Do Nothing’s Chris Bailey breaks down their Glueland EP track-by-track
“As years go on, everything gets munched up and used up quicker and quicker”, says Do Nothing frontman Chris Bailey when summing up the premise of Glueland – the title of the Nottingham indie starlets’ excellent second EP. “Things become obsolete quite quickly and trends come and go. All this stuff just floats into some corner of the internet and dies a death. Like all those dead Bebo accounts that are probably still there.”
The follow-up to 2020’s Zero Dollar Bill, another effort released in lockdown, sees one of the UK’s best new guitar bands delve into a more experimental and sonically sprawling sound while exploring an abstract universe that absorbs themes of obsoletism and tackling adversity.
As lockdown brought live music to an abrupt halt just over a year ago, it gave Bailey the time to throw himself into tinkering Do Nothing’s output. While Zero Dollar Bill was a representation of them as a live act, Glueland is Do Nothing taking different directions using the space and time the pandemic brought with it.
“Having gone a few different directions on this means that in the future we’ll be open to do that, or not do that, if we want because the idea of being expected to do a certain thing is quite scary because it f*** with your head when you try and write”, Bailey told Daily Star. “You can easily overthink things. I want to be able to do anything, really.”
Glueland marks another landmark in quartet’s remarkable rise over the past couple of years. Zero Dollar Bill singles Fits, LeBron James and Contraband all hit the BBC 6 Music playlist and received glowing praise from the likes of NME and DIY Magazine.
2021 is set to be another groundbreaking year with a UK tour scheduled to get underway in September, including appearances at the Dot To Do Festival.
Daily Star’s Rory McKeown caught up with Bailey to break down Glueland track-by-track, its themes and influences, the impact of lockdown, and getting back out on the road.
Hi Chris. How have the past 12 months been for you? It feels like we could be finally approaching the end of a very weird period. How’s it affected you?
“I personally am super lucky because I live in a house with a guy who built a studio in his basement. I’ve had that to do everyday. If I hadn’t had that, I would have lost my freaking marbles, I reckon.
“We’ve been getting on with it in terms of writing. During lockdown, we’ve released two EPs, which is lame because it’s not nearly as fun. We’ve been carrying on. I don’t think it’s going to feel the same until we play it live. For me, that’s the reward bit.
“We’ve been working away things behind the scenes.”
Before lockdown you had some real momentum, being tipped as ones to watch in 2020. What was it like when it all abruptly stopped?
“It was a firm kick in the balls.
“We’ve been playing music for a long time and it had never really gone very well until now. It was very exciting.
“I’m just glad we can still come out the other end of it and be a band. Maybe we needed slowing down a little bit. We wouldn’t have had more time to focus on the music, I guess. When you’re playing so many live shows, everything is catered to being live.”
You’ve dropped your new EP Glueland, the follow-up to the excellent Zero Dollar Bill. When did the writing process get underway for this one?
“That’s a good question – I don’t know! The songs from the last EP, we had them already because we’d been playing them live. I don’t think it was written completely in lockdown but it may have been, maybe in varying stages of lockdown.
“We hadn’t played any of it live, apart from Great White Way which is an old song. Old as in previous bands, you know. Well, the same band in other versions of it. That got reanimated.
"There are always pieces of things I’m reshuffling. I’ll write something and we’ll all decide we don’t want to use it. Very politely.
“I always try to cannibalise unused material and put it into new songs but only if it makes sense to do so. It’s quite a fun activity – it’s taking stuff that hadn’t make sense in one context and thinking ‘how does it apply to this?’. It’s like an episode of CSI.
“So sometime not long after the first EP is when I started work on it. Just having something to work on is super necessary at the moment.”
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You seem to have embraced a broader sonic palette this time while retaining the Do Nothing sound from the previous EP. Was this a direction you wanted to go with it or is it a result of lockdown?
“A little from column A and a little from column B. That’s the natural thing that bands do. They’re like ‘let’s do the first thing but different so people don’t get bored!’ and scratch some creative itches.
“The first one was super representative of where we were as a live band. We did work pretty hard on it but I think this one was to play around with a few different things.
“This is pre-album. The album is somewhere away on the horizon. The first album to me is a scary thing. It’s a scary, dark cloud. It’s exciting but I really want it to be good. I have a thing with bands that I feel that the first album has to be mega good.
“EPs and singles are playing around with what we could possibly do, setting up tools that you could potentially use and using them to inform the album, so people know what you’re doing, and are used to what you’re doing.
