How video games saved Glass Animals’ latest album – after Covid-19 almost killed it

Glass Animals’ Dave Bayley dives deep into how video games have helped shape the success of 'Dreamland' at a time where the album’s fate could have been very different indeed

“Honestly, I thought ‘Dreamland‘ was dead in the water,” says Glass Animals’ Dave Bayley as he reflects on the troubles of launching an album during Covid-19. “I had a conversation with my manager and we said ‘we’ll put it out, but it’s not going to last, so we’ll start writing the next one.’”

It was tough for Bayley and the rest of the band – ‘Dreamland’ is the band’s most personal record to date, a much more autobiographical affair than their previous releases, and leverages nostalgia and turmoil to fill out its psych-pop flavoured, hip-hop powered tracklist. Listen closely and you’ll pick up references to Grand Theft Auto, Dunkaroos, Capri Sun, Scooby-Doo, Pokémon, GoldenEye 007, Mr. Miyagi, and Doom. It digs deep, and games are in the album’s DNA. But in a world where touring is prohibited – and everything you know about supporting a new album is impossible – what other option do you have but to put this thing aside and try again when the stars align more fortuitously?

“I was like ‘no, this is my baby!’ I love it. It’s like a child, and I want it to make friends, so we did everything that we could,” Bayley tells us from his home studio in Hackney, illuminated in a gentle purple for this interview because he was in “a purple mood today”.

‘The Sims 4’ is getting its own Simlish music festival with Bebe Rexha, Glass Animals and more
‘The Sims 4’ is getting its own Simlish music festival with Bebe Rexha, Glass Animals and more. Credit: Press

He continues: “That meant really embedding ourselves into the internet, which I love anyway; I grew up with games, I grew up with the internet, I spent most of my life on the internet like everyone else. Finding creative ways of using it – that was the fun part of [getting ‘Dreamland’ out there].”

The album launched in August 2020, and had already been pushed back so as not to take up space during last year’s international Black Lives Matter movement. The band did what it could (the vaporwave aesthetic that made up the album art translated also to a Windows 98-inspired promo site, a suite of relevant merch, and more besides), but the album was still struggling to find a new audience.

“Before Covid-19, you’d release the album, and then you’d tour it like hell for two years,” says Bayley. “We lost all of that. It’s almost like losing the legs of your album. Normally, when you tour, you see new people every day and you’re meeting people that come to the shows and that’s really fun. And valuable. Releasing music over the past year – without any of that feedback – is quite scary. It’s bizarre.”

So Glass Animals leaned into the internet. It made sense, after all; the band has come of age almost symbiotically linked with all things online (practically every millennial has) and experimenting with new ways to connect with a scattered, isolated audience during a year no-one could have predicted seemed like the most sensible way forward.

“We even had Mario Kart competitions,” laughs Bayley. “We did a couple when we released the album – I just put my Switch username up on the internet, and we raced for too long. I got totally burned… I thought I was good when I was playing against the computer, but there are a lot of very good drivers out there!”

Novel ways of outreaching to fans made an impact on ‘Dreamland’’s fledgling place in the world, but it would be a very different kind of game that really got Bayley’s attention just after the record was released. Boot up FIFA 21 – the latest entry in one of the world’s most successful gaming franchises – and within minutes, no doubt, you’ll hear ‘Dreamland’’s lead single, ‘Heat Waves’. The album was starting to find its legs.

“When ‘Heat waves’ got on the FIFA 21 soundtrack right after the album launch, that was that moment when I thought ‘this album is going to make it!’” Bayley explains excitedly. “After hearing people saying that ‘Dreamland’ might not go anywhere, seeing it arrive on FIFA was like someone somewhere hitting an ‘on switch’. It reminds me of the same thing you get when you’re playing new music to people at festivals, or to people’s mates that have been dragged along to a show… getting into a video game does exactly the same thing.”

