by Zoe Evans
photo: Joey Tobin
For a generation of young people, almost everything exists online: friendships, entertainment, jobs. Originally the exclusive home of the tech industry, computer scientists and niche enthusiasts, the internet is now populated by billions of people across the world. What was once for many a diversion from the mundanity of day-to-day life through chat rooms and forums has now become the norm from which we seek release. The internet is inescapable and all-encompassing; a shared experience for the online era.
Los Angeles post-emo band Glass Beach have been described by fans and critics alike as ‘extremely online’, seeing no difference between the internet and their IRL (‘in real life’) interactions. The people they chat to on Twitter or Reddit, or any other of the countless platforms available, holding no less validity than the ones they see on the street and in their everyday life.
Their 2019 debut the first glass beach album earned them critical acclaim, widespread recognition and a record deal with Run For Cover. The way they have embraced the altered circumstances of the internet age is perhaps what has made them so successful – but what does an online life mean for being a band, the future of the music industry and the underground scenes that feed it?
Open-armed acceptance of the internet as a vital forum for human interaction is something that has become essential for independent music scenes to thrive, with social media acting as a marketing tool and dismantling the old geographic barriers that dictated a band’s audience. “We just try and keep ourselves present and visible [online],” drummer William White says. “We never promoted ourselves, it was never like ‘ooh, you gotta come check out this band’ or anything like that.” This aversion to self-promotion is something that the band feel strongly about, favouring a more organic approach than Spotify ads and Facebook page invites. Bassist Jonas Newhouse says that finding fans is all about “letting your personality shine through” and there’s no denying that there is plenty of personality to be found both in Glass Beach’s music and their online presence, whether it’s their chirpy jazz riffs or Twitter shitposting.
If you were to cast a quick glance over Glass Beach’s social media, soaking up nothing but the most superficial elements, you might be forgiven for dismissing them as irony-poisoned – a concept that describes insincerity, or ironic detachment – jokesters. It’s true that their humour is decidedly tongue-in-cheek; but in reality, sincerity lies at the heart of everything they do. “We came to this from a sort of post-irony-poisoning perspective,” says Newhouse. “I think we all at different points had our feet deeper into true irony than we do now and I’m trying to take parts of that and blend it more with actual sincerity.”
Frontperson J McClendon views irony “as a tool more than a state of mind… a way to deliver sincerity, kinda slip it in, y’know?” This approach can be seen most recently in their Instagram posts to promote a Twitch stream done in conjunction with Washington congressional candidate Rebecca Parson, where Parson is photoshopped onto their album cover, or the band members are shrunk down to miniscule size, while the actual topics of conversation cover genuine political issues and are a serious bid to get a candidate elected to office.
Or, most famously, the Twitter craze in the build-up to the first glass beach album’s release where the band just repeatedly tweeted ‘glass beach band’. “The humour in that is that it’s kind of like advertising that just doesn’t say anything at all, but you’re expressing a sincere love of the music and sharing it in a way that’s almost a parody of advertising,” says McClendon. “Just tweeting ‘glass beach band’ only works because there are tents of shitposting and irony in the Glass Beach community”. White adds, “I almost feel like going online and saying ‘hey everyone, please listen to our music’ is less sincere than what we’re doing.”
According to guitarist Layne Smith, “from the beginning Glass Beach fans have been really sincere, and there have been honest conversations. The internet is often painted one way or the other, as far as it’s a terrible place with all of these terrible things or a modern marvel, and in truth I think it can go either way. I think our attitudes and at least how we interact with people has made it into more of a positive thing. That’s what we’ve tried to do with our community.”
If the band does have a marketing strategy, it’s a deeply uncynical one; based around an idea of community and using music to bring people together, not just take their money. The Twitter presence that gained the band notoriety is one that is centred on fan interaction, encouraging the Glass Beach audience to seek each other out and create art of their own. It’s all about “creating and maintaining a strong and really cool and friendly and supportive fanbase,” says McClendon.
The contrasts in the band’s approach to online marketing can also be found in the music itself, with high-energy, videogame-esque instrumentals forming the backdrop to lyrics that are complex, verbose and incredibly dark. “As they stop to look at her they won’t look further/like it’s not a murder, it’s an inevitable tragedy/the bloody hands of all the heartless fuckers/who emotionally fucked her to monetize her suffering/flipping through a spiral notebook for some, sad hopeless words to turn into a liturgy,” McClendon writes on ‘Bedroom Community’ against a sea of rising synths. They tell me that “there’s this dissonance between dark lyrics and these peppy instrumentals sometimes. There’s sort of a sarcasm in the instrumental.”
White adds: “I don’t think there’s a nihilist view in our music – it’s almost the opposite, where it’s caring almost to the point of it feeling overwhelming,” exemplifying what seems to be the entire Glass Beach ethos: using irony as a tool to achieve hyper-sincerity.
Musically, the band cites their influences as Jeff Rosenstock, The Brave Little Abacus and They Might Be Giants, but refuse to be pinned down to any one genre. “The short answer for me has always been post-emo, but the long answer is queer-synth-punk with jazz and video game, anime influences,” says Smith, only somewhat jokingly. McClendon explains that “genre doesn’t really mean the same thing now that it used to – it’s more of just a surface-level descriptor of the aesthetic of it than any connection to a place or a scene or anything like that. Even with us: our scene is online, it’s not connected to any one place or any one sound. I feel like the internet is a big part of genreless music and the move towards genreless music because now there are very few actual barriers separating you from getting into a genre outside of what you’re used to. I think more and more people are branching out now and when you listen to more kinds of music, you make music that is really diverse-sounding.”
A life spent online shines very clearly through on the first glass beach album, written in a language that, while incredibly catchy and memorable, is almost unintelligible to the uninitiated – to truly appreciate these songs requires an osmosis of the internet consumed by the current generation of music fans. Every word feels like it was meant only for the ears of the bedroom community that they sing so passionately about, a community that gave Glass Beach life. “I’m just so excited to find other people who like our music and I wanna talk to them and see what they have to say,” says White. “One of my favourite tweets that I’ve ever seen about the band somebody tweeted yesterday. They said, ‘my gender is the four ascending notes of the beginning of ‘Bedroom Community’.”
But of course, not every bedroom community is a good one. Trawl through 4Chan and Reddit’s alt-right message boards, or join an incel Facebook group, and you will find masses of angry, violent kids who have sought each other out in the dark, feeding off each other and fostering truly evil ideologies. They all hide behind thin veneers of irony, their deep-fried memes concealing hatred, each ‘joke’ radicalising them more and more until eventually, they take the joke too far. “I think a lot of people as online as us have been very wrapped up in irony as a way of detaching themselves from the things that they like or whatever for fear of being judged,” McClendon explains. “I think we’ve seen how irony can be used as a bad thing… how people can use irony to express sincerity in a bad way, like people who are actually racist being like ‘I’m just racist as a joke’. But I think that same sort of thing has potential to be used in a good way. You can get people to care about things ironically and turn it into sincerity – just being positive as a joke can make [people be] more positive.”
So if Glass Beach are ironic, it is only ever as a force of good, creating a community of fans who are genuinely passionate and empathetic towards each other by using the methods of those that occupy the deepest and darkest corners of the internet. Their songs are the nursery rhymes of the online generation, happy melodies disguising a darker inside – online they are the opposite, using a perceived detachment to convince disillusioned teenagers to let a little bit of positivity into their lives.