Sacramento quintet Dance Gavin Dance are continuing to stay influential to the modern post-hardcore scene in 2018.
With the band forming in 2005 from the dissolution of old groups, their self-produced EP Whatever I Say Is Royal Ocean (2006) kickstarted a longstanding partnership with Rise Records across all eight albums, and renowned producer Kris Crummett [Sleeping With Sirens, Issues].
Dance Gavin Dance have experienced many lineup changes and fractures in 13 years, particularly with ex-clean vocalist Jonny Craig repeatedly departing and rejoining the group. However, 2013’s fifth release Acceptance Speech marked a fresh era, with the addition of bassist Tim Feerick and clean singer Tilian Pearson the year before bringing much-needed stability. That carries well into 2018, with the band releasing eighth record Artificial Selection last week.
Lead guitarist Will Swan sat down for a chat about his daunting yet rewarding role on the new release, the five-piece’s relationship with Crummett, and growing up in a nurturing scene that’s greatly changed.
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What makes Artificial Selection your favourite yet, beyond it being really diverse?
“I think the technical difficulty of my guitar playing. Each record I try to up the ante on the writing to just a little bit above my level, and then I bring myself up to that level with practice.”
So you guys had a writing and recording session just before last year’s Warped Tour for the album. Did you find that very productive?
“Most definitely, because that session gave us pretty much an album’s worth of material. The new record has 14 songs. We were like, ‘Let’s just keep writing stuff and sow up a really long album that’s got all kinds of styles for everyone who likes the different areas of Dance Gavin Dance’. We also did it to expand on what we haven’t even touched on yet.”
This is your eighth time working with Kris on Dance Gavin Dance material. How does he keep things fresh?
“We have a very good working relationship. He always knows that we’re going to bring good quality music, and we always know that he’s going to work his magic and make it sound great. So he doesn’t have to worry about changing our music around or anything. He can just focus on getting the best tones, and making sure that everything sounds cohesive sonically. I think that helps a lot, because different producers and bands may not trust each other, and we’ve never had to worry about that. So it gives us a lot more time to make things sound awesome.”
Was there a particular reason though why did you didn’t go with him on fifth album Acceptance Speech?
“We just wanted to try something new. Kris even approached us and said, ‘If you want to try someone else, let me know, that wouldn’t offend me’ and we were like, ‘Okay, maybe we will’. We did, and there’s a reason we went back to Crummett (chuckles).”
I understand that the band was also involved with the production process for Artificial Selection. Is that something you’re personally across?
“I was the Executive Producer, to the point where I flew around to all the sessions. We broke the recording up like this. Drums and guitar were done with Kris in Portland, the bass in Sacramento with Dryw Owens, and vocals in LA with Erik Ron. So I was the one member making sure everything fit together, and it was kind of fun. I was stressed out when I knew I was going to be doing it, but it turned out to be a cool learning experience.”
“I wanted that song to tell a musical story . My idea was that it starts out when the son of the robot’s at a funeral. That’s why the song starts out with a sad intro. Then he gets angry that his father was killed and wants revenge, and that’s when things get crazy.”
‘Son Of Robot’ took one month to refine, but what made it so difficult to complete?
“I wanted that song to tell a musical story. My idea was that it starts out when the son of the robot’s at a funeral. That’s why the song starts out with a sad intro. Then he gets angry that his father was killed and wants revenge, and that’s when things get crazy. The son start starts going around recruiting people to go against those who killed the father in the music video. I could go on for a long time about it, but even the music itself instrumentally has a whole story behind it that’s just in my head (chuckles).
“Then I give the music to the vocalist and don’t tell him any of that stuff. I just want him to write whatever he feels like. I’m big on letting everything be interpreted by people however they want it, because I don’t want to cheapen the authenticity of the lyrics or anyone else’s expression.”
Now you’ve been on this journey with Matt [Mingus, drums] for over 13 years – what do you love most about him?
“We have a great chemistry when it comes to writing. What I really love about working with him is that I could bring him a part and I’m horribly communicating to him what I want the drums to sound like, and he’ll just know exactly the feeling we’re going for. So there’s a little mind reading, where we just know what the other person’s going to do. I’ve heard that a lot of times with bass or guitar players who’ve worked with drummers for a long time… I think that we’re pretty much in sync. There are hardly any arguments.”
Let’s backtrack to your hometown scene in San Francisco. Did you gravitate towards bands in your local scene or elsewhere?
“The first thing that really got me into this genre was when I was at home watching MTV2, and Thursday‘s Full Collapse came on. I was like, ‘What in the hell is this?’. I’d never seen or heard anything like that before, and I was on progressive, heavy music. I got into At The Drive-In, The Mars Volta, A Perfect Circle… all that stuff around the time, and that got me into playing this style of music.”
Once you guys started out as a band, did you find that Sacramento was a nurturing or tough environment to grow up in?
“It was actually awesome. The scene was really supportive. There were a lot of bands, and kids that we were all friends with in high school would go to the shows, where there’d be 100 to 200 people. We had a local label that our old singer Kurt Travis‘s band Five Minute Ride was on, and other bands in the area would get on and shield other younger guys like me wanting to get onto a label like that. The scene was just thriving, completely different to how it is now.”
“I think in learning those skills, a lot of these younger bands forget or don’t have the time to allocate their efforts to expanding as musicians. That takes a lot of time, and if you’re spending it learning the business aspect, then the artistic one struggles. But if you’re a pure artist, then the business will eat you alive.”
Do you feel like there’s a lot more competition between bands? Is that what you feel has changed?
“Most definitely. A lot of that has to do with bands having more access to analytics, and it’s more important to find out how to market yourself well, because there’s so many more people throwing their music everywhere. I think in learning those skills, a lot of these younger bands forget or don’t have the time to allocate their efforts to expanding as musicians. That takes a lot of time, and if you’re spending it learning the business aspect, then the artistic one struggles. But if you’re a pure artist, then the business will eat you alive.
“It’s a fine line you have to walk and it’s difficult for musicians now in any scene. It’s a lot harder and you have to think about all these other aspects of music that you didn’t have the technology to assess before. It got hard for bands quick.”
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Dance Gavin Dance‘s latest record Artificial Selection features some of the group’s most intricate songwriting yet – grab your copy here.
Interview by Genevieve Gao