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July 2022

Dance Gavin Dance: "The only thing that we have to concentrate on is keeping it fresh"

Dance Gavin Dance are something of a phenomenon pretty much everywhere but the behind-the-times UK - but with their new album ‘Afterburner’, that’s all about the change.
Published: 9:20 pm, April 29, 2020Words: Steven Loftin.
Dance Gavin Dance: "The only thing that we have to concentrate on is keeping it fresh"

Since day dot, Dance Gavin Dance have been a rapturous amalgamation of sounds rooted deep into every facet of rock, from hardcore, to melodic metal and even a bit of funk. It’s all just being themselves; a statement that’s probably been written and read about just about every band, but Dance Gavin Dance are those words through and through. 

They’ve curated their own festival, Swanfest, racked up millions of views and streams, consistently sell out merch and are one of the most forward-thinking, fun and exasperating bands currently active. But given they’ve had more members than hot dinners, getting to album nine, ‘Afterburner’, was indeed no small feat.

“When I joined, I think it was 2012? I honestly didn’t look past a couple of years,” ‘clean’ vocalist Tilian Pearson admits. “I was like, ‘Yeah, we’ll do this, we’ll see what happens, maybe it’ll work out, maybe it won’t’.”

Fortunately, it did start to work. Sure, it took some stalling moments but the jumpstart of ‘Instant Gratification’ in 2015, gave the most recent - and consistent - iteration of Dance Gavin Dance their first taste of success in their homeland of the US. 

“It’s hard to explain why it has gone the way that it’s gone, and why we hit this kind of, I guess it’d be a fourth wave?” he ponders. “Because the band had the first singer [Jonny Craig], the second singer [Kurt Travis], the first singer again, and then me, it was kind of like we were starting from that first tour that I did with them.”

Now completed by founding members, guitarist Will Swan, drummer Matt Mingus, along with bassist Tim Feerick and ‘unclean’ vocalist Jon Mess, the five of them have been trucking along since 2012.

“The rooms were… not packed, not doing great.” He says with a trademark chuckle that crops up throughout our chat. “I mean, I guess I’d be the same way if I was a fan of the band and they go through a line-up change, I’m not gonna pay attention until they do something I like. So, the first one didn’t hit [‘Acceptance To Speech’], and the second one [‘Instant Gratification’] did, and we’ve been riding that since. It still surprises me the lasting power and support we get… it’s unbelievable.”

From those days when Tilian was unsure of where things could go (“when I first joined I was still saving up to tour”) to those quiet rooms, and messy past of the role he’s inherited meant he “had high hopes but a short term fallback vision for it. Either way, I was gonna put as much energy into it as possible, to at least try it.”

Which is the true backbone of Dance Gavin Dance, putting all their energy into everything they do. Now they’ve hit a consistent stride, the future is wide open, and they aren’t going to let it get away from them. 

“Every time we make the process more efficient, you can do it with lower stress and have it just be more play than work,” he says. “We get asked the question of how do we remain so prolific, and I don’t think we’re trying necessarily to be prolific.

“Will loves writing riffs and song structures, and everybody else loves putting their taste and influence on it, so it kind of just happens. We never really have to say ‘Okay guys let’s hunker down and do the album now’, like, the album’s usually just come in between touring cycles naturally which is nice.”

These days, being spread across the country means the work tends to happen over email, but there’s a group chat to keep things ticking along, and Dance Gavin Dance’s energy truly alive and kicking.

However, the double-edged sword of being a carousel of characters means that, yes, there are indeed fresh ears and input, but also when you find that stable footing, it can potentially feel stale. But as is the Dance Gavin Dance way, you can’t look back when the path behind is burned and ashen, which Tilian explains.

“I kind of look at it as a kind of snapshot of the time. Definitely not something that I ever thought of when making this album, that we have to be like ‘this is the ninth chapter’, or we have to be true to all the past albums.

“We have to concentrate on making it fresh because it’s been the same five members now for the last like seven years, maybe eight? It’s gonna sound similar no matter what we do.” He chuckles again. “So the only thing that we have to concentrate on is keeping it fresh, and then we will naturally kind of pay homage to the past.”

