Dave, Drew, Edmund and Joe met when they were twelve. Bonded by a mutual love of music, they’d escape their Oxford school together and head down to the capital to wait outside the doors of gig venues up and down the river for their favourite bands to arrive. It’s a situation familiar to any teenage fan; the snaking queues of under-age attendees, giddy with the excitement, maybe one or two cans of something strong snuck from their parents’ fridge. “I think it makes you more receptive and open-minded” Dave Bayley – the band’s frontman and the subject of this interview – explains, crediting those nights spent in concert crowds as central to his and his bandmates’ identity today.
“Some people at my school would never go to a festival! They’d never know what went on at a festival” he enthuses, before reminiscing an uncharacteristically crude example “…what it was like to see someone stand in the middle of the pavement like Jesus and piss all over themselves, be sick on it, and then just keep partying. If you spend a lot of time going to shows and listening to music you inevitably end up seeing some weird things” he grins.
It’s these weird things that form the basis of Glass Animals’ new album How To Be A Human Being. Born roughly a year ago while the group were on tour supporting their 2014 debut Zaba , the album is built around stories Dave heard while on the road. “You meet so many people on tour. You leave the bus, there are fans, you get into the venue, there are people that work there. You meet new people every day… I don’t know why, but people kept telling me their stories. So I started recording them, like this” he says gesturing to the phone recording our conversation, a shy smile spreading as he confesses “…secretly.” From these stories Dave set about creating original tales and new characters to which they belonged, repurposing the tales of those he’d met on tour to create another work with which to tour like some kind of perpetual musical machine.
As Dave elaborates on the process of creating these characters – the hours spent listening to covertly recorded conversations, weaving stories together and essentially creating a world for those stories to live in – the scope of the project becomes more apparent. While creating the album, Dave also created huge diagrams as well as pages and pages of information about each character, fleshing them out as much as an author would. “I had everything written down about them – who they were, where they lived, what music they listened to, what they did in their spare time, what they ate – everything.” The excitement in his voice is palpable, full of a sense of wonder and ambition that smacks of the grand schemes of kids around the world.
Accompanying the new album is a series of videos, artwork and websites that essentially serve as the Glass Animals extended universe. Not content with merely giving birth to their characters through song, the group went to LA in search of actors who could physically embody them, both in the group’s music videos and on the album’s artwork, auditioning hundreds of people. “It was really weird” Dave acknowledges. “Trying to find people who fit those roles was kind of tricky sometimes.” Upon finding the right recruits, Dave gave them all the material he’d created for the album, ensuring that they became the most fully rounded versions of his creations possible. “They read all the diagrams and the lists and became these characters” he explains, detailing the creation of the album’s cover art “you take the photos family portrait style, you see all these different sides to each character. Sometimes we’d go around and tell one of the actors something about one of the other characters and create a little bit of tension.
All of this gives the album a level of depth that fans will no doubt spend hours unpicking, and critics are sure to paint it all with the gimmick brush. However, talking to Dave about this project it’s more than apparent that it was for the benefit of the group rather than their record sales. The videos, diagrams and casting calls aren’t extras to the album, they’re extensions of it. “There’s a lot going on. We went a bit deep on this one” he admits, through heavy laughter from both of us. At multiple points in our interview, Dave strikes me as more a fiction writer than a frontman, bursting with creative ideas and searching for any outlet with which to put them out.
While Glass Animals’ second album and all its creative ambition seems to be the stuff of childhood dreams, Dave, nor any other member of Glass Animals, ever imagined being in a band when they were at school. They were content to be fans, to enjoy the freedom offered by gigs and festivals – the perfect antidote to strict rules and stern teachers. “I never tried to imagine what it was like to be in a band but had I tried, it wouldn’t have been anything like this” Dave says. “We’ve changed so much in the last two years it’s crazy. We were quite shy people, we’d never been on a stage, never made music, none of us had been in bands before. We didn’t even know what a record label did.”
Growing up in music offered Glass Animals a world outside of school, a chance to experience life other than the norm. Now it offers them an opportunity to expand that vision even further – to travel the world, listening to and creating stories that explore the very same thing every creative kid wants to know – How To Be A Human Being.
Photographer Edward T Cooke
Stylist Tahnee Mitra
Set Designer Lucy Cooper
Hair Nina Jackson using Kerastase and Bumble & Bumble
Makeup Nina Jackson using MAC Cosmetics
Fashion Assistant Marco Bortone
Featured image, clothing details left to right;
Joe wears shirt All Saints, trousers Matthew Miller, coat John Varvatos
Ed wears suit John Varvatos, t-shirt Lot78
Dave wears jacket Songzio, t-shirt artist’s own, trousers All Saints,
Drew wears shirt Agi & Sam, outer shirt Matthew Miller