The First Glass Beach Tour
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Starting in late 2019, indie music fans across the internet began to see the refrain “glass beach band” plastered across the web. This was, of course, the work of the band glass beach and their fans around the release of the first glass beach album. While spearheaded by fans, the barrage of replies, retweets, and posts about “glass beach band” has grown rapidly over the last 6 months or so, but the simplistic phrasing and all-lowercase styling began much before that.
Frontperson of glass beach and songwriter for the band, “Classic J” McClendon, had released a few cryptic album promo videos over the early months of 2019 among a collection of tweets featuring their pet rats. At that point, there had really only been a few posts about glass beach’s existence as a music project at all. Over the years, J had mentioned the band in a couple scattered tweets, and released a 2018 single, “neon glow”, but even upon the release of the full LP in May of last year, the initial interest was almost entirely from J’s friends (locally in LA and over the internet), and those very much involved in the LA diy electronic scene.
On May 18, J dropped the album, featuring cover art by their partner, Daxe, to initial slow-burning success, but with very strong acclaim from their early fans. It was this immediate circle who would help raise the album to a broader audience. Following the release, the group played a few local sets as a full band, after performing in different iterations since around 2017. It was clear this was a major step toward taking the project to the next level, but the group was still just beginning to form a fanbase.
3 months later, the viral nature of glass beach band began to rage into a inferno. The match that set it off was a August 2019 photo J posted to their instagram and auto-tweeted to the @glassbeachband account with the caption “glass beach band”, this was picked up by their online fans, and ignited the meme of tweeting that phrase at anyone and everything that might have to do with the band. Every article mentioning the band would find a torrential downpour of “glass beach band” replies and comments that even got the bigger sites to take notice. It was around this time, that music writer Ian Cohen discovered and consequently tweeted praise for the first glass beach album multiple times. The spectrum of listeners and fans grew exponentially after Ian’s continued vocal love for the album and lyrics, along with a jump in promotional help for the band from newly hired member of the team Jamie Coletta and her company No Earbuds.
Glass Beach’s rise was not only due to an appreciation of the album, but the collective twitter-based focus from both fans and the glass beach twitter accounts. The main account, along with the individual members (William White, Jonas Newhouse, and Layne Smith), kept up with any mention of glass beach, and would retweet, like, quote tweet, or reply. Along with a newly-created glass beach fan Discord channel, the frequent interaction style clearly resonated with fans, and became somewhat of a running gag through the months. The inclusivity, music, positivity, and vocalization about lgbtq+ related topics roped in a specific demographic of music twitter users, most of which would tweet appreciatively and suggest the first glass beach album to friends and notable music critics.
Their most vocal fanbase is a mix of young, queer, and excited individuals who found something that spoke to them, and they wanted to yell it all out to the masses. By the beginning of September, calls for Anthony Fantano of The Needle Drop to review the first glass beach album began and a now-defunct twitter account devoted to telling Fantano to review the album kept @’ing him, eliciting a quick response, and a full review by December. This was followed by Ian Cohen’s interview with the band for Stereogum, an official music video release for “classic j dies and goes to hell part 1”, and their announced signing to Run For Cover Records.
They had secured a record deal, positive reviews from huge sites, and a rabid online following all without touring at all. This really was the epitome of making it “big” on the internet, but the next step was for the band to take to the road and see how it would work as a full band touring act. One could certainly wonder if the internet fans would show up irl. The signing to RFC had them set up for a week-long West Coast tour in January 2020 with Dogleg, and an album release show in Los Angeles as a sweet send-off. Their first tour together. Their first shows outside of Southern California at all.
