All of Them, the latest album by Chicago queer music collective Glad Rags, is an eclectic orgy of disco, post punk, psychedelic garage rock, and chamber pop with shiny orbs of synths, sitar, cello, and dynamic vocals. The album balances heavy subject matter with candy-coated pop melodies, its lyrics unraveling the politics of pleasure in addition to ruminating on cancel culture and the nuances of community-oriented healing in art spaces.
Today, Glad Rags unveils the music video for their single “What’s My Body Up 2?” which was directed and edited by core band member and synth player Jacqueline Baker. The video’s vibrantly animated graphics are intercut with footage of the band cavorting and dancing around their homes in an infectious burst of LED flashes and fuschia-tinted jubilation.
I caught up with Glad Rags to discuss the process of shooting the video, their ethos as a collective, and their latest album.
How would you describe Glad Rags to new listeners?
Jacqueline Baker: Whenever people ask us to describe the band, we never quite know how. It’s pretty hard to pin down our sound. All of our songs are quite different. From a genre standpoint, I would say I always end up describing us in terms of what other people have told us we sound like. But whenever I talk about our vibe or how we operate creatively, I always make it apparent that we have a lot of fun bouncing ideas off each other.
Kelsee Vandervall: I will never forget this, but the first time I met Mabel, they described Glad Rags to me as a Randy Newman dance band.
What is the biggest benefit of operating in a collective as opposed to a band with a fixed set of members with predetermined roles?
Baker: I feel like there’s always a lot of room for growth. It certainly doesn’t diminish growth if a band does operate in the more traditional sense, but what’s nice for me is that I never feel boxed in with this group. If there’s a song where I want to add or change something, I never feel weird or uncomfortable asking Mabel if I can change it. Our strengths as individuals are always nurtured, and that’s what’s really nice about being part of a collective. Everyone wears a lot of different hats.
Mable Gladly: We’re pretty much the six core members, but we always bring in other people from our network to collaborate with in the studio.
Baker: I feel like right now the lineup that we have has been stable for a while. Post-COVID it’s been interesting, because there have been a lot of lineup changes since the pandemic. At this point a lot of the session musicians who had played with us in the past aren’t here now, we have to figure out how to re-adapt the music. We have to bring in new ideas constantly, but it’s fun to go with the flow.
Your sound is very eclectic. What’s it like to cobble all these different influences together in the studio?
Gladly: It’s kind of all over the place. We all enjoy very different styles of music, so having all these different genres [cross-pollinate] allows it to never be boring.
Vandervall: I think it gives us a really big range. We all put ourselves into it in some way or another. With my string lines, I might be able to react to [another compositional choice from a band member] and we’ll help each other out. Some people hate using the word organic, but something really natural always comes out of us just playing music together.
Mah Nu: Whenever we bring in the skeleton of a new song, we tend to patchwork our own individual parts together. Coming from all different musical backgrounds really adds to it as well.
Baker: My music taste has really changed and evolved a lot since I started playing in Glad Rags. Mable is very into disco, and I’ve found myself doing a series of deep dives into disco since first joining the group. I’d totally written disco off for a long time and the more that I play with different musicians with various backgrounds, it makes me appreciate different styles of music that I probably wouldn’t have before.
What were the first albums that got each of you into music as a whole?
Patrick Sundlof: I would say Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Trilogy. There was something about the instrumentation that made it sound bigger than what it was, and that’s what I wanted to do personally.
Salem Iyabode: Thundercat’s Golden Age of Apocalypse comes to mind. That was a fun discovery. That album really shows the versatility of bass playing.
Gladly: I feel like one that’s definitely influenced me was Swing Slow by Haruomi Hosono. There’s a lot of dissonant little sensory sounds in the background which really affected the way we would record and sequence the flow of our albums.
