Interview: Glass Animals’ Dave Bayley ahead of Laneway Festival 2017.
Glass Animals’ ingenious 'How To Be A Human Being' album was one of the few blessings that 2016 delivered unto the world. So, needless to say, the Oxford Quartet are our top pick for Laneway Festival 2017 - hitting Auckland next Monday on January 30th - which they are currently en route to, via Singapore and Australia.
We spoke to frontman Dave Bayley recently about 'nature vs. nurture', the importance of normalising social dialogues about mental health, 'Black Mirror', and other related matters...
COUP DE MAIN: You’ve been to Australia a few times, but this will be Glass Animals’ first trip to New Zealand. How are you feeling about your impending visit?
GLASS ANIMALS - DAVE BAYLEY: I’m excited! I have heard it’s pretty amazing. One of my friends told me that it’s so far away on the other side of the Earth that it was basically just kind of like England again, but better. So yeah, I’m excited. Is that fair? I don’t know if that’s fair.
CDM: Well, flattery will get you everywhere. So you’re off to a good start already. Will you be bringing any of Glass Animals’ staging and production with you for your set at Laneway Festival?
DAVE: I hope so. I’m not sure yet. It’s definitely going to be very tricky, because, you know how festivals work - you have to set things up pretty quickly and then take things off very quickly. So I hope we can bring-- I don’t know if you’ve seen the new stage-set that we have? These big arches that glow--
CDM: Yes! They look amazing.
DAVE: Yeah and some cactuses and things. We’ll bring as much as we can, but my manager has already told me not to get my hopes up. But we are working on a solution!
CDM: If you can’t bring anything, I’ll bring you a mini cactus so you can have at least one cactus on stage.
DAVE: That would be amazing! That would be so kind, thank you. If everyone brings one cactus, then it will fill the stage; that would be great.
CDM: Are there any other acts playing Laneway Festival that you’re looking forward to watching while on the tour?
DAVE: I haven’t really looked at the line-up that extensively, but I know Tame Impala are headlining, which is great - I’ve seen them before and they’re always a great act. And Nick Murphy, who is Chet Faker - I’m intrigued to see what the name-change means, maybe there’s something-- I dunno why he decided to change his name, do you know about that?
CDM: Yeah, he wrote an open letter about it this week. It’s part of his evolution, so he wanted to rebrand, I guess?
DAVE: Oh okay, that’s cool. Well, I’m interested to see the rebranding I guess. And from England, I know, NAO is playing. She’s cool. I haven’t actually seen her yet.
CDM: Your new album opens with 'Life Itself’ - a characterisation of a dude called Chuck Rogers who has sociopathic tendencies. Do you believe in nature or nurture? Was Chuck born abnormal? Or did society make him abnormal?
DAVE: Ha! I’ve spent many years trying to learn about this stuff when I was at university. It’s a combination of the two, I think. With him, there are hints in the song that definitely hint at it being nurture - he talks about his dad and he talks about his mum and there are little hints about his relationship with them, and it maybe being a bit hard and a bit dysfunctional. So in his case, maybe nurture, but in general, I think it’s a combination of the two.
CDM: Humans have been conditioned to have a herd mentality and to be afraid of loneliness - there’s a social stigma attached to loners and singletons. Is it possible to be happy with just your own company?
DAVE: I think so. I mean, I wish I had more of just my own company. I end up spending pretty much my entire life in a series of buses with twelve other people, so I absolutely think it’s lovely to be on your own and I wish I could do it more. But you need some social interaction, I think. And that’s where that song came into play, 'Life Itself'. A little bit of it was also autobiographical, I was spending a lot of time after that tour just sitting in a room on my own and writing music, and I started to feel a bit weird - when I went out of the studio I felt like everyone was an alien and they didn’t belong there. I almost forgot what other people looked like and what I looked like, it was really strange. So that’s where that song came from.
CDM: The unconditional love that the Mother-character in 'Youth' shows her son is really touching. What do you think is the most powerful kind of love?
DAVE: My goodness. All love is incredibly powerful. These are deep questions. Love by its very meaning is quite powerful, isn’t it?
CDM: I’ve always thought that it’s the strongest human emotion. Almost everything else is a reaction to love, or the absence of love.
DAVE: Yeah, that’s true. People start wars for love. I don’t know if there’s a certain type of love that’s strongest, but I do think that a Mother’s [love] is a definite special thing, the love that Mothers have for their children, and that’s what that song is about.
CDM: In contrast, 'Pork Soda' is about the wasting away of love. Why is the preservation and cultivation of love so difficult?
