Waving Not Drowning: the Glass Tides interview
There's a moment part way through Glass Tides' 'All That I Know', the lead track from their self-titled debut EP, that chills and heats the blood in equal measure. It starts innocently enough, its rippling guitar and Sam Jenkins' up-close vocal making for a compelling enough take on love, loss and the calm acceptance of why she's probably better off with him after all. "I heard you found a new man and he treats you like he should," sings Jenkins. We've been here before, right? So far, so quietly, humbly heartbroken. Sitting comfortably? Here comes the twist: "Well what's he going to look like when I string him from a tree / Outside your house until you vow that you love me…" Ooof. There's a long list of elements that set Glass Tides apart, particularly amidst the plethora of (increasingly strong) Manchester acts vying for your love and your hard-earned. But it's their delicate, playful twisting of what at first appear to be genre norms that sits near the top.
Jenkins and I meet up in Fallowfield to chat over a pint. I stop recording after 20 minutes, interview proper done. Two hours later, we're still talking. He's a charismatic, engaging figure, quick to expand upon a subject area as we alight on it, keen to enthuse about those who inspire him, and honest and reflective when we touch on the less appealing aspects of the music industry. Unique amongst the artists I've spoken to of late this year, he's an oddly considerate interviewee, waiting for me to finish my question or develop my point before answering. He doesn’t interrupt once, which is as odd as it is welcome. We start with history and Jenkins' story to date. "It's a bit complicated," he begins. "We revamped at the end of last year. We were originally called Sam Haine and the Bloodflames. But that was a bit of a ball ache, getting the name right, you know? We started off in the open mic scene. I came to Manchester a while ago with a band called My Albatross. Things happened and we decided to split up, so I decided to go solo, met Mark (Khan, bassist) and Ben (Meade, drummer) through the scene. We had another violinist to begin with, a very talented guy but also a very free spirit: we'd call him up at our gigs and say 'Where are you, mate?' and he'd be like 'Oh, yeah, I'm in Germany.' So we parted ways with him and met (current violinist) Tahna (Stevens - exceptional) at a gig. She quickly came on board and, yeah, we started to cut our teeth on the open mic scene. And then last year, we moved away from it being kinda front man and backing band to it being a full band."
Apart from that song and its beautifully pitched video (see below), it's their accomplished live show that will hopefully go some way towards building Glass Tides the following they deserve. Certainly, Jenkins fronts the band but a band it most certainly is. "Absolutely," he confirms. "Opening things up like that, it's given the guys much more ownership over what we do: I don’t write their pieces, I don’t write their parts. When I bring a song to the table, what eventually comes out is a completely different animal to the one I start with. That's good. It breeds a bit more creativity. So, yeah, we re-launched, if you will, played our first gig proper at Gullliver's in late 2013, made a video with Ben Herbert and we're making strides, I think, now."
"I think songs are an opportunity to explore," continues Jenkins. "They can be autobiographical, and 'All That I Know' is, in a sense. But it's more that I'm exploring a break-up at the point where emotions are at their most heightened. You know, what's going through your head, what you feel you could be capable of, the posturing." 'All That I Know' is delivered with almost unsettling calm, smartly under-dramatised. Are songs the perfect the outlet for those kind of feelings? "Yeah, yeah, they are. It's not necessarily what I would do or what I could do. It's just an expression of that level of rage. People say things like 'I'd climb a mountain for you' or 'I'd fight an army for you' and, of course, that's hyperbole. And, yeah, under-dramatising it, as you say, that's to deliver that seething quality, that whole sense of quiet rage when you've been spurned by a lover."
The video, starring young actress Levi Heaton and Jenkins, is surreal and disquieting. In it, Jenkins is carried, prone, as a rag doll, from a coat hook, his ex bundling him stiffly from the house into the back of her car: he's there but he's not there. Jenkins explains: "Well, the song could be taken very literally: this guy wanting to get back with his lover and just being a dick, basically. But we just wanted to explore it from both sides, really. When you get into that situation where there's still baggage from a previous relationship, it becomes a twisted, symbiotic relationship, where not only is the one who's been rejected still hanging onto it, but the one who's done the rejecting has a need to be punished; feels like they need to be punished. Or they might simply feel not ready to let go, not ready to move on. Having this baggage, the burden of someone else, it is, I know, quite a bludgeoned metaphor but towards the end of the video, we see that she kind of needs that and isn’t ready to let go even though it's a harmful relationship."
It's perhaps Tahna's violin that grabs your ear at first, but the bustling Glass Tides sound is more than just folk-pop re-imagining. Certainly, as they converge on EP highlight 'All's Fair', they're an unexpectedly physical unit onstage. "Well, we’ve all got completely different tastes," says Jenkins. "Mark and Ben are into the heavier side of things – Thrice, for example. Tana's into Damien Rice, as one example. I like a bit of that. I've got quite a bit of soul influence: Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye. Bruce Springsteen: I like a good payoff in a song and he's good at that. Love Jeff Buckley." We ponder Buckley for a moment, pooling our thoughts on an artist whose tiny back catalogue, exhumed over by the vultures every few years to ever-diminishing returns, still triggers inordinately vast outpourings of devotion. What he might have become, given half the chance. "Yeah," muses Jenkins. "But then he might have become rubbish." Quite.
With four songs out there and their live reputation growing, Jenkins outlines the band's immediate future: "Current plan is to do another video, this time for 'Modern Promises'. Partly to push the EP a bit more, but just because we want to, really. And then…well, I want to do an EP. Slightly different, perhaps – a bit more upbeat. But I think we'll probably start with a single. Keep playing live as much as we can. Plus, we're in talks with people about…other possibilities, so, you know, a lot going on. It's good. I think the way to do it, these days, is with gigs, ultimately. Look, anyone can make music these days and get it out there. Promoters will put on anyone as long as they’re going to bring a lot of friends. And that might give you a tenure of a year, maybe two. Then once all your friends have seen you, that's it…" He pauses to reflect on his words for a moment. "If you’re not bothered about becoming 'big', you'll have a much better time of it. If you worry about making it, it will just cause you to be miserable. Just do you what you do. Let what's gonna come out, come out. That's all you can do."