something you didn’t catch in the lyrics the first time around. Maybe you can really see where some of the sounds were chosen…It’s just another way in. People used to buy vinyl, and you’d get all the artwork inside, the fold out poster. You get a lyric sheet. You get some photographs of the studio, and it gave you context for all the music you’re about to listen to. Now that everyone’s doing things differently, there’s not really an equivalent. So this was our attempt at doing something similar and give context to the music.”
Bayley also sought out different instruments and synths to further enhance the personal experience within each song
“For instance there’s a song called “Pork Soda” on the record. It’s about this homeless guy who lives outside. Once we finished the lyrics, you learn quite about his life and where he lives. So we actually went out and recorded the song. We made a drum kit out of trash and put it out on the street with a microphone. We all stood around and started chanting. You can do things like that. ”
The production process was much different from creating ZABA
“It was backwards. The last album started very much with electronics and beats, and then vocal lines came on top of those melodies. Lyrics also became a part of the soundscape. Where as this time the songs were about people. It was the other way around entirely. I wanted the lyrics to be the focus.”
Most of the final versions that we hear on the record were more or less like the first drafts
“…When we sat back and looked at it, and went back in to try and change things up a little bit more, we realized we were actually taking away from the spontaneity of a lot the songs…There’s something that you capture when you’re putting things down really quickly. When you’re rushing around the studio tweaking synthesizers, picking up the first guitar and plugging it into the first pedals that you find…There’s a different kind of energy there, and we realized that when we went back to try and edit those things, it lost something.”
Bayley counts The Beatles as one of his earliest musical influences
“Definitely The White Album. My dad used to have that record just lying around. He used to listen to that all the time. And he used to play music for me before I went to bed. I’d always request the piggies song. If anyone knows that one, it’s a banger.”
He also listened to a lot of hip hop growing up
“I grew up for a bit in Texas when I was kid. It was a tiny, little town. There were a couple of [radio] stations there. Most of them played country music. One of them played gangster rap….It was everything Dr. Dre produced, everything Timbaland produced, everything The Neptunes and Pharrell produced. And from there I got into Madlib and [MF DOOM], and started looking at [A Tribe Called Quest] records. And now of course, the production in hip hop is absolutely incredible. It’s so forward-thinking, more than most other genres.”
Getting How To Be A Human Being ready to play live took some tinkering
“It’s really tough. There’s only four of us in the band. And we can only do so much. I hate backing tracks and clicks. They’re evil. We do what four people can do and that means we have to change some things. Change the arrangements, some of the structures and it takes a little bit of time to work it out. So the first couple shows of the tour we’re still finding our feet.”
Bayley called “Agnes” his favorite song off the new record
“I like songs with a bit of playfulness in the sounds and the production. I think that definitely comes through on all the tracks on the record, maybe except for [“Agnes”]. Which definitely touches on a much darker, deeper subject matter. And there are places on the album that are incredibly personal. I know that writing all these stories about other people gave me an excuse to sort of put myself into a lot of these stories. And some of those characters are actually just me.”
But “Season 2 Episode 3” was the most fun to write
“It’s just cheeky. Everyone knows someone like that. Everyone knows someone that just sits on the sofa all day doing nothing with their lives. Watching Netflix serials for hours and hours a day.”
The band wanted to maintain its creative identity while pushing toward a new sound
“I think you have to have a bit of faith in your taste and sounds. When you go into the studio and start making sounds, everyone has different tastes and likes slightly different sounds. Some people like death metal and that really heavy guitar sound. And I really like the sort of raw sound of a little Fender Champ plugged into my shitty old ’63 Hofner. People will gravitate to those different sounds, and you just have to trust the fact that you’re going to keep gravitating towards that type of sound.
“All the music gets pushed through the filter of the other three guys as well. And they have tastes just like any of us. So if they don’t like a certain part of it, it’s out. And we have to come up with a new bit that everyone likes.”
The story behind the name Glass Animals is not all that exciting
“When I first showed the music to other guys in the band they were like, “This is great. You should put it on the internet.” And I was like, “Cool. I’ll put it on the internet if you’re in the band with me.” And they were like, “OK, cool. Band formed. Done.” And then we were like, “Oh shit. We need a name.” And we sat around for a couple days…and just started writing down names for a bit. Doing what teenagers do, drinking and what not. We had all these names. And they were all rubbish. So we just chose the first one, and it was Glass Animals.
There’s a handful of artists he hopes one day come calling for a collaboration
“I think [Kendrick Lamar]’s an incredible artist. Who wouldn’t want to collaborate with Beyoncé? I’ve been listening to a bit of the Alabama Shakes. I think [their lead singer Brittany Howard]’s voice is incredible. I saw them live the other day and to work with someone’s voice like that would just be mind blowing. But I’m always keen to work with people that do something I will never be able to do. I can’t really rap yet. There’s some areas of chord work where I’m not really good yet. So I’d love to work with some classical people. And there’s some people who are masters of modular synths. I’d love to work with all sorts. But…Beyoncé.”
Working with Joey Bada$$ was worth the wait
“I went to the studio at about three in the afternoon. And Joey didn’t turn up. He was meant to be there. It happens, often. And so I was just messing around. I made a couple beats. And then eight hours later, Joey rocks up. He’s like, “Dude, I’m sorry. I was helping my mom.” I said, “Fair enough. That’s cool. You got to help your mom.” Then he came in and he was like super pro. I played him a couple of beats. And he’s like, “The first one, that’s fire.” I played the next one. He’s like, “Yeah that’s fire. That’s fire.” I played the third one and he’s like, “Bro, that’s fucking fire.” He started jumping up and down. He’s like, “Alright. I’m ready.” And he went into the booth and did his thing. Then he came out, and I’m ready, I’ve got my line and go into the booth and do my thing. Then we had both of us down and that was it.”
His goals for the future are pretty simple
“I just love making music. If I can keep doing that for the rest of my sane life, I’d be really happy. I think that’s my ultimate goal. And survive…maybe live under a tree or something. Maybe that’s not incredibly ambitious, but to keep doing interesting things. If I ever start to create things that I listen back to and are quite boring, I’d be really upset with myself. You have to tell me I’ve done something really dull.”