In the studio with Glass Animals

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In the studio with Glass Animals

Words by Will Brewster

Discover how Dave Bayley produced the UK band's gleaming new LP.

Peppered with gleaming, nostalgia-invoking soundbites and tied together with heavily treated snippets from family home videos, Dreamland, a semi-autobiographical journey into Bayley’s headspace, is effervescent in every sense of the word.

While there’s certainly more poignance to his lyrics this time around, Bayley’s vocals are as sugar-sweet as ever, weaving his narratives atop of a bed of lush Mellotrons, low-pass filtered guitars and boom-bap drums. Bayley says that Dreamland is representative of an upbringing caught between two distinctive identities, fusing old with new for a final product that’s distinctively futuristic, yet drenched in nostalgia and personal reverence.

“A lot of the sounds were meant to be reflective of what I was listening to growing up,” Bayley explains of the record’s personal tone. “The album’s about growing up, from my first memory until now, so I sat back and for each song I was like ‘when did this take place in my life? what was I listening to in this moment, how can I pull those sounds into the recording?’

A dedicated crate-digger and collector of celebrated vintage equipment, Bayley pinpoints much of Dreamland’s lysergic qualities to his penchant for era-correct sounds. Chatting via video call from his London studio, he’s certainly not afraid of tech talk – at one stage in our conversation, he unhooks his phone to showcase a whopping collection of Neve preamps and vintage tube gear – yet approaches such tools with a decidedly modern sensibility that could only come from his background in hip-hop. Much of the album’s preproduction consisted of Bayley endlessly sampling vintage machines with an old E-mu sampler and an MPC2000, a process that proved to be essential in shaping the unique timbre of Dreamland.

“I spent so much time sourcing all this old stuff,” he says. “All these vintage drum machines, Mellotrons and other old synths – all my guitars are old vintage Hofner guitars, and I’ve got all these Neve 176s. I was using those old synths that the Beatles or The Beach Boys would have used, but then resampling them like Timbaland or Dr Dre might have. Or then using the kinds of sounds or samplers that Timbaland or Pharrell might have used, but then recording them through all this old shit.”

Being the devout studio hound that he is, it should come to no surprise that Bayley’s unique vision and bass-heavy production style has seen him become hot property in the contemporary hip-hop world. In recent years, he’s been involved in studio sessions with the likes of 6lack, Khalid, Joey Bada$$ and Denzel Curry, the latter appearing on Dreamland in the form of ‘Tokyo Drifting’. Bayley says that in addition to fleshing out his resume, these sessions proved paramount to developing his newfound confidence as a storyteller across Dreamland, allowing him to open up about personal experiences in a much more open manner.

“I learnt so much through those sessions,” he explains. “It’s inspiring to see how people you respect so much work, and to see how they react to certain things. Just hearing things through their ears and seeing them gravitate towards very personal things when you’re being really open with them is pretty special.

“It’s also easier when you’re writing for someone else, because you’re not singing it. If it’s your own voice, you know, it’s you, and you have to face your lyrics – it’s really exposing. But those collaborations kind of gave me a chance to do something with a little degree of removal, and then I just kept doing it when it came to writing this record.”

Another overwhelming influence upon Bayley during the creation of Dreamland came in a much more unexpected form, when Glass Animals drummer Joe Seaward was involved in a life-threatening motorbike accident in 2018. While Seaward has now recovered from his experience and has since relearned to walk and drum, Bayley notes that the experience proved to have a profound impact on his state of mind when beginning to record the project

“When I was in the hospital with him… You know, you just start thinking about things in hospitals,” he says candidly. “You see a lot of people coming together, a lot of families in mourning, you see a lot of like weird interactions and you start really thinking about your life. You just don’t really know what the future holds because well… Honestly, I thought there’s a good chance he was gonna die. I was like, ‘Okay, fuck. I don’t want to think about the future as you think about the past.’

“I guess when I got into studio after that, it just felt like a very natural thing. When Joe was recovering, he was like ‘Go to LA, do your thing’. And I did, and I think because I was thinking about the past and so many nostalgic memories, it was just easy to write what turned into the album. It’s just what came out.”

Bayley also notes that while the majority of material that made it onto Dreamland was formulated by himself, his bandmates still play a vital role in performing the record’s more technically dense aspects, and prove essential when adjudicating what material works best for the album.

