Ashes to Ashes
The Glass sifts through them and emerges with a new album
UNBREAKABLE GLASS: Justin Minus (guitar), John Argroves (drums), Brad Bailey, Tommy Pappas.
by Molly Kincaid
You know how you feel superbly introspective through the first few drags of a cigarette, but by the end of it your thoughts seem as worthless as the smug, crumply pile in the ashtray? That’s sort of how Brad Bailey’s lyrics make you feel. Just when you begin to think you get a handle on them, from a heavy connotation or image, he’ll spin the compass, whirling you into another emotion and leaving you befuddled. But somehow you’re intrigued enough to light up again, listen to another song, try to hold on and decipher its meaning. It’s addictive.
So talking to Bailey and his bandmate Tommy Pappas could be either illuminating or baffling, or, as it turns out, a little bit of both. The two are half of Memphis outfit The Glass, a band that’s been gaining ground among Knoxville audiences for a while now with its gritty and oft-cerebral rock that takes cues from everyday dingy-beauty—drunken nights in after-hours bars, purple morning light shining on spidering tree branches, glimmering gutter water.
The Glass has had more than enough grit from which to draw inspiration as of late. Toward the end of a tour out west with Memphis garage-rock darling Lucero, i.e. one long bender of whiskey-and-Marlboro-soaked nights, the foursome found out that the Easley-McCain studio—something of an institution in Memphis where they had recorded their latest disc—had burned down, the majority of their work lost in the flames.
So they retreated to a secluded cabin in Arkansas, which was nearby their last tour stop, and settled in for a long week of constant recording. “The first night was basically our engineer Kevin [Cubbins] setting stuff up and us drinking beer on the porch,” recalls Pappas, who plays bass. After that though, at least one person was plugging away on the equipment for seven days straight, as the primitive setup only allowed one part to be recorded at a time. “We’d stay up all night and listen to the whippoorwills and then record some vocals,” says Bailey, adding, “We used a lot of coffee.”
The two agree that the album turned out better the second time, perhaps due to the intensity of its recording. “You can hear the mood of the cabin in the album, emotionally,” says Pappas. “This one feels better and moves better. The cabin version is much more cohesive.”
While recording in the boonies might lead some bands to lean toward a high lonesome, prairie wind-ish sound, Hibernation is actually more rockin’ than The Glass’ first release, Concorde , a lush, gloomy album which prompted a handful of critics to peg the band as alt-country. “Whenever we hear people classify us as that, we’re just like, ‘Still?’” laughs Pappas. “On this album, I don’t hear a lick of alt-country. We prefer, if any label, indie rock, because the ‘independent’ part is fitting.”
Critics’ alt-country designation could be due to Bailey’s lugubrious yowl, similar to Jason Molina’s (of Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co.), that seems custom-made for twangin’ and cryin’. Nonetheless, Pappas is right in his description of Hibernation as a tree that’s decidedly rooted on the rock side of the genre fence. Some of that’s due to the process of embellishing the lyrics. “A lot of the songs will start off slow and then I bring them to the band and they will build on it and all of a sudden it’s a rock song,” says Bailey.
Whatever their designation, The Glass’ tunes are perfect bar songs—sharp guitar riffs ferocious enough to be ready for a bottle-breaking fight, but simultaneously atmospheric, mellowing, and sloshing with such heady meaning that they’re perfect fodder for dark corner-booth-whispered conversation.
While Bailey’s perfectly upbeat over the phone line, his lyrics often exude a sort of swaddling sadness. Still, with Hibernation , he breaks away from the melancholy at least on a few tracks, calling the intricate, piano-laced “Gunmetal Grey” his “sailing song,” inspired by a boat trip the band took together. “Sadness is a bit of a copout. It’s almost too easy,” he says. “I wanted to make a record that people could clean house to, rather than just sit in a dark room and drink whiskey.”
Rather than focusing on self-reflective subjects like break-ups and life’s other speedbumps, Bailey turns the lens outward, observing the world through hazy but analytical eyes. On “Power of the Current,” he gives a shrouded reference to 9-11 as well as stark imagery of “sharecropper nightmares” and “pigeons under the interstate.” The observational stream of consciousness was inspired by something a homeless woman said to Bailey while she was huddled among a crowd of fellow transients beneath an awning to keep out of a storm. “This lady said, ‘It’s a bad day to be crazy,’” he remembers. “It’s the idea of all these different lives and all that madness.”
And while going through a few other cryptic songs on the album, Bailey has equally colorful descriptions and reasons for his poetic yet odd turns of phrase, steeped in condensed meaning, gaining weight with each meticulously chosen word. It seems no matter how deep you dig at the words you’ll never guess what he’s thinking. But then you realize, his lyrics can be everything you want them to be and nothing at all—words on a page and floating through the air, swirling amidst hands clutching effervescent half-drunk drinks, ephemeral as barsmoke and conversation.
Who: The Glass w/ The Whiskey Scars and 20 Minutes to Park