It’s less than 48 hours after frontman Dave Bayley has applied the finishing touches to Glass Animals’ second album and he’s contemplating where he and his bandmates found themselves only two years ago. “It’s mad, we were in our friend’s basement playing to four people,” he laughs. Fast forward to six months ago and they were rounding off a tour that catapulted Dave and bandmates Drew MacFarlane (guitar), Edmund Irwin-Singer (bass) and Joe Seward (Drums) around the world and back; climaxing in sold-out shows at The Wiltern in LA and Terminal 5 in New York, via huge festival slots in Australia, the US and - of course - Glastonbury.
Have they been able to gain any perspective on all this worldwide success? “I don’t know if I have!” Dave wonders. “It’s such a strange position to be in. I always thought Glass Animals would just be a fun thing to do with my friends. To be able to do it as a career is totally mental. I haven’t had time to think about it. I’d probably go crazy if I did.” Indeed, given the successes, Glass Animals would be ripe for the cliched ‘difficult second album’ experience. Every tour has sold out, they’ve hit 200 million streams and debut album Zaba shifted over 500,000 records. For a band on a label backed by legendary producer Paul Epworth no less - the pressure to up the ante had potential crippling side-effects.
Dave doesn’t bat an eyelid when it comes to the mention of the sophomore slump phenomenon at all, though. He simply didn’t have time to get himself in a pickle. Instead, only six months after getting off the road he’s already plotting what the stage sets are going to look like, how the artwork will take shape, and so on. The new LP - titled How To Be A Human Being - has come together so fast you’d assume they wrote it on the road. “No! We didn’t have time,” says Dave. “It happened as soon as we came off the tourbus.” Before his suitcase was even on the ground, Dave was setting up shop in their small studio space in Hornsey, North London by himself.
Writing the skeleton of the album in a week and a half over Christmas, he was desperate to put the experiences of the last two years onto paper before he forgot them. “I had the most successful time I’ve ever had writing,” he says humbly. “I had all of these stories in my head.” Mapping out the skeletons of the songs proved to be an entirely different process from that taken on Zaba. “Last time, I started with beats and electronic soundscapes, and this time I started mainly with chords, vocal lines... sometimes even lyrics. I tried to invert the whole process,” he explains. The majority of the writing, sonics and production was taken care of in an intense 10-day period.
Then in January, Dave began polish out the stories, lyrics, and music, perfecting the parts. He would send the bear bones of each song to the band. He would bring the demos to the band, and as a group they would develop the music further, experimenting with the arrangements and instrumentation. As indicated by lead single ‘Life Itself’, the new sound is bigger, bolder and far more ambitious. Dave makes a point of not listening to his contemporaries when making music, preferring to look inwards to the world Glass Animals have built. In crafting this record, his thoughts returned to one factor he couldn’t even dream of on Zaba - the huge live audiences they’d been drawing. “You sense what the crowds react to: big drums, bass, high tempo.”
As Glass Animals’ live set evolved, so did their sonic aspirations. Dave himself is like an electro Einstein, forever pursuing his next lightbulb moment. “That instant when a melody pops into your head and you know that’s the one, or you sit down at a piano, hit four strange chords in a row and think - ooh that works! There was a conscious effort to make this record harder, angular and in-your-face. I started appreciating rawness.”
The band would use first takes, shabby recordings, and sounds that resonated with soul, despite their technical imperfections. Much of this proved to be a punk-like reaction to the high-polished nature of pop Dave was hearing on the radio. “I was paranoid that’s what we sounded like,” he says. “On the last record I had the opposite mentality. Everything had to be perfect. This is more gritty. We’ve shaken that mentality now.”
How To Be A Human Being is about people. Many of his lyrical ideas came from live recordings of people saved on Dave’s phone, as though he’d been operating as some sort of roaming journalist all this time. “I try to sneakily record people, and I have hours and hours of these amazing rants from taxi drivers, people we met outside of shows, people at parties. People say the strangest shit when they don’t think they’re ever gonna see you again...and sometimes they’ll break your heart with the saddest, most touching stories.” The voice notes sparked ideas for characters that Dave developed, writing an album like a TV screenwriter might approach a script. “I’d obsess over what they ate, where they lived, what their furniture looked like, what they wore,” he laughs. “Some of it’s quite autobiographical but said through the eyes of someone else.”
Their fascination with the human condition is understandable given their relative isolation a few years ago. Back in Oxford, studying medicine at university, the thought of being a real-life viable band wasn’t something that crossed their mind. They were living in a bubble. “We spent those years really isolated, just making our own noise. Then all of a sudden we crashed into this place where we were in a different city every day, meeting so many characters every day.”
From the depths of ‘Agnes’ to the danceable humour of ‘Life Itself’, this second album is a zeitgeist-leaning, intrepid exploration into what makes us all tick, told from the viewpoint of four guys who have experienced life in its most extreme and unexpected form for the past two years. It doesn’t just connect with your feet - it connects with your brain, your heart, your soul. How To Be A Human Being is a multi-layered, nuanced album that uniquely splices together 40 years of sonic history in a way that’s emphatically forward-sounding. In the characters and themes explored, the record creates a world for fans to inhabit. With every listen comes further insight, not just into Glass Animals’ universe but the human condition itself.