For the past 15 years, Dance Gavin Dance have been constantly raising the bar for experimentation within the post-hardcore scene. But after toying with the limitations and boundaries of the genre for so long, is there still room for them to expand?
From the onset of Dance Gavin Dance’s latest record, Afterburner, it’s clear they are still an evolving band. The experimental post-hardcore act’s ninth full-length, which arrives today via Rise Records, sees them pushing their diverse sound even further into new styles and genres than previous efforts. Quite a feat for a band who’ve tapped into influences as diverse as R&B, pop, emo, jazz fusion and a whole lot more.
“It felt like we were going all over the place on this record,” guitarist Will Swan says. “There weren’t any real restrictions. [On] the last album, I was trying to go a little bit poppier and focus on songwriting while still being able to showcase the complicated instrumentals and toning it down. This time, we just wanted to write whatever and see what comes out. There wasn’t really any direction except to try to have as many styles represented as possible, and I think it turned out pretty eclectic.”
Between their last album, 2018’s Artificial Selection, and the new album, the band dropped two standalone singles, “Blood Wolf” and “Head Hunter.” While the two tracks showed a similar style to their previous record, they felt the songs stood on their own enough to warrant separate releases.
“I think we just wanted to release those as singles because we wrote them in a different time period,” clean vocalist Tilian Pearson says. “I don’t think it was deeper than that. It was a snapshot of a different time, and these new songs were a snapshot of the time for us after that.”
Swan explains that the band realized they were going to be on tour and unable to have a new full-length out for a while. So in keeping with their tradition of constantly pumping out fresh music, they opted to drop the singles on their own. “It was talked about that maybe we would release them on the new record, but they stood alone so well, and we did feel like it was an evolution from what we’d done before, so we decided to keep those songs off and let the new record stand as its own thing,” he says.
But with Afterburner, the songs have a different feel, with the lighter moments being more airy and the heavier moments being more chaotic. At times, the pop elements are jarring, leaving you wondering if you mistakenly put on a Top 40 radio station, but like the flip of a switch, they’ll hammer you with a stack of aggressive guitars in the same breath. The band’s stylistic push to cover as many types of music as possible is also pressed to greater heights, with nearly every song presenting new sounds.
“I really like both extremes as a fan,” Swan says. “I listen to heavy stuff, [and] I listen to poppy stuff. I’m all in between, and I like mixing genres together and seeing what comes out. It’s always a fun challenge to push the heavy and poppy sides of what we do on each album. [On] this record, I was definitely feeling some of it as very poppy, and I liked it, but I wanted to make sure the heavier influences are also presented just as well. We went pretty heavy on a couple of parts, so I loved how it turned out, but it wasn’t really a struggle as much as it was letting it come out naturally.”
What’s proven to play into the band’s development is each member participates in some sort of side project outside of Dance Gavin Dance. Pearson’s solo venture dives into the lighter tones and vibes of the main project, but the biggest difference between the two is the freedom to try out ideas as they come to him without other people to work around.
“The obvious difference is in Dance Gavin Dance, I’m just doing vocals and writing lyrics and melodies. On the solo project, I’m doing everything from scratch, so it’s going to have a different tone right off the bat,” Pearson says. “If it feels right and if it feels like it’s going to benefit the song and the album, we just go with the flow. [With] the solo project, I put a little more stress on my shoulders because I’m not sharing that workload. I put more stress on making the poetry more straightforward and more instantly relatable without reading the layers of the lyrics.”
The vocalist feels there isn’t a way to separate multiple musical projects from each other as a musician. Ultimately, experimenting in one will end up having an effect on the other. The diversity in the band trying out musical ideas with other people is a benefit, though, as it’s clearly helped the band continue to develop their sound after years of consistently releasing new and captivating material.
“I think it’s impossible to play around musically and not let it affect the main project,” Pearson says. “Everybody has some sort of side project, and you learn things from working with other people and writing on your own that it’s impossible to separate yourself entirely from each project and say, ‘I’m going to compartmentalize this part of my creative lane to this project,’ and it’s like a natural overflow.”