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Glass Spells Ascend from DIY Spaces to Mega Festivals

The 10-year journey behind the San Diego–based duo’s ’80s-inspired goth-pop sorcery
Glass Spells, San Diego band
Courtesy of Glass Spells

Success as a musical artist is a highly subjective thing. It’s not something you can necessarily determine by Spotify streams or licensing agreements; brandy glasses full of M&Ms or hot tubs full of Schedule II substances; record contracts or units moved—which in themselves are measures whose definitions have changed a bit in recent years. 

Perhaps it’s up to the artist, then, to decide when they’ve reached the next echelon. For San Diego synth-pop duo Glass Spells, it came down to a moment.

The band opened up Huntington Beach’s Darker Waves Festival in the fall of 2023, performing for tens of thousands of people and sharing the stage with some of the most legendary new wave and post-punk bands, including New Order, Echo & the Bunnymen, and Tears for Fears.

“[I] felt like, ‘Is this real life?’” says keyboardist Anthony Ramirez. “I was blown away. Just being around all the other artists—walking to your trailer and [seeing] all these other musicians, it’s like, ‘Whoa. I never expected to be near these people.’”

Glass Spells’ ascent to this stage, crossing paths with new wave and goth royalty, was a long time coming. Ramirez first launched the group back in 2013 with an entirely different lineup and a somewhat darker sound, leaning heavily on the more pronounced gloom of post-punk groups like Joy Division. (The genre descriptor the band used at the time was “disco goth,” which also became the name of the still-ongoing, seasonal, curated event that they launched.)

But when the members of that version of Glass Spells eventually parted ways, Ramirez saw a new opportunity for the band and asked his friend Tania Costello if she was interested in making music together. After an inaugural trial run in a DIY performance space in San Diego in early 2019, the duo hit the ground running, quickly building up an audience that connected with their goth-tinged, synth-driven pop, carrying the influence of some of their favorite artists from the ’80s. 

“We overlap in our love of ’80s music,” says Costello, the band’s vocalist. “That’s definitely where we connect the most. [Ramirez] comes from more of a Siouxsie and the Banshees background—more punk in a way. And then I’m over here with the Cyndi Lauper, Human League side of the ’80s.”

In 2021, Glass Spells released their debut album, Shattered, a super catchy, beat-driven set of pop songs that pair the immersive melancholy of The Cure with the pop immediacy of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark—or for those born after 1981, a little bit of M83 or Nation of Language. The group followed that album with their 2023 single “Hechizos,” a bright and danceable synth-pop anthem draped in neon and featuring Costello singing lyrics in Spanish. As of yet, they haven’t announced a new album to go along with it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not in the works. “We’re cooking,” Costello says.

And they’ve been busy nevertheless. Despite leveling up to bigger audiences and stages with more impressive square footage, the duo remain almost totally DIY behind the scenes, handling most of their business affairs on their own (though they do have a booking agent), including social media. Their 131,000-follower (at time of publishing) Instagram feed is rife with videos depicting the duo performing their dreamy pop anthems in front of familiar San Diego locales such as Chicano Park and Balboa Park, as well as in cities they’ve played on tour. 

“It’s been a learning experience,” Ramirez says of their do-it-yourself approach. “We didn’t really think about all the admin work that goes into it. It’s a lot of emailing back and forth and messages, and it can get overwhelming on top of trying to play your shows.” 

Courtesy of Glass Spells

Fresh off a turn at Pasadena festival Cruel World (where they shared a venue with Siouxsie Sioux), Glass Spells is now embarking upon a headlining tour that will see them deliver a hometown show at the Observatory North Park. The bar for success is likely to creep ever higher, but they’re still taking the moment to enjoy where they are, to savor the memory of that sea of faces at their afternoon set at Darker Waves.

“We didn’t think many people would come out, because, normally, people might think, ‘Oh, I’ll wait until the sun goes down,’” Costello says. “But we looked out into the crowd, and it kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger as we were playing. People were singing along in the crowd, and the front row had quite a few fans wearing Glass Spells t-shirts. Even speaking about right now just gives me so much euphoria.”

Glass Spells perform at The Observatory North Park on Saturday, July 20.

By Jeff Terich

Jeff Terich is the music critic behind the blog The Setlist. His writing has been published in Stereogum, Bandcamp Daily, American Songwriter, Fodor's and Vinyl Me Please.

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