Roaming the Sonic Landscape
Glass Animals’ Dave Bayley on UAD in the Wild
The one-man production, songwriting, and vocal machine behind England’s acclaimed and eclectic electronic-pop band Glass Animals, Dave Bayley is unusually articulate about his creative process — not surprising considering Bayley was studying for a medical degree before Glass Animals formed in 2010. The band's 2014 debut, Zaba, has sold over half a million copies worldwide, with the single "Gooey" being certified platinum in the US — and their second album How to Be A Human Being, was nominated for a 2016 Mercury Prize, and earned Bayley two MPG Awards as “Self-Producing Artist of the Year” and for “Album of the Year.”
Bayley's love of R&B and hip-hop, as well as his deft touch with a guitar and Ableton Live, has landed him production gigs for Urban-leaning artists including 6lack, DJ Dahi, and Lianne La Havas, as well as collaborations with Flume, and more. Since outfitting his own studio a few years back, Bayley — who partly learned his craft alongside producer Paul Epworth (Adele, Rihanna) — has been plunging into UA hardware and UAD plug-ins, which now form the backbone of his nuanced production palette.
Tell me about the genesis of your songs. They feel very free, neither as stubbornly structured as guitar rock can be, nor as open-ended as many dance tracks.
Most of the time, Glass Animals' music begins on a rubbish nylon string Spanish guitar I picked up at a flea market when I was really young. I just sit down with that and start noodling about; maybe I’ll have a little nugget of a lyric, or a bit of melody to go with it, or I’ll just mess around with some chords until I find something nice.
Then, I’ll try to roughly sketch out the song with just guitar and voice. That said, I very rarely write a whole song start to finish with just guitar and voice. What happens is that if I get stuck anywhere along the way, I’ll play what I’m doing into Ableton Live, and start developing it from there. Maybe I just have the chorus on guitar and voice, but once it’s in Ableton, I can start messing around with some sounds, some verse idea will come, and that will typically inspire the direction for the rest of it.
How do you usually combine samples with live drums and percussion on your productions?
I do use a lot of drum samples, but they tend to be homemade. Now, when I’m producing other people, especially bands, of course we’re doing live drums a lot. My reference point and ideal live drum sound is Jaki Liebezeit of the German band, Can; I think their drum sounds were just incredible, and that’s what I aim for.
But in Glass Animals, all the percussion stuff I’m using tends to be samples, but even those are usually things that I’ve actually recorded myself. Whenever I’m in the studio, I’ve always, at all times, got a variety of mics switched on in the room. I’ve even got a hand-held recorder so that I can chuck down vocal ideas whenever something comes to me, as quickly as possible, as well as a Neumann U67 that’s always armed for recording.
If I hear anything in the studio that I think could make a good percussive noise, I’ll go hit it. Or if I have an idea for a percussive sound in my head, I’ll run around the studio in my house trying to find just the right cooking pot or whatever to match the sound in my head. I almost think of percussion as just another melodic instrument, which is where a lot of the tonal drum stuff comes from: percussion, and even a drum beat, almost needs to be a hook in itself. Sure, sometimes you need something that’s purely functional, but yeah, I like it when a drum beat is, y’know, catchy.
How does your guitar fit into this interesting picture? They’re not typical tones.
Since things start on guitar, sometimes those parts get left behind or recast as the production develops. But I do keep the original parts, too. A good example of that is the song “Youth,” where the guitar was actually recorded into the mic on my laptop, and because it was recorded so badly, I just really messed with it in the computer until it began to strange and not quite like a guitar at all. I do that sort of thing a lot, probably because when I’m recording I tend to be rushing a lot!
Do you have any go-to tricks when searching for uncommon guitar tones?
I like to use a lot of wah-wah pedals — I have a whole collection of them. But I don’t pump the pedal at all — I use them more as bandpass filters, to create a little EQ notch on every part and filter them down. I also like to use chorus on all my guitars, which blurs them a bit and makes them more diffuse-sounding — it pushes them back a little so they’re not dominating. I rarely make the guitars a main feature.
Tell me about the UA gear you’re using in your studio these days.
Well, I’ve got a UA 6176 Vintage Channel Strip, and an outboard 1176 Compressor; the guitars are usually going through an outboard Neve 1073 then the 1176, then into the computer, and I use the 6176 for bass — it’s an amazing bass guitar channel.
I have the UAD Satellite OCTO at home, and whenever I’m working in someone else’s studio, I always request an Apollo audio interface; they’re so straightforward, and so reliable, and of course, all my UAD plug-ins will work with it.
Which UAD plug-ins have you been leaning on lately?
I’ve been really enjoying all the amp simulators. I find it really cool to play with lots of different possibilities for amp sounds. If I’m working with a guitar band, for example, I might just plug straight in, through a DI, and then mess about in the box with guitar amps.
