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Glass Animals

Raw, Dead Sound for ‘How To Be a Human Being’ By Lily Moayeri

Little talked about fact regarding Glass Animals’ frontman and producer, Dave Bayley: He used to be the warm-up DJ at Fabric, one of London, England’s foremost nightclubs. Trying to get a vibe going for a slow-filling dancefloor to gear the crowd up for top international DJs seems to not have a lot to do with Glass Animals’ universally appealing, if unconventional pop-laced concoctions. But those 90 minutes in the DJ booth would get Bayley buzzing to make his own noises as a way to re-create his favorite sounds from other people’s records.

Bayley soon found his own style, which in turn caught the attention of uber-producer Paul Epworth, who made Glass Animals the first signing to his Wolf Tone label. This was partially due to the fact that Bayley is a self-sufficient producer himself, not needing Epworth to hold his hand through the creation of Glass Animals’ first album, Zaba (2014) or its follow-up, this year’s How To Be A Human Being. But having Epworth as an on-hand mentor, and access to Epworth’s The Church Studios during off-hours, didn’t hurt.

The majority of How To Be A Human Being, however, was created in Bayley’s tiny, nameless writing studio in North London. “I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to write about,” says Bayley, who while touring in support of Zaba surreptitiously recorded his conversations with people as sources of inspiration. “I knew I wanted to write about people. I knew the characters. I knew what their house looked like, what they wore, their entire world. The noises come into my head as I thought about the character. It made it easy to write music and develop songs.”

Unlike Zaba, which is in the box with its starting points of beats, electronics, synthesizers and drum samples, How To Be A Human Being gets its start in a traditional fashion with lyrics and chords played on guitar and piano. This approach allows Bayley to be more streamlined, only pursuing an idea if it works in its most raw form.

The writing studio’s compactness leant itself nicely to Bayley’s process. Keeping his essentials within arm’s reach, he has guitars: Hofner 176, Fender Stratocaster, Selmer Classical, Fender Precision bass with flat-wound strings, Roland Jupiter-6, Korg MS-20, ARP 2600—which made it onto every song on the album—a vintage Neumann U 87 microphone, and a couple of API preamps. Recording happens into Pro Tools, with Ableton preferable for sequencing and programming. Keeping things simple allows Bayley to whiz around, patching in what he needs quickly.

The studio has a drum room where sketches are put down. For this Bayley has created diffusers, acoustic panels, and movable walls in order to create a dead space without reverb or reflection. “I was listening to some old hip-hop records that I loved the vibe on, and they’re super dead,” says Bayley, who uses programmed drums on “Cane Shuga,” but then goes for a live kit on “The Other Side of Paradise.” “There’s something about that in-your-face-ness of those drums that I particularly wanted to capture the punch of for this album. The little studio’s walls are lined with acoustic treatment. You can clap in there and there’s no reverb. You can hear your heart beating in that room. I made these extra walls with soundproofing to put around amps and the drum kit to make a warm little room for them, a dead space.”

For many of the percussion sounds, Bayley used whatever he could find, from a pencil smacked on a tin can to mouth noises, particularly on the hi-hat sounds, which come close to beatboxing. On “Pork Soda,” for instance, the bass line heard halfway through is a combination of the bass guitar and Bayley half whistling/half humming and putting that into a sampler. “It’s easier than trawling through 100 sample packs and using something that’s been used before,” he says.

Also on “Pork Soda,” Bayley uses a binaural head microphone to achieve a crowd effect by having his bandmates—guitarist Drew MacFarlane, bassist Edmund Irwin-Singer and drummer Joe Seward—gather around it playing different characters singing the same line in four different takes. Even with all its tricks, the core of “Pork Soda” was recorded in one take with all members performing together.

Dave Bayley

When recording bigger things, Bayley made use of Epworth’s The Church, its wonderful selection of microphones, and engineer Matt Wiggins. Even in The Church they create a dead space within the large studio room by using available baffles, positioned tightly around the drum kit, a draped roof, and a small opening in the front. This gives them the option for a dead sound on the close microphones to go with the option of using the room microphones for ambience.

“We used condensers on the close kit for brightness and attack, with the exception of a dynamic on the hi-hat for a bit more chunk than sizzle,” says Wiggins. “A Coles 4038 was placed above the kick and distorted for when more crunch was needed. The condenser on the kick was supplemented by a speaker cone microphone with a Pultec-style EQ to add even more low end. All kick and snare microphones went through Transient Designer-type devices to add more attack and suck down the sustain, keeping the sound as tight as possible. On the overheads we had a Neumann U 67 and AKG D19, both in the center above the snare. We then would choose one or get a blend that worked for each song. Occasionally I added a second pair of overheads, some Sony pencil condensers in x-y, just in front of the kit about two meters off the ground. These microphones sound very hard and in your face, so it worked out great.”

In contrast, the huge chord sounds heard on “The Other Side Of Paradise” is the ARP 2600 recorded 30 times playing each note of the chord individually, resulting in 32 tracks, super-stacked, panned off hard left and right, with a little bit of a chorus for the widest chord sound Bayley could create. The Jupiter-6 is what he likes for pad sounds and EMS VCS3 for effects. He states its intuitiveness as a draw for creating Pink Floyd-like loops and ambient space-y sounds. He also managed to get his hands on a Transcendent Synth 2000, which usually comes in a build-it-yourself kit, but Bayley’s used to belong to Martin Hannett of Joy Division.

“I’ll record all those synthesizers and re-amp them to give them another bit of texture and forwardness that they don’t necessarily have if you record straight in,” Bayley says. “I tend to go through a Roland JC-120 amp, but if it’s a low synth I’ll go through an Ampeg B-52, and if it’s a simple mono synth line I’ll get it through whatever guitar amp I have lying around.

“There’s definitely a grittiness and rawness to this album that the last one didn’t have, where I was shy and nervous and trying to perfect everything,” he concludes. “The last record was shiny, mellow, ambient and reverbed out. This one is more of a kick in the nuts.”