Interview: Glass Beach and Engineer Layne Smith Talk ‘Plastic Death’

After five long years, LA-based genre-defying group glass beach are back with their long-awaited sophomore record plastic death, releasing January 19 via Run for Cover Records. Filled with whimsy and wit, the band poke fun at their highly anticipated return with “Coelacanth,” a song which shares the same name as a fish that was once thought to be extinct, heralding glass beach’s return.

In what’s been called a “bizarrely inventive universe,” plastic death pushes the boundaries of what is considered punk as they explore what it means to be artists as the world seemingly falls apart around them. This point is punctuated by the pandemic, which led the members to all move in together—though they had lived together previously—to work on the record. Singer J McClendon says that in some ways it was great and others not so much. “It was during the eviction moratorium. So, landlords were even more skeptical of people.”

The state of the world played a major influence on the creation of plastic death, which is perhaps illustrated best with the album’s artwork. A bioluminescent “abyss angel” graces the cover, reflecting the internal nature of the record, “the exploration of darkness,” as J puts it. Artist Daxe, J’s fiancé, designed the entrancing art that helps depict the evolving sound of the group. “We are kind of going in a fully different direction,” says engineer Layne Smith. J adds that they’re excited for fans to hear the acoustic elements and no-so-common instruments on the record, like the marimba, baritone and horns.

“I would write something on guitar, and then we would replace it with another instrument where I would completely change the part to be something that nobody would just pick up a guitar and strum. One of my big rules for this record is like, two to three minutes into every song, there had to be a big switch-up because I figured that’s the point when a lot of people’s attention span kind of runs thin, “J says.

“For me, it is very important that every song sounds completely different as much as we can. If punk wants to remain transgressive, like, it needs to change, you know. People are very used to the original punk sound. I think of us, honestly, as a punk band, even though a lot of our stuff probably does not sound like it because I’m thinking, ‘Let’s fucking stretch it as far as it’ll go.’ And if even the punks are like, ‘I don’t know; this is too weird for me’, then you’re doing something right.”

One day, the band hope to do a show where every instrument present on the record is played live, though drummer William White admits that albums and live versions of songs “are a different kind of beast,” adding, “we’re in the process of figuring out how a lot of these songs are going to work live.” This rings especially true with the songs from plastic death, as each song’s subject matter varies greatly.

From a song about the CIA to DB Cooper, J says, “To me, there is a sort of stream of consciousness flow to a lot of these songs. It’s almost more about what the unspoken threat is that’s tying all these different things together.” Bassist Jonas Newhouse sums it up best by saying that J’s lyrics are like “impressionist art.”

Plastic death comes out tomorrow and you can pre-order it now from Run for Cover Records. Follow glass beach on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and Twitch for future updates.

Photo courtesy of Cam Ann Evans

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