Interview: Glass Beach Discuss Their Restless Debut
Posted: by The Editor
Photo by Joey Tobin
To call the music of Glass Beach challenging or daunting would be an understatement—the Los Angeles band stuff almost every song on their restless debut the first glass beach album with more ideas than most bands could come up with in three lifetimes. It’s the kind of ambitious record that most artists would be too self-conscious to ever cook up in the first place, but Glass Beach are the kind of band that’s motivated by doing whatever feels good to them, regardless of how unconventional the end product may be.
The three years of work that went into making the album culminated with the band just throwing it up on their Bandcamp in May of last year, without any press or fanfare to speak of. By the end of 2019, the album had become something of a minor hit, the band had amassed an extremely passionate fanbase (they even have a Discord server for all things Glass Beach) and signed with Run For Cover to re-release the first glass beach album on vinyl and cassette. I spoke with the band about the making of their debut album, how the band approaches live music, which Star Wars movie was the most disappointing, and more.
The Alternative: So tell me a little bit about how everybody got started in music and then how you all eventually came together to form the band.
J: I first got started with music when I was like four or five. I took piano and violin lessons and I fucking hated it. Then I stopped playing music for a really long time until at some point in high school I realized “Oh wait, music is cool if you play shit that you want to play and not just whatever they were making me learn when I was a kid.” I started writing my own music initially because I was really into making movies and I wanted to use it for my movies, and then I eventually got more into music than filmmaking. And ever since then it’s been an obsession for me, I don’t know.
Jonas: I have kind of a similar story to J where I also took a little bit of piano and violin lessons as a kid and then just ditched music until high school and I think what got me into actually wanting to take music seriously was my dad who’s a musician and specifically he’s been a bass player for most of my life. And he was the person who made me listen to music a lot and gave me a lot of my early musical tastes, so I was probably subconsciously modeling part of myself after him. But then in high school, I started playing music with my friends and learning our favorite songs and I would find the chords on guitar and play them with them. I think that was what really sealed it for me, how good it felt being able to play songs I love with people who I love.
J: That was similar for me. When I was in high school, I had a friend who really wanted to be in a band and he was like, “Hey, you want to be in my band?” And this was when I was first starting to learn like, I don’t know, scales and shit on on piano and I was like, “Sure, I don’t know how to play music, but okay!” So we started a band and we played a bunch of music together and we all learned how to play music by playing together and just making noise and refining it until it was music.
Layne: I grew up in a small border town in Texas, my first artistic pursuit was actually drawing. Then when I became a teenager my dream of becoming an Artist/Video Game Designer was shot down by several people, so that kind of helped me to shift focus. I got a guitar at one point when I was fourteen and I just started learning how to play and constantly tried to start bands. Eventually I found a friend and we would learn every song that had dual guitar parts to it, we started learning those parts and playing together and harmonizing. What follows is several different projects that I tried to make succeed, I’ve been in at this point over ten bands that have all just kind of crashed and burned due to either dedication issues or something like that. In college I was a vocalist for a pop-punk easycore band. My last band had a lot of really good things going for it but we weren’t having luck with a lot of publicity and whatnot. So I moved to LA and started doing stuff with a band called Here Lies and then that band broke up and went on hiatus, and then eventually William and Jonas approached me about playing in their band because I had met them through Dungeons and Dragons.
William: Yeah, I begged my mom to get me a guitar when I was thirteen years old. She went to a pawn shop and got me a guitar and my twin sister got a drum set. And then we both proceeded to not play them. I tried playing guitar for like a week and it was really really hard, so I quit for two years. My neighbor played the guitar and was like, “Hey, you have a guitar come over and jam” and then I got there and it was a nightmare because apparently jamming is when you actually know what you’re doing and you start making stuff up. So that horrified me into actually learning how to play the guitar. Initially, I started learning guitar and writing music because of the comedians Stephen Lynch and Bo Burnham. I wanted to be a comedian before I wanted to be anything else, and I couldn’t figure out how to write jokes but I could write songs that had jokes in them. I’m very happy that I’m past that point in my life, but that’s why I play music. Around seventeen is when I started writing more sincere music. I tried to play drums for a band when I was about seventeen but I didn’t know what I was doing. It was one of those things where we were jamming and they were like, “Someone sit at the kit” so I did. College is where I picked up the drums for real. I was in a jazz combo class where no drummer signed up and our instructor was like “We can’t do the class without a drummer, so who wants to learn how to play the drums?”
Jonas: Who wants to say how we got together?