Tilian comes across as someone who has indeed kept his heart in the band, and his mind in the realism of the situation. There’s very much a deeper understanding of the intricate nature that belongs to creating in any aspect, especially in a world so intent of burning through everything and anything.

“We can’t put any attention on trying to redo things that we’ve already done,” he shrugs. “I think it’s just a waste. It works the same way in any media when something’s been done then it’s done. If you try to recreate it probably won’t be as good as the first time.”

A surprising aspect of the Dance Gavin Dance journey over the last five years of increasing success is they’ve still never really struck the solid ground on these fair British shores. “We’ve grown in Australia, faster than the UK, even,” Tilian says baffled.

“But I also think that we haven’t gotten a chance, recently, to show what we can do in the UK, and that’s part of it. We haven’t been there in a bit. The last time we went, it felt like the same kind of turning point that I felt in the US in about 2015 right before we kind of quote-unquote blew up in the US.”

Given the current global crisis, it might be a while before Tilian and co. can venture this way to prove what Dance Gavin Dance have evolved too, but total domination will always be on the cards for the five-piece even though their moves have had to be measured.

“For the whole time I’ve been in the band, you go to the UK, and you lose money,” Tilian says. “So there’s that aspect of it has to be worth it, but hopefully the things we have in the works will line up, and it’ll allow us to reach a point in the UK where we’re going back at least every year.”

It’s also a similar story for the band over in mainland Europe, though he thinks that could be due to a translation error in just how Dance Gavin Dance are. “I think that aspect is we have a sort of irony, and sarcasm in the band,” he smirks. “I see that foreign-language countries, to us, don’t necessarily catch that aspect as well, it just doesn’t resonate there as it does in the US, and even the UK.”

Personality is the keyword that screams through Dance Gavin Dance. Their music videos are always a narrative affair that toy with satirical comedy, a rooting in just being a band and having fun with it, and unclean vocalist Jon Mess often portraying the opposite character to his focused screams.

Tilian remembers a time before the carefree nature of Dance Gavin Dance. “I’ve been in bands in the past where they take it really seriously, it’s like almost life and death. Like, ‘We’ve got to do this!’ Everything’s very heavy, the stakes are really high.

“In this band, we’ve always taken a more laid back approach. And I think that Jon obviously takes it a step further and into parody and an irony territory, that’s kind of the gist I think that comes out in our personalities.”

The amalgamation of the band comes from each members’ tastes, all drawn from different experiences. The personality that Tilian brings to the blender stems from a combination of growing up listening to “obscene hip hop… and also emotional music. Party music, and bands that didn’t take themselves seriously and bands that did. We have elements of all of those things.”

“There are definitely moments where we’re more earnest in certain songs and certain sections of songs,” Tilian mentions of the key balance Dance Gavin Dance retains.

“Then there are moments when you just want to make people dance. I don’t think we’ve ever really intentionally been like, ‘Hey let’s do something edgy’, we’re just products of the sum of listening to all different kinds of genres, and all different kinds of media - being influenced by different people.”

Even ‘Afterburner’ is a layered title that began with the striking artwork of “the depiction of hell,” he explains. “It’s the devil literally burning the sinner,” Tilian says with another gentle chuckle. But most prominently, the notion of ‘Afterburner’ resides deep in the definition of the term.

They’re a band rooted in the emotional angst, with the melodies to shimmy and shake too, lyrics that you can pin to a wall or scribble on a notebook, something Tilian notes warmly as, “you kind of have to do it with our band, and our genre, just because that’s kind of the entire schtick.”

There’s no one quite like Dance Gavin Dance, least of all who have been around as long. No one pushes boundaries while making you crack a smile, all the while they’ve been dealt complex hands, and for Tilian, this is it, things are finally paying off. And failing that?
“If there’s anything, we can at least say we’re unique,” he ends.

Taken from the May issue of Upset. Dance Gavin Dance’s album ‘Afterburner’ is out now.

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