By: Jessica Nakamoto –
Dance Gavin Dance has never been a group to rest quietly on their laurels. In fact, the California quintet have released seven studio albums since their formation in 2005. Each record unapologetically defies genre labels and ranges anywhere from pop-rock to post-hardcore. In other words, the band has no problem testing the typical boundaries of musical classification. Along with their signature track-to-track variety, Dance Gavin Dance has also experimented with a host of different musicians. With a lineup that has acted as a somewhat revolving door of sorts, consistency, in the past, hasn’t appeared to be the name of the game.
However, despite this, there are two major aspects that have remained constant over the years. The first, is success. Namely, the chart-topping variety. With the majority of the band’s seven studio albums landing in the Billboard 200, Dance Gavin Dance are always a fan favorite.
Second, riding along with this steady stream of success, is the consistent presence of one of the founding members, and guitarist, Will Swan. Swan not only serves as an anchor for the band, but his catchy guitar riffs permeate Dance Gavin Dance’s sound and give their music a youthful and rebellious edge.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Will about the band’s eighth album, Artificial Selection (out June 8th via Rise Records). And no surprise, it contains even more variety than the last! Below, Will gives us the inside scoop into their new album, his favourite tour snacks, Netflix, and more!
Hi Will! Thanks so much for joining me today! I’m very excited to speak with you about your new album. Congratulations on Artificial Selection!
Thank you so much!
Jumping right into the good stuff, in past albums you guys have been known to explore a range of musical styles such as pop-punk and progressive rock. Can fans expect this same kind of variety with Artificial Selection?
Yeah! We have, I think, made the most diverse record we’ve done so far. This album branches out a lot further in each direction than normal. In the past, we’ve always kept the Dance Gavin Dance backbone, post-hardcore, and branched out here and there within songs, but ended up bringing it back. On this album, we let songs go off the deep end in different directions and it has some pretty cool results.
Awesome! With albums, you guys are regularly charting in the Billboard 200 and fans are just eating up all the new material! Do you think this success had any influence on the production process for Artificial Selection?
No, I don’t think so. We always work with Kris Crummett [producer]. We did things a little different this record, but it was just because we wanted to shake things up from a creative standpoint. So, we did drums and guitar with Kris Crummett in Portland, vocals with Erik Ron [producer] in LA, and bass with Drew Elliott [producer] in Sacramento. Everyone kind of chose their producer for their instrument and then we put it all together so that everyone could get a tone they felt really represented themselves.
Were there any lyrical themes or topics in particular that you wanted to focus on with the new material?
No, not at all! We’re not a methods band. We’re not going to come out and hammer people over the head and say, this is what we stand for!(laughs). Every song, we tackle different things. There’s no restrictions on lyrical subject matter. Over the course of our albums, we’ve talked about pretty much everything. We like to make sure that every emotion is represented and whatever the music calls for, because the instrumentals are written first, will be addressed because that gets brought up by the music.
Is there a lot of improvisation that goes on in the studio then?
Well, for instruments, not at all. We have everything written completely before we get in there. But vocally, yeah! I’d say that they try to see what sounds right, because you could get all your vocals good in the studio, and everything doesn’t sound the way you’d thought it would. So, of course, it’s going to betweaked. They do a lot of vocal writing work in the studio while the music is all written up-front.
Looking through the new track list, “Count Bassy” was a title that especially caught my attention. This wouldn’t happen to be a reference to the jazz musician would it?
It is! I named “Count Bassy” because it’s a different song for Dance Gavin Dance for sure! It’s one of the chiller songs on the album, but at the same time, I still feel like it’s kind of heavy. It’s different. There’s a kazoo in it! (laughs) It’s a cool track, probably my favorite song off the new record right now.
It’s funny because I named it “Count Bassy”, and then, a couple weeks later, Jon Mess [unclean vocals] saw a movie on Netflix where there was a fake band named Count Bassy. He almost negated me on naming it because of that! And I was like, “no one is going to watch this shitty movie! (laughs) Let’s just name it Count Bassy!”
(Laughs) How funny! Are you guys big into watching Netflix?
Yeah! For Sure! I don’t have cable, so I just do Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
Is that one of the ways you pass time on the road?
This tour, no. I’m playing in Dance Gavin Dance and then I have my side project, Sianvar [rock band] opening the tour. So, I have no free time to do anything! (laughs)
You also manage Blue Swan Records correct?
