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Music / Dance Gavin Dance

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He wrote the script on getting you out of your dress.

I believe there's meaning
No, I believe there's nothing

Dance Gavin Dance is a post-hardcore band formed in 2005 in Sacramento, California. They are known variously for their frequent line-up changes, their interplay between harsh and clean vocalists, their diverse range of styles, being the pioneers of so-called "Swancore," arguably creating the modern post-hardcore scene, or for just being that band with the silly name. The lineup changes are no joke, with only guitarist Will Swan and drummer Matt Mingus appearing on every record.

The band's history can be roughly divided into four eras, based on who the clean vocalist was at the time:

The First Jonny Craig Era (2005-2007)

This is the first era during which Jonny Craig provided clean vocals, and includes their debut EP Whatever I Say Is Royal Ocean, and their debut full-length Downtown Battle Mountain. These are some of DGD's darkest material, before the pop aspects of their sound began having further influence. The era ended when Jonny Craig, who is notoriously hard to work with, split with the band because of personal tensions.

The Kurt Travis Era (2007-2010)

Jonny Craig was soon replaced by former Five Minute Ride singer Kurt Travis, and soon they recorded their self-titled album Dance Gavin Dance, also called Death Star because of its cover. But before they could release it, harsh vocalist Jon Mess decided to leave the band, partially because of his Lyme disease, and partially because his good friend, bassist Eric Lodge, was also leaving Dance Gavin Dance. Following their departure, Will Swan took up screaming duties, and Jason Ellis (also of Five Minute Ride) replaced Eric on bass. They subsequently recorded the album Happiness, which was a slight departure from their usual style (if that can even be defined) in that it took a funkier and jazzier direction, with a few songs on the album having no screaming at all. It was also the first album to feature Will Swan's rapping, which has appeared on every album since. Not long after the release of Happiness, second guitarist Zachary Garren was kicked out of the band for clashing with Will Swan, with Zach allegedly taking a larger creative role in the album than Will would have liked.

The Second Jonny Craig Era (2010-2012)

Eventually Kurt Travis and Jason Ellis were kicked out of the band so the band could reunite with their original lineup (minus guitarist Sean O'Sullivan). Jonny Craig and Jon Mess were again the singers of Dance Gavin Dance. In reference to this reunion, they named the album they released during this era Downtown Battle Mountain II though to what extent the album is an actual sequel to their debut LP is debatable. It may have had the same lineup, but the style of music played on DBM2 is significantly more influenced by soul compared with DBM1's more straightforward post-hardcore sound, and Jon Mess's lyrics on DBM2 are at their most nonsensical. This era couldn't last long though, as Jonny clashed with every member of the band, as well as many record label officials. Jonny's drug habit also made members very uncomfortable, and it was agreed that Jonny would leave the band a second time.

The Tilian Pearson Era (2012-2024)

Jonny was replaced by former Tides Of Man singer Tilian Pearson, and in 2013 they released their fifth album Acceptance Speech. There was a mild controversy surrounding the album's production, with fans claiming it was sloppily done, that the bass was inaudible, and that Tilian's voice was autotuned. All of these criticisms were addressed in their 2015 album Instant Gratification which was, in many ways, a converging of all the different styles Dance Gavin Dance has had in the past decade, and remains one of their most well-received albums to date. The recording process was reportedly so easy that on December 23 of the same year, Rise Records confirmed that Dance Gavin Dance would release their next studio album in 2016. Mothership, the band's seventh full-length, was finally released on October 7. Studio album #8, which is titled Artificial Selection, was released on June 8, 2018. The band's ninth studio album, Afterburner was released on April 24, 2020.

In October 2021, it was announced that longtime touring guitarist Andrew Wells (of Eidola) had been made an official member. On April 14th, 2022, bassist Tim Feerick passed away, shortly before the release of the group's tenth studio album, Jackpot Juicer. On April 15, 2024, the band announced Tilian's departure, citing creative differences, shortly followed by a pair of singles featuring Andrew Wells on clean vocals.


