Glass Animals' 'Heat Waves' and its long, 'strange' journey to the top of the charts

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Late January is hardly the time you’d expect a song called “Heat Waves” to top the charts.

But that’s precisely what’s happened for British psychedelic pop band Glass Animals, whose hazy, bass-heavy anthem reached No. 1 on the Top 40 radio chart this week.

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“I’ve wondered about” the track’s unseasonal popularity, frontman Dave Bayley says. “But it’s always summery somewhere (in the world). Also, this song is about memories and it’s very nostalgic, and sometimes people feel more of that in the winter. Maybe that’s part of the reason this song’s hung around for so bloody long – everyone’s locked inside and trapped in their own thoughts.”

Taken from Glass Animals’ glimmering, hip-hop-infused third album, 2020’s “Dreamland,” “Heat Waves” broke the record earlier this month for the longest climb to the top 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart – taking 51 weeks to reach No. 3, where it still sits.

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“I feel like it’s been both the longest time and also no time at all. It’s quite strange,” Bayley says. “So much has happened when you think backwards that it starts to make your brain twitch.”

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“I literally just put little pieces of paper through all of their mail slots saying, ‘Will you film me at 7 o’clock on Wednesday from your phone and then upload the video to this Dropbox?’ ” Bayley recalls. “Everyone was leaning out of their windows filming – it was magic.”

“Dreamland” was born of Bayley’s desire to go “much deeper” lyrically than he had on Glass Animals’ previous two albums, 2014’s “Zaba” and 2016’s “How to Be a Human Being.” With “Heat Waves” in particular, he had been listening to a lot of movie scores and was inspired by the ways they can tell a story simply through chord progressions and melodies.

“I had this phase of listening to John Williams scores when I went and did really mundane things,” Bayley says. “Like when I went (grocery) shopping, I would listen to the ‘Jurassic Park’ theme song and it would make it feel so epic. Every time I’d pick up an onion, it was like, the most important onion.”

Glass Animals' 'Heat Waves' and its long, 'strange' journey to the top of the charts

Much like the crests and troughs of an actual wave, “Heat Waves” begins on a high and falls into despair, before rising up again for a hopeful, optimistic finish. Bayley first came up with the chords while messing around on the guitar one day. Within an hour, he had written the lyrics, which were inspired by the death of a close friend whose birthday was in June.

“It was May when I was in the studio, and every time June starts to roll around, I just remember this specific person and what they meant to me. That’s where that lyric comes from: ‘Late nights in the middle of June,’ ” Bayley says. Even still, “I tried to keep it vague enough so that other people can find their own meaning. Everybody has someone from their past that they think about in one way or another.”

Sweetening the success of “Heat Waves,” Glass Animals is nominated alongside Olivia Rodrigo and Saweetie for best new artist at the Grammys, which were rescheduled from Jan. 31 to April 3 due to COVID-19 concerns.

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The four-piece band’s first ever nomination was particularly emotional for Bayley, after drummer Joe Seaward was involved in a life-threatening bike accident in 2018. Seaward suffered brain damage and a severely broken leg, and the group – which also includes bassist Edmund Irwin-Singer and guitarist Drew MacFarlane – put everything on hold until he recovered.

Glass Animals' 'Heat Waves' and its long, 'strange' journey to the top of the charts

“Just as he was making his recovery, the pandemic hit and we lost touring. Oh, my God, it was chaos,” Bayley says. “So all of this – everything that’s happened – just means a million times as much. It really does. I had a little cry on New Year’s Eve, just because I was kind of swallowing it all.”

As they look ahead to touring the U.S. this spring, before playing summer festivals including Boston Calling and New York’s Governors Ball, Glass Animals aren’t putting any pressure on themselves to top the success of “Heat Waves.”

“You can’t try to repeat what you’ve done before – you’ll never quite match it,” Bayley says. Instead, “we always try our hardest to sound like a new band and do something completely different for every record. We never want to do the same thing twice.”

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