The Chart-topping Dance Rockers Talk Science, Literally.
On days off, cartoony Australian dance bands go to science museums. Or at least Art vs. Science does. When MTV Iggy called to talk about the band’s tour and latest digital release, their drummer and vocalist, Dan Williams was hanging out at the largest science museum in the western hemisphere, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. And in between clueing us in on the band’s American fanbase and packed touring schedule, he dropped some knowledge about mechanical engineering.
Not the kind of conversation I expected to have with the inventor of frenzied dance rock like “Parlez-Vous Francais” or “A.I.M. Fire” (both available on their self-titled digital US release, out this week). In the former’s music video, French mimes violently face off on the set of a Western, to the line Parlez-vous francais/Si tu peux le parler allex tomber la chemise — “If you can speak French, take off your shirt.” Mais bien sur.
But Jim Finn, Dan Mac, and Dan W. manage to walk that line between ridiculous and charming with their head-nodding guitar and beats mix. They also kill it live, wowing festival goers in Australia from Perth to Melbourne. The combination has skyrocketed them to the top of the Australian charts with albums like last year’s The Experiment – which recently snagged the award for best independent album at ARIAs, or Australia’s equivalent to the UK’s Mercury Prize.
Although I was basically ruining his educational yet fun outing, Dan W. gamely spilled the band’s secrets, once I figured out just which Dan he was. Eventually, he confided everything, from who was the most popular band member in high school to their true feelings for fellow Australian festival headliners The Jezabels. Read on for the reveal.
Hi, can you tell me which Dan I’m speaking with?
This is Dan W the drummer.
And you’ll be speaking for the band as a whole.
I will be saying everything that they want to say through my mouth.
Where are you now, where were you last, and where are you going?
We’re in the science museum in Chicago, which is really cool by the way. Before that we were in Mountain View in California, where we played the BFD Festival, and that was our first official American festival. And before that we were in LA, and before that Austin, Texas. We’ve done about a third of the tour.
So. You’re at a science museum.
Please don’t make any jokes about Art vs. Science and science.
There’s just so much stuff to do on the day off. We try to do other stuff than hang out in bars, which is what we do on gig days. I’m currently in the museum. I’m standing in front of the spirit of america, the jet-powered race car. Somebody named Craig rode this car back in 1964.
Did you say jet-powered car?
Yeah. One of those kinds of cars they tried to break the sound barrier with.
You’re pretty well-informed about engineering. Did a love of science lead to your name?
No, that’s not it. The story changes every time we tell it, but…We kind of just stole it from my friend. He came up with it, and I told him that was as terrible idea. And then I went to my other friend, and said, ‘I have this great name for a band.’ But he’s OK with us. At least he says he is.
So you’re heading to Bonnaroo next, right?
Yes. We’re leaving tomorrow morning to drive down there from Chicago and we play two different gigs there. I know they have a decent festival show, and then there’s another more funky one by the Bonnaroo fountain, I think. We’ve never been, so it’s very cool.
I’ve heard that the Bonnaroo festival turns into a giant dust storm.
That sounds cool. We went to Burning Man in Nevada so we’re used to giant dust storms.
How was Burning Man?
Burning Man was absolutely bizarre. I’m not sure that I remember it all properly. Bizarre and beautiful.
Your self-titled album is out today in the US. What are your hopes for it?
Yeah it is! I forgot about that! Thank you for reminding me. I hope some people who go to the show like it and download it. It’s a digital release, we’ve been sitting on these songs for 18 months. In Australia it’s old news, but we just dropped it now here because we’ve been wanting to come to the US for a while now.
It’s your fourth official visit to the United States. Have you noticed any fanbase growth?
It certainly feels like it’s been growing. On this tour, we’re doing festivals and stuff. We have American fans and stuff now and they know the words and that’s really bizarre — flying 22 hours and seeing somebody sing every word of one your songs. It’s great and bizarre.
I read somewhere that you had initially gotten bad reviews at the outset – do you think that there was a bias against your music because it was loud and fun and not trying to be intellectual?
Yeah. When we started out we just wanted attention straightaway (laughs). We’d been to a bunch of dance music festivals and long talked about making a live dance band. And when we started dance music…now, dance music is not very subtle. The first bunch of songs were simple, which we wrote really quickly, but vibed on and really liked. But early on, in our career, we wanted a lot of attention, so…Some people thought it was kind of annoying. (laughs) But we made fans quckly in Australia. We just want to write stuff that’s fun, we don’t really care about other stuff.
So since then has your songwriting gotten more sophisticated?
I don’t know about sophisticated, but it’s gotten more complicated. (laughs) [Vocalist and keyboardist] Dan loves finding new toys off the Internet so we’ve got this growing arsenal of keyboards. So the process has gotten more complicated. But at heart we want to make interesting dance music.
You got your start as a band by filling a vacant spot at a show – it makes your beginning sound like an accident.
Yeah. For a long time we’d thought about starting a dance band. That was the catalyzing moment — we had a friend who was starting a show and had an open slot. We said, ‘Hey we have a band.’ It was a couple of days before and we said to each other, ‘You know how we wanted to start dance band? Well, here’s our chance.’ We wrote songs and finished off in about two days. That ended up being about half of the album. We write well under pressure.
Creatively, what does each member bring to the band?
We all have different ideas about everything. It’s hard to draw a line between everything. Jim always wants to do the loudest thing. Dan always wants to do the [unclear]…
The most colorful thing?
Ah, yes, colorful. And I want to do the fastest thing.
You were initially describing Dan as being thoughtful, right?
I said thoughtful, but then you said colorful and I think that’s better.
You guys met in high school. Which one was the most popular? Or were you all popular and the ones terrorizing the other kids?
I don’t know. Jim was pretty popular kid. But it’s not popular like on American TV shows, not that life is like television. You guys have a very distinct set of groups in high school, and in Australia it’s a little less segregated.
We were popular dorks. Maybe just dorks. High school was very focused on sports — rugby, and other sports you don’t really have in America. So playing music was kind of weird. We spent lunch hours and after school in the music room practicing Rage Against the Machine and Silverchair covers.
I learned about the Aria Awards while researching another Australian band, the Jezabels – they won it last year, while Art vs. Science won the award for best independent record. Now, are you guys on the same level as the Jezabels? Just trying to get perspective as an outsider to the scene.
I guess if you want to say “levels” we play similar size venues. But Jezabels, slightly bigger ones. Bastards. Australia’s music scene is very small, so if there’s a band that plays more than one festival a year, you know each other. We’re all friends. It’s very incestuous.
Are there any bands you’d recommend from the Australian scene?
Bluejuice. Classic pop. They’re quite weird. Similar to us in outlook and colorfulness. Also Tame Impala. They’re quite fun and very cool. Everyone loves them in Australia.