In case you missed it last week, Donald was able to attend the Howell, NJ stop of Dance Gavin Dance’s Instant Gratification Tour a week ago. While at the show, he was able to photograph the band’s crisp, impressive set. A gallery of those photos can be seen here. In addition to the photos, Donald was able to interview one of the band’s original members, iconic lead guitarist Will Swan. The two discussed the band’s creative process on Instant Gratification, their current headlining run, and what’s its been like for Will to be in a band who’s endured as mush as Dance Gavin Dance has. Check out the interview below!
The Garden Statement: You’re listening to 91.3FM WTSR, on the campus of The College of New Jersey. This is Donald Wagenblast of The Garden Statement, and I’m here at the GamechangerWorld in Howell, NJ for a stop of Dance Gavin Dance’s Instant Gratification Tour. I’m lucky enough to be joined by Dance Gavin Dance founding member and lead guitarist Will Swan. Will, how are we doing today?
Will Swan: YO! I’m good.
TGS: Good to hear! So how has the Instant Gratification Tour been going so far?
WS: It’s been going good. Maybe the most instantly gratifying tour I’ve been on in my career.
TGS: So it lives up to its name, then! That’s great to hear. You guys are out on this our with Polyphia, Hail the Sun, and Stolas, three– I would say “up and coming” bands, they’re a little younger than you. Was that the goal, to take out these up and coming bands that maybe not a lot of your fans know about, to get them exposure, or bands that you just really like?
WS: Well, Hail the Sun and Stolas are one my label. And we wanted to take out some cool bands, some bands that fit our style more than usual. Sometimes, we’ll take out bands that get pushed on us by management, or booking agents, because we’re not sure who to tour with, because our scene’s kind of polluted with a lot of stuff that doesn’t really mesh with what we’re trying to achieve. So for our new album, we wanted to do a cool tour with some bands that were more in the vein of what we want to show people that we’re about. We chose Stolas and Hail the Sun because they’re f***ing awesome. Polyphia was pretty cool, too. I’m really happy with the lineup for this tour. We don’t have to, like, “sit through” any of the bands. Any time you walk through the venue, the band that’s playing is sick. I’m glad our fans get to hear some good music instead of… some other stuff.
TGS: This is the first tour that you guys have done where you’ve had a VIP package, where fans can come in, watch the soundcheck, meet you guys and everything. It’s definitely a new trend that’s been on the rise in the scene. How has the experience been for you guys?
WS: It’s been cool. I think fans kind of at this point expect a little bit more interaction than back in the day. I know that when I was going to shows, I never expected to meet or get pictures with like, Glassjaw or Thursday. But now it’s like, I’ll see kids get mad online if they don’t get the chance to meet us. I think it’s a huge 180 in mindset. But I think it’s a part of being a band in these times. It makes sense to allow that level of interaction with the fans and not be so secretive and disconnected. It does allow for a little bit of closer of a connection with them, to be able to meet with them and answer their questions. I think it’s necessary these days.
TGS: I think a lot of that also has to do with social media. Is that something you see as well, where social media has taken over what’s expected of a band?
WS: Yeah, for sure. It totally has. It’s added a sense of entitlement, almost, where they feel like it’s necessary. We don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s cool to be able to talk to them, and clear up some of the questions. A lot of times, we’ll have questions that are easily answered, and make them feel a lot better. So it’s actually a good thing to have a closer relationship with the fans. I think social media does have a lot to do with that. You’re on your Twitter, your Instagram. My friends are on Facebook, following me every day. And when it’s at the show, you get to have that close interaction with them.
TGS: The Instant Gratification Tour is in support of your album Instant Gratification. It came out a couple of weeks ago, debuted at #18 on the Billboard Chart, so congratulations! This is your sceond album now with Tilian Pearson as your “clean” vocalist. It really seems like you guys are a much more tightly-knit unit now. Did you feel that way when you went into recording this album, as opposed to when you recorded Acceptance Speech?
