It was the spring of 2018, and Glass Animals had big plans. They were about to cap off two years of nonstop touring by supporting Beck that summer at a few massive shows, including one at Madison Square Garden. Then, frontman Dave Bayley was intending to begin work on the followup to their critically-acclaimed album How to Be a Human Being in the fall.
Those plans screeched to a halt as the U.K. alt-pop band — Bayley, drummer Joe Seaward, guitarist/keyboardist Drew MacFarlane and bassist Edmund Irwin-Singer — was dealt one devastating blow after another. First, Seaward was hit by a truck while biking in Dublin, Ireland, and spent 2019 recovering from the near-fatal accident.
“The future looked very glum,” Bayley says over Zoom. “One of my best friends was in the hospital — it was pretty dark.” There’s a long pause. “I didn’t know if he was going to survive at all… and I didn’t know if the project was going to continue.”
But Seaward made a full recovery, and in late 2019 the band began prepping their third album Dreamland, releasing their first new songs since 2016 and playing tiny warmup shows. Things were merrily rolling along — before, of course, the pandemic hit.
“Everything got chucked up in the air,” Bayley says. Their underplay tour got cut short in March, and a subsequent sold-out North American run never happened. “The severity of the situation dawned on me,” he adds. “And then you realize that every part of the plan you’ve made to release the album has actually [fallen] apart.”
Many artists have experienced COVID-related shock this year, and understandably, album rollouts have fallen by the wayside during quarantine, with some records delayed indefinitely. Quarantine was hard on the quartet, whose bond transcends that of friends at this point. They only reunited for the first time in late June, and are continuing to social-distance. “It was really awkward, like, ‘Hey, I wanna hug, but we can’t, sorry man,’” Bayley says. “The last couple of months, we’ve been through a lot, canceling tours and trying to work out what to do next. So it’s hard — sometimes you just want to give someone a f–king hug!”
Dreamland’s release date got pushed again and again. Touring was now off the table — hard for any artist, but especially for a group that mainly lives on the road. But if one emerged from under a rock and observed all of the efforts that Glass Animals have pulled off around Dreamland, out Friday (Aug. 7), they probably wouldn’t even notice that there’s a pandemic on.
The pandemic forced the band’s brains to fire on entirely new cylinders. The result was a series of creative workarounds proving, even within such limitations, that Glass Animals has gone above and beyond what most artists would be able to pull off outside of a pandemic. “We made a plan that was to bring people together…we were going to do loads of cool events and bespoke shows, and it was about people being together,” Bayley says, exhaling. “But I think we’ve found ways to do that over the internet now.”
First came the music videos, most of which were filmed during lockdown, and saw Bayley navigating shoots solo. Then the open source website (which provides assorted artwork, stems, samples and photos for fans to play around with), the quarantine covers videos and EP where Bayley took on Drake and Lana Del Rey, and the personal newsletters to fans, which the band members also used as a medium to talk to each other and share memories while apart. Then came the remix contest, busking, a “momentary screen detox encouraging collective dreaming” dubbed the Dream Machine, and requests for 3D head scans of fans for their next music video. Wait, what?
“So we’re doing a lot of things that hopefully spark people’s creativity at home — that’s what’s been keeping me sane,” Bayley explains of these outrageous endeavors. “It’s about trying to maybe help other people do that same kind of thing. So we’re going to do remix competitions, graphic design competitions, print t-shirts — I’m not going to say any more!”
Dreamland is an autobiographical record, containing Bayley’s most personal stories yet, from songs about friendship (“Waterfalls Coming Out Your Mouth”) to heartache and break (“It’s All So Incredibly Loud”), and longing (“Tangerine”). “You only look at me properly now/ When we’re drunk watching movies/ Where are you? What happened? I want what we had/ Will you come, will you hide?” he sings on the emotional, fruit-themed track.
Much of the instrumentation and production effects on the album hearken back to Bayley’s childhood. The album is sprinkled with audio from home movie interludes that his mother recorded decades ago — in one snippet, a young Bayley can be heard playing with a toy rocket — and the lyrics contain references to him growing up in Texas. “It was meant to be a combination of sounds that I grew up with — but also what I was eating, watching on TV, what I would do in my spare time, who my friends were,” he says.
Certain melodies recall his early musical influences, from ‘60s rock to early-2000s hip-hop, The Strokes and Radiohead. Bayley excitedly describes his dedicated process: “I bought a lot of instruments that The Beatles and The Beach Boys might have used, and resampled them on samplers that Timbaland and Dr. Dre used. And vice versa, I used a lot of the samplers that Dre and Timbaland used, and recorded those through the tape machines and weird amps that the Beatles and Beach Boys would have had.”
Bayley’s hard work is being heard. While Glass Animals have built steadily as a touring act Stateside, filling venues like Radio City Music Hall and headlining Firefly Festival, they’re finally making headway on U.S. radio, too. Second Dreamland album single “Your Love (Déjà Vu)” is their top-charting song ever, hitting No. 7 on Alternative Airplay, and their first top 10 on the Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart (No. 10).
The business of art aside, Bayley is thrilled he’s still making music for a living (“we always thought it would just be a hobby,” he says). And even with all the band’s been through the past few years, he’s confident that no matter what happens next, Glass Animals will roll with the punches — as they’ve always done, coronavirus be damned. “It keeps us on our toes and working hard and adapting,” Bayley says.
Above all, Seaward’s accident put things in perspective. “Especially when we started seeing the light, when we realized he was going to make some kind of recovery, you just realize how bloody lucky you are,” Bayley says. “When you’re in a hospital, it makes you think a lot about life — how lucky we are to have these jobs, to be able to make music, and to do that with our closest friends.”