“They’re really good players, whereas I’m really not as good,” he laughs. “If something needs a bit of extra spice, I’ll get one of them in. I can play the fundamentals of a bassline, or botch together some funky fills. But if you really want some crazy jazzy shit, that’s where they come in.

“Some of the songs just ended up being just me in my studio here. But if they don’t like something, it won’t go on the record, they’ll just say ’Nah, that’s shit’. If I really disagree with them, I’ll bite back.”

Funnily enough, one of the most memorable occasions Bayley can recall disagreeing with his bandmates on a song ended up being the band’s breakout hit ‘Gooey’.

“They fucking hated it! They were like ‘Oh, what are you doing, why are you singing so high’. So I threw the song away for like three months, and then I found it again and played it to my manager – who also hated it,” he laughs. “But I really believed in it.”

In addition to his bandmates’ counsel, Bayley was also fortunate enough to receive the assistance of longtime mentor and lauded producer Paul Epworth (Bloc Party, Adele, Florence + the Machine), who initially signed Glass Animals to his Wolf Tone record label imprint in the early 2010s and has unwaveringly assisted the group on their upwards trajectory ever since.

“He kind of mentored it,” Bayley says, noting that Glass Animals no longer need Epworth to play the all-encompassing role in the studio that he once did. “I think he calls himself the executive producer. He’s a busy dude, but if you ever get stuck with something, it’s good to bring it to him, and he’ll be like ‘this is where you went wrong, re-do the chorus’ – he’s a guru.”

Bayley also notes the involvement of another sonic wizard behind the scenes of Dreamland, describing a particularly hazy studio session with a noted hip-hop stalwart whose contributions have popped up on some of best records in recent memory.

“Mike Dean was actually around for some of the album,” he says, recalling the work ethic of the celebrated figure who’s worked alongside the likes of Kanye West, Travis Scott and more. “When we were doing ‘Your Love’, he was in the room, and he’s just like… He’s good at getting things out of people because he’s so chill. The man’s a fucking god. He just sits down, rolls a nice spliff and just goes off.

“When I was recording ‘Your Love’, I was trying to show off to him with some big Moog bass hunks in the middle of the track, and then after all that, he was like ‘You’ve got a wrong note in the bassline.’ He’s just got perfect pitch. My 808 was literally a quarter of an overtone out of tune, and he pulled me up on it. That’s just insane, man.”

It goes without saying that Dreamland is Glass Animals’ most hip-hop adjacent project to date, with Bayley’s hard-knocking beats being beefed up by a crystalline mix from two of the most respected names in the business: Mixed By Ali and Manny Marroquin.

“Those guys are fucking genius,” Bayley says. “Mixed By Ali is one of my heroes. Good Kid Mad City is one of the most impeccably mixed albums of all time, and I knew the album needed someone like him on it. I can handle some of the more timid stuff, but for the heavy stuff, he’ll just come in and turn the snare up like +6db, or turn down all the high stuff down +12db and just crank the bass up.

“He just makes all these extreme movements, and I think thats where he get his knock, or his slap, from. He just picks five things that make it pop, jacks them up and turns everything else down, and it’s insane. And obviously Manny, who mixed the rest of the record is… I mean, you and I both love him. He’s a legend.”

Perhaps Bayley’s strongest asset as a producer, as it happens, is his unending sense of curiosity with sound. He’s equally as adept in the culture of trunk-rattling Southern hip-hop as he is with that of Britain’s clubbing scene, having spent his years as a university student at university DJing before the likes of James Blake and Four Tet at London institution Fabric. It’s this infinite drive to explore new sounds and conquer untrodden frequencies that makes Dreamland the trippy aural pleasure that it is, with Bayley tracing his fascination with such vivid movement back to the club’s infamously powerful sound-system.

“I learnt so much from Fabric,” says Bayley of his experiences in the booth at the nightclub. “I often had the early slot, when people were just coming in and waiting around for their pills to kick in, so it was all just a bit awkward. Half the time I’d just spend out of the booth listening to stuff, and you’d learn about what knocks, what frequencies are hitting.

“When the room fills up, you can see what makes a crowd react. You can study the tracks that really work on those big systems.  You can see in people’s faces what works when you’re in a live situation, and you can go and bring that into a studio setting. When I finished DJing late at night, I was just buzzing off adrenaline, and that’s when I’d go and make music. Without that, Glass Animals just wouldn’t be.”

Dreamland, the new album from Glass Animals, is out now.