While serving as a photo/videographer and co-merch-person on this West Coast run with Dogleg I was able to speak with them more about their band’s history and also photograph the band’s first real tour. In total there were dates in 7 cities, 2 of which local; Fullerton, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, and Reno. A rather quick line of shows with a few off-days included. This being their first tour, it was abundant in learning and testing along the way. Three of the four members had not been aboard a tour in any capacity. Layne had previously toured in a post-hardcore group, leaving J, William, and Jonas to be on their first. Glass beach practically skipped the “booking their own diy tours” situation, and were launched right into Greg Horbal from APA booking dates for them. Not such a rare thing in other genres, but in the indie/diy scene, it is still something incredibly rare.
Glass Beach bought a van for this tour, the “glass beach tour van” and then filmed a video about it, the “glass beach tour van tour“, and then that van didn’t start so they needed to rent one. William took up the role as the full time driver and it was their first experience handling a 15-passenger van, another tour first! As anyone who has driven a big car long distances can tell you, that is no easy task, and it hit William hard early on.
Following a show in San Francisco, the drive up to the show in Seattle is approximately 14 to 15 hours, not including breaks. At 6am, we set out on our first off-day to stop in Springfield, Oregon, over halfway to Seattle, arriving 12 hours later. William had maybe a cup of water during that drive. Then, after checking-in to a budget motel in Springfield, carrying heavy gear upstairs, and settling into the room, William collapsed. With them dehydrated on the motel floor, Jonas propped their head up with pillows while Layne and I scrambled to figure out the hot & cold handles on the faucet to fill a water bottle for them. They agreed to take more frequent stops when necessary and be mindful of water consumption from that point on. Tour health became a reality for them that night.
Jonas held down a role of navigating tour management. Show advances, guest lists, motel booking, reviewing over merch sales, and running glass beach’s twitter mostly went through Jonas. They often expressed their love of running numbers, and Jonas and I would occasionally check over the merch sale totals together. We’d compare to previous nights and discuss turnout demographics that would affect merch interest.
Glass beach held the most organized post-show band meetings that I’ve seen. Touring, especially at this specific level, was, again, new to most of them. They’d discuss their presence on stage: What worked for them, what didn’t work, and how to better communicate if something was off individually for them. Since Dogleg was along for all of these dates, they were also a tangible comparison for glass beach to bounce off. Given that they have a larger portfolio of tour and scene experience, glass beach was looking towards them for help navigating their new found landscape, sprouting out especially after the show in Portland.
Portland was a challenge. It was the 5th tour date, and it was 21+ due to the city’s age restrictions, which certainly helped contribute to a low turnout of glass beach fans. It wasn’t a huge nightmare, but between that and some other issues with the sound and recording, the band certainly hit their first real roadblock on tour after a promising string of shows like the very crowded hometown LA record re-release show and a glowing Seattle crowd.
After the show glass beach hung out with Dogleg (who themselves have been having some big success, but have been touring for much longer), and glass beach opened up a bit about their concerns and the positive music environments they want to harbor. Sparing some more private details, they received validation and valuable insight from every member of Dogleg within what felt like an hour-long conversation with a bounty of jokes, laughs, and shouting. Outside of the Portland show was formative and sparked even further talks after driving away.
Every set, J would hold their mic out for crowd vocals on “classic j dies and goes to hell part 1”. That night, they pointed it to just those three people up front who knew the lyrics. A moment that, to me, represented what glass beach is about. They gave them a voice, still, through an increasingly off night. I’m sure that minuscule moment had been important to the small handful of folks. Unfortunately for us just as the night was rebounding, the motel was a sketch and led a quick change of location. Never-ending learning on the glass beach tour.
Glass beach is a constructive organization of friends who have conjured up a collective of fans believing in their reach, beyond a growing 2019 album. Their audience, largely consisting of queer youth, is often looking for direction and representation, and many have found it with glass beach. I cannot begin to count the number of queer fans who came up to me or Daxe at merch asking if they can get their record signed and talk with each member. For them to be able to comfortably exist in an environment where people similar to them are performing and accessible hits the core of my queer being. To say the least, glass beach is already achieving the hospitable environment they currently say they want to make.
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