The band glass beach on memes, the creator economy, and online sincerity
"I mean, we're all just trying to make cool music with whatever means we have available"
Welcome to Extra Garbage Day! These Thursday issues are typically paywalled interviews with people I think are on the forefront of tech and web culture. If you have any ideas about who to talk to next, let me know!
I can’t be sure, but I believe I first came across the band glass beach in 2019 thanks to music critic and one-man emo internet node Ian Cohen. The band’s first album, the aptly titled the first glass beach album, blew my mind. It felt like someone had taken my high school iTunes library, dumped it all into Garageband, mixed it around, and spit it all back out again — in the best possible way. It’s a dizzying mix of emo, screamo, lofi hip hop, chiptune, and fuzzy anime riffs. And it’s also sort of rock opera about dying and going to hell.
A few months after hearing the album, I tweeted about the band, calling them “Gen Z emo,” and they corrected me that they were, in fact, millennials. There’s a whole other piece to be written perhaps about the default millennial assumption that anyone doing anything interesting must either be older or younger than ourselves.
ANYWAYS, glass beach rips. But, more than just being a band I like a lot, they are also part of a crop of new emo-ish bands that are also a lot of fun to follow on the internet. Instead of your typical sepia-toned Instagram photos from 30-something midwestern metalcore dudes or whatever, glass beach’s internet presence has more in common with your favorite Twitch streamer. (In fact, they do stream on Twitch.) A scene band by way of Lil Nas X, I suppose.
One of the biggest in-jokes for the band’s fans is that people will respond to all their tweets with “glass beach band,” goofing on the band’s Twitter handle, @glassbeachband. Explaining why that’s funny is harder than I thought it would be.
glass beach members J (guitar/vocals), Jonas (bass), William (drums), and Layne (guitar) were nice enough to chat with me a couple weeks ago about what it’s like being an indie band in the new world of the digital creator economy. Also, seconds before we started chatting, they had just announced their second-ever tour.
I was curious how a band uses platforms like Patreon to make and fund pretty serious art. Turns out, the answer is simple: You just do what works and don’t worry too much about everything else.
The following has been edited for pacing and clarity.
Garbage Day: You just announced a tour within seconds of us starting our interview. How has that been going? How complicated is it to set that up right now?
William: I think for us, as a band, trying to move forward with a tour right now, especially on a large scale, is just about knowing that there is an onus on us to keep people safe. And there is a responsibility to make sure that we're not putting people in extremely compromising situations. So I mean, it's a big step moving forward. It's a big hope. And especially with the Delta variant and other stuff going on right now, I think our biggest mentality moving forward — and something that we also want to make clear to the people that will be buying tickets to possibly come and see us — is that at any moment, whether or not the C.D.C. or the government actually shuts us down or anything, if we deem it to unsafe, whether for ourselves or our audience, we will cancel the fucking thing.
Jonas: I think we won't have to. We're definitely balancing hopefulness with caution. We want it to go well and we're operating as if it will, but we are absolutely prepared to 180° on that if we need to.
So I was going back the release of the first glass beach album and it's interesting to me that it came out the summer before COVID, but the Pitchfork review dropped only a month before the pandemic started. And it feels like, in this really weird way, that your band was born of the pandemic. What does that feel like?
Jonas: [laughs] It's hard to say if it feels different than it would have otherwise because none of us have been in a band that got attention during any other period of time. I think this tour feels a bit like an emergence for us because on the first tour we were getting our sea legs a little bit.
William: It was just the west coast. It was kind of like dipping our toe in.
Jonas: And this does feel like we're setting off out into the world. You know, we're graduating high school, we're ready to go to music college [laughs].
You recorded the first glass beach album before lockdown, but yet the album feels like lockdown laptop music to me. Do you think that the pandemic might have helped people get into it? That's such a weird thing say.
J: Honestly, that's just how I and a lot of people my age just started making music. I started making stuff in [recording software] Fruity Loops and, you know, when I started learning how to play guitar, I had much more experience recording in [digital audio workstations] before I started playing with live bands. That was always such a big part of the process for me that by the time I was with glass beach, there was just no other way we could have done it. It's just a part of my musical DNA. And I think so many people want [digital] music like that now — that they can relate to. Everybody being stuck inside for a year a half, two years.