William: I’ll go for it. So the way we all got together, Jonas and I were living in Minnesota. We had heard J’s other project Casio Dad and I ended up accidentally being friends with J on Facebook, and to this day, we still don’t really know how that happened. I mean, I’m pretty sure we had mutual friends, but neither one of us remembers sending a friend request or anything. So I saw J’s stuff popping up on my timeline and I sent them a message and said “Who are you? I don’t mind that we’re friends, but who are you?” And they were like, “I’m J and I have no idea who you are either” and it was very confusing, but then I saw that they were a musician and I asked if they had any music recorded and they sent me Casio Dad and Jonas was like “We know Casio Dad!” So then I sent J a message that said “Hey, we’re moving out to California, you’re not looking for roommates are you?” and J was like “I am, but I’m looking for them right now.”
J: I should mention, I was living on my friend’s couch at the time and I had been there for like a year and I was desperate to find my own place
William: And Jonas and I weren’t moving out there for another three months. So I was like, “Oh, okay, well if you’re still looking for roommates in three months like let us know.” And then three months later, I sent J a message again and they were like, “I was just about to message you, are you still coming out to California, ‘cause I still need roommates.” So we moved out there, found an apartment, and then immediately were like, “Also, can we be in a band together?”
J: Another thing I should mention is before we decided to be in a band together, I was just very loudly like all the time saying “I really want to start a band and play music with a band, but I need a bassist and a drummer and I don’t know a bassist and a drummer.” And then eventually, Jonas was like, “I know how to play bass” and William was like, “I’ve played drums before.”
William: Initially, we weren’t even positive that I was gonna stay the drummer. We were thinking I was gonna transition into like rhythm guitar, because that’s my main instrument. But we never found a drummer and I just kept learning the songs. And I love playing the drums, it’s really fun to bang and hit things.
Jonas: And as Layne mentioned, the hit tabletop board game Dungeons and Dragons kind of brought us together. And then that segued into the band pretty much.
J: Yeah. I mean, we had been looking for a lead guitarist for a while because I always recorded at least two guitar parts on every song and I could only play one live. So it just made sense.
Your music is very intricate and purposeful, now that you’re playing live shows did you try to keep the songs loyal to how they were recorded or are they constantly evolving?
J: So I like to think of songs as never really being done. I like to think of, you know, we were working on it a lot and when we recorded it that is a snapshot of where the song is at at that moment in time. But as we continue to play it live we continue to evolve it, even though the album didn’t come out that long ago there’s already songs that we’re playing live that sound different from the album and we expect to keep changing them and tweaking them as we see fit over time. I think of the album version of a song and the live version of the song as being completely different entities with completely different goals.
All I can think of is the Kanye West “I’mma fix wolves” tweet.
J: Maybe I shouldn’t say I never seen a song as done. I see a recording as a finished version of a song in a way. But I see the live version of a song as something fluid. I would never do a Kanye and go back and change an album we’ve already released. Even if I can look back on it and be like, Damn, I wish we did this instead of this or, you know, if I see things that I want to change with it, I just accept that that’s what I thought was good then, and it’s just going to stay as a record of who we were then. And if we want to change it live, we will but you know, we’re never going to go back on anything we’ve recorded.
What kinds of artists taught you to think of the live and recorded versions of songs as two separate things?
J: We all are very into jazz and I think it was me getting into like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans—a lot of artists that would play the same songs over and over again, but every performance was unique and you can look over the course of their career and and you can see the shifts in it and you can see it getting more abstract more and further away from the original song and that that stuff is just really fascinating to me. And that kind of approach to live performance is what gets me excited about playing live shows.
Layne: There’s a really cool performance on KEXP by an artist called Kishi Bashi that the first time I saw it, I had heard the song before and in the middle of the fucking song the lead vocalist suddenly starts beatboxing and using a pitch shifter and delay pedal to modulate the pitch and create an entire backing track that he layers for the last chorus, but it’s like it’s like a minute and a half section whenever I saw that—I’ve seen bands deviate from recordings before but that’s where I was like, Whoa, that’s fucking amazing. And that’s what I like about live performance, that you can just change things like that.
Jonas: I think another example of an artist who has a very different live performance where the songs still feel like the recorded versions of themselves is Jeff Rosenstock, who is a pretty big influence for us. When I’ve seen him live before it still feels like the song but it never feels strict, and it’s often not even the same tempo. That’s a good example of an artist that I think about when I think about how we want to portray our songs live.
I know that most of the songs on the album went through a lot of different stages in the three years you spent working on it, which one was the hardest to piece together?
