Glass Animals 'Ripped The Band-Aid Off' & Made The Album They Needed To

How trauma, nostalgia and introspection led to the escapist wonderland of 'Dreamland'.

It's been almost two years since UK's Glass Animals played a show in Australia, and it's likely to be some time before they'll play a show here again. Yet, with their third LP Dreamland - an album they haven't toured at all, let alone in Australia - they managed to deliver one of the country's favourite albums of the year. Australia loved it so much that they voted single "Heat Waves" in the top spot of triple J's Hottest 100 of 2020, beating out Aussie favourites like Flume, Tame Impala and Mallrat. And, with the promise of getting the country tattooed on their respective arses, that love is clearly reciprocated.

Dreamland is a nostalgia-soaked, hypercolour wonderland from another planet you're somehow deeply familiar with. The way it uses flashes of the past in conjunction with very modern sounding hip-hop elements feels ahead of its time – and is certainly a far cry from anything the band have done before.

Dreamland may appear like picture-perfect escapism, but in reality it is grounded in deeply personal trauma – specifically an accident that happened to the band's drummer Joe Seaward. In 2018, Seaward was hit by a lorry while cycling, and eventually had to undergo brain surgery. In the following months, Seaward had to learn to walk, read, talk and, of course, drum again. In that time, frontman Dave Bayley began working with other artists, who helped him discover how he could write about himself and his life – something he had previously avoided doing, at least in a direct way. But, Dreamland is as personal as personal gets, and Australia absolutely adored it.

While the UK continues to be in a heavy period of lockdown, both Dave and Joe took some time to speak to MTV Australia about Dreamland, the love they receive from Australia and what it was like to finally rip the band-aid off and get real with fans and themselves.

First, I'd have to say congratulations – Hottest 100 winners! I can ask if you had ever expected this would happen, but the answer's probably no.

D: No. Absolutely not. That's why we made this ridiculous thing with the tattoo.

Obviously, not just "Heat Waves", but the entirety of Dreamland resonated so deeply with so many people in Australia. Does it feel strange to have such a condensed popularity in one country that isn't the country that you're from?

D: It seems weird that there's any popularity at all sometimes, especially thinking how we started this. We had our bassist driving us to a show. We'd be at the bottom of four bands. Remember our first show, Joe, we played for literally seven minutes.

J: Two songs, seven and a half minutes. We learned one of them literally half an hour before.

D: It does seem like a totally "pinch ourselves" thought that the music even got over the water. Especially because this album is super personal and really intimate. A lot of it felt like secrets – my little secrets. So having it pop up and people enjoying it everywhere, including Australia, really blows our minds.

For an album like Dreamland that's so personal, there's surely an element of closure that you're trying to achieve when writing it and then releasing it. Do you think that sort of deeply personal writing is going to be something you carry into the future? It feels contrasting to your other records.

D: Yeah, I think so. I think it's kind of been a slow progression since the first record. Then, we didn't know we were doing it anyway. We didn't know anyone in the music industry. We were just quite naive and really super shy. I remember playing our first shows we didn't even move. We were just hiding behind our guitars and microphones. All the lyrics on that first album are super abstract. They mean something to me, but there's no way the lyrics can be interpreted by anyone else.

Then the second album is like slightly closer to home. It's about people we met and people we knew and I guess, in a way, I was kind of writing about how I identified with those different people from all around the world. And then I had gotten closer and closer to personal songwriting, so this album was just like ripping the band-aid off. It was the encouragement from Joe and the guys.

A lot of my favourite songwriters wrote really, really personal stuff, and that kind of made me feel less alone when I was feeling shit. Brian Wilson is probably my favourite songwriter of all time. He writes incredibly personal songs. 'Agnes' [the closing song on the band's second album How To Be A Human Being], which was very much a result of Joe's encouragement, is the first personal song I ever wrote. Seeing the reaction to that one, and realising that maybe it did what Brian Wilson did for me to just one other person. It was like a huge, huge amount of encouragement.

Given that you guys haven't had the chance to perform the album live yet, are you worried it's going to bring up and rehash trauma or any negative feelings when you perform it? Or even when you talk about it like now for instance?

D: That's what I was gonna say – even having interviews about these really personal moments in life, it can be tough sometimes. Especially because when you go out on tour, you get used to it, and you learn how to focus on the positive angle. Ultimately, a lot of these songs have a positive spin and an optimism and, as you said, a closure. I kind of realised that it's okay to feel a bit vulnerable about some of those things. It's only human. You have to focus on the acceptance and the positive aspect. So performing 'Agnes', for instance, it's about a really, really, really dark, sad, terrible thing that happened in my life, but you just have to remember the good memories you had with that person. And it's the same with "Heat Waves" – it is actually about very similar subject matter, really. And you just have to focus on the little light at the end of it.

Do you think that's the biggest takeaway from Dreamland as a whole? Pushing through and trying to maintain focus on the light at the end of the tunnel? Is that the lesson you learned while writing it?

