Interview: Nick Diener and Jonathan Diener (The Swellers)


Before their Feb. 16th show at The Knight Hall, Tom Monahan sat down with Nick and Jonathan Diener from Flint MI’s The Swellers to talk about how their breakup rumor got started, how Warped Tour is like summer camp and why they’re beginning to reconsider touring with such diverse bands.

So you guys are just coming off of a tour with You Me at Six, right?

Jonathan: Yeah we did about 3 weeks with them. It was our first co-headlining U.S. tour ever, so that was pretty cool. Now we’re doing some hall shows with a bunch of local bands on the way back to Michigan. It’s cool because this is kind of how we started touring, doing shows exactly like this.

Nick: We have a feeling that these shows are going to be so much more fun. Even if we’re playing a sold out show and it’s a whole big event, we just prefer playing in open halls, where it’s like “we’ll bring the PA, you guys just play whenever you want.” It’s just so much more relaxed and nice.

On your tour with You Me at Six, were you guys on club shows for the most part?

Jonathan: Yeah we played like 200-600 capacity rooms. A lot of them sold out. It was really cool. We’re a professional band and we’re professional people, but at the same time, we kind of like a little bit looser vibe. Playing on the floor is always a lot of fun.

Do you guys like playing Vegas?

Jonathan: I like playing here, but Nick and I are the straight edge guys in the band. I enjoy going to the Strip and having fun and walking around. But our other guys want to party until like 5 in the morning, and we end up having to babysit. Luckily we have a tour manager who gets to do that tonight. I’m going to go out and lose some money and have my own little fun time.

Nick: I don’t drink and I don’t love weird naked chicks with diseases. So a lot about Vegas makes me feel weird. But I do kind of like the vibe. It’s like Disneyland for grownups. The shows have always been pretty cool. I like playing here a lot.

I saw you guys play here with Polar Bear Club a while back. It was that weird situation where Crime in Stereo was on the tour, but it was really unclear if they were playing the Vegas date. They played, but it turned out they weren’t getting paid for the show.

Nick: I remember that. That tour was one of the weirdest tours we’ve ever done. It was stacked. It was Polar Bear Club, Crime in Stereo, Broadway Calls and us. And people talk about that tour now. They’re like “Did you really do a tour with all those bands?  That must have been crazy!” But like 4 people showed up to every show. Nobody cared. Nobody knew about it.

Jonathan: At the New Orleans show, we had 6 people. The Swellers played for 2.

Nick: I think Vegas was probably the best show on that tour.

Yeah I think there were about 20 people there.

Nick: There were more than that. There were like 27!

How do you guys feel about Warped Tour?

Nick: It’s wild. It’s summer camp with all your friends. It’s the sweatiest and dirtiest you’ll probably ever get in your life.

Jonathan: It was the most tan I’ve ever been in my entire life. We’re Polish and Irish, but I got a tan from Warped Tour because I was outside that much.

Nick: Best catering ever. The food was incredible.

Jonathan: We played the Ernie Ball stage, which means you have to bust your ass twice as hard. Not only do you have to let people know you’re playing, but you have to let people know where the stage is because it isn’t centrally located. Every day we each had our own little routine. We’d wake up, write the time on a thousand flyers, carry the 2 big signs around to the front door, pass out flyers while you’re carrying the sign. Anto would try and sell CDs all day. We’d sell like 100 a day. It was insane. So that’s the cool part. For numbers and exposure, it’s amazing. But for your body, it’s like getting punched in the face all day. But half way through it, we were so into the routine. I didn’t willingly eat breakfast ever in my life until Warped Tour. I’d wake up at 8 a.m. every morning. I became an adult from that. And it makes normal touring even easier because you’re not in the sun all day and yelling or competing. But it’s awesome. The second you’re done, you’re so bummed because you miss all your new friends. You make all these weird connections that you’ll have forever. It’s really cool. We wish we could play it more.

Do you think the diversity of the bands on Warped Tour is good?

Nick: It’s good for Warped Tour. For the other bands, it can be annoying. There are kids walking around who you’d like to check out new music, but some kids are more jaded and closed minded than others. Our fans and us are even guilty of that too. We see some guy who looks like a dude we wouldn’t talk to and we don’t want to listen to his band. That’s how everybody rolls.

Speaking of diversity, you guys have been on a lot of diverse tours. The Casualties, Paramore, Anti-Flag, Less than Jake, the AP Tour.

Nick: I just love that you started with The Casualties and Paramore.

Jonathan: The best was when we played with Propagandhi and Strike Anywhere in Detroit and then went on the Paramore Tour. And then during the Paramore tour, we went to The Fest in Gainesville and then came back. It’s the most bizarre thing. We got our name out, so at least if you say The Swellers, people will say “oh I think I’ve heard of them!” rather than “who?” So we have that. But what we’re learning from all that stuff is that we want to lock down our fanbase and do the tours that make sense for us. With the last tour we did, it was a ton of fun and all the bands were great people, but we’re kind of realizing that it’s difficult if you don’t have a stacked bill with similar bands. And it’s not saying anything is bad, it’s just saying that you have to do stuff that people want to go to. If people only want to see one band out of the five on the lineup, they won’t be inclined to go.

