Glass Animals: ‘The first time we played Australia was Ding Dong Lounge…we didn’t have enough songs so we played everything twice’

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Glass Animals: ‘The first time we played Australia was Ding Dong Lounge…we didn’t have enough songs so we played everything twice’

Glass Animals

Glass Animals have come a long way to John Cain Arena on a late night in the middle of July.

It’s easy to forget that Glass Animals date way back to 2010 and that ‘Gooey’ was actually released all the way back in 2014 – it was actually on their debut album Zaba. Certainly, the Grammy Awards found it easy to forget when they nominated the British foursome for Best New Artist at their 2022 ceremony, despite the fact ‘Gooey’ had actually gone platinum in the US. The Grammys just don’t give a shit, do they?

We reviewed Zaba, back in 2014: “Slow down, it’s a science” purrs Glass Animals frontman David Bayley on Zaba’s second track, ‘Black Mambo’. The debut from this Oxford quartet is a seductive mix of genres with a tribal bent and a meticulous finish. Bayley himself may be qualified in neuroscience, but Zaba never gets swamped down in its own smarts. In fact, the lyrics are the lesser elements here, propping up the album’s real strengths – its sonic template and immaculate production. For example, the single ‘Gooey’ is lyrical nonsense (“Ride my little Pooh Bear”) but it triumphantly drips and oozes in and around alluring music and it’s a sonic collision that makes for quite the chemical reaction. 

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This wild clash of dub, trip hop, R&B, soul, pop and world music comes together as fluid, controlled and sensual. It sounds amazing, but it’s not a faultless debut. Zaba comes a little undone towards its ending point: the ‘Cocoa Hooves’ melody is way too close to superior opening track ‘Flip’, the Morcheeba-like ‘Jdnt’ is a whimper of a closer and there’s a hidden track that just isn’t worth the anticipatory wait. But the majority of the album is a big win, making for blissful headphone music that will wipe out winter blues with ease.

As the platinum certification suggests, Glass Animals actually had quite a lot of success in the previous decade. Not enough to forecast their current position as one of the most successful bands in the world, but they’ve always pulled a significant Australian audience. We saw them at the Hi-Fi in 2015, noting: Glass Animals are something, but cool rock stars they are not. Due on stage at 10.20pm, the four lanky Anglos walked on stage to a rambunctious welcome at 10.19pm with Dave Bayley; frontman, producer and mastermind of the band wearing his own band’s merch shirt. Smooth. Set against an overly elaborate canopy of cane palms, the band opened with ‘Black Mambo’ and as their compatriots Groove Armada would say, the groove was on. But it’s a familiar groove, because if we’re honest, Glass Animals are hopelessly derivative. Their debut album, last year’s Zaba, was the Maggi two-minute noodles of the indie-rock scene: fun, easy to digest, but not exactly pushing any boundaries in their field.

With the acceptance that the Oxford lads weren’t in Melbourne to break new ground, their performance was as satisfying as those delicious noodles on a frosty winter afternoon. ‘Psylla’ followed their opening track and continued the bass-heavy wig out, with Bayley’s vocals slinking above and below the rhythm section, contorting his voice from growls to falsetto.

As a frontman, Bayley’s quite captivating, putting his own spin on Thom Yorke’s patented dance moves and restlessly pacing the stage, guitar in hand as if bursting with nervous energy. But the party starts with Joe Seaward. The percussionist, as with all R&B-inflected indie groups, is the centrepiece of every track. ‘Exxus’ followed next, then ‘Gooey’ and ‘Walla Walla’ after that, but the setlist wasn’t what was interesting about the night, it rarely is when a band is touring their only album.

What was interesting was how much more muscular their sound was on stage and how readily all four jumped into experimental, improv beast mode, giving zero fucks about any limitations of genre as they extended tracks and pushed them further. It was in these moments Glass Animals outgrew any tag 2014 might have placed on them. Manipulating bass lines into trip hop territory, surprisingly technical guitar riffs and a percussionist that obviously has jazz training all placed the lovable nerds in an echelon above your dollar-a-bag four-piece English rock band.

Their performance proved there’s genuine hope for them to escape from the shadows of their own iTunes heroes. Finishing with Pools was a lot more dignified; the strongest track on their album showcased their ability and potential to move tiles on a dancefloor and if they can broaden the scope of their influences in the future, Glass Animals are going to quickly climb the ranks of the NME oligarchy.

