Alice Glass sits gracefully on a sumptuous couch in the living room of her Rosedale Airbnb, the décor entirely white save for the wine she’s anxious about spilling.
The swanky accommodation for her brief hometown return – marking Glass’s first Toronto show since announcing her 2014 departure from electro-punk outfit Crystal Castles, which she co-founded – is a far cry from the tiny, squalid backstage area at the Mod Club, where she’ll soon be joined by old friends who’ve come to swig whisky and behold Glass’s mighty resurrection.
The Toronto-raised Glass, 29, says her long-awaited homecoming is “a weird mix of excitement and dread.”
She chose this fancy rental home in a quiet midtown neighbourhood because memories of trauma don’t lurk there as they do in her old haunts downtown. Last October, the singer released a lengthy statement detailing allegations of physical and emotional abuse as well as sexual assault, which she says were inflicted on her by former Crystal Castles bandmate Ethan Kath. Glass alleges that Kath began abusing her when she was 15 and he was 25.
Kath, whose real name is Claudio Palmieri, denies the allegations and has not been charged with any crime. He is currently under investigation by the Toronto Police Sex Crimes Unit after additional women came forward with allegations of their own. According to a December story in the Toronto Star, at least three women have reported Kath to the police for claims of sexual assault.
Kath, 40, and Glass met in the early 2000s, when Glass was in the 10th grade. They went on to form a raucous, untamed musical duo known for their wildly vivacious live performances. In 2008, Glass infamously climbed a speaker stack on stage at England’s Glastonbury Festival, prompting crew members to temporarily shut down the show. In 2011, she performed on crutches, having just broken her ankle.
In February, a defamation lawsuit filed on behalf of Kath against Glass and her partner, musician Jupiter Keyes, was dismissed by the Los Angeles Superior Court on procedural grounds. Last week, his appeal to have the case reinstated was also denied, and Glass was awarded nearly US$21,000 in lawyer fees.
During the heyday of Crystal Castles, Glass’s image, moored by an apparent reticence for talking to the audience or the press, was cool and unfeeling. She was eerie and enigmatic, seemingly anesthetized. But the scattering of songs she’s released since departing the band – a self-titled EP put out last summer, a single titled Cease and Desist released last January and her very first solo single Stillbirth, released in 2015 – reveal sagacity and depth previously withheld.
“There was something so one-dimensional about the role that I was playing before – not needing to do interviews or have friends or have a phone,” she says now. “I was presenting as so tough that I’d gone full circle and become inhuman. What I was going through personally was very destructive for me. I wanted to be able to express the anger that I was feeling, but I also wanted to open up and be vulnerable.”
On stage at the Mod Club later that night in Toronto, Glass belts out the lyrics to Natural Selection, the song’s chorus an agonizing plea for someone to get off of her. “That was a song about rape,” she tells the crowd.
“I think of all the women who have influenced me, it’s always been from having a deep understanding of who they are,” she says a few hours before her show. “That’s something I never portrayed. I never felt like I was being completely sincere. I just showed this one side of myself that I think was extremely toxic. So I wanted people to know that the person they thought they knew was somewhat of an illusion. Someone you might think is beyond being sensitive could also be extremely depressed and held down.”
Glass usually stays up all night, a pattern she implemented as a way to hide from people – not to isolate herself per se but to avoid trying to function while inhabiting the smoldering remains of trauma. She reads Sylvia Plath over and over again, and watches too many horror movies.
“I’d wake up and watch Halloween,” she says. “I got obsessed with bad news the first couple of years [after leaving Crystal Castles]. Watching videos of people dying. Dark stuff. If I heard about a plane crash, I’d immediately go and try to find footage of it. I know it sounds awful. It is awful. It helped me cope.”
“I still have a lot of anxiety,” she continues. “I’m still suffering from depression. I still get scared in public spaces. But on stage – it’s cliché – I can do whatever I want. That has always been a true expression to me, even though I didn’t always get to feel sincere about it.”
Standing atop a bass drum howling, “Waiting, waiting, waiting for you to die” (from Stillbirth), Glass is a beast. In private, tears fill her eyes when we talk about her most recent single, Cease and Desist. “I was thinking about the other women who came forward,” she says of writing it. “I was imagining their faces. We have so much in common that all of us combined are somewhat stronger. I wanted to remind them of that. And I wanted to remind myself of that.”
Through it all, Glass has been writing, “trying to become a complete person again” and working toward the release of a full-length album under her own name. Her work is the fruition of a gradual healing process.
“It’s extremely rewarding to be able to play songs that I wrote in my basement that are so personal to me, and to have people respond in the way that they have been,” she says. “I really was not expecting people to be singing along to Without Love. But people knew all the words. I almost don’t know how to explain the level of connection I feel to what I’m doing.”
At her inaugural headlining show in Los Angeles last fall, fans decorated the stage with white roses to symbolize a new beginning. On her hand is a new tattoo of the same.
“I’m living a life that I never thought I would have. I just need to step into it completely,” she says.
With that, Glass gets up from the white couch, walks across the white carpet and past the white walls to go and put her makeup on, to look into the mirror and see a person at last becoming complete.