It's interesting because when I was in my early 20s, I was hanging out with people in bands, I was playing in bands, and in the world of punk and emo, there was this feeling of “analog only”. If you were going to use Logic Pro, you better record everything in one take.
J: I think it's really interesting that you're using the term “laptop music”. I remember when that was such a big derogatory thing: “Oh, you just make music on the computer, you don't really make music,” or whatever. And I feel like us, we kind of exist on the threshold of these two worlds. I know people who don't know how to play any instrument and only make music on the computer. And I know people who don't know how to make music on the computer and just record live bands if they play live. I mean, we're all just trying to make cool music with whatever means we have available. And guitars and amps and pedals and shit, that's really expensive, very prohibitive to a lot of people. And I think more recently people are coming to realize how good of a thing it is that people can just get a cracked version of Ableton or whatever and make an album that takes off. It's so much more accessible. And so we're seeing a much wider array of voices in music these days because there isn't such a high barrier of entry into music.
Layne: There's this weird attitude in music by a lot of people who have spent a lot of time doing a lot of things and not necessarily getting as far as they want. And I know that feeling, I think everybody in this room knows that feeling. We all know that feeling, but there are a lot of people who take that feeling and instead of finding ways to cope with it or deal with it, there's kind of this other reaction that some people have of, “well, I've been doing this for so long, I must be an authority on this. Even if I haven't succeeded and gotten massive.”
So actually, that brings me to a really big point I wanted to talk to you about. I'm really interested right now in the new crop of bands that are really comfortable with the creator economy and how the internet works. It feels like glass beach is a terrific example, down to even the Twitter meme of “glass beach band”. And I would love to just hear you talk about what parts of the creator world you take from and what parts are useless junk. How do you figure that out?
Jonas: I mean, we are always kind of in conversation about that, I think, because we came — I would say unintentionally — into that meme space early on when we released the album. And that was just coming from J being largely involved in the internet and people communicating there. And so we were set up to be visible on the internet as musicians, as a band. We always make sure to talk about it because there are inherent toxicities that can come up. It can be easy to idolize people, which isn't good for anybody.
Layne: It can be easy to look at people on the internet and say, “you're not real.”
Jonas: It kind of goes both ways where it's like, “oh, you're not real. I'm hyping you up too much.” Or it's like, “I have this version of you in my head in which we are friends. And so we behave differently.” So the lines are blurred, right? So we make sure to be conscious of that. I think what we take from it is an open dialogue with your audience and a community that is building around you. Because people who like our music love to talk to each other about that and other similar hobbies and we like to encourage that and be as involved with it as we comfortably can, at least, without overworking ourselves.
So you aren't pumping out two-minute hyperpop songs to climb streaming charts, but you are active on social media. And you’re making stuff like the most recent My Chemical Romance cover.
J: Yeah, I mean, that cover and the Car Seat Headrest cover that we did were both requested by our patrons on Patreon, The Patreon is a big part of how we're able to keep operating as a band. And I would say it’s kind of the reality of being an artist online in the present day, it's just how we pay the bills
Layne: It's a two-part job of building a community of people that can interact and have a positive group demeanor, which you can only control so much. But you can at least cultivate that. And the other part is breaking down the celebrity culture that has been present for so long that people now look at someone successful and famous and they're like, “oh, god, I have to worship you or constantly praise you.” And it’s like, “no, you can just treat me like a person.” A good rule of thumb is if you learn something about me that wasn't from me talking to you, don't assume that you know that about me. That was something that I heard from a streamer recently. He was like, “people come here and are like, ‘oh, yeah, how's your dog doing?’ And I'm like, ‘dude, you don't even fucking know me, you learned that from some fucking article.’”
Jonas: There's a level of wanting to express familiarity because in friendships, you find that comforting. I think when you are mutually familiar with someone that makes a solid friendship, but that is different when it is a performer-to-audience level. And the line is hard. It's kind of hard to walk, but I think we do pretty alright.
