Things are heating up for Glass Animals. After kicking off a slew of summer festival appearances with Friday’s (July 15) performance in the Forecastle Festival in Kentucky, the band will take a break from the States only to return again in September for a headlining tour. The tour coincides with a new album, due Aug. 26, and lead single “Life Itself” is climbing the Alternative Songs chart (it currently holds at No. 24).
Frontman Dave Bayley took time out of his crazed schedule — he had just received the prototypes for their staging design — to talk to Billboard about the unique concept behind this album rollout and how Pokemon make a cameo on the cover artwork.
My first question is about the album’s title, How to Be a Human Being. Where did that come from?
It goes back to how my idea for the album started. I was recording all of these people telling me stories. On tour you meet so many people. As soon as you walk off the tour bus, you meet fans. You meet some radio people, taxi drivers, people at parties — you meet all these people and hear all their stories. I was a stranger, so I think people interacted differently than they would interact with their closest friends. But I also got the impression that people wouldn’t have told these stories to their closest friends. People tell you some incredible things — some totally deep, dark secrets — with a sort of cheekiness to it. They’re laughing as they’re telling you these dark, or sad, or really gross things. And even if they’re telling you a happy story, you can sense the emotion underneath that.
So each song on the album is inspired by a sole person? Or a mix of people?
There are pieces I took from those stories, but for the most part, the characters on the record are made up. They’re actually quite autobiographical.
On the album cover, you have a quirky collection of characters posing in a bizarre family portrait. I noticed that some of them appear in the “Life Itself” music video. Can you tell me about your thought process behind these characters?
Each song on the album has a character. I had these poster-sized pieces of paper for each character where I had drawn out everything about them: what they wore, what they ate, what they did in their spare time. I had drawings of their houses, drawings of their clothes — even drawings of their furniture. Everything about their lives.
Neil [Krug] and I casted each of the characters. We knew that we wanted the album art to be a sort of awkward family portrait. When we casted each of the characters, we used actors instead of models. We gave the actors tidbits about their characters, so they’re acting in the photograph on the album cover.
I’m assuming Chuck Rogers is the character that represents “Life Itself,” based on this fun website “he” created. What was the thought behind that?
I wanted people to have another way into the lyrics and the stories in the songs. I was really shy on the last record, and the lyrics were so abstract. This time around, I wanted the lyrics to be more relatable, more tangible — at least on the surface. I wanted to create some easy ways into these characters’ heads — and possibly mine as well.
The idea is to do some kind of interactive element for each character. We’re working on two more at the moment. I can’t tell you too much more about them.
I look forward to seeing them. You mentioned your lyrics being more accessible. What’s your favorite lyric in “Life Itself”?
[Laughs] I like the lyric “She said I look fat but I look fantastic.” It gives you really weird insight into that character’s head. It seems to makes people think, which I really like lyrics to do. There are too many songs nowadays that are just like water. They’re so easily digestible, and the lyrics are so immediate, there’s nothing that makes you think.
What can fans expect from the U.S. tour this time around?
It will be different from last time. Obviously I’m really into stage design. I want each album to have a unique stage design that fits with the artwork. It’s really important that everything surrounding the album is cohesive: the artwork, the music, the stage show, the videos — they just all need to fit.
Can your fans expect any cover songs at your show?
Oh, definitely. I like the idea of covers. We’ve got a Kanye West cover that we’ve been doing for a little bit. And then we’ve got a Yeah Yeah Yeahs cover, an Erykah Badu cover, and a Madlib cover all mashed into one.
In your spare time, have you and your bandmates been playing Pokemon Go by chance?
That’s the craze, isn’t it? I haven’t had time! I want to try it, because I think Pokemon are funny. There was almost a lyric about Pokemon on this record. And there’s actually — secretly — Pokemon on the cover. If you look carefully, one of the characters is holding a Gameboy and they’re playing Pokemon Gold or something.
What songs have you been listening to this summer?
I actually tried not to listen to anything while making this record, and we only finished up a couple weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been revisiting Vince Staples‘ Summertime ’06, which is a fantastic record. I’ve also been listening to a band called Pumarosa, who I really like. They’re going to be the next big thing.
If you got a chance to collaborate with any current artist, who would it be?
We played a lot of festivals with Alabama Shakes this summer. I’m a huge fan. They’re incredible musicians, and Brittany [Howard]’s voice is mind-blowing. I don’t think they’d be up for it; to them, we’re probably a bunch of little kids. But that would be so fun.