J: Maybe [classic j dies and goes to hell part one]. That was the last one we finished and it was one of the first ones we started, so it was definitely one of the ones that took the most work. We always wanted to have that song go through a bunch of different sounds and we tried so many different sounds for it. And even when we settled on, okay, it’s going to start kind of jazzy, then it’s gonna get kind of funky, then it’s going to get really punk—once we settled on that it was still really hard to reconcile all of that and make it stick together in a way that flows really naturally. It was so much trouble that there were literally parts where I was like, and I’m so glad I didn’t do this, I was like, maybe we should just scrap this song. I thought that we weren’t going to make it work, but we did make it work.
Jonas: I think “dallas” is probably one that maybe wasn’t the most difficult, but had a lot of different sounds to it.
J: Yeah, that song is the one that definitely transformed the most over time. The very first version of that song has absolutely no musical material, lyrics, or anything in common with the final song. Even the key it’s in is different. It was like a fucking Ship of Theseus thing. Like we changed every part one at a time until it wasn’t at all the same song.
Did you always plan on that being the intro to the album? What do you think you would you have replaced it with if you never pieced it together?
J: We probably would have started with “bedroom community”. The sequence of the album, we kind of roughly had an idea of where most of the songs were going to be from the moment we started writing them. And when I first had the idea for [classic j dies and goes to hell part one], this was back when I was still making music as Casio Dad and I hadn’t even met the rest of the band yet. When I first had the idea for that I was like, this is going to be the first track on my next album. And that was the other part of what made that song really hard to come together, we wanted to have a track that would effectively introduce people to what they’re in for, and what they’re in for is a lot of different things, you know? So having something that would effectively start the album was a real challenge, but we knew it was gonna be that song, we just didn’t know how to make it fill that role.
When you were making the album, were there any ideas that you thought maybe would be too weird or wouldn’t quite work that ended up making it on there?
Jonas: We’ve definitely had thoughts and conversations like that, but I also think that we were really, and it was like me and William and J who were writing on the album. We were on the same page for pretty much the whole process of like, we’re going to do whatever we end up wanting to do, and people will or won’t like it. I don’t think we thought about it to the point where we would let that affect the decisions we did make, but we were conscious of the fact that a lot of it was very weird.
J: Yeah, I don’t think there was ever a thought of “This is too weird people won’t like this, we shouldn’t do it.” If there was ever a reason we doubted an idea it was because we weren’t sure if we liked it. All of the success of this album was a complete surprise to us. We were never trying to make something that a lot of people would like, we were just doing what we wanted to do. So yeah, there was definitely stuff that we made where I was like, “People are not going to fucking understand this and they’re gonna think it’s really weird and they may not like it” but that was never anything that made us doubt if we should do it, you know? If it felt good to us, we did it.
Jonas: I feel like “yoshi’s island” might be the one that I had the most questions about, it’s like this bossa nova song that doesn’t stay bossa nova for very long. It’s definitely the one I was most curious to see how it would be received in the context of everything.
Are there any specific reference points or inspirations for the album that people haven’t already mentioned yet that you’d like to point out?
Jonas: That we haven’t already heard yet? There has to be something.
J: What comparisons have you heard? Let’s start there.
The two big ones for me are Jeff Rosenstock and Of Montreal.
J: I hadn’t heard anything from Of Montreal until like a month ago because people kept comparing us to them. I was like, I should check them out. Honestly, the comparisons that we get sometimes are good music recommendations for me because people are always comparing our music to shit I’ve never heard before and I listen to it and I’m like, “Oh, yeah, I hear it. I get why people think we’re influenced by that but I’ve never heard this before.”
William: There’s actually an artist that we just got compared to that I really love now, Miracle Musical.
J: I don’t know if there’s any influences that I haven’t heard anybody talk about.
Jonas: All the jazz artists that you especially pulled from J, I don’t know that I’ve heard people mention them.
J: I mean, a lot of that influence is more invisible I feel like. It’s more influenced how I approach music rather than me trying to copy how they sound. I mentioned earlier that I really like Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Bill Evans is a pianist who’s a huge influence for me, I feel like when I hear the piano on [classic j dies and goes to hell part one] I hear Bill Evans influence, but I don’t know if that’s a specific point of reference that people would pick up on aside from just “This sounds like a 1950s or 1960s jazz ballad,” you know? I really like Radiohead, but I feel like that’s been talked about. I really like Animal Collective.
Jonas: People are just now starting to talk about our J-rock influence, so maybe that.
J: I haven’t heard anybody say Ging Nang Boyz.
Jonas: I think I’ve heard one person say Ging Nang Boyz.