I do! I started that maybe around five or six years ago.
Wow! How do you juggle all of that along with the new album and the Secret Band project you have with Matt and Jon?
It just kind of encompasses my life! (laughs) All my life kind of revolves around music, but I like it that way! I’m just one of those people who likes to be in the studio writing stuff all the time. I’m kind of a lone wolf in that way. (Joking) I try and branch out and go have a social life, but then I’ll end up in my studio, working all day like Kanye, and eventually, I’ll just go insane! I’ve got my future planned out!
(Laughs) So talking about studios, I heard Jon has some art skills!
Yeah! Jon also paints on the side.
Do you think he would ever paint one of your album covers?
He did! The first EP, Whatever I Say is Royal Ocean, he did that cover.
Yeah! And then, we found Mattias [artist Mattias Adolfsson], our current artist from Sweden. He did Downtown Battle Mountain[first 2007 album] and we’ve used him ever since. But, Jon did the Secret Band album cover, and he’ll probably do the next one for Secret Band too. We put his artwork to use when we can!
Definitely looking forward to it! As for the music video for the new song, “Midnight Crusade”, I noticed the words, “the future is now” written behind Tilian [clean vocals]. That really seems to reflect the Artificial Selection theme. In your writing process, do the songs inspire the album title, or is the other way around?
The song inspired the album title for sure! As far as subject matter goes, we talk about everything, but there’s also talk about the future. Jon even speaks about artificial intelligence on the record. So, the future, and looking towards that, is big. Even now, there’s all this crazy technology. We’re having breakthroughs almost every week, it seems, and most people don’t even realize the impact this will have on their daily lives. It’s almost like the majority of people are in the dark about how crazy technology has really gotten. That’s definitely a theme that keeps getting brought up.
Speaking about technology, Jon always gets to play these crazy kinds of characters like the robot-human in the video for “Midnight Crusade”. There must be a lot of laughs on set!
Yeah! That music video shoot was insane! It was just as crazy as it looks in real life! It was scary to film honestly! (laughs)
I imagine it would be wild! You mentioned earlier that there were more upcoming videos that will share this same kind of futuristic theme?
We have some more videos that will be coming out! There’s a weird one coming out soon that I’m really stoked about! In my opinion, as far as directorial style of the video, it’s a mixture of Stanley Kubrick [American film director] and David Lynch’s [American filmmaker] styles! It’s really cool! We’re not in it. It’s all actors, but I’m really stoked for that video!
Nice! So, who directs your music videos?
We use a lot of different people! Samuel Halleen’s done three music videos for us now. He’s done “Betrayed by the Game” [2016 album], “Inspire the Liars” [2016 album], and “Midnight Crusade” [from Artificial Selection]. We really like working with him. He’s good, off the wall crazy like us! (laughs) We also started working with Mount Emult. He’s based in LA and did the “Summertime Gladness” [2017 release] video, which was really trippy and crazy! He’s got another video coming out for us soon too!
Both of those guys sort of come up with the ideas themselves. Samuel Halleen will work with us a little bit to refine them. Mount Emult kind of does it all, and then we get it and we’re like, that’s insane! We’ve gotten lucky working with people who are like-minded and have weird visions! (laughs)
That’s awesome! Another one of your new tracks, which also has a music video that I’m really digging, is “Care”!
By most standards, it’s a pretty up-tempo song. But for you guys, it almost seems like one of your more mellow emotional pieces.
Instrumentally, it definitely felt like it was a more mellow, subtler piece. It’s another instance where the music came out and Tilian got it and said, this has to be about emotional remembering and all these things tied to that emotion. The song kind of conveyed that to him. Tilian’s told me that he’ll listen to a song after we give it to him and he’ll draw inspiration about what he wants to talk about based on the emotions that the instrumentals bring up. “Care” is one of those times where this happened.
Was there any particular story or inspiration behind that song?
I’m not one hundred percent sure! (laughs) I don’t think so. It’s more about the general feelings and emotions of past relationships. I know Tilian’s very happy in his relationship now, so I don’t think there’s any particular feeling. I think he’s just using that emotion in the music and writing that way.
Does Tilian do most of the songwriting along with Jon?
