2pm at the Old Bookbinders on Victor Street: Best Fit is at a low-ceilinged pub with car-boot sale décor. Tucked away down a Jericho backstreet in lovely sunny Oxford, we’re in a residential area dominated by grey-bricked terraced student houses. Sandwiched on the corner, you’ll find the Bookbinders, a fine local establishment plastered with peculiar paraphernalia. That is, ice skates, football boots and Chinese hats hanging from the beams, amassed cigarette lighters protruding from the wall, and a fine selection of ales foaming up behind the bar. Cosy, quiet, managed by Glass Animals’ friend Josh, this place literally secretes history.
Like many pubs in Oxford, it’s rumoured to be one of the spots CS Lewis and Tolkien met to discuss their writings, and it’s also the setting of classic Inspector Morse episode ‘The Dead of Jericho’. We’re also just down the road from the Jericho Tavern, which gives this area its name. That’s the same venue in which Radiohead played their first ever gig in 1991, and Glass Animals two decades later.
Lead singer Dave Bayley lives just nearby, next to the brilliant-sounding Peppa’s Burgers, which apparently used to be “run by a bunch of crack addicts”, but the rest of the band (drummer Joe Seaward, bassist/keyboardist Edmund Irwin-Singer and keyboardist/guitarist Drew MacFarlane) live in other parts of the city and have cycled in today.
Remarkably, all four band members appear rather chirpy, even energised this afternoon. Really, they should all be exhausted. They only got back from a gig at Manchester Cathedral late last night, having supported all-round 2014-winner St. Vincent on her entire European tour. The shows were well received, but things could have gone better off the stage. It was all going well until Brussels. “We had all of our gear nicked,” explains Dave, wearing his trademark peacock feather tee-shirt. “Five laptops got stolen. It was pretty serious. Someone, like, crowbarred our van open and stole so much stuff”. Awful, yes, and as something like Marissa Nadler plays on the pub stereo, our interview begins to feels a little like a therapeutic venting session. “Be careful in Brussels, basically,” he advises. “We got warned about Brussels after we left Brussels. We’d already been hit, and it kind of sucked. But we continued anyway”.
Helped out by Annie Clark and band, who kindly lent the band equipment and plentiful moral support, the band sound honoured to have been invited on tour with the musician. The lasting memory is overwhelmingly receptive crowds, applause wherever they went, and Annie’s “funky riffs,” which were adapted and extrapolated tenfold for the live show. For Dave, though, there’s also the scarring memory of getting bollocked for eating Annie’s dinner. “She quite likes things, like, done in her way, and I felt really bad because I totally fucked with that,” he regrets. “She didn’t know. Her tour manager basically gave me her dinner by accident, along with my dinner. He gave me two plates and I was only meant to have one, but I ate them both anyway because I was pretty hungry. I’d just come off stage. Anyway, he came back about ten minutes later saying, like, ‘Um, did I give you an extra plate?’, and just went totally white, like, ‘Oh shit, that was Annie’s,’ and then buggered off.”
Lots of in-jokes fly between the band and their manager as we chat, sat around the Bookbinders’ largest, most oblong dining table (the only one big enough). Clearly, Glass Animals are a tight group of mates, and have been for a long time. As it turns out, they all went to secondary school together. Joe, Ed and Drew were there from the start, and Dave rocked up in their second year. They enthuse about their city’s limited but important musical heritage. “We used to go see loads of shows at the Zodiac, which was a really small, cool music venue,” says Joe looking very East Coast in his sSur sweater. “I think it was owned by Supergrass and Radiohead. It was like the venue in Oxford. We used to see loads of cool bands there, like the Rakes, British Sea Power, Maximo Park and the Young Knives, who are from Oxford.” A bit later, they would also sneak into Foals’ early gigs, “with like four people in the crowd” at the sweat-smelling Cellar venue.
Inspired but with interests elsewhere, no actual recordings came out of the quartet’s childhood here and they all scurried off to university in different towns. But then, Dave started writing songs. “We were at home one holiday,” continues Joe, “and he was just like, ‘I’ve written these songs. I’m going to put them on Myspace. Do you want to be in a band?’ So, we were all like, Yeah, all right’. We didn’t really think anything of it. We, like, really didn’t think anything of it. And then, the stuff went online and it kind of took off quite fast”. The band decided to finish university first, like good students. “We were like, let’s see if anything happens this year,” he expands. “If anything happens, then that’s cool. And otherwise, we can go and do something sensible with our lives. By the end of that year, it was all go. We played our first show at the Jericho Tavern probably, like, five months after the songs went online”.
They’ve come a long way since the early days when “they had no clue what were doing”. As Dave explains, “we’d never been in bands before, we’d never written anything before that was anything like pop music, so it was a pretty steep learning curve for us”.
Now, they’re closer to the top. Today, they’re metaphorically clutching the mastered WAV files for new Gooey EP, which were completed and sent off just yesterday. The title-track is hands down the weirdest but most refined song they’ve released so far. And they’re understandably proud. The song evokes an extreme and eccentric world in which the driving-force is male falsetto melodies, underpinned by whimsical hip hop handclaps and subtle synth presets inducing an oozing, rhythmic daze. These include one particular sample (starting at 1.37) that sounds like the vocal from Major Lazer’s “Bubble Butt”, but if strained though the dankest, gloopiest of filters.
The lyrics are particularly out-there. Some lines are indecipherable, but others, like “don’t you just wanna know those peanut butter vibes?” are clear enough. This is so-called ‘intelligent pop’ music, but aren’t the band surprised that people take their music so seriously? “It’s kind of meant to be funny,” Dave quips like a shot. “All the lyrics are meant to be cheeky and said from the perspective of a child, someone a bit up in the clouds, so I was using all these references to things that kids would talk about. But I’m glad people take it seriously. Our label were definitely worried.”
But Dave, what does it actually mean? “I don’t know,” he replies, evasively. “I never go into what songs actually mean, in serious detail, to me, because it’s quite a personal thing, and I think also, I remember this one instance where Joe was like, ‘hey Dave, what’s this all about?’ And I told Joe what this song was about, and he was like, ‘Oh, that’s totally not what it meant to me.’ So, I don’t want to ruin it like that for other people, just in case there’s some weirdo out there who’s come up with some kind of personal meaning to it.”