“I used to steal copies of NME,” Alice Glass suddenly confesses with a laugh before swiftly adding, “They were like… $13!”, blaming the exchange rate – and high import prices – for her petty thievery of a certain British music magazine. Growing up in Toronto – first in a small Catholic community in the suburbs, later in the city – she was “the kid who was always getting into trouble,” she says. “‘Keep your kid away from that kid’ is how I was known.” The reputation, she adds, was entirely justified.
Her parents often worked late in the city and Glass – born Margaret Osborn – would spend a lot of time either alone, or “trying to form punk bands” with anybody who had a drum kit in their house, mostly playing “four-chord punk” and covering songs by The Stooges.
By 2012, she’d appeared on NME’s cover twice in her former band Crystal Castles, having topped our publication’s ‘Cool List’ in 2008, the same year that the duo’s self-titled debut album shook up the indie scene with its jarring, dissonant electro-dance. A UK NME Tour alongside Magnetic Man, Everything Everything and The Vaccines, meanwhile, marked Glass’ “first professional tour” and a “big part of my career”. Perhaps confirming that she belonged there in the first place, 18-year-old Glass responded to her Cool List victory by questioning what it means to be crowned as a symbol of trend-setting: “I’m flattered, thank you,” she told us that year, “but back in school the people who held themselves in the same regard were also the biggest waste of skin I’ve ever met.”
In 2014, Alice Glass left Crystal Castles shortly after the release of their third album ‘III’ – three years later, she bravely issued a statement alleging the abuse and manipulation she had endured throughout her time with bandmate Ethan Kath, who has consistently denied the allegations.
“Leaving Crystal Castles was the single most difficult decision I’ve ever made — that band was everything to me,” she wrote. “My music, my performances and my fans were all I had in the world. I gave that up and started over not because I wanted to but because I had to. As difficult as it was, I knew that leaving was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It has taken me years to recover from enduring almost a decade of abuse, manipulation and psychological control. I am still recovering.” Kath responded with his own statement: “I am outraged and hurt by the recent statements made by Alice about me and our prior relationship. Her story is pure fiction.”
On her first solo release, 2015’s stuttering outburst of ‘Stillbirth’, she sang of being trapped in a cycle of abuse, her sugary-sounding vocals underpinned by harsh, jagged sawtooth. “Now I know this,” she sang, digging up a glimmer of hope: “you don’t own me anymore”. Across 2018’s static-laden ‘CEASE AND DESIST’ and the cavernous ‘Mine’, Glass established herself as a brutally honest artist, conjuring up an uneasy sense of haunting in her strange, unwieldy pop songs.
Fast-forward to the present, and 33-year-old Glass is gearing up to release ‘PREY//IV’ – her first solo record. The title isn’t just a pun; its Roman numerals are a deliberate allusion to the numbering scheme her former band used on 2010’s ‘Crystal Castles II’ and 2012’s aforementioned ‘III’. “This is my fourth full release,” she says. “Look at the writing credits throughout the years, and I am the most consistent songwriter on the CC records. I feel confident saying that and if I intentionally piss anyone off, then good,” she adds. “If someone’s mad with that, I don’t fuck with them anyways, but just eat it.”
After moving to LA a decade ago, Glass has found a community of like-minded creatives, falling in with the flourishing hyper-pop scene through DJing at the multi-venue monthly party HEAV3N. Frequented by the likes of Charli XCX, A.G Cook, Kim Petras, Dorian Electra and the late pop pioneer SOPHIE, the queer LA rave “started as a kind of safe space,” Glass says. “Girls and gays raving together. With me being out of the band, DJing is a good way to just make money, to be honest, and I liked being in that community. At first I was DJing a lot of industrial stuff that nobody liked,” she laughs. “So I’m trying to find cuter vocals to mix in with darker tones. Being around really creative and talented people who are nice was really life-changing.”
When lockdowns closed HEAV3N’s pearly gates – in a physical sense, at least – Glass began DJing at online nights like Club Quarantine alongside A.G. Cook and producer EasyFun, and joined the bill for a tribute party for SOPHIE following the producer’s death last year. Glass knew SOPHIE through friends, and the artist – one of the pioneering influences in the shape of contemporary pop – was occasionally a sounding board for ‘PREY//IV’, offering advice on pre-release single ‘Fair Game’, a mangled slab of rave.
