The impossible finally became possible a few months ago when Dance Gavin Dance announced that fans would be treated to Downtown Battle Mountain II early in the new year. What upped the ante was that they would be recording the album with the original lineup from 2007’s Downtown Battle Mountain. In the time between the first and second part, there were two albums and numerous member shake-ups, maintaining only guitarist Will Swan and drummer Matt Mingus.
One of the biggest member changes was when clean vocalist Jonny Craig left after DBM, allegedly having been kicked out. Craig was then replaced by Kurt Travis who left late last summer—or was forced out of the band, depending on who tells that story. Along with Craig, it was time to bring back vocalist Jon Mess and bassist Eric Lodge, who both sat out for DGD’s previous release, Happiness, and then off to the studio.
Sounding calm, cool and somewhat blasé, Swan was between meetings and practices when speaking about new music and the state of the band heading out on their Downtown Battle Mountain Tour.
I saw that the new album leaked the other day. What were your feelings on that, being it was so close to the release date?
Well, our albums have always leaked, so I didn’t mind. I thought it’s actually going to be good for when we go out on the tour. Kids have some time to get familiar with the material and it gets to spread the music around.
The big buzz around this album is that the original lineup is back. What’s a brief background on how this all came together?
Things with the last lineup were about done and I figured to keep things going, it would be cool to get everyone from the old DBM lineup back together. The situation I was in and being good friends with everyone still, it just seemed to be plausible for it to happen. So I talked to everybody, got together and we’re here where we are right now.
Had you been writing for a follow up to Happiness because there had been rumors that you guys were done?
I’m always writing, so after Happiness, I just kept writing. I had a couple of DBM II songs done pretty much right after Happiness was recorded and I just kept writing for just any record, really. I really don’t write with anything in mind, I’m just writing whenever I feel like it. I bring what I write to practices and when the label says get in the studio, we go and lay it down.
Did you feel the need to re-work any of the tracks once you had the original lineup confirmed?
Not at all. Everything was pretty much as is. As usual, we had all the music completely, one hundred percent done before going into the studio. That’s pretty much the foundation for our band is that we have the music done completely so that the vocalist can lay down their stuff in the studio. That’s our writing process.
You are missing one member from the first DBM lineup, guitarist Sean O’Sullivan. Did you record all the guitar parts this time around?
I did. We practiced with me, Eric and Matt and then after practice, we recorded the songs just crudely with one mic in the middle of the room. Then I took the recording home, wrote a second guitar part over that and recorded that. That’s pretty much how all the second guitar parts came to be.
Are you bringing out a second guitarist on the road?
Yeah, we are. The guitarist we took on our last tour we did was Josh Benton and he’s going to be doing guitar for us again on this tour. We have a new bass player filling in for Eric named Jordan McCoy.
Why isn’t Eric touring with you guys?
He’s got school obligations and Jon Mess even is enrolled in school and just taking a month off to do this tour. Luckily spring break was right in the middle of the tour, so he doesn’t have to miss too much school.
Why did you go with naming the album Downtown Battle Mountain II?
Because of the idea of getting everyone from the original lineup back together. Also, there were kids who constantly wanted Jonny back, who were always asking for a DBM II and I thought that would be really funny to bring everyone back together and make a DBM II. It was just such a pipedream for a lot of people and to actually make it come true, it would blow some people’s minds. So we did and I’m pretty happy with the results.
What’s the biggest difference between the two records?
Probably everything. We’re all different people and we’re at a different level of playing our instruments, everybody’s at a different place mentally. We’ve completely brought something new to the table, I think. But because it is all of us, it’s still very DGD and at the same time, something we’ve done before.
Especially towards the end, you hear many moments of soul. Would you say you’ve matured or chilled in your sound since the first album?
I don’t think so. I’ve always liked hard music and I don’t feel that maturity in music is a softening of the sound. You can keep getting crazier and weirder and softening is not the only way to go. I kind of strived for a harder sound than on Happiness, on this record. I definitely feel it’s a harder record, but at the same time, Jonny brings a big pop to the vocal aspect of the music and it really changes the way you hear the songs and I think it’s a big mix of all kind of things.
Do you think if Kurt was on the album he would have been able to handle the vocal work?
He would have done something differently and who knows what mental state I would have been in while writing the record. Things would have definitely turned out in a different way. So I couldn’t really imagine what that would be like had we just written another record with that last lineup.
Were you happy to give back screaming responsibilities to Jon Mess?
Yeah, definitely. It makes it easier so that I can do the more technical guitar work, while he’s doing pretty technical scream work at the same time. It definitely frees me up to be as great as I want to be on the guitar without having to think ‘Well I have to scream while I play this, so don’t do anything too crazy.’
You also rap on the album, as you did on Happiness. When did you approach the others with the idea of rapping?
Well, I always make music that I don’t release. I make hip-hop songs, rock songs, all kinds of weird stuff. They’ve always knew that I could rap and actually encouraged me to rap on the record, but I told them I didn’t want to. So, we originally weren’t going to have rapping and in the studio during crunch time, we just needed some more vocals and I’m pretty good on coming up with stuff quickly, so I was able to cover a few parts and add something to the record.
Just a few days ago it was released that Jonny entered rehab and was facing some legal issues. It’s basically a few days before you hit the road, so how has it affected you guys?
I guess directly it hasn’t affected us at all because we weren’t involved in any of that, we don’t really know too much about it. Jonny was with Emarosa and living with Emarosa during that period, so I don’t even know what’s going on with that. As far as our plans and our music, it doesn’t even affect us, so I don’t really care.
He is still on this tour?
Yeah, he totally is. He’s coming in after he gets out of detox and practicing with us a few times and then we’re hitting the road. So it should be interesting.
Are you concerned with him hitting the road right after a detox?
It is what it is. We don’t really try and predict the future.
What else can we look for from the DGD camp? What’s the secret band you guys have?
We have a little side project that I do double guitar work on and then it’s just our bass player, our screamer and our drummer. It’s pretty much overall DBM II without Jonny. We just decided to do just a little side project for fun and I’m really happy with how the album turned out and we’re trying to figure out how to release it. I’m also starting a label and trying to help artists that I like because I’m not happy with music and the kinds of bands that are being represented right now.
Do you have anyone signed?
I have a couple of artists I’m talking to, getting distribution and everything is falling into place for me right now, but I don’t really want to make any announcements on it till it’s set in stone.
Dance Gavin Dance will be playing Crocodile Rock in Allentown, PA on March 25, The Fillmore at Irving Plaza on March 27 and First Unitarian Church in Philly on March 28. More info at myspace.com/dancegavindance.