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How many bands can you name that are still pumping out bangers on their eighth album? Not only that, but some of their best to date, too?
It’s not too big of a handful, right? But if you’ve heard Artificial Selection, the scorching new set of pop-mosh anthems from Dance Gavin Dance, there’s a good chance the Sacramento weirdcore Gods ended up on your list.
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Their third consecutive album with the same lineup–a fact that will certainly shock those who’ve followed Dance Gavin Dance for a while now–Artificial Selection ups the ante tenfold on Tilian Pearson’s melodic prosperity, the clean vocalist navagating a tsunami of soul-hugging hooks. It’s a pop album, more or less, drenched in math rock sensibilities and some glorious, damn near heavenly riffs that sweep you off your feet the moment you slide onto the dancefloor.
With the album now upon us, we caught up with shred-head Will Swan to get the rundown on Dance Gavin Dance’s … Er … Danciest album.
So you guys are on tour with one and only Underoath right now! How’s it going?
It’s awesome! I remember seeing Underoath when I was, like, a freshman in high school. I was blown away, and being able to tour with them so many years later is … It’s just surreal.
Are you guys playing many songs from Artificial Selection on this run?
Not too many, just because it’s not a headlining set and we wanted to play as many crowd-pleasers as possible. But we’re doing a headliner right after this tour, and we’ll be playing some more songs from Artificial Selection on that one.
How do you see these songs coming to life once your own shows kick off? Did you have the live show in mind when you were piecing this beast together?
Never. We always write way harder than we can even play, and then it’s a rush to figure out how to be solid at playing those parts so that we don’t suck live. But I think that’s cool, because it’s how we get better—writing music that’s above our difficulty level, and then having to rise above to a level where we’re be able to play that live for everyone.
It’s been three years since we last saw Dance Gavin Dance on Australian stages. When are you guys gonna swing back down for some hangs?
We’re coming as soon as possible, man! We have our sights set on Australia, but there’s just been a lot of US touring, figuring out record stuff and some other obligations over here, so as soon as we can get over there, we will.
This is album #8 for you guys. How do you think Artificial Selection stacks up against the rest of your discography?
I feel like it was one of the most difficult records to play, so that’s a good thing. We expanded on the technical aspects, and we wanted to kind of dive into new genres and sounds that we haven’t really messed with before, but also expand on what we’ve done in the past. There’s a lot of classic Dance Gavin Dance kind of bangers—y’know, the songs that will be really energetic live—but we also explore a lot of new territory. There’s a good balance of hard and soft, and we wanted to surprise people a bit with some of the choices we made with this album. It’s important to make sure that we’re not just doing more of the same.
There’s a lot of a pop sensibility towards the music I like, so incorporating that into the music we make doesn’t feel like selling out to me.
Especially in upping the technicality with your guitar playing, would you say Artificial Selection pushed you much out of your comfort zone as a songwriter?
Most definitely! Son Of Robot alone took me, like, a month to write. Usually I write really fast, but that song … I just wanted it to be perfect, and kind of restart the Robot series with something that would make me proud, y’know? And so that song took me a lot of time. The whole record in general took a lot longer to write than usual, and I’m really happy with how it all came together.
Are you still writing albums to build your repertoire and make money, or after seven of them before this one, are you just writing for yourselves?
I think we’re always writing for ourselves. There’s a lot of a pop sensibility towards the music I like, so incorporating that into the music we make doesn’t feel like selling out to me. Because y’know, that’s the music I like. So exploring that element has actually been really fun in the Tillian era, because I hadn’t explored that very much before he came into the fold, and it opens up a lot of new avenues for DGD to mix genres and do cool new things that we haven’t tried before.
Just approaching it as a fan, it feels like this is the album where you’ve really mastered the art of the chorus, and you’ve found the absolute perfect balancing point between the melody and heaviness that’s really signature to Dance Gavin Dance.
Well, most of the songs were from a writing session that I did for the Warped Tour, ‘cause we were going to do a single for that, which we ended up using Summertime Gladness for, and so I wrote a good batch of songs that I wanted to all be released in single format. I liked a lot of them, so a lot of them just ended up on this record. So yeah, those songs were consciously shooting for a little bit more of a pop vibe—soaring choruses and all of that. We wanted to give Tillian some more room to do his thing, too, and I really like the results of that.
Who knows? We might have to do another album tour where we just play the whole thing.
Can we expect to see many of these songs wind up as singles, then, or staples in the live set?
I hope so. We try to play as many of the songs from each record as we can. With the last one, Mothership—we’re bummed that a couple the deep tracks on that record didn’t end up in the set, so we did that album tour to just appease ourselves and play through the whole thing. We’ll definitely be incorporating as many new songs as we can into the set, but who knows? We might have to do another album tour where we just play the whole thing.
I can see literally nobody complaining about that.
Keep your eyes peeled, man [laughs].
As a band, too, every element on this album just gels so perfectly with each other, like you’re all on the exact same wavelength with every hook and breakdown. Was there an amplified sense of collaboration on this album?
This album was actually very fragmented. Our drummer and I recorded our parts with Kris Crummett, our normal producer; our bass player recorded his bass with Dryw Owens; and our vocalist recorded with Erik Ron. So all of our parts were recorded in different cities, and I flew to every session just to kind of oversee things. I didn’t have to do pretty much anything with the vocals, but musically, it wasn’t as easy to communicate things as it normally is, so I’d say this record actually had some extra difficulty in its creation.
Was that by choice, or necessity?
It was by choice! Yeah, we wanted to just all record with who we thought would do our personal tones justice, and then we just put them all together. So yeah, it was a little bit different, and I don’t know if we’d do it again, but I love how it all turned out in the end. It was just really hard [laughs].
So we go outside, and there’s just a wall of bushes on fire, and it looks like the neighbourhood is going to go up in flames.
Do you think there’s much room for the band to evolve from here?
I don’t have a roadmap, but I do believe there’s always room to evolve. There’s always room for me to learn new techniques, get better, listen to more stuff, find new inspiration … That’s just the goal of life, y’know, to continue creating and expanding, and to leave a mark so that when you’re done here, you know that you’ve done as much as you can. So I think Dance Gavin Dance has a tonne of room to grow—it just depends on how hard we’re willing to work and how much of ourselves we’re willing to put into it.
What’s an interesting story you can tell us about the making of Artificial Selection?
When we were recording guitars, across the street from Kris Crummett’s studio, the house caught on fire. So we go outside, and there’s just a wall of bushes on fire, and it looks like the neighbourhood is going to go up in flames. We were just so worried about the record, about the recording studio, the house … Like, it was pretty crazy! But luckily, the Portland fire department showed up really quick and put it out before it destroyed the neighbourhood. The firemen said that if it had gone on for another, like, 60 seconds, the really tall tree that was going up in flames would have started raining fire down on all the houses, and it would have been over. So yeah, this record almost got deleted by fire.
Artificial Selection is out now via Rise Records.