INTERVIEW: Glass Mansions Discuss Rebirth, Songwriting, and Looking To The Future

For the better part of a decade, Columbia’s Glass Mansions have forged a reputation as one of the hardest working bands in the area. Infused with DIY ethics and armed with tightly layered, infectious songs, the wide-eyed electro-rock hopefuls started off the year with a bang, releasing their new single, “Nightswimming.”

Hot on the heels of dropping the single, the band is embarking on a national tour leading up to their annual attendance of  the South By Southwest Festival (SXSW) in Austin, TX.

Before they hit the road, though, the band was kind enough to stop by and chat a little about their current goings-on, give a peek inside their creative process, and what the future holds for Glass Mansions:

First of all, congratulations on the successful release of “Nightswimming.” It easily stands as your best and most confident work to date. And it’s decidedly different from the prior, more rock-centric single, “Matches.” What was it about this song above the others you’ve been working on that compelled you to release it next,as your second song since taking the Glass Mansions name?

Jayna Doyle: We had originally wanted to release “Nightswimming” as our first single under the new name, but “Matches” felt like the better choice at the time. We were already moving in a more electronic route, having written “Nightswimming” right after “Matches” and having recorded both at the same time. But before moving forward, we wanted to sonically acknowledge our rougher, rock roots. Releasing “Nightswimming” as our second single allows for what we feel is the best possible transition into our next, more electronic chapter.

Blake Arambula: “Nightswimming” is the yin to “Matches”‘ yang. Whereas “Matches” was a look to the past, “Nightswimming” is a look forward. It’s a step in the direction of musical possibilities without the necessity of a live drummer. With newer songs like “Just Friends” or “Landmines,” being much more electronic, “Nightswimming” just felt right as a transitional single.

Patrick Bearsdley: The song kind of came about and went in a more electronic direction intentionally, and we were able to explore that direction a little more. It was a kind of catalyst too

Let’s talk a little bit about your songwriting process. One of the great things about your particular brand of electro-pop rock is the spectrum of music you all get to play with and blend together. “Matches” explodes as a straight forward rock single whereas “Nightswimming” veers into this unique synthwave-esque pop track. How do you know when a song is going to veer towards a specific sonic style?

Jayna: Damn, Myles – your questions rule. It’s hard to say what will happen when we start writing,  as cheesy as it sounds. We honestly start demo-ing out ideas and see where those ideas take us emotionally. I guess another huge factor is what we’re listening to for inspiration as well. Our current tastes definitely make their presence known while we’re writing. As we were transitioning to be more electronic, we rearranged all of our catalog to be cohesive with our newest material. Revisiting all of our songs and getting to reconstruct them has really taught us a lot about our own songwriting. I’ve realized my angsty lyrics have come out in a more heavy hitting rock vehicle, tales of lust and revenge fit well with gritty electronics, and more intimate songs have ended up being instrumentally simpler and the vocals more exposed. We try to sonically match each song with its lyric content. We’re more aware of that now, and are reinvigorated to expand on that.

Blake: I’ve never really wanted to write songs that came out a certain way, but, this year, my promise to myself has been to write songs without considering that a traditional band setup was going to perform the song. With that promise in mind, I was free to experiment with new rhythms, new sounds and new vibes. A new song, “Landmine” is much different rhythmically than our other songs and is very dancehall inspired – something that a traditional 4 piece pop rock band probably wouldn’t attempt. I think there are no rules anymore when it comes to songwriting. If you put something out and someone connects to it, that’s all that matters. The way these new songs are coming out, and even “Nightswimming,” is much more along the lines of how our demos of the songs came out – a little more raw, a little more experimental, but with those pop elements that people have come to know us by.

When starting the process, do you typically pen the lyrics first with an idea about the music, are skeletons of melodies written first, or is there simply no set standard of doing things when crafting a Glass Mansions song?

Jayna: It’s always different every time! Songs like “72,” “Secret,” and “Just Friends,” I wrote after having dreamed the lyrics and/or melodies. That’s never happened in my life and to have written three songs that way has been a really interesting experience for us. For the most part, we come up with the bare bones of a melody, then add in vocal melody ideas. I’ll sit with the song for a while and feel it out and see what mood it conjures up in me and then write about what the song makes me feel. Then we’ll add in guitars and finishing touches to pull it all together.

Blake: Some songs seem to come out of nowhere, too. I felt like songs off of the Gossip record had been gestating for such a long period of time, though “Shut Up & Kiss Me” probably came together quickest. “Landmine” came together very quickly as well, after an 8 hour session working into the night on it. During the process of moving forward without a drummer, we realized that we could move more quickly in the writing process with one less person to loop in. All of our past drummers have all lived out of town, which prevented practice from happening as often as it could be, and the writing and performing process was stalled. Now, the creative side of the band feels more liberated.