“Yeah (we are) really surprised”, frontman David Bayley told us about the love ‘Psylla’ was receiving across Australia at the time. “I mean when we make songs we don’t really make them thinking about who’s going to be listening to them. And we definitely didn’t expect people thousands of miles away to listen. We just made something we thought was interesting and could capture where our heads were at that time. It’s kind of nuts.

“I think when we were making those couple of tracks, those first singles we were all a little bit conscious, like we hadn’t made music before, like, ‘What is my mum going to think?’ It was a little bit tame. We threw those shackles away for this album and we got stuck in and I think it’s cool; it’s really raw sounding.

“We never really had any goals, in terms of if it would succeed commercially,” Bayley says. “We wanted to have fun in the studio; that was our only goal. It’s really nice that it’s been keeping us busy and taking us overseas. For us, it’s an added bonus, but it was never the intention. We just wanted to make a record that was interesting to ourselves musically – just music that we’d enjoy playing.

“It means we really enjoy playing it live,” he continues. “We have a really good time on stage and I think that’s really important. If you stop having fun making your music then you should probably stop altogether.

“If the crowd seem really up for dancing and it’s a late night show, and everyone’s taken some ecstasy or something, we’ll extend sections of the songs, like all the groove sections,” Bayley says. “[We] bring up the bass and bring up the drums and have a big dance party. Whereas if it’s an early show and the crowd just want to sit back and watch something, then we can make a kind of down tempo relaxed ambient set. We keep it all very malleable and we change it up from night to night. It can be a pretty different show one night from the next.

“I’m really happy distinguishing the studio from the stage,” Bayley says. “There are a lot of bands who just go out and play the same exact thing to a backing track and a click track every single night. They might as well be pushing play on a record. That’s not what a live show is about for us. [We like] to pick and choose different things every night that we think are important and will react well with the crowd that night.

“You have to be careful,” he notes. “You have to make sure it’s recognisable and you have to make sure the sonics are similar and people can still have the basic things to latch onto. It’s a tricky game sometimes, but it’s fun.

“They were early shows, we had to present the songs to people in a very digestible format,” he recalls. “Whereas now, people who come to the shows tend to know the record and we know the songs really well and we can read crowds a bit better. The best live shows happen when everyone in the room is on the same level and interacting together. You need that spontaneity for a good show to be able to happen.”

Next there was How To Be A Human Being, we noted at the time; it takes the Glass Animals sound in a slightly new direction while still keeping the core of what made their debut album Zaba an instant hit.

Opening track Life Itself immediately signals the up tempo change in direction. Think Glass Animals with a Miike Snow vibe. The whole album keeps up this energetic style while remaining true to that distinctly Glass Animals sound. How To Be A Human Being is essentially Zaba on cocaine. Same band but a lot louder and more energetic.

Lyrically this album is one of the most interesting listens in a while. Lead vocalist Dave Bayley took an odd approach to his writing method, and even a cursory listen to the lyrics leads you down some dark and wonderful paths. Having spent a lot of time on the road the last few years, Bayley took clandestine recordings on his phone of things people would say to him when drunk/high/angry/just being strange, and wrote his lyrics based on these interactions. This is never more obvious than when listening to an interlude entirely about sandwiches.

What Glass Animals have done with How To Be A Human Being is take the slow, sexy, swing your hips, seductive sound from Zaba, and jazz it up. If you’re wanting more of the same you won’t find it here, but what you will find is an album that will only serve to propel Glass Animals further towards stardom. After sensing that their crowds reacted best to the Zaba songs with drums, bass, and tempo, the boys went and filled this album with just that and they did so excellently.

An album that will get you up and dancing, lift your mood, and have you wanting a sandwich all at the same time, How To Be A Human Being is downright fantastic.

Then there was the obligatory dip. We saw them in 2019 at Prince Bandroom after life itself was turned upside down the previous July, when drummer Joe Seaward was hit by a truck while cycling in Dublin: Seaward suffered some serious injuries – a broken leg, fractured skull and damage to his brain. With Seaward facing a long road to recovery, the band had to take a step back from touring and music-making, supporting their bandmate through his ordeal.

It’s been over a year since the incident, and Seaward has relearned how to walk, talk and – thankfully for the group – drum again. Ready and rearing to get back into it, the boys wasted no time in making a trip to Oz for two intimate shows, the first of which went down at St Kilda’s Prince Bandroom.

The show had sold out weeks before, which was a pretty good indication of how packed the venue was going to be. People were buzzing as the lights dimmed and the band came out, the energy erupting as they broke into their latest track with Denzel Curry, ‘Tokyo Drifting’. They followed it up with ‘Life Itself’, prompting the already frenzied crowd to sing along nostalgically.

