Growing up in the UK in the 90s, there was only one thing to do every weekday at 5.35pm. It’s worrying how many of my formative hours were spent watching Neighbours, and just how much of my current self was shaped by the teachings of Ramsey Street.
If you’re too young to have wished you could have lived in the House of Trouser, to have searched for a photo of Susan Kennedy in long sleeves or wondered what Jim Robinson was doing in The OC, then let me fill in a few blanks for you.
Running from the mid-1980s on BBC 1 until its switch to Channel 5 in 2007 and celebrating it’s 30th anniversary this year, Neighbours is the TV show that defined what several generations of Brits know about Australians. It also launched pop careers in the UK for the likes of Holly Valance and Delta Goodrem. And someone called Kylie.
And now we’re giving back to Australia. Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of Glass Animals, an Oxford quartet who are ruling like Vegemite down under.
“That was so weirdly spontaneous,” muses lead singer Dave from the back room of their local pub in Oxford. “We only had 24 hours preparation,” chips in drummer Joe.
We’re talking about the cover of Kanye West’s Love Lockdown that they performed for Triple J, Australia’s version of Radio 1, but with less Pitbull.
“We did it in no time basically. Pretty much on the plane to Australia,” picks up Dave. “It was fun, and it’s kind of weird to know that you can spend that little time on something. Literally, the only piece of equipment that was made on was a computer with the built in computer mic, and that’s it for that Triple J session. But somehow it worked.”
It’s a track they still play live and an interesting anomaly for the band that worked to painstaking detail on their debut record, last year’s infectiously brilliant ZABA. They’ve toured the world over, whipped crowds across foreign continents into a frenzy, and notched up millions of plays on Spotfiy. But sitting in a tiny pub in Oxford, the only person that seems to know who they are is the motherly landlady, Jackie.
Let’s go back to the beginning. Four friends from school they parted ways for Universities in different cities, only to reconvene in the Christmas break of 2010. Dave had written some songs and they posted them to Myspace. And that was where things began to get interesting with press and industry attention arriving before their summer break.
But the band decided to continue with their studies for another couple of years. “I think it was because I’d already invested so much time and fees into University, it seemed like a crazy whim to just stop halfway through,” explains Joe.
So Drew, Edmund and Joe all completed their degrees, while Dave who was studying medicine had to make the difficult decision between music and saving lives. Thankfully for the world, he chose pop.
Their first ever London show was at the Hoxton Bar & Kitchen. “At the time it felt like the most enormous venue ever, and then I went back there about a week ago and it’s like a lovely little shoebox,” laughs Joe. “And I remember the stage being massively imposing, and it’s just quite a normal stage now.”
Releasing the innovative Leaflings EP in 2012 they stepped up to play their first London headline at Birthdays in Dalston. In the crowd was producer Paul Epworth. Launching his Wolf Tone label, he made Glass Animals his first signing and began working with them in studio.
The following year Glass Animals released single Psylla with b-side Woozy featuring rapper Jean Deaux, exposing the band to a new audience in the US. “Psylia was the first song where Paul was in the picture but he didn’t really do anything for that,” Joe explains. “He was more sorting us out a studio to work in. He was orchestrating from the background.”
If you read or listen to enough Glass Animals interviews, you’ll notice a few recurring themes. They like to repeat certain phrases: they can’t ever pick a favourite song as they’re ‘all like children’, and Paul Epworth doesn’t produce, he just ‘throws a grenade’. And then there’s The Shed, their rehearsal space come constant subject of conversation.
“It definitely gained more importance in interviews than it had,” laughs Joe. “I mean, it is important because it’s where we rehearse and kind of live, and spend a lot of time. Like, twelve hours a day for two years.”
“It’s a horse stable. A really old, abandoned horse stable,” explains Dave as Joe continues. “I think one of the reasons it was called The Shed is because Dave actually had a proper little tiny shed just in his garden where we used to hang out with massive pillows. And when we moved to the actual real shed now, it was just it had been in our vocabulary for a while and it was a wooden building so it kind of just adopted the name, and we gave it the name Shed, but it wasn’t the original shed.”
So now that’s cleared up, let’s move on to this grenade thing. “That’s Joe’s Glass Animalsism,” accuses Dave.
“Psylia wasn’t grenaded very much,” admits Joe, explaining Paul Epworth’s production technique. “It was mainly the album. And it did kind of feel like a grenade. Maybe a landmine; he’d plant small landmines round the studio. Occasionally just a whole song would be snapped in half. Everything would be jumbled around, turned up, turned down, bits taken out, snapped in half, and then he’d say, ‘Right, put it back together’.
“And we’d all be like, ‘What the fuck just happened?!’ That was insane. And then it would make us question what we were doing and why we were doing it. And we’d rebuild it just the same as it was, but we’d know why, and we’d be able to justify to him why we’d done it that way. And other times we’d think, well that’s kind of cool not having that there where we thought it lived. So it was just a way of him getting us to question what we were doing.”
