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Interviews

Interview: Dance Gavin Dance Talks “Afterburner”, Livestreams, and Meeting Gavin

By: Jessica Nakamoto –

Following the physical release of their ninth studio album, Afterburner, Sacramento’s Dance Gavin Dance have once again retuned to the top of the charts, a testament to the band’s fans-first mentality.

With the pandemic having created logistical issues for their new album roll-out, the post-hardcore outfit could have easily chosen to delay Afterburner’s release. However, delighted with the group’s decision to deliver the album at the original time and to stagger the digital and physical releases, fans have flocked to show their support for the album, lifting it to #1 on the Rock, Hard Rock, Digital, Alternative, Independent, Current, and Billboard Top Album for the digital release alone.

Complete with thirteen new tracks, Afterburner is a treat for the quintet’s longtime audience who saw the band flex their creative muscles, flaunting new elements such as Spanish lyrics, the return of the Will Swan rap, and bits of electronic drums, all still while remaining characteristically DGD.

Musical chameleons of sorts, vocalists Tilian Pearson and Jon Mess, guitarist and vocalist Will Swan, drummer Matt Mingus, and bassist Tim Feerick, are beloved by fans for their fearlessness in flirting with new sounds and pushing the boundaries of experimental post-hardcore. Yet, this was not all that was new for the ever-adapting group.

Check out our brand new interview below with Matt about everything Afterburner, playing livestream concerts, the unveiling of Gavin himself, and more!

I believe the last time we spoke with you guys was right before Artificial Selection dropped. Even with the quarantine, the band has been very busy! I’m excited to chat with you about the new album, the release show and everything else you have going on!

Yes! So am I. Even though it’s been a few months of quarantine, a lot has happened and I’m just trying to stay busy.

How has lockdown been for you so far? Everyone safe, happy?

It’s been going good! Just working on staying productive and doing what we can without being able to play actual live shows. I’ve been chilling! It’s been nice for the home life. I’m getting stuff done around the house and I actually got married!

Wow! Congratulations!

Thank you! That was a whole story in itself! (laughs) Obviously, the original wedding plans got cancelled due to COVID, but we still decided to do a small backyard wedding the actual day we wanted to get married. It ended up being a really nice time! So, everything happens for a reason.

I can’t imagine planning something like that even under normal circumstances. That must have been wild! 

Yeah! (laughs) With the original place that we were going to have our wedding, we had a wedding planner and all that. It was really cut and dry, and then all of a sudden, at the last minute we had a total change in plans. It was stressful, but I think it turned out really nice. It was smaller and very intimate with close family. My wife and I were talking and we couldn’t imagine what it would have been like if the original one-hundred-fifty-person wedding were to have happened because we were so tired! (laughs)

Well, milestones all around! (laughs) Congrats on DGD X as well, that’s excellent!

Thank you!

After the physical release, this is the second time this album cycle that you guys have hit #1 on the Alternative, Current Independent, Rock, etc. charts. Was this something that you saw coming after the digital-only release? 

No, not at all! (laughs) To be honest, it totally slipped my mind that it was even a possibility of us charting a second time for the same album, so I was surprised that it did so good! It definitely sold more physical copies than I personally anticipated. That’s always nice. We love our fans and that they usually like to collect the different vinyls and variants. For a lot of people, it’s a huge hobby. It’s pretty neat!

Do you collect yourself?

You know what? I actually don’t. I have all the DGD vinyls and related projects and I say all the time, “I need to get a turntable” and start listening to vinyls!” But I’m a sucker and just use Spotify on my phone! (laughs)

I’m more of a digital person as well! (laughs) But a part of the physical release that got me really excited, was the exclusive Target CD variant which included an instrumental version of the album!

I read that you guys had previously described Afterburner as very technical. What is the process like creating the instrumental versions?

It’s basically the same process for every record. Every song in its own way is different and has its own unique process of how it came to be. Will Swan will write the guitar part and kind of have a general layout of the song and then he’ll bring it to us. Then we’ll all add to it. I’ll add my flair on the drums and Tim Feerick will add on the bass.

Other times we’ll just show up and write with each other and riff off each other and then we’ll be like, “oh, that sounds good” and work on a song part-by-part together.

Sometimes we’ll work with other people like Martin Bianchini. I think he’s been on the last five records now. He’s also a songwriter for Secret Band. It’s cool to have him on some DGD tracks, but it usually ends up being the heavier ones.

Then, after we get a batch of songs, we’ll listen to it and decide what the record is kind of lacking. If it’s missing a heavier song, we’ll write a heavier one to try and fill that void. It’s nice that our fans allow us to experiment with different genres like the “Calentamiento Global” song with that whole Latin vibe. I just feel lucky that we’re able to mess around with shit like that and people don’t get too offended and say, “oh, these guys completely changed their sound”. Our fans totally understand. We like to experiment with a couple of songs and we still try to keep the fans happy on most of the record.