  • Whatever I Say Is Royal Ocean [EP] (2006)
  • Downtown Battle Mountain (2007)
  • Dance Gavin Dance (2008)
  • Happiness (2009)
  • Downtown Battle Mountain II (2011)
  • Acceptance Speech (2013)
  • Instant Gratification (2015)
  • Mothership (2016)
  • Artificial Selection (2018)
  • Afterburner (2020)
  • Jackpot Juicer (2022)

Tropes found in their music include:

  • Album Title Drop: For two of their albums:
    • Twice in Happiness, in "Tree Village" and "Carl Barker", though strangely enough not in "Happiness"
    • Downtown Battle Mountain II gets said in the introduction to the song "Thug City"
  • Amicable Exes: The band has remained close with Jonny Craig and Kurt Travis. In some live shows, they've even played songs with both and Tilian on stage.
  • Anti-Love Song: "Honey Revenge" seems like a normal love song at first, but quickly takes a turn.
  • Author Tract: "People You Know" is one for Jon Mess.
  • Break Up Song: Perhaps too many to mention, but shout out to Happiness for being a break-up album.
    • Also, "Pussy Vultures" offers a different take on one:
    The pussy vultures are coming for your girlfriend
    After you break up
    They listen to her sad story then slip it in
    'When she's vulnerable
    • Other songs that qualify are "On The Run," "Perfect," "And I Told Them I Invented Times New Roman," "Shark Dad," and "Turn Off The Lights, I'm Watching Back To The Future Part II," and "Care."
  • Call-Back: Chock full of them! The band has had multiple series of songs, including the Strawberry Swisher series, the Robot With Human Hair series, the Burning Down The Nicotine Armoire series, and the Turn Off The Lights, I'm Watching Back To The Future series, in addition to the two Downtown Battle Mountain albums, which were so named because they consisted of the same original lineup. The similarities between the songs in these series vary, as Will Swan has said that they are usually made part of the series based on the music rather than the lyrics. In spite of this, there are occasional lyrical themes, like how "Strawberry Swisher Pt. 1" and "Strawberry Swisher Pt. 2" start with nearly the same line ("Please, girl, stay till the earlier morning" and "Could you stay a little longer", respectively) but with very different feelings.
    • There's also Dance Gavin Dance's side project Secret Band, who in the song "Projectile Comet" change the famous "I believe there's meaning, no I believe there's nothing" line from "Surprise, I'm From Cuba And Everyone Has One Brain" into "I believe in reading, no I believe in shopping, no I believe in eating every single topping."
    • The ending of "Evaporate" reprises several previous songs, including "Surprise, I'm From Cuba And Everyone Has One Brain", "Me and Zoloft Get Along Just Fine", and "Alex English".
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: The whole band can come off like this, but special mention has to go to harsh vocalist Jon Mess, whose lyrics are often completely nonsensical, or about such deep topics as Starcraft.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Deconstructed in "Honey Revenge"
  • Genre-Busting: They were the first band to truly mix post-hardcore and R&B.
  • Genre Mashup: Practically the embodiment of this trope. They can be roughly described as post-hardcore heavily influenced by math rock,R&B, soul, progressive rock, funk, jazz, emo, screamo, and even disco.
  • Gratuitous Panning: The opening to "Pussy Vultures".
  • Grief Song: "Happiness" is about a man who was unable to save a drowning girl. Despite the title, it's one of their darkest songs.
    Listening to the answering machine
    Over and over
    Only to hear your voice one more time
    ''Just one more time'
  • Intercourse with You: A lot of Jonny Craig's lyrics come across like this
  • Large Ham: Jon Mess, in spades. It's easiest to imagine his lyrics in all caps.
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • Honey Revenge, a sweet and upbeat song about a stalker.
    • This is extremely common with Dance Gavin Dance. One may imagine some more angry or evil lyrics during Mess's parts, when in reality the lyrics can often be comedic and just plain weird. It can also be flipped on it's head with the poppy, catchy sections, leaving lots of room for zig-zagging. Will Swan alluded to this while talking about the track "Petting Zoo Justice":
      It’s so heavy too – I mean, no one can understand what screamers are saying. So, if you don’t know what [Jon] is saying, you’re like ‘Oh man, that must be evil or something.’ No, it’s like [a] fucking three-toed sloth versus this guy, it’s silly as fuck.”
  • Madness Mantra: "I believe there's meaning no I believe there's nothing I believe there's meaning no I believe there's nothing I believe there's meaning no I believe there's nothing..."
  • Mood Whiplash: The hardcore breakdown in "Awkward" comes out of nowhere.
    • Also, the transition from smooth R&B to chaotic post-hardcore to classic disco in "Blue Dream"
