As soon as I learned that Glass Animals would be part of the Wakarusa press conference, I tried hard to come up with a way to phrase a question I’d had since first hearing their music: the inspiration behind their tongue-in-cheek sleazy, almost slimy sound. As often as I turned it over in my head, however, I couldn’t formulate the question innocuously enough for the chance that their music was made in earnest. Wishing not to wildly offend the band, I decided to keep that question in the vault. I was even slightly afraid of what meeting them– they could be, as I expected, some goofy artists or they could be weirdos who write lyrics like “Hi, my naked little man” and mean it.
When Anna Conard and I later approached them for a voice tag, we had the chance to ask the band’s frontman, Dave Bayley, about his past studies in neuroscience and psychology. He offered that it had majorly influenced his writing for the band’s recent debut album, Zaba, that in fact he had written the entire album as imagined from within another person’s mind. He smirked when I laughed and told him that that knowledge made his music make so much more sense. When Anna and I said goodbye, he stuck out his hand in clear unease. It was the kind of handshake you’d exchange in a sardine can, with his arm pinned to his side from shoulder to elbow. It could have been simply because shaking hands is a weird custom to his UK-bred self, but he had seemed reserved and softspoken throughout our conversation too. Whatever the reason for the slight awkwardness (endearing nonetheless), there was no trace of it on the Outpost Stage later that evening when Glass Animals were up to perform.
I’m loath to use the word, but there are few more accurate ways to term Bayley’s stage presence than swagger. Any reservation he’d had during the press conference had flown, and he was hamming up the audience like only a peanut butter vibe-master can. Again, the persona shift made all the sense in the world when I remembered his remark about writing songs as someone else. If the Dave Bayley in press conference was the “real” one, the Bayley on stage was his mask, his port to another part of himself.
A considerable chunk of the crowd left after the group performed their most popular song, “Gooey.” They missed out. The last third or so of the concert saw Dave Bayley going absolutely batty onstage. The only people left were people invested in what he was doing, and the show turned up several notches after the Gooey fans left. Bayley must have known that who he was performing to at that point were, for a music festival, his true fans and the ones he would not have to pander to. His movements became more grandiose, the whole band became a little more raw. The performance culminated in Bayley clambering past the media rails and falling into the crowd’s hands during a cover of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown.”
Glass Animals had told us that the inspiration behind their album cover art was an actual work by a Cuban artist. Having been refused the rights to use the original work, they instead worked with a graphic artist to reinvent the same painting. But this time, Bayley said, they added their own flair with a pineapple here or a tentacle there. Just like the out-of-body inspiration for the songs, the way he embodies a new personality on stage, the unmistakable but fresh R&B sound– it’s not plagiarism by any means. Picasso said it best: “good artists copy; great artists steal.” All artists do this to some extent, but the Glass Animals aren’t pretending not to be influenced by their cultural atmosphere. They take what they like for their own and exhaustively explore it until they can create art from art.