Glass Animals are knackered. After two whole years of touring off the back of their debut release Zaba, the Oxford foursome have barely given themselves a break – this year returning to the studio for round two, releasing follow-up How To Be A Human Being back in August. Gearing up to hit the road again, it seems they’re a long way from any real rest, but then they’re not exactly the kind to complain about it. “We’ve been absolutely non-stop,” Glass Animals’ drummer Joe Seaward tells me. “We haven’t really had a break for the last three or four years. And we’re just about to start the next chapter of touring which doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon. But it’s great fun. I’d much rather be too busy than not busy enough.”
A bold departure from its predecessor both lyrically and sonically, How To Be A Human Beingis the natural amalgamation of the band’s extensive tour experience – essentially a scrapbook of the people they’ve met on the road so far. However, instead of simply writing songs about these characters, Glass Animals have taken small aspects of their personalities and extrapolated their own, resulting in an immersive album of storytelling lyrics juxtaposed on to music that effectively conveys an overall emotion, outlook or attitude. “We’ve met so many people with really interesting stories, but rather than just write songs about them, we wanted to channel the way people told us stories instead. The songs are less about the people themselves, but more about the way that the people we met expressed their feelings, sentiments and stories.”
Considering the global success of Zaba, it appeared to mark Glass Animals as ideal candidates for the clichéd ‘sophomore slump’. The widespread acclaim received for How To Be A Human Being suggests Glass Animals obliterated all expectations for their second offering. The band is known for their innate ambition (frontman Dave Bayley was a medicine undergrad when Glass Animals started, and each member finished their respective degrees before embarking on music as a career choice), however, when it comes to pressures for outshining their debut Seaward seems unconvinced they had a lot to go up against in the first place.
“When we released the first record there wasn’t a lot of hype around Glass Animals – especially in England – so we felt we somehow managed to slip under the radar. We were then able to start from the bottom and work up. It meant that when we got around to working on the second album there wasn’t a big weight of expectation. The press weren’t really waiting for round two because no one really cared the first time round. To be honest, we made the record so quickly that there just wasn’t that much time to think about what people would think and what we should do – we just did it.”
Seaward may be right about initial response to their debut, however fast-forward to now and Zaba boasts over half a million copies sold and 200 million streams on Spotify – apparently all thanks to word of mouth. Having accumulated a legion of fans across the world during their extensive tour schedule, it really comes as no surprise… At least, to everyone except the band themselves. It’s apparent that Glass Animals don’t seem to realise just how successful they’ve become; from what Seaward tells us, the band simply haven’t had time to reflect on any triumphs, and when he does discuss the bands’ achievements, it’s always modest. “The people that we’ve spoken to seem to be very positive about it. We’re very proud and we’re selling out shows – everything seems to be going pretty okay. For now, anyway.” Pretty okay. Right.
Despite success around the globe and months on end touring, Seaward comments that he still feels very much at home in Oxford – and likely always will. Forgoing the megastar profile seems only natural to Glass Animals, and their music certainly benefits from it. Instead of the consumer-led tracks of the Top 40, the band lay down refreshingly unpredictable tunes that are all too difficult to define; the moment you try to pigeonhole them in to indie, they’ll throw in some falsetto, synths and a hip-hop beat played on the tabla. It makes it very difficult to draw comparisons from – even to Seaward himself.
“One of our songs has a drum loop that’s taken from a Bollywood song, and then another sound may be taken from a Nintendo game. It’s more about what those sounds can offer – what concepts they can bring. With a Nintendo sound, immediately you think about it without consciously being aware of it. Similarly, you can provoke an emotion with something small. There are lots of very brilliant musicians that do that really well. But I don’t think there’s really one person we try to base our sound around.”
Level-headed and grounded aren’t often identifiers attributed to musicians, however as the interview with Joe Seaward comes to a close, it’s difficult to not think of the band in this light. He parts with one final line about what really matters, demonstrating once and for all how to be a human being: “I think people are very different. Some people are alcoholics – you give someone a drink and they can’t ever stop – and the same goes with fame. But to us, this whole thing is great, but it’s not the be all and end all. People are much more important – my relationships with my family and friends are much more important. But these things I feel very privileged to be a part of, and I hope they go on for a very long time. Ultimately, if it ends, it’s not a massive deal as long as we’re all happy. That’s always been the most important thing.”