Bayley recalls a walk in London’s Victoria Park, local to the Hackney he calls home, where a young fan spotted him in a crowd. “I was walking through the park with my dog and some 12-year-old kid was like *finger guns* “‘It’s the FIFA guy!’ and I was like ‘huh, I’m the FIFA guy!’ That was a huge thing. Absolutely huge. I feel really honoured to have been part of that – especially as someone that’s played quite a lot of that game in the past. It means quite a lot.”

Minecraft
Minecraft. Credit: Mojang Studios

Whilst the gaming mainstream was taking sips from the woozy, out-of-focus ‘Heat Waves’ in licensed games, another gaming audience was devouring it wholesale. Oddly enough, the song was used as a soundtrack to a heady and intense fan-fiction about two Minecraft Youtubers – Dream and GeorgeNotFound. Practically any version of the song on video platforms will mention ‘dnf’ in the comments. The spark had caught, and the late-night vibes of ‘Heat Waves’ were starting to proliferate. 370million Spotify streams will attest to that.

“Games have been invaluable for us during this time,” Bayley tells us. “And I love the fact that a lot of games are doing really interesting things and using original stuff. I love the FIFA soundtrack. It’s like a good album. It’s our pleasure to be on it.”

With FIFA and Minecraft helping ‘Dreamland’ find its proverbial feet, Glass Animals would be remiss to eschew the gaming audience now, nearly a year after its launch. To that end, Bayley is once again living up to the band’s penchant for experimenting with new formats and he’s bringing Glass Animals to The Sims 4. The indomitable game series turns 21 this year, and to celebrate its coming of age, developer Maxis and publisher EA have orchestrated a series of in-game concerts in the game, jumping on the bandwagon pushed into the limelight by the likes of GTA Online and Fortnite.

The Sims 4 concert came up at a good time, and it’s something different, which I’m always happy to do,” Bayley tells us as we look at his proposed Sim – an avatar boasting his signature style in a particularly well-recognised way – on-screen. “We did an online streaming show that was longer and we were physically there, and had some game-ified elements to that – but I absolutely love the idea of actually doing a show in The Sims. It’s a dream!

“[Doing gigs in games] is a way for everyone to be together, and for us it’s a way to connect with the people that allow us to exist and to communicate with people.”

the sims concert
The Sims 4 Credit: EA

The difference here, with appearing in The Sims (a game Bayley played quite a lot in his youth, it turns out) is that he has to do a different version of ‘Heat Waves’; it’s not going to be the same version that appeared in FIFA or those risque Minecraft community videos. This is a stripped-back version of the song, but that’s not the biggest deviation from Glass Animals proper, no… it’s the fact that this time ‘Heat Waves’ will be in Simlish. Simlish being the fictional language spoken by Sims in the game.

“It’s hard – and it’s quite funny,” laughs Bayley when we ask him what it’s like singing this fictional, nonsense language. “Doing ‘Heat Waves’ is quite an emotional song, and the piano version that I did for The Sims, especially, is quite sad. I tend to laugh a lot, and I definitely did whilst I was doing it in Simlish. It took me like an hour to just try and get through the song and do one take because me and the engineers just kept laughing!

EA and Maxis sent me a sheet of my lyrics, and the corresponding lyrics in Simlish. And you can totally see how it fits; it really does line up! If you were to just read the lyrics in Simlish, you can almost understand it. It’s an amazing language, and it’s really clever how they’ve put it together.”

Sims 4
The Sims 4. Credit: EA

The aim with appearing in The Sims, on a cynical level, could likely be seen as just reaching a new audience – capitalising what that huge gaming audience can bring to bands struggling to get new material out in a year when the live music industry has had its heart ripped out, and the arts have been an easy target for government cuts. But for Bayley, it’s more personal than that. This is a dream come true.

“I have actually been trying to live in a video game for my whole life,” laughs Bayley. “That’s even what I’m trying to do here with these purple lights! For a concert like this to actually exist, it’s properly wicked – it’s my childhood dream come true, to live in a video game.”

The Sims Sessions will run from June 29 to July 7, and will also see performances from Bebe Rexha and Joy Oladokun.

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