Vandervall: I’m a classically trained string instrumentalist, and I grew up listening to a lot of what my parents were listening to, which was a lot of old school R&B and disco. I was just about to finish my degree when Daft Punk came out with their Random Access Memories album. It was just the perfect blend of pop, disco, and those really thick, heavy string lines. I was a ’90s baby, so to have Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers on that album, it basically had everything that I was really interested in. I spent the entire summer after graduation listening to that album on repeat during my day job or on the train. Still, to this day, there’s elements of that album I just never get sick of.
Baker: For me it’s really hard to pick just one, because there’s so many albums that have been so formative for me. One where I can really define the point where my relationship to music changed was when I heard Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys. There were so many choices they made that were completely new. They were like the Justin Bieber of their time. They were at a point where they wanted to do something really experimental, and they were told it would destroy their career. That album was such a brave jumping off point for Brian Wilson and the band. The choices they made from a sonic standpoint were so monumental. I think that was the first ever charting rock album to use a theremin. All of those insane choices are what made that album so great, and that’s why I love making impulsive choices. It gives our albums so many cool quirks.
Nu: There’s a Brazilian psych rock compilation called Tropicalia that really expanded my horizons as far as imagination goes with music. It has a lot of Brazilian artists on it like Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, and Os Mutantes. I heard that album my freshman year of college and it really opened up my brain to the process of collective collaboration. I really liked the looseness of how it was recorded. There’s a lot of lo-fi background noise and really showcases the fusion of sounds that psychedelic music can have.
What would you say the driving throughline on All of Them is?
Gladly: A lot of it is pretty heavy, particularly the tracks that delve into community responses to harmful behavior like sexual and financial abuse. A lot of the songs jump perspectives of various situations and ask how we can heal together.
Baker: There’s also a lot of stuff that reckons with how to navigate an art world where we’re asking ourselves a bunch of questions about harmful behavior in art communities that’s been glossed over for such a long time.
Gladly: And there’s often no resolution for a lot of these things. A lot of it can end in a glare of smoke or people move to another state to avoid accountability.
Nu: Yeah. A lot of the content is very heavy and I think making it into a pop song can make something so disturbing a little more digestible.
Baker: Absolutely. Taking dense subject matter and trying to make it palatable through a pop song is a major part of it. You can enjoy it on multiple levels. You can listen to it in a more synthetic way through instrumentation, and you can also digest the lyrics in a more conscious way.
Gladly: A lot of us also work to curate live events, where there’s no formal structures in place to reckon with harm. You can’t just not respond to it, whether that’s on an artistic level or in reality.
Baker: I remember going to a lot of DIY shows where there would be a lot of the same garage rock type stuff, and trying to go to a show like that now would be very strange. I would go to venues and there would be literally four of the same bands playing and there was a very specific type of sound that people wanted to hear. When I look at the origins of garage rock, it’s just a bunch of cis white dudes thinking there’s no other way to express their anger. I used to have to work really hard to seek out bands that were actually worth listening to, and now those bands are playing really big venues and it’s so nice to see.
The new music video seemed a lot of fun to shoot! What were your favorite parts of conceptualizing it?
Gladly: Jackie directed and edited the video. We did a little demo of the song and people seemed to really like it so we decided to make a music video.
Baker: Yeah. Right from the jump I wanted the music video to not take itself seriously at all. A lot of the inspiration came from a video that I saw by Kiana Ledé, who’s a really cool R&B/hip hop artist who makes a lot of singer-songwriter type stuff. She made a song with Ari Lennox called “Chocolate” and I was reading about the video where she said that they had this huge video shoot planned in Joshua Tree and they had to cancel it because of the pandemic, so she just ended up shooting a video of her and her friend lip synching on FaceTime. The fact that they took this situation that could have been so disappointing and still managed to have a blast with it was really nice to see in the video. We really wanted to showcase the joy and maintain the friendship in the music video without taking ourselves super seriously either. Visual editing wasn’t something I was an expert at but I took the opportunity to really have fun with it. I borrowed Salem’s camera and everybody was super helpful in making it a really fun process.
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