Dance Gavin Dance // Will Swan

Will Swan and Dance Gavin Dance are living on a real high right now. 13 years in and eight albums down, the American band are experiencing some of their largest growth, biggest fan love and best general listener attention to date. This is largely in part to 2015’s ‘Instant Gratification’ LP being a damned solid listen, but also in major thanks to the grand material from their latest body of work, the super impressive ‘Artificial Selection’ – perhaps the finest DGD release to date. (Well, it’s my favourite record of theirs, anyway). For this album’s touring cycle, the Sacramento act are heading back down to Australia with Veil Of Maya in 2019, and that means that interview times are aplenty. So despite battling low temperatures and phone call issues while out in Minnesota, the DGD guitarist spoke to me about how they selected the songs for the reprisal section of ‘Evaporate’, the beliefs and lyrical content behind ‘Artificial Selection’, Nail The Mix showcasing the ‘Young Robot’ session, and their continual work with Kris Crummett. Take a look within! 

Will, one of my favourite songs off ‘Artificial Selection’ is the closer, ‘Evaporate’, particularly because it has that awesome reprisal section at the end. I’d love to know how the band vetted these older songs to be used in the outro? Was it based off of what you guys know the fans love, the streaming stats, or maybe just what you guys liked personally?

Oh dude, it was difficult. It took a couple reworkings for sure. Tilian [Pearson, singer] and Jon [Mess, screamer] spent a while figuring out out what lyrically and melodically worked well for the story that they wanted to tell. It took a few work-throughs and a couple days of work shopping it to get it to how it is now. It wasn’t easy [laughs].

I bet! The first time I heard it, it kinda blew my mind; just this great look back on where you’ve been as a band. Though I did think it was interesting how some people online thought that this was the end of the band, that this album was the last one. Simply because of how “final” ‘Evaporate’ felt, like it was some swan song. 

I thought that was really funny too! When people started commenting that, I just wondered how they thought we were breaking up via this song and record. As you said, I guess it just sounds so final. Yet that’s what we wanted for the album’s last track; a look back on our whole career as well as our future and what we wanna be. We even incorporated Andrew Wells on the track too, who has been our touring guitarist for the last few years. It’s a nod to the past and signalling that in the future, we’ll probably continue to break down style walls and do what we wanna do.

Hey, no complaints here. While I’m not a fan of the earlier DGD records, ‘Artificial Selection’ is by far my favourite album of yours. It feels so much more complete, it just feels so much… better.

I think so too, thank you man. With Tilian so far, we’ve really reigned in where DGD has been and we wanted to represent that in the song [‘Evaporate’]. It’s a representation of the whole Tilian era and moving beyond where we were with Jonny [Craig] and Kurt [Travis]. We’ll always keep changing and surprising our fans.

Nice. Also on ‘Evaporate’, there’s a lyric that really caught my eye, and that’s this line from Jon: “run into a smack“. Maybe I’m reading too far between the lines here, but is that about Jonny and his, shall we say, certain issues over the years and his time in DGD?

It might be! I don’t know, as Jon’s lyrics are always so layered. Even being in the band with him, I’ll sit down with him and talk about the lyrics and there’ll be all of these weird little reference to things in his personal life and pop culture. Some of it sounds super crazy, but it will have a rhyme and reason. He just likes for other people to make up their own meanings. But he does veil a lot of personal stuff in there.

Well, also on Jon’s lyrics, people like to rag on them as just rambling, but this album especially has some biting word-play and deeper meaning in there. Like the lyrics during the breakdown at the end of ‘Midnight Crusade’ – “if you feel like you’ve died, show them you have/give up your life for the virtual clap” – as well as the “don’t meet your heroes, we’re all shit” theme behind ‘Gospel Burnout’. I find that there’s a lot of pessimism on this record born from how long DGD has been in this industry, as well as all of the bullshit you guys have endured. 

Yeah! I’d say there’s a good amount of pessimism and social commentary in there, as well as the opposite too. Just that some of the darker sounding songs need lyrics that explore darker themes and personal things. Other times, it’s just a banging song about being happy and having a good time. We definitely do like to dive into all manner of extreme emotions.

And I do appreciate the layers there, man. Also, with ‘Bloodsucker’ and with Tilian basing it around I, Tonya, and at virtue-signalling and victim-roles, is that something that you personally feel the same way about social media and politics, or maybe you have a different take?

Hmmm, it really depends. I don’t really follow any party, as I’m someone who likes to look at every situation presented and find solutions from there. I also don’t think a solution needs to be based on what your own personal belief structure is. That’s a difficult question to answer, man.

For sure, Will. I also do get the feeling that you maybe don’t wanna say anything too harsh or out-there in your own beliefs that’ll then get you hounded over on Twitter.

[Laughs] I don’t think I have any crazy or radical ideas that will make people go “OH MY GOD”. Sometimes, it can be appropriate, other times not so much, It’d have to be on an individual basis and how you judge the situation at hand. Personally, I don’t like putting blanket statements or blanket solutions over complex and nuanced problems; it’s a more individual thing. It can be so much bigger.

One recent thing I thought that was very cool was how Nail The Mix released the multi-track sessions for ‘Young Robot’, and having Kris Crummett give a mix treatment for the song. So, the first thing I noticed in it was just how many stacked guitar parts you personally had on that track, in order to create that “full” sound.

Definitely! Kris is a studio wizard, man. We come in with these songs ready to go and then he steps in and says “maybe we should double this” or “we should record this part this certain way“. We use his box of tricks to make our songs the most polished and the most listenable versions, so that the record comes across the way that we want it too. What he does to get the sounds that we end up getting is amazing to me. He uses his skills and knowledge from all of his producing experiences so well – he just has this producer ear that’s on another level of hearing. He’ll hear every imperfection and make you do take after take, even if it sounds fine to your ears, and it’s that attention to detail that really sets him apart.

I love his work on most records he does, honestly. Kris is probably one of the best producers and engineers around for this kind of music. The other thing here I wanted to ask is with Nail The Mix getting that session for their unboxing and for their viewers, is that something that DGD got a say in? Or is it mainly down to Rise Records and Kris, as he’s the one who goes on their stream and breakdowns the song down and mixes it? 

Oh, Kris actually asked us about this beforehand, and we are all about it! Giving people a sneak peak about how the music is made and treated is really cool, I think.

Agreed! Lastly, Veil Of Maya supporting you guys in Australia? I didn’t expect that package at all, but it’s a great one nonetheless. But with touring the ‘Artificial Selection’ material lately, are there any songs that you’ve had to really work on outside of the studio so you can re-create them live without any hassle?

Yeah, for me, it’s ‘Son Of Robot’. It’s a lot of fun, but every part is like a finger twister on guitar. Chaining them altogether took me quite a lot of practice honestly, just to get it perfect and make it work live. I put a lot of work into that tone and it feels really good to pull it off every night.

Fuck yeah dude! Does that happen to you a lot in DGD; writing these parts in the studio, tracking them, and then having to build them up in practice in order to play them live properly? 

Oh, it happens to me all the time [laughs]. That’s actually how I get better – I’ll write things that are a little too hard for me. So I drill into them, practice them hard, and that’s actually how I progress. As I never took lessons, as I taught myself, so when I get an idea and I can’t play it, that’s how I get better.

Catch Dance Gavin Dance touring Australia in 2019 with Veil Of Maya – dates and tickets here. Read my review of ‘Artificial Selection’ here.

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