Dave Bayley, peaking over my shoulder to my shelves while we’re Zooming, clocks the records and gets a bit excited (or is that benignly amused?). What can I say, I tell him, I’m an old man with old toys.
“I’ve got a lot of records,” the frontman, producer and principal songwriter for UK band Glass Animals, says with a consoling laugh. “It’s a crazy habit: I’ve got too many records. I still listen to them. Every Sunday I wake up and I put a record on, start to finish. And it’s really nice. I think it’s rare that people listen to a full record, from start to finish, any more.”
That’s true, and it’s not even strictly speaking a generational thing. It’s not just “the kids” who struggle to keep attention focused for 35-40 minutes, or heaven forbid longer: watch those old farts hit the shuffle key like it’s a morning coffee order button.
So what impact does that have on artists who, for whatever reason, still want to make that weird collection of connected, sometimes even themed, songs? For that matter, is Sunday the only time he listens to a whole record in his Hackney home?
“It’s the only time I play things through and sit down and listen to a record,” says Bayley, who as well as his band has a flourishing career as a songwriter/producer with the likes of Joey Badda$$, DJ Dahi and Flume. “I definitely, when I’m making the artwork or something, listen to records all the way through but I’m also doing something else. It’s way too rare that people actually sit down and ‘do music’, actually listen to the music.”
Look, some of us are just happy that people are listening to the music, in whatever form they get it. Getting them to stay for more than a couple of songs is a longer, bigger battle.
“I also kind of like … I’ve come to appreciate the algorithm a little bit,” Bayley confesses. “And that’s like going down YouTube holes and clicking, clicking, clicking and you find an album. So I see both sides.”
Like I said, shuffle is the devil’s instrument.
“In the past, people definitely crafted a record like that. I don’t know how it goes anymore. I’ve heard a lot of records that seem to be single attempt, single attempt, single attempt, other stuff.”
We can’t blame modern living for that. There is a glorious tradition, before the album became an artefact or statement of its own but right up to the day before yesterday, for the singles-packed/front-loaded/filler-backed collection. From Motown to Beiber. And if you’re being hardline, maybe early Beatles to early Beyonce.
Really, until the mid-60s only Frank Sinatra in the 1950s genuinely was attempting the album as we know it today.
“I’m going to dig deep now. My next Sunday album I’m going to get some of those all Sinatra records,” says an enthusiastic Bayley, seeking recommendations. I suggest the twin poles of Songs For Swinging Lovers and Sings For Only The Lonely, the latter one of the saddest records every made as it seemingly captures a man sitting in the dark with a half-smoked cigarette, a tumbler of a whiskey or bourbon - his third or fourth - and it’s 2 o’clock in the morning and he’s trying not to cry, but is just about to.
“Oh wow. That’s going to be perfect for my Sunday morning. I’m not going to move for the rest of the day.”
At this point I suggest we probably should be talking about his own records, not a 65-year-old favourite of the maudlin and misunderstood. Glass Animals, after all, having a new album of their own, Dreamland, their best realisation yet of Bayley’s love of pop, electronica, hip hop and the space between.
“I can go either way on this,” Bayley smiles.
Well, let’s segue this way. Mr Sinatra was a man of considerable swagger, but while Bayley is decidedly English self-deprecating, rather than punchy Hoboken confidence, I believe he has been far too modest when, in talking about collaborating with hip-hop and R&B artists such as Denzel Curry, for the new Glass Animals track Tokyo Drifting, he declared that he had no swagger at all.
Surely at least a half swag? Can’t you acquire swag by association hanging out with the likes of Curry?
“No, it’s totally the opposite: he totally put me to shame,” smiles Bayley. “Can’t you hear the difference? But I’ve also learnt to embrace the awkwardness that I have. You can use that too to write.”
Awkwardness is part of his personality and part of his persona, just as Sinatra’s swagger was, even if with the American that was in part a front for rampant insecurity. But Bayley has gone so far as to create an alternative version of himself, a character he calls Wavey Davey, for just these sorts of occasions.
Wavey Davey is a man with more, shall we say New Jersey than Oxford, where Glass Animals formed. Or, since Bayley spent his early years in the small American town of College Station, north of Houston and San Antonio, more Texas than Hackney.
Though he’s new to us, Wavey Davey must have been there already, in some form, surely.
“When I was a kid I was super shy. I’ve always kind of been that way. Even the first 50, hundred shows we did, I was so shy didn’t move,” Bayley says. “I stayed completely still in the middle of the stage and tried to sing and play everything absolutely perfectly. And it was the most boring show anyone has ever seen.
“Then we went to [sometime career-making music industry conflab in Austin, Texas] South-by-Southwest, and we were doing several shows a day. You’d have promo, promo, promo, show; promo, promo, show, promo, promo, another show at two in the morning. And by that point you are just exhausted, nothing’s going to work, everyone’s trashed. We are a full band at SXSW, which doesn’t really work, so you’ve just got to have a fucking tequila and go. And that’s where I learned to give less fucks and just have fun, and I guess be a little more Wavey Davey.”
Was at least a kernel of Wavey Davey in him when he was trying to fit into the heavy masculinity of a Texan town and under pressure to be the same as everyone?
“I wonder if Wavey Davey would fit in better in Texas,” he says, before acknowledging that “it’s weird talking about Wavey Davey in the third person. Even saying Wavey Davey is weird.
“But, what’s kind of expected of you in Texas is a gender stereotype of how to behave as a person with a penis. You don’t have to be masculine to have swagger; they are two different things. And Wavey Davey is still not the most masculine person out there, but hopefully has a little bit of swagger.
“In Texas you are told to be one of the herd: everyone takes a standardised test, you do all the things that everyone else is meant to do [like] join the football team and the basketball team, and you bury all of your emotions.”
It must have been a potent combination to have that smalltown America need to suppress the parts of you that aren’t standard, with eventually the traditional British (and we know all too well here, Australian] reticence to stand out, holding down the parts of him we are now seeing in Wavey Davey.
“I think it’s just realising that that’s okay, and letting yourself be yourself. There is definitely a British restraint that I’ve always had from my dad. My dad’s Welsh and he is super reserved,” Bayley says. “But slowly as I got older and moved out, and after I’d had a tequila at SXSW, you start to realise that you can let that side show a bit, embrace it, and go for it. You don’t have to be perfect all the time. And that’s the whole realisation of that SXSW thing: that idea of perfection is so flawed and actually really quite awful.”
So true. Perfection is impossible, and the search for it takes up so much energy that it stops you doing or being so much else naturally.
“Oh yeah. You end up probably being quite an awful person. I’ve seen a lot of people who are perfect, and there are actually sort of awful.”
That does put me in mind of a line from a new Glass Animals song, Hot Sugar: “I don’t want to be around you, just want to be like you”.
“A lot of these songs have been on both sides of the coin, but this particular instance as about those early relationships where you think you are falling in love but really someone is actually just cool, and you want that cool, you want to be a bit more like them, and really you’re not and that’s okay,” he explains. “It’s having that realisation that it’s okay not to be like that super chilled, laid-back, worry-free person.
“A big part of me has always wished I could be that, just go with the flow, but I’m not cool enough to be like that. I overthink everything to an extreme degree.”
Which is when you must release … the inner Wavey Davey.
Tomorrow: in part two of this interview, Dave Bayley explains how he stopped worrying about what people thought and decided to let us all see him as he is. And how the songs have only improved on Glass Animals’ new album when perfection was no longer the goal.
Dreamland is out now.