Alice Glass‘s debut solo album, PREY//IV, sifts through the entropy that trauma leaves in its wake: shards of sadness and rage; numbness and frustration; pieces that break and scatter out of legible chronology. For just under a decade, Glass’s galvanic voice and deft songwriting ignited Crystal Castles, the electronic group whose irreverent, aggressive sound came to be a hallmark of the millennium’s first decade. PREY both furthers and reckons with her work at the helm of that band, a poison ouroboros spitting out its rattle.
In 2014, Glass announced her departure from the band she had fronted since their debut EP Alice Practice came out in 2006, when she was still a teenager. A year after leaving Crystal Castles, she released her first solo single “Stillbirth” and in 2017, she put out her debut self-titled EP. That same year, emboldened by a wave of stories from survivors of abuse, she issued a statement on her website alleging that her former bandmate Ethan Kath had psychologically, physically, and sexually abused her during her time in Crystal Castles. (Kath has denied these allegations; in 2018, he filed a defamation suit that was dismissed on procedural grounds.)
Over the past few years, Glass has steadily worked alongside her partner and producer Jupiter Keyes to complete PREY, which she self-released in mid-February. Meant to be looped from end to beginning, the album fixes an unflappable gaze on the terrifying distortions of trauma. In a voice that surges from a whisper to an impassioned scream, Glass sings from the perspective of both predator and prey. “Don’t tell anyone/ You’re not worth believing,” she seethes on the adrenalized industrial track “PINNED BENEATH LIMBS,” while “EVERYBODY ELSE” sees her recoiling over a fragile music box twinkle: “I don’t wanna be a face/ I don’t wanna have a name.” The harrowing pulse between perspectives quiets with the serene closer “SORROW ENDS,” only to fire up all over again if you follow Glass’s instructions and play the record on repeat.
Over Zoom from her home in the California desert, Glass spoke about the challenges of assuming her own perspective in her music, her decision to part ways with her record label, and the ways interpersonal abuse and institutional exploitation feed each other in a vicious historical cycle.
How has it felt to put PREY//IV into the world?
It’s such a relief. I really wasn’t expecting people to connect with it so much. It is a really weird record. So, mixed feelings because it’s great that people connect with it, but it also enrages me that people connect with it, because they shouldn’t have similar experiences.
What do you mean when you say it’s a weird record?
It’s pretty confrontational. I’ve never been able to settle on a vocal style or genre or anything, so I’ve been experimenting with different sounds and vocal tones. And even just speaking more in a first-person perspective, all that’s weird for me. There was actually a rule in my other band that I could never write from a first-person perspective. As part of my brainwashing or whatever. I thought for years it was corny to express your feelings. Having to talk in metaphors all the time was challenging. I think people didn’t want me to use my own voice.
I feel like 10 or 15 years ago, first-person sincerity was not especially in vogue in certain types of music.
I really feel like things are evolving in a more positive way. I think if a band came out now and the frontperson was a woman who didn’t really speak for years, people would question that. Years ago, nobody had a problem with it. Not nobody, but it was a different time.
Do you see this record as an outgrowth of the EP you put out a few years ago, or is it a new chapter?
To be honest, I don’t feel like I was completely finished with the songs on the EP. I really like it and I’m glad I put it out when I did, but it felt a little bit rushed. I wish I’d had more time. I was kind of going along with what my new label said. They were like, ‘No press, and then you’re going to go on tour with Marilyn Manson, this is a great idea.’ So, yeah. I love those songs. When I listen to them, I want to redo them, honestly. They were around the time I was spending a lot of time reflecting and trying to evolve and get over past traumas. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to make music for a while. Jupiter has been really encouraging. Working with somebody that lets you feel comfortable to experiment without saying nasty comments really does help. Your creativity’s not limited. Now it feels like I can do and say whatever I want.
What are some of the different vocal styles you’ve been playing with?
For years, I did not like my singing voice. But there was a tone that I liked. So just breaking out of being insecure, I guess. I really like the high-pitched, witch-black-metal voice, you know? I have some songs that aren’t on the record that use that. I did my first rap verse for Alice Longyu Gao’s “Legend” and that was really fun. When you stop limiting yourself, who knows where you’ll go creatively?
You’ve done a few different collaborations over the past few years. Are there any techniques or strategies you’ve brought back to your own work?
Yeah. Meeting other artists like Alice Longyu Gao really inspired me. She’s of the up-and-coming generation. I’d never seen any artist self-manage like that. It was really, really inspiring. Just writing radio people, like, ‘Hey, play my songs!’ Not being on a label, there’s no incentivization for media to talk about you. A lot of media is owned by the same source as the labels. It is very much a boys’ club. I don’t think I would have put the record out if I was on a label, to be honest. I just think there are some dinosaurs that need to age out. There’s always going to be powerful men that think they know better than you what you should do in your career and your music. And they don’t fucking know you. It’s very limiting in that sense. That’s why I love Bandcamp and I was happy to be here today. Just being able to equalize the playing field of independent artists who can put their work out on the same platform.