Dance Gavin Dance’s new album, Afterburner, is out now.

I enjoyed the Latin flair in “Calentamiento Global” and the funky trap-like elements in “Into the Sunset”. That even had some electronic drums, right?

Yeah! And that’s the first time we’ve ever done something like that. It was tight! I’ve always been a fan of maybe tastefully throwing a little bit in, so it was cool to do that for a song. I think I could definitely see us doing that again going forward and utilizing it in the future. Obviously, not all the time, but a little bit!

Where do you pull the inspiration from when you’re doing a Latin song or going for an electronic vibe for example? Did you have to get into a different mindset for those?

I think each member pulls their inspiration from so many different influences as far as genres go. I was always in a band growing up playing all sorts of different pieces, Latin being one of them. That’s why I always love throwing that type of stuff in. It’s easy for me to just flip that switch and go into that vibe. Electronic and more simplistic stuff actually ends up being more challenging for me, sitting back and not going crazy and just chilling. I’ve been trying to work on that over the years with some songs, not trying to be the main focus point and holding the beat down! (laughs)

With Afterburner, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t heard it because as far as the order goes, the track drums go first and then everything else kind of comes together. I won’t hear the songs for a month or two! (laughs) I have to wait like everybody else!

It’s cool to hear the album all slowly come together. Every day it sounds a little bit better and better as different songs get done. That’s what’s neat about putting out the instrumental version with Target. We write all the music instrumentally first and then add the vocals on top. My wife actually picked up a copy from Target a couple of days ago for me as a gift! So now I have a version of the instrumental too!

(laughs) I probably own a total of three CD’s between friends’ records, and of course, Artificial Selection, but I think I’m going to have to go out and pick up this instrumental for sure!

Yeah, do it! (laughs) That’s so funny because that sounds really similar to my collection. It seems like it’s all friend’s bands that we’ve toured with. But, like we said earlier, it’s because we’re digital people these days. Everyone’s on Spotify. It’s just easy since it’s all right there.

Speaking of friends, this record also includes a ton of collaborations ranging from Marc from Veil of Maya to Johnny from Bilmuri. How does this change the dynamic, especially since a lot of times, instrumentals are written first? Did they send in their parts or were they in the studio with you all?

It was great! With Marc, we’ve been touring heavily with Veil of Maya the last few years. We just get along with them really well. And even though they’re a little heavier, it still works with our fan base. So, we’d been talking about doing this for a while. We actually flew Marc out here for the weekend to write that track with us. That was fun because we got to hang out! Usually, people just come in and do their parts or do it in their own home studio and send it over. But he came in town to write the song with us and we always have a good time together.

That song turned out fun because we had anticipated that Marc would do some crazy shredding stuff like he does with Veil of Maya, but he took the opportunity to not do all that because he does it with so many of his other projects. I think it made for a really cool song!

For the one with Johnny, it’s funny because I was familiar with Bilmuri, but I didn’t know who was in the band. They were like, “this is the singer, we met him at a show”, and I was like “woah! Small world!”

I actually know Johnny from when he was in the band Attack Attack! but had no idea that this was the same person. (laughs) Tillian is a huge fan of Bilmuri, so when we were throwing back some different ideas for some vocal guest features, Tillian was really persistent about having Johnny on it and I think he did a great job! Especially for that track. It suits the vibe really well.

We hadn’t done a vocal feature in a while. I know we did one with Kurt Travis on the last record, but we don’t do that too often. It was neat to collaborate with a larger range of artists. I don’t think you’d expect us to do a collab with some of them, so I love that kind of stuff!

I remember thinking it was going to be hard to follow up “Evaporate” because it was such a smashing success, but then to close this record with “Into the Sunset” with the vocal feature and the return of the Will Swan rap was epic!

Yes! That’s another vocal feature. I forgot about that! Will hasn’t rapped on an album in a couple of records. It’s hard for me to keep track. We’ve got too much shit out! (laughs)

You can pull deep cuts forever!

Dude, we can! And we have. There’s hella songs! I don’t think we’ll ever put them out, so fans don’t get all excited, but there are actually two songs that didn’t make it on this record, so who knows! (Jokes) Maybe one day, we’ll be bored and all dried with creativity and we’ll just use this old shit. But in the meantime, Will Swan just keeps the good stuff flowing so there’s no need to touch any of that stuff! (laughs)

Love it! (laughs) In the meantime, I was excited to see that one of my personal favorites from the record, “One In A Million” just got its own music video last week. It has a different animation style compared to the robot videos. Is this something that we’ll see more of going forward? 

I actually don’t know! We wanted to do something different animation wise. The people who created the animation for the video had done a ton of really cool projects and surprising stuff. It was like “woah! This resumé is crazy!” So, I personally didn’t know what to expect. They had been working on it for several months and I had been told what the animation was like, but I hadn’t actually seen it. I only saw it a couple of weeks before it came out for everyone else.