One area you can tell Glass Animals didn’t require any help is on tones. In interviews Dave can bore down into detail over the tiniest sound, often evoking some kind of jungle comparison, usually a hippo.
“Do I talk about Hippos a lot? They are really cool. They make some cool noises those hippos. Yeah, my obsession is making weird noises. So I think Paul left us to that side of things and he was just doing broad brush strokes, really.”
Each time you listen to Zaba it seems as though different sounds spur to the surface. Different speakers or headphones seem to deliver a different experience. It’s an album that’s so aurally rich, David Wrench who mixed the album had to buy a new computer just to cope with the volume of audio files. So how does Dave go about creating these tones? I’d heard stories of pool toys being slapped and wooden spoons used instead of drumsticks.
“I don’t really have that many instruments in my house when I make the demos and I try to create a soundscape. It’s all just one terrible microphone, one terrible computer, and my house that’s full of junk. So I’ll get the sound in my head and I’ll go well, how can I make this sound? Oh, I’ve got this wooden spoon and I have this rubber duck, if I throw the duck up in the air and smack it with the spoon, I can get the sound and maybe it’ll be right. So yeah, it just came from not having any actual instruments.
“I always like trying to create instruments out of really weird sounds. Like, I remember sampling an owl outside my house. There’s an owl that’s really weird and I recorded it and you kind of turn it into a synthesizer.”
We meet just a few weeks before Glass Animals take on Shepherd’s Bush Empire, their biggest London headline show to date. “I remember we went to see Disclosure supporting SBTRKT and Amy our manager said, one day you guys will be headlining this, and we were like no, piss off.” Laughs Dave, still with a little disbelief.
“It was the first gig I ever went to in my life,” replies Joe. “I went to see a band called Athlete and Hot Chip were supporting them, so I saw Hot Chip. The first band I ever saw was Hot Chip at Shepherd’s Bush when I was about twelve. So for me, this is quite a serious moment, going full circle.”
It also marks nearly a year since the quartet opened for St Vincent on the same stage. I remember watching Dave fixed to the spot over his pedal board. Fly forwards twelve months and they’ve released their debut record, toured on three different continents, and utterly transformed in terms of their confidence live.
“We’ve done a lot since St Vincent,” understates Joe.
From those dates supporting the now Grammy winning Annie Clarke, Glass Animals flew to Austin, Texas for SXSW where the unpredictable nature of showcasing festivals forced them to adapt.
“I think in terms of learning in a short space of time, SXSW was definitely the most…” Joe trails off, regrouping his thoughts. “Compared to the amount of time we spent there and the amount we learnt, it was definitely the most learning time ever for us.
“We’d been so hell bent and focused on making everything sound perfect and being able to play really tightly and all of this stuff, up until that point. We hadn’t ever really thought, well Dave had, but we as a group hadn’t really ever thought about performing. And when we got there we realised that it’s not going to sound good. And you just have to accept that. But you can make a show great even if it doesn’t sound good by just going mental.”
“By actually having fun,” chips in Dave as Joe continues, “Because people react. If you see someone smiling, you smile. If you see someone crying you instantly feel sad. If you see someone dancing on stage it can make the difference between having a good show and a bland show. So if you just go mental at SXSW people react to it, and it kind of worked. So we took a lot away from this I think, which was just that…”
“You have to work.” Finishes Dave.
You can really tell that these two have spent a year in close confines on the road.
Having covered so much ground overseas, how do the crowds differ from country to country for Glass Animals? “It depends so much on so many factors I think; time of day, kind of venue, festival or not, weekend, city,” lists Joe. “Like, the smaller the city as far as I can see, the more mental people go. We went to a place I’d never even heard of called Boise and no tickets had sold up until three hours before and it was rammed by the time we got in there and everyone lost their minds.
“It was like 250 people, so like a relatively small little venue, but everyone just went nuts. And then we went to New York and it was a big venue and everyone was just like…” He affects a cool rhythmic nod.
“And that’s fun in it’s own way, but it really is so confusing when you turn up to the middle of nowhere and obviously no one should know who you are at all because it’s the middle of nowhere and they all lose their minds. So it just changes within states, let alone countries.”
And there’s no sign of Glass Animals tour schedule relenting. “New tours keep getting added all the time,” continues Joe with exasperation. “We think OK, we’ll be ending there, and then someone’s like, but what about the tour in North America that starts in September? And we’re like, what?! It’s like new tours just come out the woodwork.”
So while there’s not much chance of Dave and Joe making good friends out of their current neighbours, Oxford’s loss is the globe’s gain. And Glass Animals continue to spread their peanut butter vibes worldwide.