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Title: ‘Hazey’
Where to find it: ‘Zaba’ (2014, Wolftone / Harvest Records)
Performed by: Glass Animals
Words by: Dave Bayley

I first met 1/2 of Glass Animals last spring, interviewing singer/songwriter Dave Bayley and drummer Joe Seaward on the Saturday of Liverpool Sound City 2014. I won’t bore you with all the details leading up to the afternoon, but as I often say about the music business, things don’t turn out exactly how you expect them to.

Until one of my writers at TGTF pointed out that Dave had been in medical school before leaving for music, I’d never have known he and I had similar collegiate backgrounds. As you can probably imagine, it’s not at all common in this business to have majored in any sort of science before heading into it. The most common response when I tell musicians or music people that I have a degree in biology: a look of utter confusion, and possibly a chuckle of the ridiculousness of it all. It just doesn’t happen, does it? Come to think of it, at last count, I only know of one musician who went the other way when it comes to the medical profession, quitting music to go back to school for a medical degree to becoming a practising physician. Hello Doug Fink, wherever you are!

Anyway, so Dave (and the guys) and I have been friends ever since, oddly linked by this highly unusual connection. I’ve had conversations with other songwriter friends and nobody really likes to talk about their own music, with Matt Cocksedge of Delphic saying to me in an interview in Boston in 2010, “magicians should never reveal their secrets, should they?” In particular, I’ve never asked Dave what any of the Glass Animals songs mean, especially after this interview with The Line of Best Fit in which he says “I never go into what songs actually mean, in serious detail, to me, because it’s quite a personal thing.” I’ve had my suspicions – of course I did, running a site like Music in Notes! – but I’ve never laid any of them out. Until now. Two tracks on the debut album – ‘Pools’ and ‘Hazey’ – seem pretty obvious to me, so I’ll be giving my thoughts on the second one today.

In what can only be described as a revealing turn of events, Dave spells out generally what their last single ‘Hazey’, from their Wolftone debut album ‘Zaba’, means in the press sheet for the release. I imagine someone in their inner circle suggested he provide the meaning of the song in an attempt to help explain the seemingly unrelated music video. It stars The Solitary Crew, a London-based dance collective who use a dance practise called bone breaking to make their street dancing style “more fluid.” Very rarely does an artist come out and explain what his/her song means, so take this golden opportunity and read on:

Every day these dancers put themselves through torturous stretches and contortion exercises using ropes and towels to make themselves more flexible and their movements more fluid. They isolate themselves and focus on slowly building their craft, with a long term goal of being able to add another dance-move to their catalogue, and a longer term goal of stitching those moves together into something cool and beautiful. It all requires a huge amount of dedication and discipline.

To me, ‘Hazey’ is about a parental character who has abandoned those values and eventually becomes wracked by regret. That character speaks in the choruses in the falsetto voice. The verses are spoken by that character’s child in full voice. This boy has matured quickly to pick up the pieces dropped by his parent. It was his attitude that I thought was summed up by the bone breakers.

While these words helped me refine my original thoughts on what the song was about, to be honest, they also brought up even more questions. It’s kind of like ‘Hazey’ is in this weird no man’s land in my mind where half of it agrees better with my interpretation, with the other half fitting better with his. Further, no-one’s paying me to come up with music videos but given the emotional content of the song and the way it’s affected me, I would have done something less abstract for the promo for a more powerful effect. I suppose though that the abstractness of the video agrees with the evasiveness interviewer Huw Oliver detected in his TLOBF interview. Since I have the advantage of having Dave’s explanation of the song in the context of the video, I’ll refer back to his words in my analysis.