  • New Sound Album: Really every album, in part due to their frequent line-up changes and Jon Mess's ever changing vocal style.
    • Downtown Battle Mountain was largely post-hardcore, with Jonny's smooth R&B singing and Will Swan's technical, math-y riffs
    • Dance Gavin Dance was the first album with Kurt Travis and the first album with Zachary Garren, who had a Dueling Guitars thing going with Will, adding to the complexity.
    • Happiness remains the only album without Jon Mess, and Will Swan's bear screams sound quite different. This whole album took a funkier direction than all other albums, with a few songs (namely "Don't Tell Dave" and the "Strawberry Swisher" songs) that are very radio-friendly.
    • Downtown Battle Mountain II has been described as a soul album by a few music critics, which makes sense given how Jonny's vocals have gotten lower and more prone to runs. Jon Mess's lyrics are crazier than ever, and his screams are more high-pitched and harsher than before.
    • Acceptance Speech is the first album with Tilian Pearson, who sings much higher than previous DGD singers, and has a very good sense of pop melody. Jon Mess's screams have lowered, and sound fuller than ever.
    • Instant Gratification is a recapitulation of all their previous sounds, and can go from Justin Timberlake-esque singalongs in one verse, to bombastic Mess screams in the next. And that's just "Shark Dad"!
  • Obsession Song: "Honey Revenge" again.
  • Piss-Take Rap: Will Swan has one in every album since Happiness
  • Rapid-Fire "No!": In "Buffalo!"
  • Religion Rant Song: Strawberry Swisher Pt. 3 is classic Type 3.
    Got a box of lies
    Gonna get you high
    With the words of wisdom that you need to hear
    Got a big ass book
    And I'm not a crook
    But I'll take your guilt in the form of dollars
  • Revolving Door Band: They were infamous for their frequent lineup changes in their early years. As of Instant Gratification, however, the lineup has stabilized.
  • Series Fauxnale: Many fans believed that Artificial Selection would be the band's final album, largely citing evidence in the final track, "Evaporate" - specifically the title, the line "never coming back", and the minute-long reprise of previous songs. However, Tilian later reassured fans that it wasn't the case.
  • Sequel Song: Numerous examples. "The Robot With Human Hair" series, "Strawberry Swisher" series, and "Burning Down the Nicotine Armoir".
  • Shout-Out: Jon Mess sure loves these.
    • "Stroke God, Millionaire" gives a shout out to Starcraft 2
    Proxy the awesome and seek the deletion of reaper repeating submission face
    Opt for the option to stop this exhaustion and breathe through the tube of civility
    • From the new album Mothership, "Chocolate Jackalope" features one verse delivered by Will Swan that references (of all things) one of Drake's singles "Hotline Bling".
  • Siamese Twin Songs: "Hot Water On Wool" and "Hot Water On Wool (Reprise)", which are basically one song split into two tracks.
  • Song Style Shift: Done so frequently it's impossible to name them all.
  • Soprano and Gravel: Tilian and Jon Mess are an unconventional example.
  • The Something Song: "The Backwards Pumpkin Song"
  • Title Track: "Happiness"
  • Uncommon Time: "Happiness" is in 12/8 time.
  • Vocal Evolution: Jon Mess's screaming style has changed drastically since the band first formed. His screams before he left the band were basically harsh shouting, and were damaging to his voice. When he came back for DBM 2, he had spent some time learning proper screaming technique, so that his screams were more full and understandable in later albums.
    • This also applies for Tilian Pearson. On Acceptance Speech, his cleans were mostly auto-tuned and had an overall higher pitch to them in comparison to Jonny Craig's or Kurt Travis' singing. Come Instant Gratification, Tilian's voice is generally more polished, though his timbre remained basically the same. Meanwhile his vocals on Mothership are grittier and recall his tenure with Tides of Man, and he can still manage to hit soaring notes in the process.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Jon Mess openly writes his lyrics based on sound first, and if he can't find a meaning to go with them, then that's fine. His lyrics often are very meaningful, but sometimes they are tongue twisters, references to video games, or just complete nonsense. Some notable examples that fit this trope:
    • From "Heat Seeking Ghost of Sex":
    Don’t be tardy for my leaky Barbie tv party pee in the park!
    • From "On The Run":
    Legs don’t matter, they’re just softening, I’m limpin
    Bugs don’t matter, no death is suffering, so squish it!
    • From "Inspire The Liars":
    A penis wide that towers high is cumming at your feet
    The story's old, the butthole full of cancer spreading meat
    • Perhaps the best example of his phonetic writing style comes from "Blue Dream":
    Then you're right in sah dah getti fah da getti tah the betti tah righ