Sitting in his home studio in Hackney, just out of two weeks’ quarantine and still a long way from his music life getting back to normal, Dave Bayley of Glass Animals is feeling optimistic.
“Between me and the guys, we have a lot of ideas for how to keep things ticking – almost too many ideas,” he tells me. They include, as of next week, filling their website with downloadable music samples and images so that fans can make their own versions of Glass Animals songs and artwork. At the other end of the creative spectrum, the band have just begun selling two types of toilet roll in their online merch store, one dotted with the four Oxford schoolfriends’ faces, the other printed with the words “Ass Glanimals”.
“I think everyone’s in an interesting headspace,” he continues. “Maybe the stress and the anxiety of all this, plus the isolation, could be quite healthy for people’s creativity in a weird way. Or maybe people have just run out of weed and started to be more productive.”
Through his webcam, the lockdown zone the 30-year-old shares with his partner looks perfectly pleasant: plants similar to the giant palm trees that his band bring on tour, laptop, synthesizer, guitars, Mellotron, sofa, a little bit of garden. “You don’t need much to make music these days. I can do everything I need to do.”
Despite them looking like your typical floppy-haired indie band – drummer Joe Seaward, bassist Ed Irwin-Singer and guitarist/keyboardist Drew MacFarlane complete the group – the songs tend to originate in Bayley’s brain and often sit closer to dancey electronica and American R&B. He lived in the US til his mid-teens, first in Massachusetts, then Texas, and takes his inspiration from the studio whizzes, such as Timbaland and The Neptunes, that he grew up hearing on local rap radio. With his smooth falsetto and polished productions, I’d file his band somewhere between Hot Chip and Alt-J.
They haven’t had a proper hit yet, but softhearted early single Gooey is on 180 million Spotify plays and their reputation is growing. Their second album, How to be a Human Being, was named alongside Stormzy, Ed Sheeran and eventual winner Sampha on the shortlist for the 2017 Mercury Prize (they lost their nominee’s trophy the same drunken night, if you wouldn’t mind keeping an eye out). Since then Bayley has spent time in LA writing and producing with big Americans including Khalid and 6lack.
The band were in the US again recently and had to get home in a hurry. When worldwide restrictions on movement started coming into place, they were nine dates into a North American tour. They played the Troubadour in Hollywood on March 11, travelled to San Francisco for the next show and had to quit before they took to the stage.
“You could see the flight prices going up and up. We took all our gear out of our trailer in the middle of the road, put it on a truck which went to a warehouse in Tennessee, and got on a plane two hours later. It was like a proper abort mission,” says Bayley. Unfortunately, it was an “underplay” tour – where bands play venues smaller than they can usually fill to build buzz for new material – and they didn’t get to the three bigger gigs at the end which were going to pay for the whole undertaking. “I think we’ve worked out a way of taking care of our crew, who are like family, which makes me really happy,” he says.
It’s actually the second tour they’ve had to drop suddenly. In July 2018, while cycling in Dublin, Seaward was hit by a lorry and suffered a fractured skull and a broken leg. He needed operations on both his brain and his leg and lost the ability to speak for a while. “It was a really bad head injury. He was 50/50. But he lived. He was back at the drum kit a couple of months after the accident, almost before he started speaking. He’s one of those people who is just insanely determined. It was never an option for him not to come back and be even better than he was before.”
The abandoned 2020 tour was about getting Seaward gently back into live performing with smaller venues. However, almost four years since their last album, with two new songs appearing recently – a collaboration with Florida rapper Denzel Curry called Tokyo Drifting last November, and last month, the quirky Bollywood pop of Your Love (Déjà Vu) – there’s clearly a bigger comeback in the works.
The virus upheaval means Bayley now has to be cagey about future plans. “Your Love was going to be the first single from the new… upcoming project,” he says. “I’m not meant to talk about it, but it’s obvious, isn’t it? Something’s coming. There was a master plan – almost an hour-by-hour thing of what we’re doing – and that’s all been chucked out the window.”
Describing the new music the band have already been playing on tour, he says he’s been writing from more of a personal perspective than ever before. On the previous album, he was telling stories of strangers he’d met on the road, apart from the ballad Agnes, which is about the death of a friend. He struggles to perform it live sometimes, he admits, but it is probably their best song, so it’s hardly surprising he might try to tap into that area again.
“The new stuff is very personal, and I’m still a bit weird about it. I constantly feel quite selfish. Singing these songs the first couple of times, they really pulled on the nerves.”
They may not be heard in public again for a while yet, though. Instead, with bandmates scattered to their respective homes or with parents, he’s trying other things. He’s been recording cover versions and putting them on YouTube, putting a unique electronic spin on Lana Del Rey’s Young and Beautiful and Nirvana’s Heart-Shaped Box so far. He did a home broadcast for the web channel Colors this week. Next he’s planning on doing a song with new singer Arlo Parks over the phone. “The band thought about doing a live thing from four different places, but the energy of a live show comes from the people that aren’t on the stage,” he says. “There’s this unity and you can’t quite get that in another way.”
“I am really positive but also every once in a while, you have these flashes of doom,” he continues. “Oh my god, the tour is fucked. Is this new music going to be relevant when it comes out in a month, in a year, maybe two? And I have these flashes of panic about the whole music industry. Are festivals going to recover? Will people still be interested in going to see live music after all this?”
It’ll pass, he concludes, settling on spending more time co-writing with others remotely for now. “A lot of people have a bit of time now. There’s a lot of creative energy around and there’s going to be a lot more music made. People have ideas. It’s good.”
Your Love (Déjà Vu) is out now on Polydor.
glassanimals.com is relaunched on April 8.