It feels like a miracle to be talking to Joe Seaward, drummer of Oxford’s indie quartet Glass Animals. His bandmates tell NME it is a miracle. Seaward himself is certain it is. “I think that my accident shook everyone to the core,” he says, balancing his head in his hand, his fingertips tracing the outline of a deep scar on his skull. “Everyone was very close to losing a friend, a brother, a boyfriend, a son and a bandmate.” His eyes fill with tears.
In July 2018, Seaward was hit by a truck while riding his bike in Dublin. As well as a severely broken leg, Seaward suffered brain damage after a complex skull fracture: he required two lengthy, life-threatening operations to repair the damage. On waking, he found that he had no short-term memory. He couldn’t walk, talk, eat, read or write. “Everything that made me… me was taken away,” Seaward says. “And I couldn’t even remember why.”
NME is talking to the musician via an online video call, alongside his bandmates, frontman Dave Bayley, guitarist Drew MacFarlane and bassist Ed Irwin-Singer. The group should be on tour right now, but that came to an abrupt end after a gig in Hollywood last month, when the coronavirus crisis escalated. Now, they’re each in lockdown at their respective homes, working on a series of quarantine covers (so far they’ve covered the likes of Nirvana, Lana Del Rey and Bill Withers) to pass the time.
It’s a bitter time for the group. After two years of rehabilitation, Seaward had returned to performing following a series of warm-up gigs earlier this year. Bayley says that being back on stage in February was the greatest feeling: “It felt like a miracle and it was a miracle really. At one of our first shows in Manchester, everything clicked again. I remember just being so thankful that we could still do this. I couldn’t stop thinking about how lucky we were.”
Reviewing that gig, NME said: “The loudest and longest audience ovation is reserved for Seaward when he finally appeared on stage. An extended applause leaves everybody, band and audience, visibly moved.” Seaward is overwhelmed recalling the experience. “I was completely shocked by the reaction. It was more than joyous to get to that point: it was amazing and I still feel emotional thinking about it.”
Irwin-Singer and MacFarlane agree. “It really was a cathartic moment,” Irwin-Singer says. “We really didn’t know if Joe would ever return.”
The events triggered an about-turn for the group: their upcoming new album, ‘Dreamland’, will be their first entirely autobiographical record. The group’s genre-fluid style, first aired on their 2014 album ‘Zaba’, combines dance, American R&B and poppy electronica, and usually sees Bayley, the group’s main songwriter, explore the lives of others. For their previous record, ‘How To Be A Human Being’, Bayley interviewed dozens of strangers he’d met on the road – everyone from fans to taxi drivers – and used their stories to create a bunch of fictional characters. It earned the group their first Mercury nomination.
“The last album saw me digging into other people’s lives and asking them quite heavy questions – quite probing stuff that I probably shouldn’t have asked,” Bayley says. “The people I spoke to were amazingly open and at the end of all that, I thought it wasn’t fair I was asking them to do this and not myself.” Only one song on the album was personal to Bayley – the emotive closer, ‘Agnes’, which tells the story of a close friend who died from suicide. It received a staggering response from fans.
“The fan response to ‘Agnes’ was totally unexpected,” Bayley says. “I’ve always been really, really afraid to write about myself. I always thought it was selfish.” Initially, the group couldn’t talk about the death of their friend publicly – nor to each other. “It was just far too painful,” Irwin-Singer explains. “That song really connected with people in a way that none of us thought it would and that led to a moment where we all sat down and talked.”