Glass Animals are heading back Down Under to close out the year with the Falls Music Festival‘s that are happening in Lorne, Marion Bay and Byron Bay over the New Year’s weekend.
Late last week Alex Milne caught up with Joe Seward from Glass Animals to talk about American food, Kanye West and Crystal Meth.
First off – where are you and what are you wearing?
I am wearing clothes and I’m Frankfurt. We played a show here last night that was really cool actually. We were in France for a bit and drove for a couple of hours and now we’re in Germany at the hotel.
You just finished off a tour of North America earlier this month, I read in an interview that you guys were especially excited for the food, did that live up to your expectations?
The food? Yeah it was insane. Everywhere you go you get more food than you could ever eat, which I find somewhat distressing but if you’re hungry it’s definitely the right continent to be in.
So when I was doing a bit of research ahead of this interview, I typed ‘Glass Animals News’ into Google, and one of the first things that popped up was something along the lines of ‘Glass Animals First Show a Disaster – Front Man Face Plants’. Please elaborate on this story?
Yeah that is a true fact. It was very funny for me but I don’t think Dave found it very funny. We were playing at a club in London called Birthdays where lots of small American bands come before they get big. We had just released our first EP and the record label we had signed to decide to have a launch party for the EP. We went there to play the show and for some reason we got shown the guest list and we saw that Paul Epworth, the guy who ended up managing us who is this amazing producer who me and Dave have always loved since we were young, was on the guest list which really freaked me and Dave out. As we were walking onstage I could see that Dave was really freaked out and it was our first London show and I think his head was in about five different places and he didn’t see this wire in front of him and he just fell flat on his face. It was good actually because it kind of broke the ice – and it couldn’t get any worse than that! It was kind of a blessing in disguise, but at the time Dave wasn’t impressed.
For all your excitement about Paul Epworth, has he given you everything that you thought he would? Has he lived up to your expectations?
Absolutely. He’s a really lovely man and he’s kind of been a mentor to us and musically he’s fascinating. The way he thinks about music is really interesting, especially for people like us who don’t really come from the same world as him. He thinks about music in such a strange way, well to us it’s very strange. To have someone like him around offering us ideas and thinking about music in a different way was really helpful when we were making the record. The thing I really loved about him was that he took a hands-off approach with us. He gave advice but nurtured from a distance. He let us just exist there with his engineer and the guys who worked for him and would just pop his head in occasionally to see how things were going. He would occasionally throw a grenade into the room with ideas and be like ‘have you thought about snapping the song in half and reversing the second half?’ or something crazy like that. He would blow our minds and we would just be like wow. We were just like, how does this man think? It was crazy.
What was it about Kanye’s Love Lockdown that made you pick it for Like a Version?
Um I think one of the things that were really appealing about it was that the original Kanye track is very simple. Not that much production has gone into it and when we were trying to find something to cover, ‘Love Lockdown’ had a really appealing set of characteristics. We got something that was really simple and malleable and took it in a different direction. I think Dave’s idea was to make it feel bluesy and not overproduced. By overproduced I mean how he [Kanye] has all that vocal stuff going on. It feels very electronic but if you take that away what’s underneath is so simple and malleable. It’s simple enough but also brilliantly written so there was lots of opportunities to do something interesting with it, which was why we attempted it.
You said that Zaba was a snapshot of you at the time that you were creating it. In the time since you were writing you’ve grown in popularity, worked with a range of new people and toured internationally. What do you think the snapshot would look like now? Has your sound evolved at all?
I don’t know, well we haven’t written that much music since then so I think that’s probably something that’s still sort of growing. It’s an interesting question. We’ve listened to a year’s worth more music but we aren’t sure what that sounds like. I’ll be able to tell you when we’re writing the next one!
The names of your tracks; Hazey, Woozey, Gooey, they’re these intangible concepts that don’t really sound like song names. Is there something in the song writing process that means you end up with names like Exxus and Zaba?
Dave is the man who normally comes up with this weird stuff, but song names are really hard for us because when we write a song we tend to give the demo a name which is something Dave’s just kind of spilled out to help differentiate that demo from others that we’re working on. ‘Black Mambo’ was originally called ‘Crystal Meth’ because Dave was watching Breaking Bad when the idea for the song came to him. ‘Pools’ was originally called ‘D Squared.’ It was weird because when we talk about ‘Pools’ we don’t call it ‘Pools,’ we call it ‘D Squared’ and ‘Black Mambo’ is ‘Crystal Meth.’ I think stuff like ‘Exxus’ was the first name that it ever had but it stuck because that’s what the name is to us. In the production for ‘Gooey’ and ‘Hazey,’ Dave was trying to go for a certain sound and was lyrically trying to evoke this feeling of stickiness and gooeyness so when it got that name ‘Gooey’ it was really hard to shake it off. It’s like trying to call your brother Tim when his name is something else. We had to change ‘Crystal Meth’ because the record company told us that we couldn’t call it that, which is fair enough. But stuff like ‘Gooey’ and ‘Hazey’ just stuck.
You guys did the sensible thing and completed your degrees before taking off with the band. Do you wish you had gotten started sooner? I read a fairly scathing review of Zaba that said your sound would have been welcome two years ago? Do you think you would have been better well received and more successful had you not waited?
I don’t know. I’m quite happy as I am. I felt like I was so far into my degree that it would have been insane to stop. We all felt similarly that if the music were good enough then it would be good enough. For example in the UK at the moment there’s a band called Royal Blood who are massive and that type of music has been going on for 50 years. If it had come out 2 years ago it wouldn’t have sounded any different to 10 years ago or four years from now. If we had started the music 2 years before would it have made that much difference? Probably not. We thought that the music would be good enough in 2 years and we would also have a degree and have finished something, which is pretty cool. I think that if music isn’t good enough because it’s late on the scene, then it isn’t good enough. I don’t like music because it’s cool but because it moves me in some way and that’s because the music is interesting and thoughtful. Not because it is trendy.
If you guys weren’t musicians what do you think you would be?
I have absolutely no idea. I get asked that sometimes and I still have no idea. I would probably be with Dave and Drew getting stoned somewhere and having a good time. I definitely wouldn’t be doing what my degree was for. Hopefully I would be doing something helpful to people.
Glass Animals’ debut album ZABA is out now through iTunes.