In just two years, Glass Animals has released two albums, solidifying their place as one of the UK’s most exciting new acts. Their first release, 2014’s Zaba, showcased the band’s ability to move seamlessly across genre without being defined by one, fusing indie-pop, psychedelia and electronic R&B in a refreshing mix of earnest lyrics and catchy hooks. Since then, the boys have toured the world and grown up along the way—the result, How To Be A Human Being.
Inspired by the people lead singer, Dave Bayley, met on tour, and the stories that went with them, How To Be A Human Being is an exercise in just that, poetically expressing the emotional conflicts that come with living out of a suitcase. Leaning on the band’s indie-R&B roots more so than the previous album, this LP combines Glass Animals’ pop sensibility with a grittier edge.
“Pork Soda” and “Take A Slice” channel early Beck, while Bayley’s voice soars over blues-inspired riffs on the lovelorn “Poplar St.” Upbeat album opener, “Life Itself,” is an infectious dance track that fades into “Youth,” a classic pop song. Bayley’s hip-hop background is evident in the album’s production and in the Outkast, “Peaches and Cream” vibe of “Season 2 Episode 3.” Like Zaba, How To Be A Human Being shows how Glass Animals can transcend genre while highlighting the best parts of each.
BULLETT sat down with Dave Bayley to talk about the album, his previous career, and Xander, his pet bunny.
Tell me about the album.
We’ve been traveling so much and meeting all of these brilliant people, and I had kind of been secretly recording all the things they were telling me. When you listen back to those recordings, you start to notice things about the way people tell stories and what they talk about—the phrases they use and the things they might’ve left out, the things they might’ve exaggerated, or that might be bull shit, and what that says about them and about the world. I thought it would be cool to make up my own characters and make up my own stories, then put it to music.
How did those recordings become How To Be A Human Being?
I went back to a lot of those stories and tried to work out how they made me feel—they just put you in such a weird mental place. Like, I was in New York, driving on the way to the airport and the driver turned around and said, ‘Dave, I’ve got this story about that club over there,’ as he pointed to a club we were passing. He told he was in love with this lady in high school, and for three years, he asked her out everyday. Finally, she said yes on like, the last day of high school. So he arranged a double date—him, his best friend, his best friend’s fiance and his new lovely lady. They drive to this club, they smoke a bit of pot before they go in, and they dance, they have an amazing time, it’s brilliant—he’s so happy. They finish dancing and go back to the car and his best friend and best friend’s fiance, they’re in the front of the car and they start kissing. He’s in the back of the car with his new lady and thinks, ‘I should really go for this,’ and when he leans into kiss her, someone raps on the window of the car. They all turn around and look at this guy, and all the sudden this man pulls out a gun and shoots his best friend, shoots his best friend’s fiance, points the gun at him and pulls the trigger, but it clicks—he ran out of bullets.
That was not how I was expecting that story to end.
That’s exactly how I felt—I thought he was going to tell me he married her or something. He went from that feeling of young love where you’re all weird and nervous and butterfly-y, to utter terror in a split second—I can’t imagine how that must’ve felt. That’s the kind of thing I was trying to think back to, and get at with some of these songs—that range of emotions and these amazing feelings that happen when people tell you these stories.
What influenced the record, musically?
I tried not to listen to anything while I was writing, but I imagine it’s just a cocktail of everything I’ve ever listened to churned up and thrown onto a tape.
Tell me about the artwork.
It seemed obvious to make the artwork much more down to earth than the previous record, which was very abstract and ethereal. This record is all about meeting people and each song is a different story about a different character, so we cast each one of those characters—that’s who you see on the album cover and in the music videos.
How did you develop the characters?
I had these big pages about each one that had pictures all over them, and I would write out everything about them—what they wore, what they ate, what they did in their spare time, their fears, boyfriend, girlfriend, everything they’ve ever done, and that would help write the music, as well. There’s a character who is a homeless guy, so we put lots of background sounds in the song. We actually recorded a lot of it on the street to get the right ambiance—we made a drum kit out of trash. […] It’s all just bringing to life what is on the album.
What were you able to do with this record that you couldn’t do on the previous one?
I think we were pretty shy making the first record. None of us had been in bands or written music before, or been in the studio or ever been on stage—the first time we went into a studio was making that record, and we didn’t know what we were doing. We were really shy, really cautious and I think you can hear it on the record. It’s not a bad thing—it’s a snapshot of who we were at the time, and that’s cool. But I think we were able to push things further this time because we were more comfortable being diverse and doing bolder things musically, but lyrically, as well.
How has your writing evolved?
The first record, I was quite naive, and it was just so abstract. This record is much more down to earth, much rawer, grittier, more honest and more truthful—it really attacks things head on.
I know you were studying to become a doctor. How did you decide to become a musician instead?
I was in medical school working a few different jobs—one of them was DJing, because it pays well and the hours don’t interfere with school. When I’d get home from DJing and have a bit of a buzz from all the loud music and bass, and the red bulls, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep. So I bought a synth and started messing around, then I’d go to school in the morning.
So when did you decide to become a musician full time?
That didn’t really happen until there was a record deal on the table. I was always really hesitant, partly because my mom was like, ‘Stay in school’—as she was right to. I imagine if I had a kid and they were like, ‘I am going to ditch this great career opportunity and go try and make it as a musician.’ I’d be like, ‘Fuck off.’
If you could go back and change something about the record, would you?
Hell yeah—everyone would. You can work on a record forever. But it’s like a newspaper—it’s a snapshot of a moment in time, and if you keep twiddling with things, you lose the spontaneity. That’s how we knew this record was done—it happened so, so quickly, and a lot of the time we thought we were just making a demo, but there’s something about that rawness, that shitty guitar tone when you haven’t even tuned it yet, but it’s got the right feeling.