How did you come to the decision to part ways with your label?
It was kind of mutual. I can’t get into the details. I wish it was a clean break. I had to hire a lawyer for a whole year and that put the LP back. Me and Jupe did the record in our basement the same way that we do now, except we were handing it to people whose taste we don’t care about. Sometimes they wouldn’t even write me back. I remember handing in pretty much the same record—I don’t think they even responded. So it was like, what is the point of this? At that point, I had enough money to self-fund, which not everyone has the option of doing. Labels are really just like a bank if you think about it. They choose how to spend your money. You have to pay back all that shit. If you have a cocktail brunch or whatever, every meeting…I seriously would be sitting around going, How many records do I have to sell for this little get-together here? Don’t you dare order that gimlet!
Everything’s an investment in future returns.
You know, capitalism.
It sounds like you were able to take more time with this album.
Definitely more time than we would have hoped to. There was a lot in our way of getting the record finished. I was being legally persecuted by my abuser for a very long time. All that stuff is really taxing. There’s a bureaucracy in creativity. I didn’t start writing music to look over numbers.
Did that extended timeline affect your process at all?
Yeah. It’s just us deciding and talking more directly to fans. Those are the only people that it really affects, us and the fans. Everything else is business. We definitely got to take our time. There are some painstaking songs that I never thought we would finish.
What did it take to finish them?
Just a lot of frustration. That’s not a glamorous answer. I know what the songs are supposed to sound like in my head, and when they don’t sound like that, I’m not going to just be like, oh it’s fine and put it out. I will never do that. That’s probably why things take so long. We actually have written tens of songs, maybe a hundred songs in this period, but PREY is more of a catalog of pain. I feel like it makes sense as a body of work. But we have a lot of other music that I can’t wait to put out.
That’s exciting to hear. You wrote on Twitter that PREY is meant to be looped on repeat. Why did you decide to present it that way?
We scrupulously looked over the order of the songs and we listened to it so many times and we just decided that this takes it on a dark musical journey. At the end, it’s almost a serene feeling, but then it starts up again, and the cycle continues.
That seems to key into some of the themes of the record—the cyclical nature of trauma and healing.
Healing is non-linear. It’s really weird mixing trauma and art and industry and money. That’s again why it’s nice to put it out myself. I don’t know how it would feel marketing these songs that are so personal. That callousness to feelings…I’m done with being around people who don’t care if I’m suffering. And everyone should be. If somebody doesn’t care if you live or die, they don’t care that you’re suffering every day, then do not listen to them. Get those people out of your life. More people than you think will exploit somebody under bad circumstances. Obviously what happened to me is not huge relative to the world, but it’s a reminder that there are a lot of sociopaths out there. And not to trust everyone with the precious jewel that is your art. You’re the one who spent all the time in the studio, you’re the one who wrote it, you know how personal this is and what this particular song means. Honestly, it would kill me to play songs and have somebody stand there and decide if they like it or not. I don’t think we write songs to be popular. We write songs because we have to write songs. We just have to.
It’s hard to bring that to an industry that’s not always interested in that necessity beyond the fact that it produces something to sell.
Yep. Again with the cycle. Another lamb to the slaughter.
Is the Roman numeral in the album title a nod to the naming convention of your previous band?
Yeah, totally. It’s my fourth LP. And I was thinking about how even just me saying that would enrage people I’ve never met, and how ridiculous that is. So yeah. It’s a little cheeky. It’s also “pray for Alice Glass.” Pray for me. But having the Roman numerals in there and having “IV” in there is kind of a cheeky fuck-you. Who’s going to tell me what I can name my own record? It’s going to be me. I’ve been in the game for over 10 years, and I’m proud of the actual work that I did. It’s awkward to talk about, let alone celebrate. But I am proud of the work that I’ve done.
Was writing PREY a way of being in dialogue with former versions of yourself?
Yeah. I think what happened to me is something that frequently happens: being 14 years old from a troubled home and meeting a charming stranger who’s 10 years older than you. Your front cortex isn’t developed fully yet. It’s really hard to make decisions. Especially in a world where going with the flow is encouraged so much. I definitely felt a responsibility to my fans who are predominantly female and looked up to me. I felt like I was misrepresenting myself before. When I was on stage, that’s when I got to express all my anger. But as soon as I would get off stage, I would be in a little box by myself again.
I hope I can help young women recognize red flags, or just think about what they’re stepping into. Just stop to question things. I would like to de-normalize sexualizing teenagers. I remember, in my other band, he would bring up R. Kelly and Aaliyah, because I really liked Aaliyah. Or how the guy in the Rolling Stones married a 14-year-old. These are examples people can use.
I’m an adult now. This shit happened. It’s going to impact me for the rest of my life. But I would love to be able to help stop that cycle in any way—of predators that prey on naïve people.