I’d also like to note that ‘Hazey’ was the last track to be added on to ‘Zaba’ at the eleventh hour, with Dave’s pet rabbit supposedly contributing synth notes to it. I have to wonder if their second album is going to sound more like ‘Hazey’ and less like the other new (read: other than ‘Cocoa Hooves’) tracks on the album, as the more I listen to ‘Zaba’, the more it feels out of place. Except for the bird calls at the start and a monkey hooting in the second verse, ‘Hazey’ is noticeably devoid of animal noises that are more liberally peppered throughout. It also bears some rhythmic resemblance to Dave’s uber cool remix of fellow Harvest Records labelmate and massive American star Banks’ ‘Drowning’. I think we’ve all thought about where Glass Animals might go next for that difficult second album and if I had to guess, I’d say in this direction.

First, the words:

Verse 1
your baby’s fallen
you know I’m talking now
you know I’m dancing
you know I’m racing round

no no you’re so juiced
you said you’d kick the booze
you know I’ll get bruised
you know I’m just a boy

come back baby don’t you cry
don’t you drain those big blue eyes
I’ve been crawling
come back baby don’t you cry
just you say the reason why
I can calm you

Verse 2
you say I’m bawling
I say I’m begging while
you take my photo
I fake my breaking smile
I’m fuckin loco
I can’t get through to you
you turn your nose you
spark up and I can go

come back baby don’t you cry
don’t you drain those big blue eyes
I’ve been crawling
come back baby don’t you cry
just you say the reason why
I can calm you

Now, the analysis:

As someone who trained for a time as a singer, I don’t really understand falsetto: why is it ever needed, and why would anyone want to subject their vocal chords to the abuse? (Let me explain: I have an alto singing range, so trying to sing in a register higher than is normal and what my vocal cords allow me to do normally is abhorrent.) I find it even weirder when men do it (talk about being really unnatural), but looking at the kind of popularity Prince and Wild Beasts enjoy, who am I to judge? However, as described in the quoted section above, the falsetto in ‘Hazey’ is used to indicate an older father / paternal figure, so there are two roles represented in the song.

I should probably first give you what I thought this song was about and how it plays like a video inside my head. The mentions of being “so juiced,” someone trying to “kick the booze,” followed by encouragement to “spark up” (marijuana use) later on in the song said to me this was a song about addiction. The explanation made more sense, I thought, given that during Bayley’s medical training he spent some time working with psychiatric patients, as well as the fact that their song ‘Black Mambo’ was originally titled ‘Crystal Meth’ (well, until their label had a cow about it), as it had been inspired by the Breaking Bad tv series.

For simplicity’s sake in my explanation, I’m going to assume the voice of the song is of a woman, as that’s what I assumed was the point of Bayley using the falsetto in the first place, to show different emotions in the same person. (You see where I started to get confused?) What also seemed obvious to me after repeated listenings – the beats on this track are massive – was that it was about this woman in a relationship with an addict and how frustrated and disappointed she was with her user boyfriend who has failed to kick the habit.

In the first half of verse 1, she’s explaining how the situation has caused her to metaphorically fall and crumble – “your baby’s fallen” is said to him – though she tries to keep going – “you know I’m dancing” and “you know I’m racing round” – trying to pick herself up every time and persevere despite the difficulties. She realises her vain attempt in trying to talk to him, “you know I’m talking now,” knowing she’s not being heard.

The second half of verse 1 gives more support to the addiction part of this relationship. “no no you’re so juiced” – she recognises he’s hopped up and high on something. “you said you’d kick the booze” shows her frustration: he promised her he’d get off the alcohol, but judging from his current state, he hasn’t changed. “you know I’ll get bruised” – she’s emphasising that him using hurts her. The line “you know I’m just a boy” confused me, as it didn’t fit in with the rest of my theory that it was all from the perspective of the addict’s partner; I assumed it was a one-off line the addict said to his girlfriend, like the scorpion’s weak response to the sad ending of The Scorpion and the Frog, a kind of “don’t blame me, this is just the way I am.”