“Having gone a few different directions on this means that in the future we’ll be open to do that, or not do that, if we want because the idea of being expected to do a certain thing is quite scary because it f*** with your head when you try and write. You can easily overthink things. I want to be able to do anything, really.
“If not now, when was I going to mess around a bit? On the previous EP there wasn’t anything explicitly pretty, and that’s the sort of music I really like. The stuff I really like is quite pretty, and usually quite sad stuff. I want to be able to write that in the future. I want that to be a part of what we do. I thought I’d have a go at it.”
It’s the ideal time to do it.
“Exactly. EP in lockdown. I’m ashamed I didn’t mess around more! I should have made a weird, like comedy rap album.”
Tell me about the title track Glueland. What is or where is Glueland? You’re quoted as saying it’s about being ‘thrown into a pile of your own rubbish and paddling around it like some kind of dusty walrus’. What was influencing you lyrically?
“As years go on, everything gets munched up and used up quicker and quicker. It’s common knowledge. Things become obsolete quite quickly and trends come and go. All this stuff gets just floats into some corner of the internet and dies a death. Like all those dead Bebo accounts that are probably still there.
“I spend so much time looking at bulls*** on the internet, I love doing it. I was looking at the least celebrity celebrities, ones that used to be famous and aren’t anymore. That idea of becoming obsolete, all the detritus. John Kennedy used that word in an interview and that’s what I’m going to use.
“I think it’s an interesting thing to me. Probably more so than when things are going well. That’s cool, I like that, it makes me happy, but there’s more interesting stuff in the other side of it.
“More recently I watched a documentary called Gates of Heaven, which is about a guy who sets up a cemetery for pets. Between him and his nice idea, loving pets and how much they mean to people, it offsets that with guys who work at the rendering plant which is where all the animals tend to go when they die. They get boiled down into some kind of goop.
“The idea that stuff is nice and pretty and valuable ending up the opposite of all of it, and that being a natural thing. Things have a rise and a fall. Sometimes you can remedy it, but a lot of the time you can’t, which is the way things are. If I’m not walking around writing about real stuff which I usually do, all I can is write about this existential s***.”
I understand Uber Alles was the first song written for the record. Did it set the tone for the rest of the songs? There’s a fantastic juxtaposition between these pulsating, frenetic sections with these parts with rousing guitar melodies. It pulls you in different directions.
“I guess that one was the first one written because I had an early version of it called something else. It had something different in it. I think it still had the same end section.
“The point where it became the first thing from this EP was probably with the verses of it. The verses are very rickety. They’re not really stable. I liked harmonising the two instruments and the fact that it moved around a lot.
“I’m a very big Tom Waits fan and the guitarist he works with is called Marc Ribot and another guy I forget the name of. They write guitar lines that are very picky, it’s like a melody in itself. Y’know the way a saxophone would pick its way through something. It moves through stuff. You’re hearing it the whole time but you’re not completely just listening to that. It’s probably quite hard to do, to be able to be playing something that isn’t repeating itself, that’s just happening at the same time as the vocals that isn’t getting in the way or too far out of the way.
“I was trying to write in a different way that didn’t rely on a really anchored, repeating thing. I’m a sucker for repetition. I really like it, I do it all the time. It’s easy and effective. People like to listen to it and I like to listen to it. It’s fun to try something that waves about a bit and doesn’t feel as healthy as the usual stuff.”
What’s Rolex about? It seems like an intriguing tale and puts you right in the head of this persona. You have the verse “When this all goes away, what will I do then? I'd spit it all back out just to drink it up again”, with mentions about meeting the Marlboro Man. There’s a real groove to this one.
“It’s like a pop song, sort of. I wrote it to be a poppy song and to be just whatever I fancied it being. Just not think about anything, which you never should, but I always overthink everything.
“I like the wonkiness. It was quite natural. It was not trying to be super anything. I wanted to follow my own instincts and not second guess them.
“It’s got some references on it that I fancied putting in there that were personal, like The Marlboro man thing. I only found out recently that that my mum’s dad worked for Marlboro and was a Marlboro dude. The Marlboro man is like a advertising figure, the cowboy dude. He wasn’t that, he was a guy in a suit who sold cigarettes on some level. It was the thing of not really knowing about some parts of my family.
“Blue Bill is reference to the Screaming Blue Messiahs who were a really good band around in the 80s. Bill Carter is the singer of that band. They were wicked. A punky thing with a bluesy, rockabilly thing going on. His vocals are really cool. I think Bowie said they were his favourite band or something like that.
