Interview with Dance Gavin Dance drummer Matt Mingus | By Nick Harrah
Life has literally been a game of musical chairs for Dance Gavin Dance since the band formed back in 2005. With lineup changes too numerous to go into here, the Sacramento-based post-hardcore band have nonetheless released six critically acclaimed albums. Now, their seventh, Mothership, has been released on Oct. 7 via Rise Records. Drummer and founding member Matt Mingus talks about how, for Dance Gavin Dance, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The response to “Chucky Vs. The Giant Tortoise,” the first single from Mothership, seems overwhelmingly positive. How excited are you to get it out and let your fans hear the new album?
Oh man, we’re super stoked. We’ve been hustling, trying to get everything ready on time. We released that first single, so it’s like, every day, we keep hitting up our label and management, saying, like, “Come on, when are we gonna release the song? Everyone’s waiting! They want it!” So, we’re just stoked to finally put out something to sample what the record [sounds] like. We got lots of YouTube views on the first day, and lots and lots of positive responses, which is good. We were talking, saying it might be the most positive responses we’ve ever gotten when we released the first song for an album. So, we couldn’t be happier, honestly.
You’re heading out on the road for the Mothership U.S. tour, and then, head to Europe in November. How much are you guys looking forward to all the shows to support the new album?
We cannot wait. The tours we already have so far include the U.S. tour, and then, backtracking a little bit for Europe to recreate that 10-year [anniversary] tour that we did here in the U.S. and do it overseas. But, this time, instead of bringing out bands, we’re going to have [ex-singers] Jonny [Craig] and Kurt [Travis] travel with us and come up and do a few songs like they did on the 10-year tour. Really, you know, we tried the European market for several years, and I don’t know why we just sort of neglected it over the last, like, three years or so. We’re just excited to get back over there and see if our hype is still going, or at least try to rebuild it.
What makes Europe and the U.S. so different as far as markets and culture? There’s the saying that a band is “big in Europe,” but from the festivals to the fans, is there that big of a difference?
It’s definitely different for us over there. We’re not—it’s funny, some bands, they’ll be bigger in Europe than they are over here, and that’s a cliché. For us, that’s definitely not the case; we’re definitely bigger here in the States. So, that’s the purpose of this European tour, is to maybe bring out the fans that were just fans of Kurt or fans of Jonny or just fans of [singer] Tilian [Pearson], and get everyone out there to see and have ‘em check out the new songs off the new record, and be like, “Oh, OK, those guys have still got it,” you know? “We’ll come out and see ‘em next time they’re over here.”
Culture-wise, it’s definitely different. Everything’s kind of a little more inconvenient. They don’t have Walmarts or anything over there, [laughs], and in a lot of places, obviously, there’s the language barrier. But, surprisingly, in places like Germany, practically everyone speaks English, whether they choose to or not. You know, it’s like, “You know how to speak English, you’re just being rude.” [Laughs]
Go back a decade or so, starting this thing with vocalist Jon Mess and guitarist Will Swan. Bands are collections of individuals and people are, by their nature, flawed. This can lead to chemistry issues. But, at the beginning, how was the chemistry or what were the goals? Then, fast forward to now, with a side project like Secret Band, how cool is it to just make music with these guys?
Um, those guys are definitely both—aside from being colleagues in music, they’re also really good friends of mine. Coming up, when we first started, the first year of our band was spent practicing, at the studio, getting drunk, and playing for our girlfriends and stuff, just having a lot of fun. Then, the business picks up, and things go from being—you just kind of lose sight of doing stuff for fun. You gotta remember that you’re out here with your good buddies, having a good time playing music, and it’s hard to really beat that, you know?
The chemistry, for us, it hasn’t really changed. Like you said, and I’ve always said the same thing: imagine being in a serious relationship with someone, now, multiply that by six. [Laughs] You know, everyone has feelings, everyone feels different; some days, some people are grumpy, and you just gotta deal with it and just kind of suck it up and get over it, you know? But there’s been incidents in the band, you know, like arguments or fights. You just kind of learn that you just gotta shake it off. Most of that shit tends to be alcohol-induced anyway. [Laughs]
How cool is it to be able to share the music and fun with Jonny and Kurt after so many years?
I think it’s cool. Kurt is still a dear friend of mine. He had just come over last week, and we played some chess and went and got some beers. I can’t wait to do that trip with him. I love sharing the stage with him. The same goes with Jonny. He lives further away, so I don’t see him as much or as frequently. It’s always still fun. It’s—you know, they were a part of this too. So, yeah, things didn’t work out, but why not share and celebrate all this success with everyone who’s been a part of it?
