Dance Gavin Dance magazine cover
[Photo by: Steve Thrasher]

Here's how Dance Gavin Dance became their own hometown heroes

While Dance Gavin Dance have had to put touring in support of their phenomenal new record Afterburner on hold this year, they’ve managed to find new and creative ways to connect with fans. In lieu of a cross-country headlining tour and their annual Swanfest celebration, the band are giving fans something they’ve been requesting for years with Tree City Sessions Volume 2

Unlike the first Tree City Sessions, the band aren’t recording these live tracks in a studio but rather connecting with their hometown in a special way. With some assistance from Danny Wimmer Presents and the city of Sacramento, they’re taking their experimental post-hardcore sound to the city’s picturesque Tower Bridge for a livestream set cemented in this new live album.

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Dance Gavin Dance Cover Story Tree City Sessions
Photo by: Steve Thrasher
Drummer Matt Mingus explains that the setting for Tree City Sessions Volume 2 was made even more special after having to postpone their touring plans this year. 

“It feels really good honestly, and it was unexpected without Swanfest,” he says. “I don’t know what we could do, and [we were] talking about livestreams prior to this Tower Bridge thing. We were trying to think of how to do it in a cool venue or a studio setting. Getting to use the elements of our actual city as the backdrop for the livestream is really cool and definitely a nice surprise for the way that this year was going.” 

With a seal of approval from the city, the band are pulling off a one-of-a-kind experience. Guitarist Will Swan and bassist Tim Feerick joke that they’re “going to dinner with the mayor tomorrow” and “have all my parking tickets taken care of,” but it wasn’t an easy task to set up the show, and they couldn’t do it alone.

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“I think that all comes down to teaming up with Danny Wimmer, who already established himself here as a really good promoter doing the Aftershock Festival,” Mingus says. “He already had an in with the city and was able to bridge some gaps. We don’t have the connections to get the mayor to sign off on stuff. I could imagine it would have been something next to impossible for us to achieve without teaming up with Danny, though.”

The band had plans to make Swanfest better than ever this year. While it’s frustrating for them to have to wait, they view this as an opportunity to give fans an unreal experience. The Sacramento landmark’s temporary shutdown allows them to give an in-depth and intimate event built for fans while paying tribute to their hometown and history. Mingus says he “would like to think that all this hard work that us and our team already put into the festival will carry forward over to the next time” while Swan highlights the difficulties with losing their touring options.

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Dance Gavin Dance live
Photo by: Mitra Mehvar
“It wasn’t even just Swanfest because with that whole tour, I was really looking forward to it,” Swan says. “But having that canceled and pushed for a year plus definitely wasn’t what anyone expected. Now there is this pandemic, so we’re just trying to adjust like everybody else and figure out ways to reach our fans.”

Working out the logistics of performing in such an unconventional location is certainly difficult. While it doesn’t replace the experience of a gig, Dance Gavin Dance have found ways to make it special. 

“I think it’s pretty much impossible to recreate a live setting,” clean vocalist Tilian Pearson says. “You can look at something like the Super Bowl, and that’s probably the most expensive live show that we see, and it still is not live. You have to come up with different elements that make it cool on its own without trying to recreate that energy and feeling that you have live. We can at least make other things about it cool to create that ear and eye candy for the fans to enjoy.”

Before the livestream kicks off, they’ll also be doing a preshow event walking through Sacramento. Along with SiriusXM’s Caity Babs, Dance Gavin Dance are showing off some spots relating to their personal history in the city. The band explain that they’ve typically been reserved in revealing details of their personal lives, so this was a fun way to offer fans a glimpse into who they are.

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Dance Gavin Dance Tilian Pearson live
Photo by: Mitra Mehvar
“We’re a mystery of a band,” Swan asserts. “People know about certain aspects of what we’ve done over the years, but I feel like our origins and a lot of our process is still not known. So it’ll be a cool sneak peek into a little bit of the behind the scenes and beginnings of our early Sacramento stomping grounds.”

“With us having that mystique, there’s other places that we didn’t want to reveal,” Mingus adds. “We don’t want all these people to know like, this is where we practice and all this shit. So we have to pick and choose some stuff [so] it’s still not invading our personal lives, too much.”

The first Tree City Sessions solidified fresh, raw takes on mostly older songs at the time of its release, and they’re looking forward to doing so again. There will be new tracks included in the livestream, but letting fans vote on the setlist allowed the cream of the crop to rise to the top. 

