Matt Mingus & Will Swan of Dance Gavin Dance: The Heavy Blog Interview

Thanks to the editor gods, I was given an opportunity to talk to the two founding members of my favorite band of all time, Dance Gavin Dance. For me, this is a dream come true. For you, it’s an insight into the minds of drummer Matt Mingus and guitarist Will Swan, two essential components that are integral to one of the most unique bands of the last 15 years. On the last day of their tour with Underoath and Veil of Maya (the only other band I’ve interviewed), we had a chat over Skype. We talked about how they select album titles, how they view bands getting softer as they get older and the legendary Paul Blart.

Ryan Castrati: I’ve been listening to the new record and it’s great.

Matt Mingus: Thank you.

RC: I have some questions. First off, the album title, Artificial Selection. How do you guys pin down an album title?

MM: Ooo, It’s not easy. We go back and forth about it for probably a couple weeks. We were just bouncing around ideas and looking at the artwork and trying to think of what’s going on in this tree and stuff and what’s happening. We just bounced back a bunch of different ideas and I think Tilian was the one that solidified this one with Artificial Selection and we all liked it. I don’t know. It just seems like it made sense with the artwork.

Will Swan: Yeah, John kinda came up with the art concept and then we sent it to our artist and he changed it. Then we’re like, “Alright, this is sick, but now we have to see how this art ties into the music” and it kinda took a long time to get Artificial Selection pinned down as the final name.

RC: I know you guys have that constant work with Mattias [Adolfsson]. Did that relationship come about just when you just saw some of his art when you did Downtown Battle Mountain 1?

WS: Yeah, the DBM1 art was already created and one of the guys working at our label pointed us towards Mattias and we were like, “Woah, this is sick.” and ever since then we’ll send him an idea and he’ll do his version of the idea. He’ll take whatever we want and kind of change it, and it’ll be close to what we want, but at the same time he’ll elaborate on it and it always ends up being cooler than we thought.

RC: That’s really cool. I’ve always enjoyed that running theme where it seems that the artwork is always consistent.

MM: Yeah and that’s the plan. Kind of trying to make it like a brand, you know? As far as we know our fans really enjoy it, but us personally, we really like his artwork as well.

RC: Yeah, I would say that definitely within the fan base, it seems they immediately know it’s you guys and the artwork is always so interesting and neat. It also seems exclusive to you as far as music goes. I haven’t seen anyone else use his art.

WS: Yeah, I feel like another band would hurt themselves by using his art and then they’d get recognized as us.

RC: Oh, absolutely. I didn’t really think of it that way.

MM: Or we’d have to kill them.

RC: Well, you know, that’s always an option.

MM: [Laughs] Just kidding.

RC: As far as album themes, as you’ve gone along, despite the vocal changeup, despite Jon [Mess] leaving and then coming back, I’m actually surprised at how well you’ve been able to keep a core sound. Of course, you guys founded it and have gone through everything with it, so I figure there’s that constant thing of “Okay, how do we keep this “us” while also still branching out?”. How do you deal with finding new places to take your sound? It seems like it can go damn near everywhere.

WS: Luckily it hasn’t been too big of a problem and I think the reason is because of the writing process. We do the music first, so with all the vocal changes, if the vocalists were a big part of the instrumental process then the band would have had way more drastic changes; but because we start with guitars, drums, bass and just keep building off of that, because me and Matt have always been in the band, the core writing always starts from the same place. I think that’s helped us to keep the DGD sound.

RC: I think that’s immediately recognizable. You guys have a distinct sound, so much so, that you guys now have your own subgenre, which is crazy.

WS: Yeah, that’s awesome man. We didn’t dub any of the subgenre titles but I think it’s pretty funny. When we got into this we were considered “post-hardcore” and I was mainly into post-hardcore. Then that genre just kind of went away. It’s way more rare to find bands that consider themselves that now in my opinion. So there was room for something to take its spot and people just got creative [chuckles].

RC: I think that’s the one aspect of you guys that’s so cool. You always manage to keep it creative. You start out as post-hardcore but then you go into these areas that are more influenced by pop or rap. It seems like you guys can take your sound pretty much anywhere. I’ve always found that impressive. Do you think it’s harder to find areas to experiment in or do you think it comes naturally during the writing process you guys have?

WS: I think it’s pretty natural because we all listen to so much different music and we want to play that different style. So if we hear something cool that we haven’t really heard before, we want to incorporate it into what we do. So it helps that all the guys listen to different stuff and still are fans of music.

RC: I know a lot of bands, whenever they start making a certain type of music they kind of shut out what’s around them so they make sure they’re not influenced by people they’re essentially trying to compete against.

WS: See, I don’t look at it as so much of a competition as it’s just a creative community.

RC: I think the idea of collaboration is definitely the way forward as far as music goes. It’s also something I’ve noticed with you guys as I’ve been looking more at the liner notes of your albums. On Mothership you had Martin Bianchini, Zac Garren, you have these collaborators that understand your sound and get where you’re coming from, but they also can inject something different into it with their own style and flair. I think that also can help longevity as well.

MM: Yeah, absolutely. Keeping it fresh and having those couple of songs that Martin wrote on the record and having Zac featured brings a couple different genres, y’know? Zac’s more of a funky guitar player and Martin writes heavier, more metal-ish type riffs, so it definitely helps in bringing some cool elements to the writing process.

RC: So, the website I write for is called Heavy Blog Is Heavy and we’re focused on the more extreme heavy music. I’ve seemed to notice as the records have gone on that not only had the sound gotten slightly more poppy but it’s also gotten heavier in some aspects. I don’t think until Acceptance Speech came out I had never heard you do a song as heavy as “Carve.”