“That feeds into the Glueland thing I was talking about. I think they’re a really good band, I really like them, they make me feel happy, and they’re not really a presence anymore because they stopped. They’re not super unknown either, but that’s an example of a really good thing just sort of running its course and basically going away. They have a song called Jesus Chrysler Drives a Dodge, which is also in the lyrics to Rolex. I felt like referencing them because I like them and I like the way the words sound. I didn’t want to second guess anything. There are a lot of lyrics I write that are just daft things that I think about, weird phrases and words that knock around my head.
“That one is a little snapshot of some stuff I think about sometimes. Nice and personal. A nice little pop song."
Knives is the shortest song on the EP by a second. It has this great angular guitar riff but also very melodic. What’s the story with it?
“It’s based on being restless. The weird, fast energy without being heavy. The drum pattern is stilted in terms of where the kicks land. The verses are straight but everything else is a bit off kilter. I wanted to do something like that, that moved around a lot and didn’t feel aggro.
“There was a song by a band called the The Rural Alberta Advantage that I do not listen to but I heard two songs when I was younger. They had a song called Don’t Haunt This Place. It sounds like he’s on a toy drum kit or something. I think it’s just a production thing and he’s using a hot rod or something, but he’s playing this really fast drum beat that’s not overwhelming at all. It’s quiet and fast. That takes a bit of skill on one hand not to hammer something out when you’re struggling to play it. It sounds like it’s in a tiny box and I really liked the idea of stuff that’s fast, has energy, but doesn’t feel stressful or aggressive.
“The National are really good at that. A lot of the songs are f***ing fast because the drummer is amazing. He sits there like an octopus. It’s almost like anti expression. When I watch him I don’t see him getting into a drum beat. It’s a guy that plays the drums around him and it just happens. He doesn’t overdo anything. The National can have a fast song that’s very pretty, which if you think about it isn’t that common I guess.
"Songs of a certain tempo are more likely than not quite punky. But not so often you get something really fast but isn’t focused on that – it’s being focused on being pretty and also fast.
“It was having a go at something like that and, like with Uber Alles, it was moving guitar parts. The guitar doing a repeating thing that changes parts and then the bass can slip under it and join up for a note or two, and then keep going around. The bassline on this was the thing that moved around in the way that I liked. I wanted to have vocals that were nice to sing, kind of like Strokesy vocals. He (Julian Cassablancas) is kind of crooning on some songs. I wanted to do something like that. I wanted it to be very much a song. It’s pretty standard structure-wise and it comes off as a normal song but done in a slightly abnormal way I guess.”
The last song is Great White Way, which is you mentioned it’s an older song. It starts with this real dark funk bass line with a gritty rock feel but grows into this atmospheric chamber of synths and these hypnotic guitar lines. A fitting closer to the EP. How did this one evolve?
“As I said, we had it for a while. I never let go of it. I had it in the bank. I thought ‘I’ve always got that song’. I think it was written about something specific. It’s less vague than some of our other stuff in some way.
“At some point I did a new version of it, nobody asked me to! I added the funkiness into it. Before it was a somber affair. The Great White Way is what they call a section of Broadway and I think that was because it was among the first streets in the US to have electric lighting on it. And now there are lights everywhere.
“A performance artist called William Pope L did a thing where he crawled along it. It took him a long time because he had to do it in breaks. He’s wearing a Superman suit and he’s got a skateboard strapped to his back. He crawls as agonisingly as possible along it. The skateboard is for when there’s a road so he can turn over and zoom across it so he doesn’t get run over. He’s a black artist, and the crawl is a sort of absurdist street performance that points at racial inequality.
"Or at least that’s what I’d think. Performance art often tends to raise more questions than it answers.
"In any case, I looked into it a bit and looked into his other stuff and really liked it.
“I wrote the song itself about the very obvious point of not being on level pegging, everybody not at all having the same opportunities and being held back by stuff they can’t control. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you try, people have already made up their minds in a certain way. I thought there was a lot of unpack and write about. Once you know what the song’s about it sort of opens up and makes sense.”
What are you hopeful for looking ahead? Are you really looking forward to getting back out on the road and seeing this EP come alive?
“That’s a big one, obviously. That’s a big one for everyone in the industry. Playing shows and being at shows. That’s a given.
“Likewise the idea of being able to write. I want to sort out a scenario where we can do all that exciting layering, writing, trying things out. That’s the exciting bit in a way.
“There are two exciting bits for me. First it’s writing the thing. Minor breakthroughs in the writing part of it – those are super good and gratifying. Also seeing them happen live. It’s been very one-sided for a while and I hope it’s going to balance out.”
Glueland is out now via Exact Truth
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