Yeah! We do instrumentals first, then we give them to Jon and Tilian. They both write their own stuff, or sometimes they’ll collaborate and write together. Everyone kind of does their own thing. The songs, instrumentally, usually start with me. I’ll make demos. I like to write a whole song, then bring it to the band. I’ll teach it to the band and everyone kind of changes the drums here, changes the base a little bitthere, and it keeps on developing until it becomes completely different from what I thought it would be! That’s always cool and unexpected!
Wow! So, how do you decide which of your guitar pieces make it into Artificial Selection and Dance Gavin Dance versus what goes towards your Secret Band projects?
I like to try and challenge myself. I’ll write something and be like, “I haveto use this for Dance Gavin Dance! It just sound perfect!” I’ll hold onto that riff. On the other hand, I’ll think, “wow! This is tight! But, I know I can keep writing stuff that’s different from this”, so I’ll use that for Secret Band or Sianvar. There’s definitely a conscious decision process every time, trying to figure out what band would fit the riff best. But, if there’s something that’s superawesome, in my opinion, I’ll save it for Dance Gavin Dance because it’s like my baby! (laughs)
I love that! To change gears a little bit, you guys are currently on the fifth stop of your headlining tour supporting the new album! How do you pass the time on the road?
Definitely just hanging out with the guys, practicing guitar, just really normal stuff! Finding good food! (laughs) I have to check out a Whole Foods every couple of days because I’m vegan. There isn’t tons of stuff on the road, so I just grab everything I want and keep it on the bus.
What’s your favorite snack while on tour?
Oh man! I’d say when I find a Yard House [restaurant] it’s always my favorite! Their Gardein [special menu] stuff is great! Although…I’ve heard that they use oil from the other meat, but I don’t know! So, I’m just going to keep eating there and pretend that it’s fine! (laughs)
Well, ignorance is bliss! (laughs) Do you think there are any misconceptions people have about touring?
Oh yeah! For sure! People think it’s all glamourous and all this or all that. There’s a ton! It’s pretty much everything. Especially if you watch a movie, as a rock musician, about a rock star or any touring musician, really. You’re like, this is nothow it really happens! (laughs). So, the public assumes that we live like that, but it’s really not.
My goodness! So, growing up, who inspired you in the music industry?
Well, my first show was Green Day when I was seven years old! Ever since that, I’ve wanted to bein a band! In high school, I took a job placement exam and I found out, by cheating! (laughs) exactly what I needed to score to get “touring musician”! There were around a thousand jobs and they made no sense! Like, how are you supposed to know a job match by looking at a score? But, anyway, I found out the exact score I needed, and answered only the questions I knew for sure, to get that score, and I got it! (laughs) When I got the paper back, it said, “you need to be a touring musician” and my friend was like, that suits you! So, I kind of knew at a really young age, what I wanted to do.
How funny! Being on tour nowadays must be a pretty unreal experience! What kind of responses have the new songs gotten so far from fans on tour?
Yeah! Some people are pretty…aggressive! (laughs) Most people are really awesome, I love talking to fans! Our meet and greets are great because people just get to ask us questions they’ve been wanting to get off their chest. So, interacting with fans is awesome! It’s just, this tour, because I have to do the double sets, sometimes I’m in a hurry to get places. People are like “Will! Will! Will!” as I’m walking by them and then I see on Swan Posting [fan group] the next day people posting, “I saw Will and he’s such an asshole! He walked right by us!” and I’m like, “Oh no! I had to get somewhere!” I see that all the time!
Yeah, I heard you guys have a pretty enthusiastic Facebook group!
For sure! It’s nuts! We’re getting memed all the time! (laughs)
Are there any emerging fan favorite songs from the new Artificial Selection record?
My favorite right now is “Count Bassy” and a close second is probably “The Rattler”, but it’s constantly changing because the new record has got so many different styles. It kind of changes depending on whatever mood I’m in.
Alright! So, to finish things up, I usually do some fill in the sentences. Want to play along?
My favorite animal is…
The song I can’t stop listening to is…
Oh damn! The new Iceage single! I can’t remember what it’s called, but it’s on my Spotify playlist! (laughs) Iceage is an awesome band! [Iceage New single – “Take it All”]
If I wasn’t in a band, I would be a…
Ohhh I like it!
Last one! If I could travel anywhere, I would go to…
They pyramids. That’s the one place I haven’t been but really want to go!