Glass Cases on Growing Pains, Dark Uke Songs

Josh Kice
Glass Cases is an alternative-indie band based in Fort Collins.
Glass Cases vocalist Alex Van Keulen and guitarist Austin Seifert played soccer in college but quit once they graduated. Needing something to fill the void left by their former favorite pastime, they found music.

Keulen and Seifert released a self-produced, sixteen-track album in September 2017. On the night of its release, they met their current drummer, Cameron Greene.

Over the past six months, the three bandmembers became Glass Cases, an alt-indie band out of Fort Collins. They've been working on a new EP and album, the former comprising six songs from the self-produced album that they have improved upon by adding dynamic layers, like Greene's live drumbeats. The theme of their new album is growing up, a fitting subject, as they're all trying to find their footing post-graduation.

We sat down with all three to discuss the theme of their new album and what they have learned while making music together over the past year.

Westword: Tell us about the album that's in progress. 

Alex Van Keulen: The theme is about growing up and becoming an adult — how crappy that can be, but also how rewarding that can be. All of the songs circle around that theme. That’s a big thing that we enjoy; it’s so cool to listen to an album that has a theme and an overall purpose instead of just a bunch of disjointed songs.

Austin Seifert: It’s going to reflect where we are in our lives right now. When we write, we write about the experiences we go through. The past sixteen songs we recorded were from when we first started playing music to now, so it has that range of experiences. But now, graduating from college, getting a job and figuring out, “Okay, what am I going to do with my life?” — we’re all in the same spot. We’re all 23, just trying to figure out what we’re going to do. That’s where all the lyrical motivation was coming from.

Cameron Greene: Being real with the crappy parts about [growing up] but using it as a cathartic method, like, okay, there can be joy, and it’s good in the end and kind of working through it.

Does every song explore a different aspect of growing up or a feeling?

Greene: It’s not super-specifically themed, just more on general ideas and components. For example, I wrote a song that was about my relationship with my brother and what it looks like as he’s still in college and I’m leaving him behind.

Van Keulen: The one song we have recorded professionally is called “Welcome Mat,” which is about me living in a single-bedroom apartment and how challenging that was living by myself for the first time. It was not fun at all. I know that’s totally personal, but I just didn’t enjoy it.

Seifert: I have one called “Growing Up.” I wrote part of it on my birthday, just because it was my 23rd and I was by myself the whole day because everyone was so busy.

What do you think you learned from the experience of self-producing an album? How did that prepare you for now?

Seifert: There is so much that goes into it, the gear and equipment. … We’re proud of what we made, but working with someone who knows what they’re doing just makes it ten times better.

Greene: We’re learning a lot.

Van Keulen: There are techniques we never would’ve known about that make a song so much better and just brings out good qualities. But also, self-producing, if we hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t be nearly as good of music producers and musicians as we are now. Now we can make a whole demo for a song that is absolutely beautiful, because we can instill the techniques that we’ve learned in the studio and re-create it. It’s pretty valuable to be self-sufficient. You have to go through that learning period.

click to enlarge The band utilizes a ukulele to add a different, unique layer to its alternative sound. - JOSH KICE
The band utilizes a ukulele to add a different, unique layer to its alternative sound.
Josh Kice
Was part of that learning to work together with a drummer?

Greene: It worked out really well because the music that we make is similar to the music I already listen to. Alex and I have a lot of the same bands that we really enjoy listening to. My ideas for songs matched up with what they wanted the songs to be like anyway. I think we just got lucky that I fit pretty well into the band without trying to change it or anything. I just tried to bring my skills in, and that just added value to it, which was really cool.

All three of us have a little bit different sounds of music, but we bring it together and combine. [Austin] will bring punkier components or maybe orchestral with the piano. I like messing around with percussion, and Alex is very melodic. We combine all those things to make the song. All three of us do parts of writing in the songs, not just our individual instruments. It’s really neat to see all three brains come together.

How would you describe your sound currently?

Seifert: For me, personally, I think we found the Glass Cases sound. We defined our sound through this EP that is coming out. With this new album, people will hear, “Oh that’s Glass Cases.” It’s just so distinct and different from the majority.

Greene: It fits in the alt-pop genre, but it’s hard to compare.

Van Keulen: We [describe it] as “uke-synth.” People find that interesting because it sounds funny. It's an interesting combination; it draws people in.

I think of a singer-songwriter. That's the association I have with it.

Greene: For a ukulele band, we’re bigger and darker. Because usually ukulele songs are happy.

Van Keulen: It’s a very weird dichotomy using a ukulele that’s so bright, and we have pretty intense lyrics.

Greene: But it’s still accessible. It’s not super-niche.

Van Keulen: One thing we’ve learned is that the ukulele blends with the entire production. We have piano, synth and bass. All of it blends together as one sound, which I think is a better technique than having something stand out so much where it’s like, “Alright, that’s definitely ukulele.” Sometimes it’s hard to tell there is ukulele in there. But we make it obvious, depending on the song. But it’s one giant, symphonic production.

Glass Cases at the Spring Launch, 6 p.m. on Friday, March 30, Downtown Artery, 254 Linden Street, Fort Collins, 970-286-2887, $10-$12.