by Michelle Singer
Glasvegas is back with their 3rd album, Later…When The TV Turns To Static. This group has been on a roller coaster of success since they first began. Their first album, released in 2008, reached No. 2 in the UK album charts, was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, and Bono called their single “It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry” one of the best songs he’s ever heard.
But with rapid success comes great expectations and harsh criticism. Glasvegas suffered being dropped from their label, Sony, after a contrasted response to their 2nd album, Euphoric Heartbreak. They began being perceived as arrogant and admit they made a few mistakes of their own. Despite general perceptions, however, Glasvegas always remained true to their earnest, honest, and heartfelt music.
Rab Allan, guitarist, is having a couple drinks before their show in Hamburg, Germany. There is something eerie behind the imagery of the album title, Later…When The TV Turns To Static, and I ask him to explain what types of feelings the album is supposed to evoke. “The feel of the album was one of being alone and isolated. The imagery that [front man and lyricist] James had was if you were by yourself and it was late at night. When the TV used to turn to static it would bring about the realization that you haven’t got anyone and you’re on your own.”
There is something oddly profound about the white static of a television. When it happens, it can snap you into the present moment and give you a kind of existential moment. This can often inexplicably be a lonely and hopeless experience; one associated with the human condition.
In the music video for their single of the same name a party scene is taking place. The opening frame reads, “I pray for the damaged who’ll be loved unwillingly”. There is a powerful moment when the main character in the video goes into another room to be alone. The party goes silent, and all you can see and hear is a palm tree in the window and subtle wind chimes in the distance. Words appear on the screen reading, “When they all moved on, I was the only one to stay. They said I’d regret it, but you can never unsee once you’ve seen. They were too young to know this”. The video and lyrics of this one song alone embody what Glasvegas is about and the heaviness to their music and lyrics.
The band’s music is filled with so many complex feelings and emotions that it is easy to wonder where so much pain comes from and what inspires the narratives in their songs. James Allan writes all of the lyrics and music then he and Rab Allan, who are cousins, demo them together before bringing them to the rest of the band. “I think that most of the stories come from somewhere, it’s never just something James thinks up. They are generated through experience- either personal or even something you’ve read in a newspaper.”
For James Allan, a man who writes with his heart on his sleeve, the public’s criticism of their music was the hardest. “I think that it was a lot stranger for James because he was the one who wrote the songs. It involved his life and him personally and he was worked up a lot.”
The band began to have a bad-ass connotation associated with them. They misbehaved in ways by not turning up to places they were told to and James made some pretty confident remarks referring to their album as the “biggest record I’ve ever heard in my life”. Allan recalls, “well, we’ve messed up a lot and we’ve made a lot of mistakes.”
The band is honest about their shortfalls in the past and James’ passion is often misrepresented for arrogance. There is an inner turmoil within him that is very relatable and he opened up about his problems such as a drug overdose at Coachella ’09. In the real world if someone you knew were having a hard time you would help, give them all of your support. The weird thing about fame, however, is that when you fall you are scrutinized even more, dehumanized, and there is little or no compassion involved.
The characters in their songs can parallel with every person’s general struggles in life. One song on the new album continues a story in their song “Change” from their last album, about a young man’s life post-prison. James Allan sadly and hopefully sings, “Wonder what the people around here say, only I can turn things the other way, I think my friends have all given up on me. Untie my chains, I reach out in apology, then dance dance dance into the future with me.”
Combining James Allan’s emotionally bursting crooning voice, with a powerful wall of sound, reverb, and a steady rhythmic beat, the sound of Glasvegas is a formidable one. It washes over the listener in concord with the emotions captured in the lyrics. Allan jokingly reveals that a lot of the reverb in their sound “came from the fact that we were not very good and we could not play music very well. So when you put a lot of echo into something it helps and that was the main reason we started doing it.” They have also added extra touches to add to the sound of this album such as James’ heartbeat on song “Choices”. Listen to the entire album to get the full effect and don’t stop after the delay on the last track. It adds to the eeriness accomplished in the album and, as Allan reveals, plays a part in their live show.
Glasvegas learned a lot since they first began, a lot has changed. But, their sound and honest music remains the same and they have returned to their roots in a way. Allan says, “James is wearing black again, he started wearing white on the last album but now he’s back to black. Some of us have gotten married, some of us have grown up, some of us have stopped drinking, some of us have started drinking, and we have gone through a lot of personal changes. Musically, I think we’ve kept the same.”
Glasvegas will be playing North Star Bar next Monday 2/17. It’s a definite perk of being in Philly to be able to see a band who has supported the likes of U2 and Muse in an intimate 250 person venue. Don’t be shy to have a drink and a chat with these guys. Allan prefers “whiskey, Jagermeister, sambuca, beer or anything really.”