MM: [Laughs] Yeah!

RC: On Mothership, you just went forward with that with “Philosopher King”, like, holy shit. When I heard that song I thought, “This song goes hard as shit!” but I had never heard you do stuff like that. So do you find yourself getting heavier out of a need to bring in those new sounds or is it that you’re just naturally progressing that way?

WS: I think it’s pretty natural. I listen to a lot of old screamo and heavy stuff still. Blood Brothers have been one of my favorite bands of the last couple years, I mean forever, just lately I’ve been listening to a ton of them. So, I like a lot of heavy stuff anyway and I think that every record we’re like, “Well, we want to do the heaviest DGD song ever on this record.” and then the next record it’s like “Alright, Well now we have to do an even HEAVIER one.” We’re always just trying to push the limits in all different directions.

MM: Yeah, I think that was the goal with…sorry, some of the songs, I still know them by their working titles…I think, “Bloodsucker?”

WS: Yeah. Wait, Paul Blart is umm, “The Rattler”

MM: Oh, “The Rattler”!

RC: Paul Blart?! [Laughs a little too hard]

MM: Sorry, that was the working title! [chuckles]

RC: No, that’s awesome!

MM: Well, it’s actually “Paul Blart’s Daughter”

RC: Oh my god.

MM & WS: [Laughs hard]

RC: An integral part of Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Jesus.

MM: But that song, I think Martin wrote that to be a secret band song when we first got together to do it, right?

WS: That one I wrote to be just a heavy ass Blood Brothers style song. Cause I have trouble writing The Blood Brothers for some reason even though they’re one of my favorite bands. So, I sat down and I’m like “Gotta write the heaviest goddamn Blood Brothers-y song I can” and then I need Martin, the other guitar player in Secret Band that also writes for DGD at least a song a record, to come and fill out the second guitar and just make it even weirder and metal, so that song is just like an ode to mid-2000s spaz-core.

RC: That’s awesome. Since I’ve been talking about your sound pretty much this whole time, along with your heaviness comes the more poppy territory, that I think has always been there for DGD. With the R&B elements, the funk elements and then you have the more poppy vocals, I feel like by now other bands would have completely abandoned screaming. I think there were people who were thinking that Jon was going to feature less on Instant Gratification and were worried about it. I’ve found that you’ve always integrated him super well into the music, but like I said, I feel like at this point a lot of bands would have abandoned the screaming. Is that something you think will ever happen or is that just such an integral part of your sound that you don’t think you could?

MM: Oh yeah, no, that’ll never happen.

WS: Yeah, I personally hate how bands get softer as they get older. It’s like, I don’t understand it. It’s like that movie “Rockstar” with, what is it, Mark Wahlberg? He’s playing all this 80’s metal and like the 80’s Metal is okay, but then at the end of the movie, it’s like “I’m grown up now.” and he’s playing at like a coffee shop doing some shitty alternative music. It’s like, “This isn’t growing up!” The 80’s metal they were playing was way more technical, way more difficult, then just some shitty acoustic sing-song crap. I think that’s a cop-out, being like “Oh, we’re getting softer.” It’s like “No, you just can’t write right stuff like you used to.”

RC: That makes a lot of sense to me. I find that me and my colleagues, we end up joking that a lot of bands when they hit a weird peak in their career, they’re like “Oh, we’ve matured now.”

WS: Yeah, so, how is that maturation? It’s more like just getting old, y’know? As you get older a lot of people mature, but some people don’t, they stay like children, but your body gets old and dies. I feel like that’s just the music getting old and dying inside of them. [Laughs]

RC: I think that’s a great way to put it. It’s like at a certain point you just can’t hack it anymore so you just cut that part out. Seeing you guys constantly keep it in even when other bands are saying, “Oh, we’re trying to get more mainstream appeal” the screaming is usually the first thing they cut.

WS: Which is funny too because that argument of, “We’re trying to get more mainstream appeal”, it’s like, your whole record doesn’t get played on the radio. Like, a couple singles might. You can do a couple singles on your record if you want that are reaching for more mainstream audiences, but why does your entire record have to go soft? It just doesn’t make any sense to me.

MM: Yeah and also now too with satellite radio and stations like Octane, they do play heavy music and bands with screaming and stuff. So, there’s not much of an excuse.

RC: With the rise of streaming services, people are a lot of times not even paying attention to that stuff anymore. They’re selecting more of what they want to hear.

MM: Yeah, exactly.

RC: I have two last questions for you. What is the ideal way to experience Artificial Selection in your opinion and how do you like your eggs?

MM: I like my eggs over medium. I think the way to experience it would be to sit down and make a nice breakfast with some eggs and bacon and hashbrowns and a glass of orange juice and sit at your kitchen table with the sun beating in and your loved ones staring you in the eyes. Just crank it to eleven and just jam out while you eat your breakfast.

WS: I don’t eat eggs cause I’m vegan. I think the way to experience Artifical Selection is to smoke a pound of weed and then do a pound of mushrooms and then put acid tabs in your mouth, like, seven of them and jump out of a plane with noise-cancelling headphones and no parachute and just listen to it all the way until you fall to the ground. I’m sure it would be pretty sick.

RC: That sounds like the most ideal way to experience anything.

MM: That’s pretty ideal, yeah. I retract what I said. I’m going to go with Will’s.

RC: I think they contrast each other well. Thanks so much for your time guys. Just as a side note: thank you for enriching my life with your music, I can’t tell you how much it means to me.

WS: Thank you man, we really appreciate that.

MM: That means a lot to us as well, thank you.

Artificial Selection is out 6/8 via Rise Records.