The new Glass Animals album has a story to tell. It began on tour, where lead singer Dave Bayley found himself inundated with interesting stories from the taxi drivers, fans and general passers-by that he encountered along the way.
“I started recording things that they said,” he says. “People would tell you these amazing stories; everything from really heartbreaking stuff to hilarious things, disgusting things, whatever. My memory is terrible, so I tried to record them all on my phone – then I sat back and listened to all of these stories and started thinking about the way that people tell stories and what that means about them as people; what they might have embellished, what they might have left out and what that says about their life.”
From there Bayley began constructing a cast of characters, who would eventually make it into How to be a Human Being, which is released next week. The fictional figures appear in the songs, but also on the cover for the album, which shows them organised in the format of a bizarre family portrait.
“The songs came first,” Bayley continues. “It started with the lyrics and the idea for each character and the story they were going to have around them. That sculpted the lyrics, and in turn, when you know everything about a character, you can form the sonics and put the production around it as well, and the chords – if someone’s a bit sad, you use some sad chords, that kind of stuff.
“All the characters are made up, for the most part. Some are very autobiographical but I like the mystery of them – I’m never going to tell anyone which stories are true.”
In bringing the fictional figures to life visually, Bayley began by creating ‘mood boards’ for each song/character, featuring images he saw as relevant to each one. Two of these are shown below. “I started making these diagrams around the lyrics, of what the person might be like, what they might do in their spare time, what their favourite food is…”
On the cover, the figures are brought together. The resulting photographs have a kitsch and comedic style, with the characters’ expressions hinting at their wider back stories. “We cast them all as actors,” Bayley explains. “You could have used models but we decided to use actors and I think it added this depth – I gave them these documents about how they behave, then we did this family portrait and took hundreds of different shots.” (Image from the shoot shown top.)
The band used different versions of the portrait for each format of the record – the CD, vinyl and deluxe vinyl versions are shown here – and for the back cover image, the portrait group was shown shot from behind. Bayley and art director Mat Cook then also created the borders for the cover, a process that was meticulous.
“We scanned in loads and loads of bits of magazines, and things with texture,” Bayley explains. “I cut pages out of some of my favourite art books and scanned them in so you get interesting texture … then all the squares were actually placed individually, it took fucking ages…. It looks more organic than it would have otherwise. We tried just doing it digitally, but it didn’t look right – this gave it a bit of life and a bit of wonkiness.”
Bayley’s narrative didn’t end with the cover. At the same time as shooting the artwork, photographer Neil Krug also filmed the first two videos from the album, for tracks Life Itself and Youth, extending the characters’ stories into moving image. And the band is also getting playful online, creating interactive sites and planting content for the characters on Tumblr and LinkedIn. Two of these sites are already up and there will be more to follow.
Being so hands-on with the creation of the cover and the additional visuals for the album gives the band an element of control, but it was prompted largely by financial necessity. Bayley stresses that the record label were “incredibly encouraging” but also revealed that he was quite tactical in presenting his plans for the artwork to them, in order to bring them on board. “We had the idea and we did a lot of it – a lot of the costumes we made ourselves…. You have to have a plan and know that it’s not going to totally freak them out.”
“I like records that are very cohesive,” he continues. “From the music to the artwork to the stage design to the music videos. The last record we were very much learning how to do all of those things, it was our first record so this time I think we’ve learned from our mistakes and that allowed us to push things even further.
“Everyone used to buy vinyl and you used to get the amazing artwork with the music and it gave you a way in, it gave you an image to attach to the music. There’s no modern equivalent really, everyone’s just digital. These websites and weird interactive things, it’s hopefully similar to what the vinyl artwork used to do for people, it’s a digital version. It’s an updated version of vinyl art for the modern era.”