This Friday June 12th, the Oxford UK band Glass Animals comes to town to play the Norva. Steeped in sonic references to soul, R&B, hip hop, and psychedelia, the band mystifies me, and I want to know more about their approach, their angle, and what to expect when they grace us with their presence amidst an extensive tour taking them to clubs across North America and Europe, as well as almost all of the biggest summer festivals spanning those continents.
I compile my questions and email them to the band and a few days later receive a response from drummer Joe Seaward.
image | Glass Animals
The band began as a bedroom project for Dave Bayley, who wrote music while studying neuroscience at a UK university. It has now expanded to include 4 members, all of whom grew up together in Oxford, and had the unique opportunity to see Arctic Monkeys with about 10 other people and a dog when they were 14. Seaward claims they sound like all the music they have ever listened to, but won’t give me any specific musicians’ names, so I’m on my own.
For anyone unfamiliar with Glass Animals’ music, the best place to start is at the beginning. Their first release, the EP Leaflings, features a track called “Cocoa Hooves” that showcases the band’s signature approach to songcraft.
The slow, smooth sound of a guitar creeps in, followed by lead singer and chief songwriter Dave Bayley’s delicate falsetto croon. The song progresses and the guitar is now playing a soft riff that feels like a stranger’s fingertips on the back of your neck, while a simple but sophisticated beat comes creeping in with a sensual R&B whistle that could melt ice. Later there’s a sweeping bass rhythm produced by pitch-modded drums that moves the track through its climax. As the song closes, Bayley asks “why don’t you set my wings on fire?”, and I feel the need to take a cold shower.
The overtly cool sexiness in the music of Glass Animals is apparent to many people who I discuss the band with, but according to Seaward, this all just happened without any intentions from them to create this effect. I’m told that most songs are absolutely not about that – in fact the opposite. Case in point, the single “Gooey,” from their debut studio LP Zaba, which was released last year by Wolf Tone Records, the label recently created by British super-producer Paul Epworth (Florence and the Machine, Crystal Castles, Bloc Party).
All the chill and seductiveness of other Glass Animals offerings is tightly packed in the musicality of “Gooey,” while lyrically Bayley weaves a tale of a narrator expressing his or her superiority to a naive youthful subject “fresh out of an icky gooey womb.” Bayley continues through the chorus with the playfully childish imagery of Pooh Bear and peanut butter, which, coupled with later references to tongues tied and tripping through someone’s smile, makes for an interesting juxtaposition. From what Seaward has said, I’d like to think that larger ideas are being explored, but I guess I just can’t seem to get my mind out of the gutter.
If we look at the non-musical influences that shape Glass Animals, one actually named by Seaward was Cuban artist Alberto del Pozo, whom he said impacted the outcome of the album art for Zaba, an album whose cover was picked by Pitchfork Media as one of the best of 2014.
A Google image search of Pozo’s name envelops me in various depictions of gods and goddesses from the Afro-Cuban religion of Santería. The colors used are both dark and vibrant, and the effect is like an ancient form of holy neon. The expressions and costuming of the saints depicted are equally strong and whimsical. Quickly scan the cover art for Zaba and you will miss the intricacies hidden amongst jungly foliage. There is more going on than meets the eye, or ear for that matter, and I’m still confused as to what to expect on Friday from these dudes.
The interview with Seaward proves fruitless as far as my quest for understanding goes, but the excitement is contagious. I ask about how the tour is going and I’m told it’s “not like doing an exam… it’s like going to a party,” how the live show is presented and I’m assured that there will be “live instruments AND LIGHTS!!”, and that the live songs are not like the record but “faster and louder and Dave dances.” My favorite though is when I ask how Norfolk can add to the energy of the live show on Friday and catch those peanut butter vibes: “Bring nets. They actually work surprisingly well for catching vibes. Can’t wait to see you all.”
This is definitely going to be a fun night. We’ll be covering the whole evening in an attempt to pry out some answers via the lense of photographer Kelsie McNair (Instagram: @withlavandlace) in a photo essay to be featured in a follow-up article on AltDaily. The show starts at 8PM, this is more info. let’s make it a night to remember.
Hold my hand and float back to the summertime – “Gooey”