Bonnaroo isn’t overbearingly hot compared to previous years, but Dave Bayley of Glass Animals still sports ruddy cheeks from a fresh sunburn. The Oxford, England native blames his heritage with a cheeky sigh, and so we decide it best to seek refuge from the sun, settling in a tiny tent that serendipitously houses all the beer coolers for the press area.
Musically, Bayley is known as the band’s lead singer and guitarist, but when it comes to personality, he’s got a reputation for being disarming. It’s no secret that he collects stories on the road, borrowing from people’s lives to construct characters for Glass Animals songs and albums. He has an innate inability to make others feel at ease in conversation, special, even, always speaking and listening with the ghost of a smile on his face. A woman walks in to grab a beer from the cooler, recognizes Bayley, and asks for a selfie. They wind up talking for several minutes.
As a band, Glass Animals’ music reflects this pull toward storytelling. The voices belong to developed characters that exist in the band’s carefully curated synth-pop world. A dash of electronic influence whirrs underneath, and perhaps RnB, all creating a psychedelic cocktail that defies category.
But, each song belongs to someone (or maybe, someone(s)) that Bayley and company have met while traveling. On their latest album, How to Be a Human Being, the song “Pork Soda” was born from Bayley overhearing a homeless man saying, “pineapples are in my head.” “Youth” comes from a woman opening up to Bayley about a tragedy that happened to her child. Their albums, then, become homage to life, and all the forms it can take.
As the tent quiets and the satisfied fan departs, we settle in to talk about self-honesty, neuroscience, and Americans’ odd affinity for cold beer.
Are there any beers specific to where you’re from that you enjoy?
Yeah, so I live in Oxford, in England, and there is a brewery there called Wychwood Brewery. They make a lot of really strange beers like Hobgoblin beer. I have a few friends that are super into it. But I like a nice beer.
Your country recently had an upset result in the election, right?
Yeah. It’s good. It’s not the best result though, the result we were hoping for, and it just kind of makes us all wonder why the hell there was an election in the first place.
It’s been interesting for both our countries.
I’ve seen the effects, I don’t know how blunt I can be about it – how people are open about their prejudices. It’s really strange. It freaks me out. It’s almost like people in very high positions of power give people an excuse or make people feel justified in their way of thinking. It’s a bit harsh sometimes.
I’m sure you analyze the reasoning behind actions more than the average person… I heard you have a neuroscience degree.
I went to medical school and then started the band kind of alongside it, just for fun. And then the band started getting better than medical school. They let me do something called intercalating to finish. They basically let me study really hard for a year and change my degree to a neuroscience degree. It’s cool; I’m a doctor. I shouldn’t be a doctor [laughs]. It was hard work.
You got to have both! You’re about to perform, do you ever have a beer before a show?
When I’m on stage, I usually have a beer.
What’s your beer of choice?
I have normally what’s sitting there; I never really get to choose. The other guys really care. I do try to get at least one local beer. I think right now the guys really like Coronas. Which is fine. But I normally go for local ones. Sometimes it’s disgusting.
But you have to try.
Yeah, I had one yesterday from Texas and it was fucking amazing. It started with an M… Martin House Brewing Company?
Do you prefer lighter beer or heavier beer?
I tend to like lighter ones but I actually drink a lot of Guinness. Not after a show, because it’s fuckin’ heavy, but England is cold, and Guinness is really nice and kind of warming. So I drink a lot of Guinness, and I drink a lot of ale. There’s one called Sir Edmund’s, that’s probably my favorite ale. I’ve found though that Americans really like cold beer.
Sometimes musicians have too much beer. I drink in moderation always.”
The band has been together since 2010 – how do you guys try to push yourselves to do new things?
I throw things away really quickly. I’m really decisive and if I come up with an idea and I don’t think it sounds new or interesting, I just throw it in the bin. And so I have a bin that’s just full of shit music. And then sometimes an idea gets through. You just have to be really picky with yourself.
Yes, self-honesty. And we’re all quite honest with each other. If I come up with something and my guitarist thinks it shit, he’ll tell me.
Does being a neuroscientist inform how you work in music?
The brain is really amazing and no one knows how it works still, and that’s what really interested me in medicine. I was really into psychiatry, and I spent a lot of time in mental hospitals with patients and trying to figure out how they see the world. You can never really do that; you can never really see the world through someone else’s eyes. But that’s what I was trying to do. And so when it comes to writing lyrics, I tend to write from another character’s point of view a lot. And I think it comes probably from that.
Do you include personal experiences as well in your lyrics?
Yeah I kind of mix it up. There are some songs on the album that are mostly biographical, but I was only able to do that because I can hide behind the rest of the characters on the album, and nobody really knows what’s real and what’s not.
Are there any notable musicians that you’ve ever bonded with over beer?
Sometimes musicians have too much beer. I drink in moderation always. But there’s one, God… I’ll leave the name out. We were at this party and a certain musician got really drunk, quite a famous musician, and was speaking to me at one end of the party. He was really close to my face, and started spitting on me a bit and so I started backing up, went all the way around the outside of the room and outside around the swimming pool and I fucked up and backed into a corner.
So this guy actually followed you? You were backing up and he followed you the entire time?
Yeah! He was speaking at me, and I ended up totally stuck, but eventually my manager came and saved me and I was all okay.