“We put a lot of detail and effort into recording our albums, and sometimes you polish it to a way where it sounds amazing, but it doesn’t sound like just playing the song live,” Pearson says.

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In fact, the idea for doing a second Tree City Sessions came from the shutdowns this year. “Throwing out another brand-new full-length immediately didn’t make sense, but this is a way to put out some stuff that people haven’t really heard before,” Swan elaborates. “[It’ll] challenge ourselves to play some songs that we don’t normally put in [our setlists].”

Mingus remarks that fans have been asking for a second Tree City Sessions for a while, so it felt fitting to allow them to choose what was played. He jokes that they “just want to keep everyone happy.” But with nine studio albums under their belt and several other releases, Feerick points out that not everyone will get what they want. 

When asked which songs they expected to be highly requested, everyone in the band agrees that “Blue Dream” will be a high priority for fans.   

“I was thinking that ‘Pussy Vultures’ is such a deep track that gets requested by the loud people, but it wasn’t even close, guys. [Laughs.] You’ve got to step it up. Wasn’t even in the top 10.”

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Aside from Tree City Sessions Volume 2 and their album release livestream this summer, Dance Gavin Dance haven’t had an opportunity to perform any tracks from Afterburner live yet. Looking forward to their return to touring, the band are eager to see fan reactions to the new material but know not to forget about longtime favorites.

“I want to play most of them, but we were pretty limited on this Tree City because of the way we did a few songs from each album,” Swan says. “We didn’t want to just load it with all new songs, but I think I’m ready to just go out and play a lot of the new record. We won’t because we’re always pretty careful about choosing our set and making sure that it’s not just all new songs. I’ve seen bands do that live, [and] I personally hate it. I’m like, “Play some of my favorites.” So I understand that fan point of view.”

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Dance Gavin Dance Will Swan live
Photo by: Alana Lopez
Mingus highlights the funky-sounding “Calentamiento Global” as one he hopes to perform, which Swan agrees will “get those booties shaking.” The track’s Spanish lyrics were a surprise twist thrown into the new record, but Pearson says he isn’t afraid to test out his multilingual skills in a live setting.

“I think the only reason why I have confidence to do that is because in high school, I was in a jazz choir, and I had to do Latin songs and Italian songs,” he posits. “I was comfortable as long as I got the grammar mostly correct, that I would have vowel pronunciation. I’m sure I didn’t do it perfectly, but the Beatles also didn’t sing American perfectly, and they tried to do it.”

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As they look to the future of touring with global lockdowns continuing into 2021, Dance Gavin Dance are staying positive for what’s in store. Swanfest, as well as their postponed headlining tour with Animals As Leaders, Issues, Veil Of Maya and Wolf & Bear (in replacement of Royal Coda), is rescheduled for next year, but they’re cognizant of the fact that this could change.

“We’re being hopeful,” Mingus says. “We have dates and everything already held and booked and ready to go. And I know we’re all trying to be optimistic, but at the same time, we gotta be realistic and consider that we’re going to have to probably make some changes for 2021. I think we’re all down for the adjustments, and adjusting to the livestream stuff is weird. I know it’s not our favorite thing to do. It’s like filming music videos. It’s weird without having an audience there, but we’re down to adjust to it and help pioneer the new way.”

Feerick is hopeful that “there’s a shot at doing the outdoor stuff,” but the rest of the band agree that, ultimately, they just really miss connecting with their dedicated fanbase. They highlight that they’ve been planning on amplifying their live show with the Afterburner cycle, as they’re constantly looking for new ways to improve.

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Dance Gavin Dance live
Photo by: Luis Rodriguez
“If we get the chance to play again, I’m sure that we’re going to do something bigger and better than we imagined before,” he says.

Mingus explains that they were fully prepared to bring a heightened experience to fans with their performances. Although touring has faced an extreme delay for not only Dance Gavin Dance but for the entire music industry, their return to the road will be well worth the wait.

“I’m definitely missing it,” he says. “As far as amplifying goes, I feel like we were already headed in that direction. We were already looking to amplify our stage performance and step everything up. We’ll all continue to thrive for that.”

Pushing boundaries has been the status quo for Dance Gavin Dance—musically, live and now through livestreams. Everyone across the world is collectively on the edge of their seats waiting for an end to the pandemic, but in the meantime, moments like this are a treasure to enjoy.

Dance Gavin Dance’s Tree City Sessions Volume 2 pay-per-view streaming event is broadcasting Saturday, Dec. 19 at 4 p.m. PST/7 p.m. EST. Early bird tickets are available here, with a wide variety of merch bundles available as well.