It’s definitely a little weird! (laughs) It’s a unique video, but it suits the song and I really like that the video has a cute little story line of this guy going off and trying to be a better person. It’s cool! To be honest, I have no idea if we can expect to see more of that kind of animation in the future or if was just a one-off. But I do know that we would love to work with the artists again because they did a really great job with all the creative shit!

I know a lot of fans are super curious, is this Gavin before he turns into the robot bull we see on the album cover?

You know, that might be part of the story! A lot of that, we kind of freestyle and make it up as we go along! (laughs) Somehow, it’s worked out and we’ve kept the story going and kept it interesting.

I’m stoked we finally got to meet Gavin. He looked really neat on the livestream poster too!

Oh yeah! There was a large discussion that we had and we decided to introduce him to the public. I think that poster turned out real cool! So did the livestream. That was our first time doing something like that.

It was a fun learning experience for us. After reading the comments and watching the performance for review… it sounds like we’re a football team! (laughs)…after watching it, we definitely learned what to do next time. The do’s and the don’ts. Another livestream is something we’d like to do in the future. Now we know a few things that’ll make it a little better, we’re look forward to doing it again for sure!

I know Tilian just tweeted just a couple hours ago and asked “if we streamed another set, would you want it to be a fan voted full catalogue, all Afterburner, all Mothership, or Headstrong 12 times”. What are your thoughts on a set?

Oh jeez! (laughs) You know, I’m out of that Twitter world, so I just hear about all the silly Trapt drama from the outside. I don’t actually follow it. But, you know, minus the last option, Tilian’s tweet is actually pretty accurate because that’s where we’re at right now. We want to do another live-stream. But what do we do? The set that we did already was going to be for the headliner that got cancelled. And that was actually a fan-voted set, minus the new songs. Everything else, the fans had voted on, and they were the top picks.

But now we’re like, “do we do another one of those, or do we do an album playthrough?” So I don’t know! I think we’re going to do what Tilian’s already kind of doing, get a general kind of consensus of how the fans on the internet feel. I guess that’s what’s nice about being on Twitter and things like that. Being able to connect with your fans and personally ask them what they want. Because we’re always down to switch it up, and we do a lot of this for the fans anyway. We want to keep them happy.

Is there a song off of Afterburner that you’re most excited to play for fans once concerts are back up and running again? 

Yes! “One In A Million”! I know we did it on the livestream, but there’s two parts in that song which were really difficult for me to record. I practiced them a bunch, and I got it all ready, and then the tour got cancelled! So, it’s tight that I can play that stuff easily now. That always feels good. It’s just a fun song. It makes me smile while I’m playing the chorus.

I can’t wait to hear it when you guys are back on tour!

I know! It’s so funny, we got, I can’t say too much, but we got initial tour dates for somewhere in the world in the next couple of years. It was like, man this is so weird approving this stuff that’s so far away, and we’re like “fingers crossed that it happens”. (Laughs) It sucks, I hope things get better and back to normal fairly soon. I was so bummed we were there to load into that first show at the Palladium, and all this shit went down and it became real.

Agreed! Well, one of my last questions for you Matt, is how are you staying creative at home? Are you and the band working on any more projects or material?

Honestly yeah! Everything you said! We’re back to work, we’re trying to figure out what to do next for our livestream. That will be cool to determine what songs I need to start practicing and working on from our older catalogue. And I know Will has been busy writing stuff, and I’m sure we’ll get back in the motion of working on new stuff.

That was one thing we discussed. Do we let this stuff slow us down, in our cycle of how we like to write and record things? It’s basically, every year or year and a half. But we decided no, we’re just going to keep the same momentum going. We’re going to work on new music and possibly another live album or something along those lines. But we’re definitely trying to stay busy! And I think the same goes for our other projects.

I keep talking to Martin [Bianchini] and Jon [Mess]. We mention writing new Secret Band stuff, but no one’s really put their money where their mouth is yet! (laughs) We haven’t gotten together, so hopefully we’ll get motivated enough and do that this year. I feel like we usually write for that stuff in the fall anyways. You know, right around Halloween time, so we can get spooky!

Fingers crossed!      

I hope so! (laughs)

To wrap things up, I have a few fun fill-in-the-blank questions. Would you like to give it a go?

Yes! I’d love to!

Alright! The first one for you is: My dream vacation would include…

Breakfast in bed!

A habit or hobby I’ve picked up during quarantine is…

(laughs) Taking care of my lawn!

One song on my summer playlist would have to be…

The “In Your Eyes” remix by Doja Cat and The Weeknd. That song’s tight! It’s one of my favorites this last month or two!

My favorite ice cream flavor is…

Butter pecan

Last one! If I wasn’t a musician, I’d probably be a…

Politician! (laughs)

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