“SOPHIE was one of those people who was talented at everything,” Glass says. “I’m pretty sure she could play any instrument; pretty intimidating as an artist, but really inspirational. We’d hang out and I would always get so nervous to play tracks from my record to her, but she told me she wanted to do a remix for ‘Fair Game’ and actually convinced me to put that single out. I appreciated it.”
Last year the musician also linked up with various hyper-pop players for a handful of collaborations. First came ‘LEGEND’, her track with rising scene star Alice Longyu Gao. A demonic pop song laden with emergency sirens and quick quips about fresh manicures and frozen waffles, it’s both ferocious and ridiculously good fun. “Fuck you,” they rage in unison, “did you really think all us girls are replaceable?” You can’t help but notice the parallels with the current Crystal Castles line-up; following Glass’ departure, he quietly replaced her with vocalist Edith Frances and continued releasing music as if little had changed. Later that year, meanwhile, came Glass’ menacing remix of Dorian Electra’s song ‘Iron Fist’, which also features The Horrors’ Faris Badwan.
“This is my fourth full release. I am the most consistent songwriter on the Crystal Castles records”
After years of being reduced to an aesthetic, as she describes it – “the idea [with Crystal Castles] was to just be an aesthetic,” she says, “and not really talk about real issues” – it feels like we’re getting to know Alice Glass’ true artistic self through her solo work. For the video accompanying previous single ‘Mine’, for instance, she enlisted Ru Paul’s Drag Race victor Violet Chachki, reflecting her deep admiration of drag. Together, the pair serenely sip on blood from dainty tea-cups, before the camera pans to Glass’ own open-casket funeral.
“In Toronto they have a really fun drag community and it’s another form of art that takes clichés of feminine performers over the years and throws it back in society’s faces,” Glass explains. “Some of the most talented people I’ve ever met in my whole life are drag queens.”
If she were to hypothetically end up on show’s notorious ‘Snatch Game’ challenge – in which queens impersonate iconic figures – Glass would pick her favourite Hollywood icon. “I wanna do Judy Garland’s lost tapes,” she says, referencing a series of recently unearthed new recordings of the star, “where she’s recording herself drunk. You can totally feel her pain. Hollywood used her up. I’m a secret Judy Garland fan. I’ll have to do a really weird era of Judy Garland, dressed up as a clown and so sad. If I can pull that off I’ll impress myself.”
Though ‘PREY//IV’ isn’t necessarily a hyper-pop record, it certainly shares some of the eclectic genre’s DNA – sugary, helium-treated vocals collide with plasticky synth sounds on ‘Love Is Violence’, and the beat of ‘The Hunted’ judders like twisted future-trap. Many of these songs might sound like a hedonistic, sweaty night of wreaking chaos, but carry darkness at their core.
“I like songs that have a glimmer of hope,” Glass reasons. “Maybe a part of us always knows that nothing is going to work out the way that we want, and there will be no happy endings? When we hear a hopeful note or melody in a song it makes us feel a different type of sadness; that’s what I think. There’s this existential dread that you’re never gonna be happy. It just gets the blood flowing. That’s how I’ve always coped: when I’m sad I’ll listen to the same song with headphones and dance for a long time.”
This exorcism of sadness is especially potent on ‘Fair Game’, whose lyrics are direct repetitions of the insults and manipulation that she endured. “The real you would never question me,” she sings, writing from the perspective of an abuser. “I’m just trying to help you.” It’s a chilling and difficult listen, but repeating the same mantras that destroyed her self-worth, Glass explains, was helpful in escaping them.
“I used to steal copies of NME”
“The more that I heard [those maxims again] it seemed like sounds rather than reality-changing maxims for how I lived my life. It’s so much easier to tell somebody that they look so stupid and all their efforts are futile when you just sit back and judge.”
Of her decision to share her experiences so openly in her music, Glass says, “If I could take a pill and erase all my memories, I would. I didn’t think I would be here – I thought I’d be dead for sure. I was very suicidal as a teenager and young person… There’s so much suffering in the world, and I bring [up my difficult experiences] now because, in a weird way, every time I open up about this, somebody writes me or sends a really nice message where they can relate to what I’m saying.
