Interview: Tilian Pearson
MEB staffer Steve Alcala recently had the chance to chat with the man of many projects and current Dance Gavin Dance vocalist, Tilian Pearson. They discuss the recording of the band’s upcoming album Acceptance Speech, Pearson’s solo journey that gave us Material Me, what exactly happened with Saosin, and much more.
Was there a deciding moment in your life that you chose music as a path for your future? Or was it a natural inclination?
My two older sisters were always into music when I was growing up. They used to sing together, harmonizing and they both played multiple instruments. I dabbled but didn’t really get into music until my last year of high school. My girlfriend at the time taught me to play guitar, and I picked it up pretty quickly. Within a month or so I was writing and recording songs on a digital four-track recorder.
And so this was first manifest with Tides of Man? Or were there other projects for then?
After high school I played bass in a band based out of L.A. for a little bit. Tides of Man was actually formed on a Christmas break. Alan [Jaye, bassist for TOM] and I didn’t actually live in Florida when we played our first show there. We were literally just home for Christmas, met up with some old friends and wrote a five-song set. That group turned into to Tides of Man and was the same lineup for the first two albums.
Of course, you and Tides of Man parted ways. After that experience, how was your passion or pursuit of music affected?
Directly after we broke up, I felt an urgency to prove myself and start creating new music as fast as possible. It was kind of a spray-and-pray approach with a lot of different bands, so it was odd. I “jammed” with Saosin, Emarosa, and Night Verses and did demos for a lot of different bands. I definitely felt overextended and soon began to get worn out. Tides of Man happened so organically and creatively, and it felt like I was trying to force things with a new project. After a bit of time, I recovered though.
Could you elaborate on what happened with your auditioning process with Saosin? Personally, I was excited after hearing the demos.
It was pretty straightforward. They flew me out to California and I did a bunch of practices and recorded five demos. A few months later I came back and did some writing sessions. Time just stretched and stretched after that. It was a complete maybe for almost two years. They would send me demos every few months. During this span I also toured with Emarosa and did a couple months of writing and recording demos with them. It wasn’t until I was doing the music video for “Up In the Air” from my solo project when Saosin told me they were probably going to do something instrumental.
Did that experience provide some insight on the kind of music or the kind of band that you want to perform with?
Kind of. But not really.
How did your solo career really come forward?
I was tired of writing with bands and compromising creatively. I wanted to do something that I had control over. I had a good amount of writing freedom in Tides of Man, but since then I couldn’t find a group of guys who were willing to accept a completed song structure and go from there. I also wanted to do something that was completely straightforward and vocal-centric. I guess doing a solo project is selfish, haha.
I have never put as much thought, effort and planning into anything I have ever done. Material Me is the hardest I have ever worked on anything.
Matt Malpass is a brilliant producer. What made you return to him for Material Me?
We had been talking about doing a pop-esque project for a while. I liked what he did on The Cinema as well. He was a pretty big influence in forming the style of the album.
As much as I enjoy Material Me, there’s quite the contrast between it and the post hardcore setting many listeners are used to hearing you in. How did you manage to find a bridge between that and this poppy and vocal-centric sound?
Haha there is no bridge. It’s just two different genres. They both have their own freedoms and boundaries. It is fun to do both.
Is there a general theme that you hoped Material Me could get across? There’s a lot of positivity on the record that’s uplifting for me, personally.
The theme is that each song is a completely separate entity. I wanted to make the lyrics as understandable as possible without sacrificing honesty and artistry. Now that I have had some time to reflect, I can make an analysis. “Up In the Air” is meant to be uplifting, “You’ll Forget Me Soon” is meant to be tragic, “Ghost” is a hopelessly hopeful love song, [and] “Chemicals” is a satire on the party scene, etc.
How would you describe your songwriting style then, in Tides of Man, as opposed to what we hear on Material Me or what we can expect to hear on Dance Gavin Dance’s forthcoming album?
Tides of Man had all different kinds of writing styles. Sometimes I would come to practice with a whole song structure. Sometimes Spencer [Gill, guitarist] or Adam [Sene, ex-guitarist] would do the same. Sometimes we would write as a full band. Sometimes two of us would write together. Everything was pretty much based on guitar riffs, though.
Material Me was interesting. Most of it was written at Malpass’ studio. I would start a song in the B-room. After the skeleton was laid down I would send it over to him in the A-room and he would put his flare on it. We would get together afterwards and collaborate. Then we would track the song. A couple other times I would sequence out a song and he would just mix it. The tracks for “Chemicals” and “You’ll Forget Me Soon” were originated by Malpass.
Dance Gavin Dance’s writing style is really odd to me. It starts with Will [Swan, guitarist] and Matt [Mingus, drummer] writing an entire song structure of one guitar and drums, and then everyone else just adds their parts separately. It takes a lot of trust to do it that way. I am not sure they have always done it like that, but that is [how] the new album is going.
Speaking of Dance Gavin Dance, how did you come in contact to fill the role as vocalist? Was it really planned?
They called me up and asked me to fill in on their November U.S. headliner and I accepted the offer. It kind of just went from there. Now I am doing an album with them. There’s no such thing as a permanent DGD vocalist.
Were you apprehensive about joining another band, both because of past experiences and focus on your solo material?
No. It’s probably going to wind up helping my solo career.
You all are currently recording the new album [Acceptance Speech]. How’s that going?
It’s pretty rad. A lot of it is brand new territory for DGD, partially due to three new members that haven’t been on any of the band’s previous albums. Also, it’s the first DGD record without Kris Crummett as the producer, so it’s not really going to sound like DGD to some people, at first.
Anything else that you would like to say to our readers?
Stay in school, go to college and get a real job.