Glass Animals: ‘When we were faced with the fact that we might never tour again you see the bigger picture’

Glass Animals’ third album, Dreamland, arrives after a period of considerable trauma for the band.

Glass Animals. Picture: Pooneh Ghana

Two summers ago, drummer Joe Seaward was out cycling in Dublin when he was struck by a van. The accident left him with a broken femur and fractured skull, unable to talk or walk.

Dave Bayley, the band’s singer and songwriter, spent months visiting him in hospital and describes Seaward’s recovery – to the point where he was able to take part in sessions for the album and perform again live – as “pretty miraculous”.

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Bayley agrees it felt natural for Dreamland to be markedly more autobiographical than its 2016 predecessor, How To Be a Human Being, as a consequence.

“I don’t actually like the idea of writing about myself, but there were a couple of things that encouraged me to do it,” he says. “One was Joe’s terrible accident. I was just in a hospital hoping that he’d be OK and there was nothing to write about because the future was up in the air. We cancelled all of our touring, for a couple of years we weren’t on the road, and I was in the hospital waiting for news.

“You start going into your own head and your own memories, because that’s what you do when the future is really up in the air. Just re-living those memories, they become your new experiences, like you’re alive, you’re human. Your brain naturally does it, it starts daydreaming a lot.

“I basically didn’t know if Joe was going to survive and when I did find out that he would I went to America and did some writing for other projects, and that had been what was on my mind, those memories. When you’re writing for someone else it’s quite easy to write something personal and then that just kept happening when it became time to start the Glass Animals record properly, I just continued it.”

After “pivotal surgery”, Bayley attributes Seaward’s recuperation to his “stubbornness”. “It’s a good trait. If you’re not stubborn and you’re not determined to recover, it’s pretty tricky.”

The singer realises such a traumatic event has brought the band closer together. “When we were faced with the fact that we might never tour again or this project might be over you see the bigger picture all of a sudden, which is that when you get to make music all day with your best friends it’s the dream, we get to tour all over the world and we felt lucky to be able to return to that. So we went back and did all the first venues we ever played. I remember those days really well, we were so excited about everything little thing, we were in a Toyota Camry driving ourselves across America with our equipment on our laps, getting two hours sleep a night. It seemed like hell at the time but now we’re like, ‘that was amazing, we’re so lucky to be able to do that’, so we did it again.”

Two songs, Domestic Bliss and Space Ghost, are drawn from Bayley’s memories of his upbringing in Texas before he moved to Oxford, aged 14. He says Domestic Bliss, about the domestic abuse experienced by his friend’s mother, was “really difficult to write about”. “You bury a lot of tough things that happen to you, I think,” he reflects. “When Joe had his accident a lot of other memories were coming up. You don’t really want to remember that kind of thing, so digging it up was really tough. Trying to remember how you felt and also feeling that you wish you’d been able to do something but being too young to really comprehend what was going on. It’s a tricky thing to re-live, domestic violence.”

Space Ghost is a homage to gangsta rap, reiterating the US influence on Glass Animals’ music. “The whole album is my memories, from my first memory to now,” Bayley says. “It goes through all the ups and downs and the confusing moments. I think those confusing moments in life when you’re not sure what’s going on and totally sure how you feel are often the most vulnerable but the most important and the most interesting things can happen, and it’s about those ones. They can be good or bad, funny or sad.

“I think if you had an album that was just one-dimensional and sad the whole time it would lose its weight. I love that there’s happy moments and sad moments, the juxtaposition makes the sad moments more powerful.”

Bayley opens up about his flaws in this record. He says it was “tough” to present those songs to the rest of the band, but found them supportive. “We’ve been together for a long time and they know a lot about me, but they didn’t know a lot about this stuff,” he says. “They were really encouraging, which is great. They encouraged me to put a song called Agnes (about the suicide of a childhood friend) on the previous record – that was really the first time I wrote something personal and the response to that song gave me the encouragement to go ahead and properly write a more personal record.”

The voice of Bayley’s mother is interwoven between the songs. He says he’d written interludes to connect the tracks but they felt “a bit naked”. “I thought, ‘How can I symbolise that? What is the one thing that is there between all of those big changes in my life?’ It was my mum. She’s always the voice of reason or chaos, but normally reason. She made all these home movies of me and my brother growing up, she narrates them because we were too young to really say anything useful. Every time I go visit my mum she plays me these videos on the old camcorder. For Christmas I got them ripped onto a USB stick for her and I just took the USB stick and ripped the audio and that’s what you hear.”

Overall he sees Dreamland as an optimistic album. “It’s not meant to be conclusive but I think the optimism comes from accepting the fact that it’s OK not to fit those stereotypes that are imposed upon you as a Texan kid. It’s accepting a lot of things, that life is confusing and people are going to hurt you and you’re going to hurt people yourself. Maybe it’s like forgiving yourself a little bit for a lot of those things, so in that way yes, it’s certainly optimistic.”

Dreamland is out on Friday August 7. Glass Animals play at O2 Academy Leeds on May 21, 2021. glassanimals.com