D: It's definitely a bit of that. I don't realise what I've learned until two years down the line, and then you're like, 'oh my God!'. That was actually quite a healthy thing.

I grew up in Texas, and it's pretty tough. If you're a boy growing up in Texas, you're meant to behave and do certain things. Join the football team. You play basketball. That's what boys do in Texas. I was like prepubescent until I was 20. I didn't fit in at all. I never did any of those boy things. It's just like coming to terms with the fact that [the] kind of stuff I did enjoy is good, and what makes you you. It's cool.

There's definitely a reflective quality in Dreamland, as it's littered by things like old video games and stuff like that. Strangely, that sort of nostalgia has permeated all we've been doing the past year because we haven't been allowed to leave the house. Was it strange for you to sort of see that reflected back at you with your experience in 2020? And what was the experience like dropping it in the middle of a pandemic?

D: Both big questions, but the album kind of came from Joe. Joe had a really terrible accident a couple of years ago, and it was awful. We went to visit Joe in the hospital. And I think both of us, in that time, started to think about life. You go back and the weirdest shit comes out of the weirdest memory. Because you're not really sleeping properly. Joe, you were on all sorts of painkillers. I was just pumped full of adrenaline waiting for news.

But that was kind of where the essence of the record came from is those memories, that weird shit that comes into your head. And you're like, 'I never thought I'd remember that person'. You start to realise that little thing that someone said 22 years ago actually had quite a big effect on how you've behaved and grown.

J: It's nice to look back then look forward as well, in those kinds of times, which is being reflected now. We don't know the next time we're going to play music. I don't really even know the next time I'm going to see Dave, even though I'm just a few miles away. So it's actually much easier to start looking backwards and looking to find some sort of comfort in memories than it is trying to plan trips and adventures and those kinds of things because no one has any idea when the next time will be.

D: Those memories become your new trips and adventures though, because you're reliving them in this new light a lot of the time, having grown up and experiencing things. Have you been having crazy dreams?

J: Yeah.

D: I think that's your brain's way of getting out of it, getting outside. Digging up those old memories is the same thing, and you can't really look forward because it's all up in the air. For me, it started when lockdown first happened in the UK. I just was listening to my friends talk, and they were thinking about all the same stuff that I think me and Joe were thinking about.

Obviously, the pandemic is just beyond terrible but do you think there's sort of any positives you've taken away from it creatively having this sort of time off?

J: It feels very wrong to me to be sitting here and not with you guys, not on the road. We've only done it [album releases] twice before, but those two experiences have been so fundamentally different from this. I think everything and everyone who we work with is geared to a totally different reality to the one that we're in now.

It's tough, but it's been a challenge and I think it's forced us to have to think about who we are and what we do in a totally different way, which I really do think will benefit us and will make for much more interesting pieces of art from loads of different places. I have a feeling that the way that people are going to react to this – artists of all kinds – to venues shutting and people being locked up and a reaction to the world that we live in is going to make some really fascinating art soon. It is very doom-y at the moment and it's really worrying and very scary and it's threatening loads of people's livelihoods but I really do think that some amazing stuff will come out of this. This is where art comes from really – a reaction to things and this is a big thing.

The cycle of the album has been extended a little because you're rereleasing the songs in terms of the chronological order for which the events that inspired them occurred. Where did that idea come from?

D: I think it kind of came from the fact that people were so curious about it, there were a lot of questions. And I really liked the idea of just never telling anyone. But eventually, it started to feel a bit mean.

It just didn't work when we put it in that [chronological] order on the album. And that sort of reflects life. I basically worked in these smaller chapters because it allowed me to really dig into a certain time period and a certain feeling, in a way. I think each of those EPs, I guess we could call them, do feel like they have a certain emotion to them.

Do you mean each one has a different emotion to it?

D: Yeah, they kind of have a different light. It's hard to make it make sense to others, because this, to me, is my life.

You spoke about ripping the band-aid off. Was there a moment of clarity where you realised that you couldn't bullshit around the subject matter of these songs, or mystify it in any way?

D: I think that was part of it. And I think people right now, I don't feel like it's time to tease people and be really mysterious. We have to be honest and open with people. And that definitely led to doing these EPs. But the main thing was just wanting to make people some people happy, to be honest.

You speak about making people happy and not being mysterious. Any chance you could not be mysterious with me and tell me if you guys are working on the follow up already?

D: Cheeky! That's very cheeky my friend. Look, there's stuff happening, but I still feel like there's so much happening with Dreamland. It hasn't settled yet. The dust hasn't settled on Dreamland. We haven't toured it. And you know, maybe we will start something before we're able to tour this. But really, nothing solid has been put down on tape.

I don't think we've dipped our toes into a new album yet, but there's some other stuff that I can't tell you about. Trust us, it's really cool.

The above conversation has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

Words and interview by Jackson Langford, music contributor at MTV Australia. Hot takes at @jacksonlangford and hotter pics at @jacksonlangford.

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