Nick: I think we’re going to start being a little bit more picky about our tours. There are certain things that we’re deciding might not be the best look for our band. Touring with ska bands was a lot of fun, but ska kids tend to really like ska, and not much else. We didn’t take many fans away from a Less Than Jake or a Streetlight Manifesto tour. And then the younger crowds, sometimes those kids are impressionable and they get stoked, but they’re not going to be with us for very long. It’ll be about a year that they listen to this kind of music, and then they’re onto the next thing.

Jonathan: That’s the confusing thing. I’ll use The Fillmore as an example. There are Fillmores and 3,000 capacity venues in all these states. Mainstream kids will go to shows there every month, but the second you play anywhere smaller, it’s not even on their radar. They don’t even know it exists. So these kids on Twitter will be like “when are you guys coming back to Denver?” And we’re like “we were there yesterday.” They’re very different worlds. We just know that we want to embrace our world more.

Nick: We thought it would be cool to play different kinds of tours and broaden our horizons, but it’s kind of hard to coexist.

You guys recorded your latest record Good For Me with Bill Stevenson in The Blasting Room right?

Jonathan: Best dude ever. He’s the most interesting person we’ve ever met in our entire lives. He’s a musical genius. And he’s in some of our favorite bands, so that helps. He’s our favorite producer and has our favorite studio. One night, I went into the practice room there and his drum set was all set up for Descendents practice. They had just gotten on that Rise Against arena show in Long Beach. They didn’t realize that they weren’t going to play for like an hour and a half. They only had like a 30-minute set or something. They had like 45 songs in their setlist, so I just sat there looking at that, trying to play along at like 3 a.m. by myself. I was like “I hope Bill doesn’t know I’m playing his drums to his songs, but this is so fucking cool!” It was amazing.

Nick: Yeah I did vocals right in front of that drum set the whole time. Sometimes I would hit a really hard, loud note and his symbols would ring. So I had Descendents drums in the background of my voice on that whole record. It was pretty cool.

How did you guys come to join Fueled by Ramen? Did they approach you or were you actively looking for a label?

Nick: It was pretty simple. We made a bunch of demos and a list of about 800 tour dates. We had been touring DIY for years and thought it was time to move to a big label. We sent our stuff to a bunch of labels. It was a really simple message. “We’re looking for a record label to put out this record. Here are the songs and tour dates. Thanks.” And Fueled By Ramen really liked our stuff and hit us up. They were the one label that hit us up early on and stuck with us for a really long time. So they were the ones we decided to make records with. They’re good people.

Was it odd making the jump from doing everything on your own and then having someone backing you?

Nick: It was really weird, but awesome. Because I was our booking agent, I booked all of our tours. We were technically our own manager. So we went from that to getting this team of booking agent, manager, and a label. The trifecta. It made our jobs a lot easier, but also meant that we had to work extra hard to keep them liking us and stuff. Luckily, everybody is sticking by us and being super rad.

How did the recent rumor about you guys breaking up get started?

Jonathan: You mean my secret rumor that I didn’t tell Nick about until the next morning?

Nick: Yeah John started this rumor. My friend Tim makes up these stupid inside jokes with me. He developed a band called Strangehawks and I was like “I’ll fuckin be in it” and he made me an admin on the Facebook page for it. I posted a thing on there saying I was in this new electro-pop band Strangehawks. Somebody saw that and posted it on the big punk websites. So people started being like “oh, fuck, what’s going on?” And then Jonathan jokingly started being like “I never even knew about this, this is absurd. He’s my own brother.”

Jonathan: The best thing is that the dude from Fueled by Ramen that signed us texted me and said “what’s the deal with Nick’s new band?” I knew it was a joke, but he had no idea. Me, my friend Sam from Trapped Under Ice and my friend Chase started having this fake fight in the comments on the AbsolutePunk story about Strangehawks. This was all at like 2 a.m. We needed to do something to get people to pay attention to us again. Every day, I’d see sites post stuff like “Johnny Craig is in jail. Johnny Craig did heroine! Johnny Craig is out of jail. Johnny Craig is in this band.”

Nick: “Johnny Craig went poop.”

Jonathan: Yeah. Every day there was this new thing. I understand why it’s a big topic, but I wish people would wait until they find out what’s actually happening instead of saying something every 5 minutes. It just got so annoying, so I was like “I need to do that.” I’m really good friends with Zack from Property of Zack and we just started this whole thing where I made these fake tweets saying “I’m sick of this bullshit” and posted the AbsolutePunk link with the fake comments in it. So it was a viral joke. I got him to post “Statement coming from The Swellers drummer” and everyone flipped out. I got like 25 calls. My dad even called Nick.

Nick: He said “your poor brother is stuck in the middle of all this.” And I’m like “He did all this. He’s behind all this.” I woke up in the morning and had no idea what was going on. All it did was make 5 girls who really like us start crying because they thought we were going to break up.