WS: Our writing process, whenever we get a new vocalist, is a bit more difficult for me. When we did [Acceptance Speech], I had heard Tilian with Tides of Man, but I didn’t know what he was gonna do, or how he was gonna sound with our stuff. And we always get the music written before the vocals go on. So we were writing blind, you know? I was just writing whatever I thought was cool, but I no idea how to write for how Tilian was gonna sound. After he did his vocals, I really loved what he did, and I love that record. But it was really just a “We’ll see what happens” on that one. On this record, I had the experience of playing with Tilian for the last year and a half of touring, and hearing him on that album. Going into writing, I was able to be like, “Alright, I kind of know what’s going to work with him. I know what his style is, and I know what’s going to bring out the best of him.” It made it a lot less of a mystery going into the writing process. I think I was able to focus on writing tohis strengths, and not just to my own strengths. The new album I feel like is definitely gonna sound more cohesive to people because of the experience we’ve had. A lot of people have made that comment, “It sounds like you really go together!” But really, there was nothing different about the process, other than I knew what Tilian was going to bring to the table.
TGS: And you mentioned your songwriting process, which has always been an interesting thing with you guys to me, because you’ve got you, you’re one of the biggest guitarists in this scene. Matt is obviously a very well-heralded drummer. You’ve got Tilian, who’s coming in with his vocal styles. Jon’s got his vocal stylings. How difficult is it when you guys come in to start writing albums? How difficult is it to make sure everybody has their moments, to let everyone take over and show what they’ve got?
WS: I don’t think that’s important. I just want to write the best songs possible. That’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do. That’s why I’ve never really been a fan of solos. I have a couple, but maybe like 3 throughout the records. For me, it’s about making sure every single part of every single song is awesome. Every part needs to be perfect. That’s why I like writing music first, because we can get the song to the point where you can listen to it and instrumentally, you could hear it and be like, “This is sick.” Then the vocals come on, and it’s just like a whole other beast. I’ve listened to bands where they’ll lay down like a wallpaper, so the vocalists can develop stuff over it. That’s a more boring approach, to me, than making sure every part is interesting instrumentally, and then laying the vocals. That’s definitely a part of what makes DGD, DGD, is that process.
TGS: I’m guessing that’s how it’s been since the beginning?
TGS: That’s cool, that’s really interesting to hear. This album, to me, there are parts on this album compared to acceptance speech that sound a lot harder, a lot more aggressive. Was that something that you guys went into, saying “all right, let’s try to sound more aggressive,” or is that how it just fell into place?
WS: It was more how it fell into place. I think after DBM2, going into Acceptance Speech, I didn’t really know how to write for Tilian. I just wrote however I felt would be the coolest songs, kind of blindly. That’s the same way I did it when we did the Deathstar album. That’s also a heavier record. When I don’t know what’s gonna happen, I just write really aggressively. For Instant Gratification, after getting that aggression out, I think it allowed it to be more focused along the songwriting and how things were going to work. So Instant Gratification isn’t nearly as heavy across the board as Acceptance Speech was. It has its moments, but it’s more about the precision of writing good songs.
TGS: You guys are now six albums in. How do you keep things fresh in your songwriting process?
WS: I just keep listening to a lot of music. I’m constantly listening to new music, new bands, finding new bands, doing research, just making sure that I don’t listen the same stuff over and over. Which is something I don’t like to do, anyway. I’m the kind of guy person who doesn’t really re-watch movies. And I love watching movies, but I don’t want to re-watch stuff every time. The same thing with music: I want to find out what’s hot, and what’s new. I go to lots of festivals, lots of shows, feel that atmosphere, see what’s happening, and then capture that into the songs that we’re writing. So every time we write, it’s like a year and a half, a year later. If there’s something else going on in the scene that I’m listening to, I’m putting it into the music. Like Instant Gratification, I went to FYF Festival last year, and Outside Lands. The year before, I went to Coachella, and a bunch of festivals. I’m always going to shows. After FYF, I saw Conan Mockasin and Mac DeMarco, a bunch of other bands there. And I got home and I was like “I want to write something funky, something that grooves.” So I wrote “Eagles Vs. Crows” immediately when I got back. So those things, just putting those influences into the music immediately. That’s what keeps it fresh for me.
TGS: And you mentioned going to the festivals, were there any other big influences for Instant Gratification that you can remember?