“It’s been really helpful for me psychologically to put things out. That’s what this record is like for me: I’m going to put my pain out into the world and then I don’t own it any more.”
After living in Los Angeles for a decade, Alice Glass moved out to Palm Springs, just over 100 miles away, around a year-and-a-half ago. She now lives there within a curious patchwork of scorched sand and the well-watered emerald lawns of its “golf courses and cemeteries”. When she’s not working on music, the artist draws and walks her giant rescue dog Jacob, whom she calls “a big blue-nosed pitbull and such a doll”, and plays her latest demos to her three cats. “I’d like to have more!” she adds.
Though she began making ‘PREY//IV’ in LA, Glass finished the record here with her producer and partner Jupiter Keyes, and removing herself from the distraction of the city proved vital. Recording solo material on her own terms has proven a revelation, says: “As a kid, I always imagined Sonic Youth writing songs, and all listening to each other… That’s just how I imagined it, though I don’t know what actually went on. It’s been really nice to record vocals in a room with someone who’s not actively trying to make you feel bad. It’s the difference between night and day.”
Making music exactly on her own terms, with a supportive community of friends and collaborators, has only highlighted for her the insidious nature of the music industry and how it exploits young artists early in their careers. “There need to be higher standards,” she says, adding: “There are no resources for younger people to know if they’re being taken advantage of, even just legally. There’s a reason why there are no resources like that: because it benefits the dinosaur geezer who’s on top.”
“SOPHIE was one of those people who was talented at everything”
In the Crystal Castles days, Glass often seemed like an enigma. The sense of mystery conjured up around her was deliberate, she says. “We were trying to cover up exactly what year we met because it was frowned up, and it should be.”
Glass rarely spoke in early interviews, and her ex-bandmate Ethan Kath passed off their early hit – the jarring and dissonant electro-chaos of ‘Alice Practice’ – as an accidental recording. “He [Kath] always had all these lies about how we met, and each one was so ludicrous: we met reading to the blind; we were brother and sister – all this fucking bullshit. It was easy for him to convince me to remain an enigma because people would be very disappointed if they met you, and of course, I thought that was true. I still think it’s true; I just don’t care anymore!
“I never thought I would be talking openly like this… about anything.”
Looking to the future, Glass isn’t sure what she’ll do next – though she knows she wants to keep on writing relentlessly. A scuffle ensues – Jacob’s trying to barrel his way through the door, and Glass excuses herself briefly to say hello.
“Oooh!” she exclaims upon her return. “I played my debut movie role this month!” Casually, the musician proceeds to reveal that she voiced a happy-go-lucky rock in the forthcoming indie flick King Knight by director Richard Bates Jr. Actor Aubrey Plaza, meanwhile, plays a depressed pinecone. “No autographs!” Glass laughs. “I’m going to have to hide my face when I walk down the street.” Impersonating a film fan flagging her down, she cries: “‘It’s the rock!’”
“Every time I open up about my experiences, somebody sends a really nice message that they can relate”
Glass elaborates of the movie: “It’s like… making fun of LA witches with a twist ending. I actually tried out for the voice of the pinecone first, but I didn’t do a good job.” Did she do any method acting to get prepared? “Nah,” she says. “I wasn’t out there smoking a cigarette at four in the morning pretending to be a rock or anything. I just really like doing funny voices.” She adds playfully, “One of my favourite singers of all time is the lady who does the voice of Tommy in Rugrats,” referencing actor E. G. Daily, who has voiced everyone from The Powerpuff Girls’ Buttercup to Babe the Sheep-pig, and also provided the vocals for Phoebe Buffay’s official version of Friends anthem ‘Smelly Cat’.
An overgrown baby with slightly unsettling vocabulary might sound like an unusual artistic influence, but it turns out very little is off limits for Alice Glass these days. In other words, you sense that the shadowy depths of her debut solo statement ‘PREY//IV’ – and her first-ever film role – just mark the beginning of the kind of brilliant curveballs she’s capable of.
Alice Glass’ ‘PREY//IV’ is out February 16