J: I think more than any punk band, like if we’re talking punk influences Ging Nang Boyz are above even Jeff Rosenstock and stuff as an influence for me because they have a sound that is so loud, so noisy, so fast, but still incredibly melodic. There’s a song and in the middle of it they play a Bach chorale. And there’s another song where in the middle of it they stop and start playing “When You Wish Upon A Star.” They’re a great band, if you haven’t listened to them people call them the Japanese Green Day but I feel like that’s kind of selling them short.
Layne: I will say that sometimes I hear, like in a song like “bedroom community” I hear elements that remind me of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. I recently tagged her and was like “Hey, if you ever need tour support.”
J: Yeah, I mean there’s so many points of inspiration. You can say any Glass Beach song and I will tell you like fifty musicians that influenced it. All the music I listen to gets thrown into the melting pot and distilled into our songs.
It’s kind of like a Rorschach test.
Jonas: That’s a good way of looking at it. I’ve seen some of the discourse around other people disagreeing on what genre we are. Like, different people take different things from it.
J: I haven’t been on Rate Your Music in a while, but I have heard people who are really active on there saying that there’s a lot of arguments about what genre we are. And there’s people who are strongly against or in favor of calling us emo, jazz, math rock or whatever. And to me, I just don’t care about genre and I think that’s kind of where a lot of people’s attitudes are going, now that we live in the era of Spotify and streaming sites where there are no actual boundaries between genres. You can listen to whatever you want, you can make music that sounds like whatever you want. I think we’re going to see, I mean we’re kind of already seeing it, but we’re gonna see this become a bigger thing—genreless music as a genre, I guess
Layne: I’m sure in the future that Glass Beach will fall under some sort of movement or category. I always tell people the short way to describe it is post-emo and the long way to describe it is—
Jonas: An hour long and it’s the album.
J: Post-emo is like—I said that kind of as a joke, but now people are calling us that and putting it into articles, it’s whatever. I consider it to be genreless music. I think genres are for critics and music historians to decide, and I think any band that sets out to be one specific genre is usually limiting themselves. I feel like it’s so much better to just make what feels good, you know?
What’s been the most surreal thing to happen to the band since the album started to blow up?
J: The Needle Drop review is up there. I was a huge fan of his for a while and I watched a lot of his reviews and I never thought that we would be on his radar to begin with, and that he would like our music. It was cool.
Jonas: That might be the most surreal moment. For me personally, it might be every time A.W. interacts with me on Twitter about something that is not even directly related to music. We opened for them at I think our second show as a full band. A.W. is an artist that I’ve been a fan of since high school, so booking that show was wild to me, playing with them was wild to me, and then now just kind of being friends with them. Like, that’s one of the most recurring things of “Oh man, I am in a different place than I was a year ago.”
J: Yeah. I mean, there’s been a lot of artists that I was a fan of that found our music and liked it, like Skylar Spence and Los Campesinos.
Layne: The actress from Eighth Grade.
Everybody: Elsie Fisher!
William: Hearing from Run For Cover, like that they wanted to sign us and going through that whole process in retrospect is surreal. When it happened, like when they initially reached out it was like “Whoa,” but I think after the amount of work that went into actually getting that deal together, I think it stripped me of the ability to think of how wild the whole experience was because I was like “We have to do this” and “We have to do that.” And getting to work with Jamie Coletta now has been pretty surreal because I followed Jamie’s work when she was a part of the label that shall not be named. And most recently, Chris Farren came to our show with Origami Angel. I love Chris so much, Born Hot was one of my favorite records of last year and Antarctigo Vespucci is one of my favorite bands of all time. I went to a Chris Farren show three years ago, and when I went into the merch line and shook his hand I said “I know you don’t know me but one of my goals is to play a show with you” and he was like “That’s cool! I hope it happens.”
Layne: We had to write some stuff about bands that were also on Run For Cover and I’ve been a fan of mewithoutYou since I was in high school. Especially since I came out of a friend group in high school that really enjoyed Christian rock and I really didn’t like any evangelical Christian rock. And mewithoutYou was one bridge that was built there that I really liked their music.
J: They’re Christian?
Layne: Yeah, their music has a lot of Christian elements and a lot of the references are Christian. They’re not evangelical, they’re not trying to convert people with their lyrics. It was really the first time that a band had any religious elements in their music that spoke to me despite me not being religious, so that was that was really cool.
J: I should say, the fact that anybody who I wasn’t already friends with heard our music was a shock to me. Part of me hoped it would go somewhere, but I never expected it to. I never thought it would, you know? We were always just doing what we wanted to do and I didn’t think it was gonna go anywhere near as far as it’s gone already.
What’s the importance of rats to the Glass Beach lore?
J: I’m gonna level with you, I fucking love rats. At the time of recording a lot of the album I had twenty-something rats. I’m just gonna tell you about how great rats are, okay?