WS: Definitely just that I got back into Thursday, which I’m always doing. But that’s pretty much it, just keeping up with new music. Especially in rap. On Acceptance Speech, my rap was very Death Grips-influenced. On this record, it was like a lot of Tyler, the Creator, Danny Brown-influenced. That’s why I went really dirty and sarcastic. I think not getting stuck in an old era, and not saying “This music from this era sucks, and these kids don’t know what the f*** is going on.” I think that’s really close-minded, and keeping an open mind and listening to new stuff and putting it into your music is really important.
TGS: You actually did something really, really interesting for the release of this album. You gave away the guitar you used to work on Whatever I Say is Royal Ocean, Downtown Battle Mountain, and parts of Death Star. It was the guitar you toured with during the first few years of the band. What was the reason behind giving something away that had so much meaning to you?
WS: I thought it would be cool to give something away that had value, other than monetary value. Our label hit us up and was like, “Maybe we could get a mic signed by Tilian for a Vocalist Package, and something from Will for a Guitar Player Package.” And I was thinking of things I could do. They all seemed really lame, just seemed like a really contrived way to sell records. I was like, “well, it’d be cool to put something important on the line, and actually have something that had real value.” So I saw that guitar in my closet and thought, “This would be an awesome thing as a fan.” So I hit up the label and proposed that idea, and they were really excited and on board with it. I think it’s way more exciting to have something really cool like that, that’s actually been used, and is a piece of our band’s history. To give it away, it’s something that’s really crazy to some people, but I thought it was really cool.
TGS: For Instant Gratification, you guys went back into the studio with Kris Crummett. On Instant Gratification, you worked with Matt Malpass. What made you want to go back to work with Kris on this album?
WS: We wanted to do something different for Acceptance Speech, just because we felt like it was a brand new band at that point. Mat Malpass did a great job. That record sounds a lot more grimier and dirtier. It sounds like a first-album a band makes. It was more lo-fi. Our scene has got such high production value now. It’s almost like pop production, where everything is just pristine and huge. And that record sounds like a garage-rock record. Which is cool, because a lot of my favorite bands that are doing heavier stuff are like Cloud Nothings, and Iceage, grimy, punk and grunge bands, so I was like “This is awesome.” But for Instant Gratification, when the songs were turning out more focused and not as heavy, we thought that Crummett would capture more of what we were going for, and get the heaviness and the pristine pop qualities and put them all together in the mix. I think he did exactly that.
TGS: You guys are still on Rise Records. You’ve been with them your whole career now. Do you see yourselves ever leaving? It seems like you have a ver positive relationship with one another.
WS: We do. I really like Rise. They’ve let us do whatever we’ve wanted creatively, artisticcally. Other labels will help with the image, they’ll say “We don’t like this, maybe you should do it another way.” With us, we’ve always had full creative control with the way we want to do our image, which is kinda non-image. We don’t have that “scene” look. They’ve been really cool with it, and we’ve had a good relationship with them, and with the ownership. I could definitely see DGD staying on Rise for the entire duration of the band.
TGS: Just to wrap things up, you guys have had six full-lengths, you had an EP come out before Downtown Battle Mountain. You’ve had members in and out, you and Matt were at one point the only remaining original members. You’ve had people leave a come back, and then leave again. What’s kept Dance Gavin Dance going for so long?
WS: Just sheer willpower, man. I got into being in a band and starting Dance Gavin Dance to just make the best music possible. That’s always my goal. I really like the music we make with DGD. As hard as it is to keep a band together, especially through all the s*** we’ve been through, it still always feels like, to me, that DGD is one of the best ways I have to go about making the best music I can. I try to keep it together with all my willpower, to keep that dream of just making cool stuff and constantly put out good records.
TGS: That’s actually all I have, is there anything else that you wanted to add?
WS: Yeah, if you haven’t check out my label, Blue Swan Records. It keeps with that goal of signing the best bands that I find, regardless of if they have no fan base. That’s not what I’m about, making money. What I’m about is finding awesome bands, and getting them some spotlight, and trying to get them to the next level so the scene can become saturated with good music, rather than labels and managers and booking agents trying to make quick bucks off of whatever’s hot, even if it’s s***.
The Garden Statement would like to thank Will Swan for taking the time to talk with us. Be sure to check out Blue Swan Records, and check out Dance Gavin Dance’s new album Instant Gratification, out now!