Right now I especially like the Fender ’55 Tweed Deluxe plug-in — I use it all the time. The funny thing is, Fender tweed amps are what Glass Animals use live, so we’ve got like six of them hanging about. And I think the UAD plug-in version sounds great even compared with the real ones.
Do you use any UAD bass amps?
Yes. I like to re-amp all my low-end information, like bass and sub synths, through an Ampeg B-15 bass amp and a Thermionic Culture Vulture hardware. But now I have them both as UAD plug-ins! So much easier. It makes the signal warmer and heavier, and it’s a way to add a lot of harmonic content while still sounding organic, even if it's a soft synth. That’s quite hard to do with most digital distortion plug-ins, but I find it works really well with the UAD versions.
Do you rely on any UAD channel strips?
Yes, I also use the SSL 4000 E Channel Strip all the time — it’s actually my go-to for almost every channel. I use it on vocals a lot — I find its EQ so versatile. You can really cut or push certain frequencies, and it still sounds musical and pleasing. Conversely, with most digital EQs, if you were to push up 15 dB around 500Hz on a guitar sound, it would probably sound pretty terrible, but somehow the UAD SSL Channel Strip makes it sound good!
In fact, whenever I have a sound that seems to be missing something, I’ll put the SSL E Channel Strip on it, choose two random frequencies, dial up the Q, boost them, and then fine-tune those frequencies until the sound really has something. It almost always works, and it always gives things a bit more edge. And of course, the SSL Buss Compressor — I mean, that’s just on my mix buss all the time. Standard glue.
I also use the UAD Moog Multimode Filter XL plug-in a lot, especially on toms and tracks with rolling drums. You can hear it on a song called “Life Itself.” That’s filled with toms that are filtered down with that Moog Filter. It’s perfect for keeping the amount of gritty and gnarly that you want, while still filtering much of the high end, which I think is the unique quality of that plug-in. It just makes toms bite — really slap — when they hit.
It seems that while certain elements in a Glass Animals mix have a bit of reverb, the new album is a fairly clean, dry soundscape.
Yeah, I do lean toward having everything really dry, which may come from the fact that I grew up listening to a lot of '90s hip-hop — Dr. Dre’s drum sounds, for instance, are really dry, as are The Neptunes’ drums.
I follow the school of thought that drums should just hit you in the face. So, my kick and snare are generally super dry all the time, especially on the latest record. The first record had loads of reverb on it, probably too much, so this new one is deliberately very dry. It was by design to record everything dry. I put all these baffles around the room just so that everything I recorded had zero room sound and reverb. A few times I’d add a little reverb in the box, and when it came back from the mixers, in some cases the mixers had added a bit of reverb, and generally I quite liked it, but I just wanted the baseline to be dry and punchy.
What is your ideal or frame of reference for your vocal sound?
My ideal vocal sound for Glass Animals, the standard I shoot for, is D’Angelo’s Voodoo era. I copy that chain a lot. I’ve found a couple of mics that help me achieve that sound. There’s an AKG C12 I’m using that sounds particularly good. I used that a lot on the first album, partly because it just layers really well, so I can do huge stacks of vocals, maybe even 12 tracks of a single vocal, and it sounds really good and thick.
Do you have any tricks for tracking multiple voices?
Yes. I’ll often use a few different mics at once to try to introduce different harmonics into the vocal sound. Another thing I do is this thing we call the “Crack Choir,” where I’ll sing the same part with slightly different voices or vocal characters. A good example is the chorus of the song “Gooey,” which has huge vocal stacks of me doing all these strange voices behind the main line; like trying to sound like a really “big dude,” and trying to sing high like a little kid. Individually they sound pretty weird, but layered the effect is of a really big and diverse group of people singing really loud, with lots of frequency range.
You've had major success producing yourself, but what have you learned from producing other artists and collaborating with them?
I love learning about the way other people work and, especially, the way they write. And I really like having other people help with making creative decisions, and then helping them get the sound that they want. I mean, sometimes people don’t know at first what kind of sound they really want, and the adventure of helping them figure that out can be really fun, too. I also like the co-writing element of producing — the “relationship” side of it, if you will, which honestly, I was quite scared to do initially, but which I really see the power of now.
What about the collaborative process scared you?
You’re thrown into a room with someone, and you have to create something emotional. Be that emotion sadness, anger, or excitement, or whatever really. Normally, you wouldn’t really push and express those emotions unless you were very, very comfortable around that person. But if you’re making a record, you have to sort of make friends very quickly, and make someone feel comfortable even if they aren’t.
Ultimately, you need to try to have fun. I think that’s the main thing — just enjoy yourself. And if everyone in the room enjoys themselves, then you end up with something really good in the end.
— James Rotondi
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