Jonas: 2020, the year of the rat, baby.
J: Yeah, it is the year of the rat, that’s a fucking good sign for us. But anyway, what was I gonna say? Oh yeah, I love rats. They’re basically just little dogs, they’re like pack animals—they’re very social and super affectionate, really, really playful and really intelligent.
Jonas: They can be tickled.
J: Yes, they like to be tickled and they will laugh when tickled, although their laughs are too high pitched for humans to hear them. The importance of rats is that I have a lot of pet rats and they’re animals that I have a lot of affection for, I guess. I don’t know, I feel like I have to make up for how hard humans have been on rats. You know, the plague wasn’t their fault, let’s be honest.
Jonas: I don’t know if this was started when J was writing so much rat stuff into the music but I have seen rats claimed by the LGBTQ+ community so much in the last year or two.
J: It is a thing, I think. I can’t speak for everybody but personally I can understand also feeling like a loving, kind creature who is seen as disgusting by a lot of society, you know?
What was the last great movie that you saw? [Spoiler Warning: Potential Rise of Skywalker spoilers ahead, proceed at your own risk]
Jonas: Cats (2019), because I saw it fairly recently.
J: Maybe Jojo Rabbit? I really liked The Lighthouse.
William: Fuck, I haven’t seen that one and I want to see it so badly.
J: You should see it, that movie makes you feel like you are going crazy while you’re watching it.
William: I love Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, so.
Layne: Are we talking new movies that just came out, or just the last great movie that we watched?
Just the last great movie, it doesn’t matter when it came out.
Layne: Mine is an animated movie because I watch way more animation than I do live action, so I’d have to go with Garden of Words. It’s a very emotional and minimalistic romance story.
J: If we’re including old movies, too—
William: I know, this is hard because I also saw Knives Out recently and that movie fucking rules.
Jonas: I think the only movie we’ve all seen together recently is Cats (2019) so I think legally that has to be our answer.
J: Okay, I have to go to bat for that movie right now because so many people are fucking hating it and I mean, I kind of get why because it’s really weird but also, it’s really weird like, fuck yeah. I will take weird shit like that over another Avengers movie or another Disney remake any day.
William: Also, the new original song in Cats (2019) is really good. I’m not even a huge fan of newer Taylor Swift but I think that song fucking rules.
Layne: I will say, I think the one movie that we can all agree was the last bad movie that we’ve all seen was [Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker].
J: We don’t need to get into this.
William: If you publish that we didn’t like Rise of Skywalker we’re going to lose our careers.
Jonas: That is off the record.
William: That’s not how it works, you have to say it’s off the record before you say it.
J: Well, it’s off the record now. Have you seen David Byrne’s True Stories, because I watched that recently. It’s the only movie that David Byrne ever made, and it is really good.
William: He’s in it and he plays the weird cowboy.
J: Yeah, he’s the narrator in it, and it’s about this small town in Texas. So of course I like it, because I’m from a small town in Texas and I love Talking Heads. It’s a really good movie and I highly recommend it.
I’ve got a lot of stuff to strike from the record so I better get started now, I don’t want any angry Star Wars fans to come after the band.
J: I will say, off the record, that was the worst Star Wars movie. I enjoyed watching Episode One more than I enjoyed watching that. Actually, Episode Two may be the worst, but I don’t think anybody had any expectations for that one.
William: Michael, do you have any input on this?
I’d probably have to go with Episode Two.
J: I think Episode Two in a vacuum is the worst one, but I also feel like after watching Episode One it’s like, you don’t expect anything good for the next one whereas after watching Episode Eight, I thought [Rise of Skywalker] was going to be really good.
I agree that Rise of Skywalker is the most disappointing of all the Star Wars movies.
J: It’s disappointing, that’s a good way of putting it.
Jonas: This is why you are the writer.
Layne: Episode Three was shitty, but it was an improvement.
J: I think Episode Three is the best of the prequels.
Layne: It also ties itself to the original trilogy, which instantly makes it better.
William: Hold on, Rise of Skywalker did too, you want to talk about that?
It makes me sad to know that all of your fans are missing out on this, I think this is the kind of content that they crave.
J: Okay, include this then, fuck it.
William: Yeah, fuck it, put it on the record.
Jonas: Hold on, are we serious?
Willian: Michael, put it back on the record and make the whole article about this.
J: You know what they say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, so I hope people go apeshit over this and get mad at us.
William: There’s no such thing as bad publicity, only bad Star Wars movies.
the first glass beach album is out now via Run For Cover. Order it here.
Michael Brooks // @nomichaelbrooks
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