DAVE: Oh my goodness, there a lot of reasons for it. Some of it is completely unexplainable - sometimes people just fall out of love, sometimes people go through phases, sometimes people, basically, change. The world is changing and people change with it, and I think with that, feelings change and emotions change and the way people feel about each other changes. It’s very, very complex. <laughs> I mean, we can get into a deep philosophical and scientific debate about it if you want, but I think that might be the subject of a kind of encyclopaedia. People have written books on this subject!
CDM: My favourite lyrics on the new album are "with a cookie as a coaster" in 'Season 2 Episode 3'. That line is iconic. What inspired you to write it?
DAVE: Everyone knows someone a bit like the character in that song, and I had one particular house-mate - he used to use a bag of crisps under his beer as a coaster. He never moved, he just sat on the sofa all day every day and just smoked loads of weed, and one day I saw him using a bag of crisps as a coaster. The first thing that occurred to me was, 'My god, he’s putting his beer on a bag of crisps.' And then, 'Why has he even bothered to find something to use as a coaster? Maybe he’s making some kind of effort.' I thought it was just quite ironic that he was making some kind of effort, even though he hadn’t moved in six days he had found something to use as a coaster. That was the inspiration.
CDM: You’ve been vocal about the connection between your song 'Mama's Gun' and Karen Carpenter’s battle against eating disorders, and the avoidance of social dialogues about mental health. Having visited mental hospitals while studying neuroscience, what do you think we can do better to support those suffering from mental illnesses?
DAVE: There’s just so much we can do, but I think the main thing is the huge, as you said, social stigma attached to speaking about it. People know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack - if you see someone holding their chest and falling to the ground, you know that they’re having a heart attack. But the signs and symptoms of someone who might be about to do something awful to themselves, are less widely known. People choose not to see that kind of stuff; they don’t see it. And people need to learn to see that kind of stuff and talk about it and talk about how they’re feeling and be quite open about it. Suicide is the number one killer of young people now - I think it’s people under the age of 40. It should be talked about in the social dialogue like a heart attack is, or a stroke is, so people can learn to recognise it and do something about it.
CDM: 'The Other Side Of Paradise' reminds me thematically of a modern-day reinterpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 'This Side Of Paradise'. Have you read that book?
DAVE: <laughs> I read it a really, really, really long time ago. Yeah, that’s kind of where I nicked the title from.
CDM: I love that you collect and record conversations with people that you meet while on tour. Collecting stories I’ve always felt, is one of the best things about being human, but sadly, it feels more and more like selfies have replaced anecdotes as a social currency. Often, fans of a band would rather photographic proof of meeting their favourite musician, rather than only a simple memory of a genuine conversation with the artist. When did it all go so wrong? Why does social media drive us all to want to one-up our friends with humble-brags?
DAVE: Ohhh... <sighs> there’s all sorts of reasons why. I think, partly is because it’s very easy. Just like it’s easy to open your computer and turn on Netflix, that’s why people don’t read anymore. But talking about Netflix, have you seen 'Black Mirror'?
CDM: I haven’t yet, but I want to because everyone keeps telling me I’ll be into it. Is it good?
DAVE: Yeah, watch the first episode of 'Black Mirror', because it’s exactly about this subject. It’s very funny and quite weirdly quite close to home. But yeah, it kind of makes you realise that all this selfie-rating-Yelp-culture is totally ridiculous and actually quite funny.
CDM: 'Agnes' I think, is my favourite song you’ve written thus far. It’s so emotive. It’s the kind of song you have to drop everything to fully concentrate and listen to. What was running through your mind while writing it?
DAVE: Lots of things... Yeah, it’s a very sad song and I was trying to pull together everything that I knew about, that referenced death and passing-on. There’s load of references to all of my favourite songs about death and books about death, everything, and just trying to pull all of those feelings I had while reading/watching/hearing all of those things, into one piece of music.
CDM: You made thorough moodboards for each of the new album’s characters when casting the actors and have likened the record to "a collection of short stories". Could you ever see yourself extending the album’s characters further than songs and into actual written short-stories?
DAVE: Yeah it could quite easily turn into some short-stories; I’d like to do it one day. But not quite yet, I need to be older and wiser to write books and short-stories, I think. I’m not there yet.
CDM: Thank you for the chat today! See you soon at Laneway Festival in Auckland!
DAVE: Me too! I’m excited to get there. It will be very fun.
Glass Animals will play the Rotunda Stage from 7:30pm-8:15pm at Laneway Festival 2017 in Auckland at the Albert Park Precinct - click here for further details.
Watch Glass Animals’ music video for 'Season 2 Episode 3' below...