Glass Animals have mastered that psychedelic, somewhat tribal beat that forces you to dance even if you don’t really want to. You can’t help but nod your head or tap your feet, and everyone at the Prince was letting themselves be consumed by that rhythm. No one was feeling it more than lead singer Dave Bayley, who was throwing an enormous amount of energy into the set.

His enjoyment and that of his fellow bandmates was palpable, and they paused about four songs in to address the crowd. Bayley expressed how grateful he was for everyone coming out, and then announced they’d be playing some new tracks with a sly smile. They launched into a Tropicana beat, but Bayley was almost rapping rather than singing for the next number. Maybe their collab with Denzel Curry was hinting at a new musical direction for the band.

After throwing himself into the song, Bayley literally threw himself into the crowd. He disappeared into the throng of people, reappearing atop the bar on the other side of the room. From here he sung ‘Gooey’, one of their most well-known and long-standing singles. Finishing the track back on stage with a flourish and a guitar solo, Bayley was emanating some serious rockstar energy.

They burnt through more songs from 2016’s How To Be A Human Being, belting out mammoth renditions of ‘Season 2 Episode 3’ and ‘Youth’. These drew equally impressive responses from the heaving crowd, and Bayley stopped singing on multiple occasions just to let the collective of voices shine through. It was pretty funny hearing a whole room of people scream “my girl eats mayonnaise, from a jar when she’s getting blazed”, and the band were delighted by it.

Bayley announced that the next tune was his favourite, and jumped up on top of the bass drum. Seaward sat behind him on the kit, grinning from ear to ear, as enthusiastic and impassioned as ever. The intro to ‘Agnes’ rung out, and for the following minutes they gave it their all. Bayley was spinning circles on the stage, while guitarist Drew MacFarlane and bassist Ed Irwin-Singer were shredding head to head. When the song ended they were all glowing with happiness, Bayley’s hands plastered to his cheeks at an attempt to contain his smile.

Planned encores are the norm these days, but when the band left the stage it really seemed like they wouldn’t be returning. They did, however, much to the delight of the hungry crowd. A cover of Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’ kicked them off, before ‘Pork Soda’ closed the night. Bayley launched a pineapple into the crowd (“pineapples are in my head”) which ended up being butchered, and showering everyone in sticky, gooey juice.

Glass Animals are one of those rare bands that musically hit the nail on the head every single time. Their songs are catchy, their performance enthralling, and they’re just bloody brilliant to watch, really. It’s so nice to see them back on stage, and hopefully they won’t be disappearing again anytime soon.

Which all brings us neatly to the present day, and what we reckon roughly half of the 10,000 crowd at John Cain Arena were there for when Glass Animals played Melbourne once again last night. The billion-streamed track that turned them into a pop juggernaut, ‘Heat Waves’ – the success of which, Bayley credited in no uncertain terms to Australia.

“The first time we played Australia was the Ding Dong Lounge, anyone remember that?,” he said, with a laugh. “We didn’t have enough songs to play a headline show, so we played everything twice.” He looked around the venue: “This is much bigger than that, this is crazy.”

Eight years on, they’re still not rock stars, but despite the plunge headfirst into harder pop and Bayley’s increasing confidence in his dad-dancing, they’re just as loveable. They played these corny, Pac Man 90s computer game graphics on the screen behind them, which suited them perfectly. Other than Bayley, the rest of the band were pretty static the whole set.

The crowd were pretty static themselves until the now, suddenly very obvious encore, which didn’t stop Bayley crooning; “It’s been a while since we were here. I forgot how crazy the Australian fans are, I won’t again.” Of course, he sorta has to say that – he has a tattoo of Australia on his arse. It’s not that the Australian crowd weren’t enthusiastic, they just knew the routine – Glass Animals played just over an hour, left the stage, and John Cain Arena played an artificial rumbling sound over the speakers to try to replicate the feeling of stamping feet. Then a computer graphic came on the screen ‘Glass Animals Encore 2.0 – Do You Accept?’. That pretty much sums it up.

The realest part of the night was indeed the final track. It’s a bloody good pop song, but what makes it special is that it comes from an actual fully-fledged band of 30-somethings in a sea of 20-something solo artists. They’ve had the highs and lows, so when Bayley talks about how much the song’s success means to him – unlike other pop stars – you understand what he’s talking about.

“Australia always get to things first…you do. I was sitting on the couch in my pants, and I began to see things coming in – messages, covers, art works…it brought me to tears.”

You can read all our online articles about Glass Animals here.