If you take Bayley’s explanation that the non-falsetto parts are from the perspective of a child, the song becomes even more upsetting. The first half of verse 1 shows a kid, who through no fault of his own, has fallen down. I think this was meant to show the early years of childhood, when you’re first learning that transition from crawling to walking. Most children with responsible parents are picked up and guided. This kid has fallen and there seems to be no real sign that the parent ever helped him get back up on his feet. “you know I’m talking now” takes on literal meaning, as if the child has to tell his own parent, rather testily I might add, that he’s grown up because he can speak and with no help from him. “you know I’m dancing / you know I’m racing round” suggest the child is still young. As for the second half of verse 1, you worry the kid is being physically abused: “you know I’ll get bruised / you know I’m just a boy.” Physical abuse is not uncommon when parents are high or drunk, can’t tell what’s right and wrong, and act out while they’re under the influence.

Let’s go on to the chorus. If you take it as being sung by the addict’s girlfriend, it’s really sad. In the movie of this song that plays in my head, she’s cradling him in her arms and telling him not to leave, not to cry, that she’s going to make it all okay. I think that must be the hardest realisation for a partner of a user to face up to: she will have to be the bigger one, the stronger one, because it’s always darkest before dawn. She has to be the stronger one to get her addict boyfriend through all of the rough patches. If she doesn’t, she will lose him.

However, if you look at the chorus sung by the father, it’s being sung in one of those dim moments of realisation of what he’s done to his child. He sees the tears in his son’s big blue eyes and is remorseful. There is some desperation to “come back baby don’t you cry,” for he knows his own son shuns him for what he’s done, for his weakness as an addict. I am, however, bothered by the words “just you say the reason why / I can calm you,” because these lines work better if they’re being said from the addict’s girlfriend’s point of view rather than from the abusive, addict father. The father knows why the son is upset and crying. Maybe his paternal instinct has kicked in? Also, if you want to bring in the point from verse 1 about the child going from crawling to walking, perhaps “I’ve been crawling” is the father’s admittance that now he understands how it feels to be weak and he regrets not being there when his own son was young.

It’s in verse 2 that I could sort of see this father/son relationship. What do all parents do when their kids are young? Take photographs of them. Lots of them. Here is this kid, so upset about his father’s addiction problem, crying, and his father’s trying to take a photo of him? Oh geez. I suppose he’s trying for some normalcy. If you read verse 2 as being such by the addict’s girlfriend, maybe the addict is a photographer or has a photography hobby, and part of his attempt to keep their romantic relationship intact is to be normal and take photos of his lady love. (Again, I’m talking about that film I have up in my head…) Who is taking the photos doesn’t matter. What’s more important is that the subject – either the son or the girlfriend – is upset, crying his/her eyes out, trying to pretend all is fine: “I fake my breaking smile.” Except all is not fine. He/she can’t take it anymore – “I’m fucking loco / I can’t get through to you” – and he/she is waiting, sadly, for the addict to light up and get out of his/her face. He/she knows that when the addict is fully consumed by the object of addiction, whether it be drugs or alcohol, he/she can plot an escape.

I’ve ended the lyric analysis on the sad image of escape, because this is what I gathered from Bayley’s explanation that he wanted the bone breaking of these dancers to represent the “attitude” of the child, “This boy has matured quickly to pick up the pieces dropped by his parent.” Although what the dancers are doing to their bodies is a means to an end, what they’re doing is painful. What I already had in my head of what ‘Hazey’ meant before we were given the explanation was heartbreaking enough, when used in the context of a romantic relationship between a man and a woman being ripped apart because of addiction. Thinking about it from the perspective of an addict father and his son, with the addition of physical trauma and the child’s need to escape from him, makes the story all that more powerful. And to be able to put so much in so few words is pretty impressive too.

Lastly, the song in promo form, starring the aforementioned Solitary Crew. If you want to risk more confusion with interpreting the song with a sped up version of the song as they perform it live (this time at Glastonbury 2014), you can watch that live version here. While I enjoy seeing the band live and the live version of ‘Hazey’ is a fun one to witness in person, I still prefer the album version.