“The first instinct is usually right when it comes to songwriting” — Dance Gavin Dance’s Will Swan on ‘Instant Gratification’

Dance Gavin Dance
photo: Kevin Cortipassi

Dance Gavin Dance is back in full force with a new album that is guaranteed to pull you in all different directions. Instant Gratification is an album aptly titled for today’s generation letting social interaction slip past their technology-filled hands, as well as the abandonment of human connection. With that being said, there is no worth in comparing Instant Gratification to the band’s past works, as this record is another step forward toward a promising future. It cranks up the intensity and emotion while each member’s sound flourishes vibrantly into the whole that is Dance Gavin Dance. Guitarist and founding member Will Swan took the time to speak with Substream on fan theories, as well as some behind the “instant gratification” that came with building their sixth studio album.

Instant Gratification is an album that touches on themes of narcissism as well as disintegrating relationships, to name a few. It seems as though this album was tapped from a personal vein. What can you tell me about that?
WILL SWAN: Yes, it has a lot of commentary about the way people think and the sense of entitlement that people have in this social media society. We touch on a broad range of thoughts and situations that we and people around us are dealing with. The album cover is a nod to the singularity and the struggle between organic and machine influence on the world. The lyrics explore or disintegrating relationship with humanity.

“Instant gratification” is a psychological term to label satisfaction gained by motives that are impulsive. How does this term translate into the inspiration and production of this album?
We didn’t spend more than a few practices on any of the songs, and once the instrumentals were done, Jon [Mess] and Tillian [Pearson] were knocking out vocals at the pace of a song a day. There wasn’t too much self-editing. I’m not really into revisiting parts that I’ve written and already approved of. The first instinct is usually right when it comes to songwriting.

You’ve written for a few vocalists for this band in the 10 years you’ve been active. Was it relieving to once again compose for the same vocalist for two consecutive records?
Yes it really was. When we switch singers, I feel like I’m writing blind. There isn’t a reference point for me to know how they’ll use their voice over the riffs I write. Having an album under my belt with Tilian allowed me a sense of what he’s capable of. I was able to use that when structuring the songs. With Jon, I just always know that whatever I think the screams will be, they’re going to be completely different. He has such a unique approach to phrasing that it’s always surprising to me.

Tillian has a very distinct vocal range and style. Do you two ever clash when it comes to song structure?
He wasn’t there for the music writing process, so no. There were things he thought could be different, but we made it work.

Speaking of vocals, you’ve been taking steps vocally as your career in Dance Gavin Dance progresses—most recently, your rapped vocals in “Eagle Vs. Crows.” Who proposed to incorporate this type of style?
It literally came out of nowhere. I started on Happiness with a rap kind of inspired by TV On The Radio. Then after I proved that it would sound cool, it became something that would pop up here and there on the records. We never really plan for a rap going into the studio. There will just be a part where I feel a rap would fit best. I write it, show it to everyone and then record.

I do know some fans who would love to hear a rap album from you!
I’ve given it some thought. I love all kinds of music and want to write for so many different projects. DGD, Sianvar and Secret Band take up a lot of my writing power. Sianvar starts recording on July 5 and Secret Band is already four or five songs deep into our new album. After that, my next project is probably going to be throwback ’80s synth-pop mixed with new wave. I bought a vintage Roland Jupiter 6 synth and have been dying to use it. The rap project is definitely on the back burner.

With being one of the founding members of Dance Gavin Dance, you’ve encountered a lot throughout the years with fans. Recently with your pedalboard being stolen, you asked for help through Go Fund Me, where you reached your goal amount within three hours. Some of those pedals were irreplaceable, but that must have been quite a humbling experience.
It was awesome to see how supportive people can be when something unfortunate like that happens. The way people rallied to help me out really made an impact on me. We’re not just playing for audiences on tour. The shows are attended by individuals who not only want to be entertained, but are willing to contribute and help when we have breakdowns in life. I value each and every person who comes to see us.

I love reading fans’ theories of Dance Gavin Dance songs. The latest that I read was that “Stroke God, Millionaire” takes place after “The Death Of The Robot With Human Hair” and that the battle during “Stroke God…” is the Downtown Battle Mountain. Do you have any comments in regards to this theory?
I wish I could say! My lips are sealed on this one. Some secrets have to stay secret.

I really like that fans are stimulated to discuss/trade theories about your songs. Most artists just write about the first thing that they think can make a profit off of, rather than going in depth with their works. Did you ever intend for your fans to string concepts of each album together?
With the song sequels and themes that we constantly revisit, we kind of set it up that way. We have been vague in answering a lot of questions as to let our fans come up with their own theories. I love how the same piece of art can hold a completely different meaning to different people.

I know you have small sagas like “The Strawberry Swisher” and “The Robot With Human Hair”, but would you entertain the idea of composing a full concept album?
I’ve thought about it, but it’s so limiting. There’s so much to write about. To focus on one subject, it would really have to be something we’re all passionate about. It couldn’t just be about a pinball wizard… Although that album turned out great!

Your record label Blue Swan Records has such a unique blend of artists. What do you look for when you sign upcoming acts?
I look for artists that are exceptional across the board. Blue Swan is a label that people should know isn’t going to sign any money-grabbing, trendy bands just to try to make a quick buck. There’s enough of that going on. I look for originality, ambition and basic human decency from the band members.

You were able to take Hail The Sun and Stolas with you on the Instant Gratification tour. What does it mean to you to take artists from your label on tour with Dance Gavin?
It’s awesome. I love all those guys—and all the members of all Blue Swan bands for that matter. One of my goals with Blue Swan was to create a scene of bands that DGD could tour with and be proud to have play in front of our fans. With tours like these, that dream has come to fruition and it’s a “mission accomplished” for the label.