You’ve been mentioned before when asked about new material that you’re leaning towards releasing future tracks as stand alone singles rather than the traditional album or EP. Since full lengths and EPs can allow for breathing room for non-single type songs to shine, do you feel additional pressure to make each released single POP?

Jayna: Absolutely! It makes us take every song that much more seriously. It also eliminates any “filler” tracks that could end up on an EP just to wrap it up. This is a new strategy for us, and we’re learning as we go, but this will also allow us to release more music videos and visuals to accompany our new releases.

Blake: The world is so ADD now and peoples’ attention spans are dwindling. I feel like if you aren’t putting out a new piece of content at least every 2 weeks, people will move on to something else. 2016 was a year of transition but also a year a preparation for us, and I feel like this year we are able to unveil so much that we’ve been sitting on for the past year. Releasing singles gives us the time to give each song the attention it deserves, sonically and visually. By the time an EP will be released (with a few unreleased songs), the momentum will already be there and fans of the band will be able to finally see the total picture.

Following up on that, does that mean ballads or what would typically be considered closing songs are off the table? You’ve had some really strong slow jams in the past (”Secret,” “Oubillete”).

Jayna: Oh no definitely not! Electronic doesn’t always mean dancey. We’re working on some killer new slow jams that incorporate that same ballad feel over building bassy synth and ambient guitar. We’ve also rearranged “Secret” and will probably bring back “Oubilette” at some point soon as well.

Blake: The great thing about incorporating these new rhythms means that we are free to give the songs new grooves. “Matches,” for example, may have been released as a full-fledged rock song cranked to 11 the whole time, but you will definitely notice some differences in the new version, and it may be closer to a ballad now than you might think.

The band’s now been under the Glass Mansions moniker for over a year now. When you changed your name from Death of Paris, did you find yourself having to work harder to ensure venues/fans knew who your identity since not everyone stays in the know? Or did you view this more as a rebirth?

Jayna: We had to keep the name attached as a “formerly known as” for just a short amount of time for booking purposes, but for the most part our fans were incredible in embracing our new name and helping us spread the word. Switching lanes to a new name at the beginning of the new year did allow for a new beginning for the band in terms of branding, so it did feel like a little bit of a rebirth as well.

Blake: While the name change was unexpected, it did hand us a clean slate if we wanted it. Every cloud, right?

What about your songwriting? Did you find yourself revitalized by the transition to freely progress your sound?

Jayna: The new name GLASS MANSIONS created a more electro-pop visual and we were happy to bring our music up to match. Our transition has been a long time coming, happening more before we even had a grasp on it ourselves.

Blake: The new name gave us a chance to say, “We aren’t the same band you knew 5 years ago,” without having to change the original lineup of the three of us. After all, it was Jayna, Patrick and I that first embarked on an acoustic tour through snow and sleet in 2011, and so much has changed since then. It would only be natural to call what we do now something different.

You’re about to embark on a tour towards SXSW, which has become a bit of annual tradition for you. What is it about SXSW that keeps you coming back?

Jayna: SXSW is amazing experience for any touring band, musician, or artist. You get to network with so many people hungry for success in the music industry and you get to meet up with bands that you play with and haven’t seen in a while. We’ve met so many great bands there and have ended up building these great long distance friendships with them all over the country – helping each other set up shows, introducing each other to companies or booking agents, etc. Playing SXSW is also something you can never really be 100% prepared for, no matter how many times you play it. All the showcases are throw-and-go, there’s always this incredible energy, and there’s such a new sense of hustle that it makes us hungrier each year to be better at what we do – both on stage and behind the scenes.

Blake: I admire the hustle of 6th Street. The first year we went, I probably walked 12 blocks with two stories of bars on each side of the street. There was a band playing in every bar, and you get this experience of hundreds of bands all playing and all trying to get their music out to people all at once. It was inspiring and reinvigorating at the same time. The three of us have always focused on our marketing efforts, and when we got to Austin, it was refreshing to see other bands working every angle to get their music to people. We always get the moniker of “hard working band,” but seeing these other acts hustling year after year makes it worthwhile. Everyone there is working toward this common goal of progressing their band and brand, and there is a sense of community about that – even with a group of musicians from different places and genres.

Lastly, after all these years together, what’s some of the highest highs you all get or have gotten out of being in and performing as Glass Mansions?

Jayna: For me, it’s as simple as getting to share the music we make live on stage – it’s such an incredible high each and every time. I especially love Greenville! We always like to play our new music for you guys first because you’re always so insanely responsive and welcoming. It makes every struggle worth it.

Blake: Yes. I’ve never been more proud to share new music with anyone until this tour. Everything feels so focused. And right. I always feel that way in Greenville because it’s a music community that welcomes outsiders like family and treats them as such. It does matter if we are rocking Fall for Greenville as a five-piece band or playing Smash Mouth’s “All Star” acoustic to a dimly lit Radio Room. People are so attentive and engaged and that’s why we always include it on tours.

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