How Covid changed the relationship between Glass Animals and our fans

In March 2020, Glass Animals were gearing up for the biggest tour of their lives. It didn’t quite work out like that, writes lead singer Dave Bayley

Monday 15 November 2021 16:28
<p>‘We are about to see people react to this music in the flesh for the first time’ – Covid delayed Glass Animals’ chance to tour new album ‘Dreamland’ </p>

‘We are about to see people react to this music in the flesh for the first time’ – Covid delayed Glass Animals’ chance to tour new album ‘Dreamland’

“This is going to be the last show in Los Angeles for a couple of weeks,” we were told by our tour manager, seconds before we were due to walk back on stage for an encore at the legendary Troubadour nightclub.

It was 11 March, 2020. We were in the middle of a run of small “test” shows across the US, gearing up for the release of our third album, Dreamland. Our tour manager added: “Better make it one to remember.” And we did just that. I jumped into the crowd, danced like a maniac, climbed some scaffolding up to the balcony, and we had a wild, sweaty old time. We packed our gear into our trailer and parked it up somewhere local, thinking we’d be back in a flash to finish what we started.

Fast forward three months and Covid had turned the world upside down. Our album release date was moved back many, many times – until it was just completely up in the air. The monumental live plans that were so carefully built to bring Dreamland to life all around the world had collapsed. The Troubadour looked set to close forever, and we were having serious conversations about whether or not our record would survive being released in that climate.

Glass Animals in New York

Under the pressures of the pandemic, people were turning to old music that felt safe and familiar, in the same way that they were eating pancakes or fish fingers. We were all looking to the past for safety and comfort, and I was concerned our new music was, well… new. This album was my baby. It was the most personal and difficult thing I had ever written. It came out of a tumultuous writing and recording process that nearly killed me, and there I was, getting prepared for it to be a fart dropped in a hurricane.

Fast forward another few months to August 2020, and Dreamland was finally released. It exceeded all of our wildest expectations in the charts. Possibly something to do with the album being primarily about nostalgia and growing up, referencing the music I – and many my age – grew up listening to. Over the following 12 months, the album went on a totally unexpected intergalactic rollercoaster mega-odyssey and became by far our most successful project yet – and I watched it all unfold on a screen, sitting on the sofa in my pants.

We did everything we could to support the album digitally and virtually, trying to replace real-life interactions and events, and desperately trying to feel like part of the album’s journey rather than just spectators. I made music videos in my kitchen, spent days in Zoom rooms, held online Mario Kart tournaments, spent hours recording covers live on YouTube, did music collabs by post, learned Minecraft, made our own peanut butter, and a hell of a lot more. All organised over the internet. It felt like my brain was plugged directly into the web.

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On a bit of a crazy whim, I decided to share all of the sounds, chords, stems, artwork files, and pretty much everything used to create the album, for free on our website. I was hoping it would give people some things to play with during lockdown. Maybe it could help someone learn, or give someone a starting point from which to create something. Before I knew it, it was being remixed, animated, turned into video games, memed, painted, and written about in so many beautiful ways.

The album kept finding friends in different wonderful, and brilliantly creative internet communities. I have to say that this creative response from everyone meant absolutely everything through those lockdown months. It’s what got me out of bed in the mornings, and really what kept me alive. Thank you to everyone, from the bottom of my heart. I can’t explain how much it meant.

“Heat Waves”, the penultimate track on the album, eventually began to gain a particularly wild momentum. This was the most personal song I’d ever written, and the saddest, being about love and death. It was a strange thing to get my head around – my little secret was finding its footing in the world. One year post release and Dreamland had an exponential burst in popularity as the love from all of those online communities swelled together and catapulted “Heat Waves” up the charts. All the while, I was still on the sofa in my undies, reading email updates and seeing numbers on streaming services that boggled my brain.

This swell continued into August 2021, and as the album’s success is rattling our minds, we are FINALLY allowed to tour! But there is a catch. If one of us catches Covid, it’s all over. We go home and are left with petrifying financial shortfalls, like some kind of biological roulette. So, we pack our suitcases with several litres of 90 per cent proof hand sanitiser that kills 99.99999 per cent of viruses and our own skin cells, several hundred N95 masks, a 2,000 word safety protocol for our touring “bubble”, and thousands of rapid tests, and we fly to America to play our first concerts in 18 months.

A rehearsal day later, and we are ready to walk on for the first show. I always spend a few minutes looking out at the crowd before we go on. It is usually strangely relaxing seeing smiling faces and listening to gentle cheers and chants, but this time it feels like they’re going to f**king explode. The air is filled with a fizzy static and everyone is brimming with so much energy that their hair is standing on end. Our touring crew, who have become our best friends, are grinning next to us. We are about to see people react to this music in the flesh for the first time, having been utterly starved of personal interaction for so long. I look at my bandmates with wide eyes, and then we take our first steps onto the stage. The place erupts like nothing I’ve heard before (see the video on our Instagram, it is quite ridiculous). Absolute euphoria. LIVE MUSIC IS BACK!

Even with their mouths behind masks, the crowds on this tour are twice as loud as ever before. The energy given to us during those sets is overwhelming. It went on even after the shows ended as street parties erupted outside the venues where everyone just listened to the recordings of the songs they’d just heard.

We watched these parties from our bus. We couldn’t go to dinner, or see the cities, meet the people, or do all the things we normally love doing on tour. But those little windows of togetherness during the shows packed more heartwarming punch than we could have ever imagined. I had a little sob on stage many nights when everyone sang back so loudly that I couldn’t even hear myself.

Finally we were able to experience a physical version of the numbers, e-mails, Whatsapps and Zooms we’d been looking at on our phones for so long. It was the best tour of our lives. I don’t know if any of it has sunk in, or if it ever will.

A year and a half ago I thought we may have lost everything, but here we are thanks to the people who embraced this record and became the biggest part of it.

To anyone who listened, created, played a song to their mum, memed us, or helped in any way – thank you for making it all possible. Thank you for helping me get up off the sofa and put some trousers on.

See you soon. Love, Dave x

Glass Animals headline Alexandra Palace on 19 November. You can buy tickets here. Their single ‘Heat Waves’ has re-entered the UK top 5 and set a new US chart record, reaching the top 10 after 42 weeks in the top 100. ‘Dreamland’ is out now

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