William: More specifically, I don't think we're going out of our way to try and utilize social media in an advantageous way because the way that we came about was a fluke. In the first place, we weren't setting out to create any memes. I think if we were trying to do that we would be on TikTok and we're not. But we've talked a lot about getting into TikTok because it's a totally wonderful and more viable way for a lot of artists to have an accessible way of reaching people.
Do a collaboration with Travis Barker for TikTok! That's what everyone does…
William: [laughs] I find value in that.
Speaking of which, are there plans for the second glass beach album?
J: I think it's reasonably safe to say that it'll be out next year.
Jonas: This is not an announcement or a promise. But that's what we're hoping for. That's what we're working to.
How has the writing process been this time around compared to the first time?
J: I would say, overall, probably the biggest difference with writing this album, conceptually — not just speaking about the music — is that this is the first time any of us have written music that is anticipated. I feel like for one thing, there's less of a need to get people's attention. I think of the first album as very loud, not just in volume, but in its presentation. And on some level, it was just kind of us just trying to be like, “look at this!” And now there is a guarantee that people will listen to it, that a good amount of people will listen to it. And so I feel the ability to get a little quieter, a little more subtle, a little more nuanced and less, you know, screaming out at people.
Layne: One thing we wanted to establish was that there are some bands that go along different paths. And there are some bands that find a sound, they lock it in, and they're like, “this is how we write music.” And yeah, it's fine. It's really cool. How people will push the bounds of one sound. But we've talked about how we want to make it very clear that while we might write some stuff for a while, we all get bored very quickly.
J: Brian Eno had a really good term for it. I think he said, “there are explorers and farmers.” [The whole band goes, “oooh.”] Some people are looking for new territory. And some people just really cultivate the territory that they've found themselves in.
Jonas: That's great! It really exemplifies how both are valid and can both lead to new types of sound.
J: I would absolutely consider us explorers. And speaking of the expectations and everything, I feel like because of the fact that there are expectations, there's almost an obligation to defy them. Not to get bogged down thinking about what other people will think about it because I've only ever written good music by not thinking about what people will think and just thinking about what we want to do, but I think, ultimately, that is where we're coming from. And I think we are delivering something that is very authentic and very sincere to what we are, as artists, and what we want to express. But that still, I think, is not going to be exactly what people expect of us.
Layne: Just like with the content creation thing, fun is the primary objective of most of this. If we're not having fun and not enjoying it — that’s defining the entire reason as to why we got into this.
Jonas: If we don't like the album, you're not going to hear it. And if you hear it, it means we like it.
I was actually thinking recently about the MySpace era of bands, which feels similar to now, except, those bands didn't seem like they were having any fun. It didn't seem like they were having fun making the music. It didn't seem like they're having fun with their fans. The whole thing just felt like very stilted. And glass beach and other bands like Forests or Origami Angel or Free Throw, they seem like they are having fun. And it just seems weird we weren't doing this for the last two decades.
William: I think everybody was just miserable in the 2000s. Do you remember who was president then? I feel like in the 90s, people were more optimistic — I was a baby then, though, so I don't know. Now I think people are just kind of nihilistic and ready to fucking let loose.
Layne: I'm a massive anime fan and anime’s done nothing, but fucking grow. And I'm like, “yo, I fucking love that there are normal-ass people that I can meet in everyday life who are willing to Naruto run in public.” Like a normal thing! I feel like people can admit things like [Smash Mouth’s] “All Star” are good now.
J: I feel like it just all comes down to irony. I feel like the generation before us, Gen X, kind of grew up in a sincere world and discovered irony as a form of protest and millennials grew up in an ironic world and have rediscovered sincerity.
If you’ve been forwarded this email, welcome! You can check out a full list of the previous Extra Garbage Days here. And here’s a short list of who I’ve interviewed recently:
And lastly, this is a video that Layne said I should google because it’s totally wild (he was right).
***Typos in this email aren’t on purpose, but sometimes they happen***