The Glass drummer John Argroves was in his truck driving home when he received a call from engineer Kevin Cubbins. Cubbins had been working closely with the band on their Hibernation album since September 2004, and he had bad news.
"He said you need to come to Easley right now. It burned. We've got to get everything out," Argroves says. "I got there and there were no windows. Everything was black. The control room was scary. I saw the melted plastic and the computer towers. Hibernation, only two sessions away from being complete, was lost somewhere amid all the melted plastic and the ashes."
"So you want to hear the saga of Hibernation?" lead singer Brad Bailey asks rhetorically. "It is a saga all right: a saga of epic proportions."
The Glass earned their sterling reputation by melding tragic, largely impressionistic lyrics with a big indie-rock sound. Their second release and local breakout, Concorde, was a grand, and grandly morose, recording that, at a different point in music history, might have been branded as rock opera.
"We were ready to make a new record," Bailey says. "We knew that the sound of the band had changed from touring and playing a hundred times more shows than we played before recording Concorde."
"It's hard to play that [slow, sad] stuff live," Argroves says, and bassist Tommy Pappas agrees.
"We knew we wanted things to rock more. And Kevin wanted to make us feel like we could make a record that was just as good as anybody out there. He wanted us to know that we didn't have to have a rugged, tough lo-fi sound. A lot of people and me too make the mistake of equating heart with rawness and emotion with a really crappy sound," Pappas says. "He told us not to forget about the money, but not to worry about it. That we should go with our ideas and not watch the clock."
And so the Glass took their time recording as their touring schedule and finances allowed. By spring of 2005, Hibernation was nearly complete, and already word was buzzing through the Memphis music community that it was something special.
"And then the fucker burns down," Bailey says of the Easley fire. "Everything in my life broke that week. All my pedals quit working. My amp quit working. Our record burns up."
"My girlfriend left me," Argroves adds with a shrug. "It's not like there's some insurance company out there who's going to cut us a check for $3,000 to [hire someone] to get our recordings [off the damaged hard drives]. Nobody's going to say, Here's all your money back, go make a new CD.'"
Reeling from the loss, the band packed up their equipment and sequestered themselves in a cabin in Heber Springs, Arkansas. They had exactly one week to re-create everything they'd lost.
"This time there weren't going to be anymore second chances," Pappas says.
"It scared the shit out of me when we got to the cabin because [we didn't have the equipment we needed]. Kevin wound up taking the casings off of things and soldering and wiring things together since we didn't have connectors," Argroves says. "He told us he didn't have enough mics to record all of us together. He said, You have to play all of your drum tracks first from memory.'" That's exactly what Argroves did.
"Recutting the record was stressful," Bailey says, "but in all the ways making a record should be stressful. It was good, positive stress. The kind related to doing any good work."
After a week of intense work, the Glass rebirthed Hibernation, a record where operatic Bono-style vocals are delivered with all the casual faltering and vulnerable charm of Pavement's Steve Malkmus. It's a record about snakes, cannibals, burning villages, and 9/11. It overflows with tight, shimmering indie-pop, relentless drumming, impressionistic narratives, and head-twisting electric guitar meltdowns courtesy of Bailey and guitarist Justin Minus.
"We wanted to write smart rock songs," Bailey says. "[Hibernation isn't] a record with a mission to inform. It's not a political statement. What it is is a reaction to Concorde. So many people tell me how much they like Concorde, and I'm like, that's great I get drunk by myself in the dark."
"And weep," Argroves adds.
"I guess maybe I'm just tired of hearing songs about other people's dating problems," Bailey says. "There's just so much more going on in the world. From beginning to end, Hibernation is all about waking up."
It's also about looking at a cruel and random universe where meteors crash and nice people get eaten and trying to make some sense of all the chaos and imbalance. The Glass is strictly adhering to the first rule of good writing: Stick with what you know.
Hibernation CD-Release Party
Young Avenue Deli
Saturday, July 2nd