No shortage of musicians have described the challenge of maintaining a sound you’ve developed over time while also allowing yourselves to grow as people and musicians. For a band like Dance Gavin Dance, as you were writing the stuff that would end up on Mothership, did you feel something similar?
We always try to throw a couple songs in there where it’s like, “Oh, sure, the existing fans that we have are gonna like this,” because it follows the “DGD format,” you know? But then, we like to throw—this record specifically definitely has a couple of tracks on it where it’s like, “Whoa, you guys haven’t tried that one before!” It definitely comes down to, you have to find a balance of doing a couple of songs for your fans [and] doing what we want to do and where we’re at in life, and let that translate through the new music. Because, let’s be honest, a lot of bands do it, but you don’t want to write the same record three, four times in a row. You gotta switch it up and write different things and think outside the box and take risks. You can’t always just play it safe.
You recorded again with Kris Crummett. He’s produced all of your albums but one, right? How special of a relationship or chemistry do you have with him?
Well, this was our seventh time working with him on an album. [Laughs] So, we’ve definitely grown to get to know him really well, and we vibed really good together. He’s a drummer too.
We go in super prepared. Our songs are already written, and we’re ready to roll. We don’t really dilly-dally and do a lot of writing in the studio—no offense to bands that do that. We just like to show up and have it ready to roll. Crummett, he’s never really shot down a song, like, “Oh, no, you guys can’t do that.” Crummett’s done countless, countless albums, especially for this music scene, and he’s going to know better than anyone what we should and shouldn’t do.
You hear about the support—or lack thereof—from labels, especially given how the industry and consumption patterns have changed since you guys started. You guys have been on Rise Records pretty much from the beginning. How supportive have they been?
It’s sad. The industry has completely declined, especially from when we started. Especially this year, it’s been an all-time low for record sales, for everyone. Well, minus Twenty One Pilots, they’re doing well, [laughs]. But you could kind of attribute that to streaming sites such as Spotify, Pandora—now, there’s YouTube Red, which makes the artists pennies on the dollar, and people have that option where you pay 10 dollars a month, and then, you get to listen to whatever record you want. So, it’s like, why go out and buy the actual physical copy when none of the cars these days come with actual CD players?
It’s a bummer. But, we keep truckin’ and doin’ well. We’ve been with Rise for 10 years now, actually. We have an excellent relationship with them. I feel like sticking around with them for so long has definitely paid off. At first, the first few years were hard. There wasn’t really any money there to be made. After hard work, everything kind of speaks for itself. Hard work pays off. The music can speak for itself. But, in order to sell those CDs and move those units and pick up new fans and have people get curious about your band and check it out, you gotta tour. You have to tour nonstop in order to make it happen. It sucks, and it hasn’t always been like that. Not everyone is Justin Bieber, who can go out and just do a world tour every three years or whatever and be financially successful. The reality is it’s just not like that for bands of our genre and our size, you know?
Despite the lineup changes over the years, it always seems to come back to making music you like playing and doing it for the fun of it. Do you guys feel the same? How special is the relationship you have with the fans you’ve made over the past decade?
I love it. I mean, it makes me happy. I actually said this in a previous interview: when it comes down to it, yes, it is all about us and ourselves and just making ourselves happy.
But, it feels good to please these fans and these people who have been listening to us and who have been with us for 10 years. We love our fans, because we wouldn’t be shit without ‘em, [laughs].
Four years ago, after Jonny Craig had again left the band, there was a post on the DGD Facebook page stating that, before he’d rejoined the band, you were about to call it quits. How proud or surprised are you that you’ve lasted this long?
Oh, dude, it’s like, I don’t know if “surprised” is the right word to use, but I guess so, yeah. Fuck, who would’ve thought, when we were practicing, you know, in our garages and shit, that this would be what we’d end up doing for a living? I don’t know. It couldn’t really make me any happier. This is what I wanted to do when I was frikkin’ 12 years old, and this is what I’m doin’ when I’m 27. [Sighs] So, I feel like, honestly, we’re here to stay. I mean, now, at this point, it’s like, “Dude, why would we ever even breakup?” Like, fuck it. We get older, have families, and don’t tour as much, but we’re in this for the long haul.
How much has changed since you made that post? How different is it now versus when you thought your band you’ve had together for 10 years almost gave up?
A lot different, dude! Because that’s real! That’s the reality. We were like, “Fuck this. Nothing’s working out. No singers work out.” Then, we all calmed down and were like, “OK, no, no. Let’s regroup and keep this thing going. We’ll just go back to the basics and start with another singer.” Now, I’m stoked. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. Shit, if we’d broke up, who knows what I’d be doing? Like, I love skateboarding, but I’m definitely not a pro skater, [laughs].