Jonathan: We got a ton of people paying attention to us again though. We announced the tour dates from doing that. That’s the cool part. A bunch more people paid attention to our tour dates who normally wouldn’t. I had like 8 people on Twitter that said they bought our record because they thought the whole thing was so funny. It somehow benefitted us.

Nick: We like doing really dumb publicity things. We did a personalized song thing years ago on AbsolutePunk.

Jonathan: When Max Bemis was charging people for songs, I decided to make them for free.

Nick: It wasn’t out of disgust because of that, we were just bored as hell. We had a bunch of Say Anything fans writing us, and they became fans of us back in the Myspace days. And we did an April Fools’ Day joke about writing a song for CM Punk, which wasn’t true. CM Punk hooked us up with front row seats to Raw the other night. It wasn’t even related to that at all. He has no idea that even happened. Weird stuff happens to us.

Jonathan: He might know about that, because people still asked me about it for like a year after April Fools’ Day. Set Your Goals asked me about it.

How does you two being brothers impact the dynamic of the band? Do you think it has made things easier?

Jonathan: It made us stay together for 10 years.

Nick: If Jonathan wasn’t in the band and there was a downfall and some band members left, I’d probably start a new band. But because we’re brothers, if half the band left, we’d still be a band and keep going. That’s the reason we stuck together.

Jonathan: We write all the songs. So it’s always been a collaborative thing between us. It’s the same now as it was 10 years ago.

Jonathan: Yeah, it’s nice. The chemistry is really easy. We know the vision and direction that we want our band to go in. If we have a fight, it’s a music-related thing, and we come to a really good compromise. We have the brother fights, but 10 minutes later, we’re like “you want to get pizza? Let’s go get pizza.” Everyone stares at us like “how are you guys cool so fast?” We’ll get all hot-headed and weird about stuff and then come back together and a good song comes out of it. It’s nice.

Is it easier to find a compromise with things because you are so open with each other?

Jonathan: Yeah. That’s why I can’t even fathom writing songs with someone other than Nick. Because it would be like “I don’t like that direction” but you can’t really say it.

Nick: We don’t like most people that write songs. I’ve sat around with people in the past, other bands or whatever where they’re like “we should do a part like this!” Me and Jonathan would just say “no” instantly. We’d be like “Where are you? You’re not even on our same wavelength at all.”

Jonathan: We have these certain notes and melodies that make a Swellers song. They have to meet this criteria, whether it’s an open thing or not. A lot of people don’t really have that. They just do whatever they think will be cool. They have 5 band members sitting together saying “alright, I’m going to do this thing, you just write a drum part.” And it’s just not how we do songs. We write songs to make good songs. We don’t write songs like “yeah, we’re all doing this together!” We’re all playing it together, but if you have 5 people making a cake, it’s going to taste like shit. You should just have one person do it the right way.

Nick: That’s going to go on a hardcore shirt. 5 people making a cake, and it tastes like shit.

Jonathan: It sounds like an Emmure shirt or something. With the word “shit” really big on it.

What does the future hold for you guys right now?

Nick: Tour, tour, tour, tour. We’re always touring. We love touring.

Jonathan: We’re going back to the U.K. We’re doing a European tour and some random festival stuff here and there. Then we’re doing dates across the whole U.S. again. Our 10 year anniversary is coming up this summer and we’re trying to do some pretty cool stuff. We’ll either do a tour based on that, or just some smart regional shows where we’re not losing money touring for no reason. We’re kind of over touring to tour. We’re going to tour when it makes sense and do the right thing.

Nick: I’d like to pick and choose some cool shows, and take a lot of time to really write. We’ve never taken time off to write. We’ve always just written while we’re on tour, and sometimes we’re touring 9 months out of the year. So we would like to be in that environment where we can chill out. I’d love to make another record by the end of the year even. So, if we can get that going, I think we’ll be in good shape for the following year. And I think we want to make all kinds of changes for the band. I feel like we’re the biggest and best we’ve ever been. But we want to make sure we can keep that going. We don’t ever want to be stagnant. That’s important to me.

Do you like touring in Europe?

Jonathan: Definitely more now. To be honest, it sucked at first. You can’t understand what people are saying a lot of the time. They all speak English but you have to try really hard. After a few times though, we started seeing the same people. It’s just like in the states. You see the same people every night, and you start to get more comfortable with it. Here, we have somewhere to stay every single night. We don’t get hotels or anything. We tried to do that overseas, but once in a while it would be really shady. But for some reason we keep getting really good big tours every time we go to Europe, so we are not complaining anymore. We’re doing the U.K. and Europe with this band called Deaf Havana. It should be cool. We’re hitting all the spots we don’t normally hit, which will be nice.

Are you doing any festivals?

Just one festival. But it’s a secret so we can’t say anything about it yet.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Jonathan: We have a video for our song “Inside My Head” coming out soon which will be very comedic and awesome. And our record Good For Me is out. You can get it on iTunes and on our webstore. You probably can’t get it in normal stores, so find it online somewhere.

Interview by Tom Monahan
Transcribed by Ashleigh Thompson
Swellers photo by Steven Matview (edited by Tyler Newton)

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About the author  ⁄ Tom Monahan

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