This interview was originally posted on Sound Revoltuion, 02/05/14.
The Swellers are finally back in the UK for the first time since 2012, following the release of their latest record, The Light Under Closed Doors. We caught up with drummer Jonathan Diener before their headline show at Nottingham’s Rock City Basement.
So how’s tour going?
It’s great. It’s our sixth time here and this is easily, for us as a band, the best and most fun we’ve had. It’s nice that it’s actually our tour for once and people are showing up – which is also nice.
Have you mostly been doing support tours over here in the past then?
Yeah. We did Young Guns, Deaf Havana and The Blackout. And we did the Give It a Name introducing tour, years ago which was with The Dangerous Summer and some other bands. Then we did our own tour about two years ago which was us, Into It. Over It. and Broadway Calls.
So have you had any time for sightseeing this time round?
It’s funny for us because we’re the kind of band where we get all the sightseeing done the first time we go somewhere new. So now we’re just so relaxed about stuff. And we play Hit the Deck a lot so we’re really used to this place specifically [Rock City Basement, Nottingham]. It’s been really cool because all the venues have been making us food and our guys who work out will like go and find a gym. I do a lot of writing so I’ll get on my computer and sit and relax. So none of us feel stressed about anything, and then all we do is show up, soundcheck, hang out, play and then we go.
What’s the difference between touring in the US and the UK?
Well the drives are much shorter which is a really big one. And another benefit to touring here is the pound conversion to US dollars being pretty awesome. Because I think it’s like 1.75 or something. So 100 pounds is like 175 dollars so we’re making more money than it actually feels like. And a big thing is that we have a ton of bills back home so doing a tour like this is really helping us out.
So it’s the first time you’ve been back since you released the Running Out of Places To Go EP, then the new record, The Light Under Closed Doors, and now this B-Sides collection too.
[laughter] We do a lot of stuff.
So what’s the reception been like to the new stuff?
The funny thing was the first show we played, I went to the guys and I was like “I don’t know if people really get the new stuff” and they all looked at me and were like “are you an idiot? That’s the stuff everyone was singing the most.” I didn’t realise because the three dudes are in front of me like blocking my view because I play drums. Then we played a little bit of a bigger stage the other night and I got to actually look around and be like… Oh cool. So it’s nice. A lot more people know the new stuff than we thought. Our record Ups and Downsizing that was out in like 2009, that’s the record everyone seems to know the most. Just because that’s when we first signed to Fueled by Ramen and did a bunch of stuff on that. But it’s cool knowing that stuff we’ve done on our own, and our tour we’ve done on our own, is working.
Have you been playing much new stuff?
Yeah. I think we’re doing like five new songs, so it’s cool. And like the way we do our set, we don’t do like one or two songs and then talk and then another and then talk. We do like four songs and then like five songs and we have these big chunks and we slam a bit of everything into our set. And whether we get to the really old stuff, it just depends if people want it or not.
Do you change it up every night?
We’ve doing mostly the same set, but a song here and there will change. But we’re like openly asking people to tell us if they’re going to multiple shows. Let us know and we’ll actually change the set for you. A lot of people don’t do that kinda thing. We’re a band that just plugs in and plays. A lot of bigger bands have their in ear systems and their backing tracks, like a production.
Yeah. Like I saw Alkaline Trio twice on their tour here and they played the exact same set both times. And there was a week between the shows.
Yeah. I think those bands like the bigger bands sometimes don’t realise that it matters. And I think with smaller bands you get the direct contact and reaction. If you’re a bigger band with a whole discography of hits you don’t really have to worry about it.
You released the new record on No Sleep. How did you decide to work with them?
When we were on Fueled by Ramen we befriended No Sleep on Warped Tour back in 2010. And we were kinda jealous of all our friends who were on it because they got to always tour together. For a little bit we were doing big shows opening for big bands but we were totally missing out on this awesome scene that we always felt part of, but kind’ve secluded for some reason. So when we got off Fueled by Ramen we purposely didn’t talk to any record label. We did our EP on our own and then we started talking to people. There were some people kinda trying to get us and all that kinda stuff. One label was getting really close then just suddenly got really weird – and I was just like I’m tired of us this, so I text Chris from No Sleep, while I was at work at Guitar Center and I just said “hey, are you serious about signing us still? Lets do it.” And one hour later we had a full contract. It was like the smoothest thing we’ve ever done. We weren’t stressed about getting screwed over or anything. They’re just like nice dudes, and our friends.
With the new record, how do you feel it differs from the older ones?
The main thing I think is that sonically, the way it was recorded was a lot different. The main thing is that nothing was replaced. A big thing in modern music is you hear the really big polished drums when in reality the only way you can do that is to use a computer to manipulate what’s going on. And whether its that or completely sampling another sound and replacing it, that’s a big thing. On this one it’s all completely natural drums. It’s all like our live show, you know, just plug in and play. It does sound a little dirtier and grittier and to some people they might be turned off by the production, but for us, that’s what we sound like. We just think its cool and raw, and a very 90s sounding record. And as far as the actual songwriting, Nick [guitar/vocals] and I had a side project, I think it was around four years ago now, and we had about four songs written and it was just baritone guitar, really heavy, drums and vocals and that’s it. So we were working on those and we decided to mess around and pretend they were Swellers songs, and that was it, we had half our album just from that. So everything went in a more garage rock, or rocky punk direction than a pop punk or melodic skate punk as people consider our older music. So it’s nice. I like playing straightforward stuff with grit to it and melodies. Like that’s the stuff I’m into.
How did the decision to release the B-Sides record online, as a donation based thing, come around?
I think people thought it was way more thought out than it was. What happened was, tax season was coming up and in the states we were getting screwed out of a lot of money. There was like a bunch of money we owed and we were getting like invoices late from people. Then all these other people started coming out of the woodwork and asking for money, all at once. So we were just thinking that we needed to raise money but we didn’t wanna do a kickstarter or anything like that. And we’re a band that will never beg, we wouldn’t ask for anything. So Nick came up with the idea of putting it on bandcamp and what that did was allow us to give people something in return for giving us some money. So they can donate a minimum of five dollars or whatever they want. And we even spoke to No Sleep who we owe money to, and we talked to them and we were like “if we do it this way, we will get more money to pay you back.” Plus we had to pay all our other bills so we could carry on touring and stuff. And they just said that it was fine, without hesitation. So we have everything from a track from Good For Me which almost made that, a song that was almost on our newest record and alternate takes of older songs, and even a really terrible bedroom demo [laughs]. It’s a whole spectrum of things. Realistically, it’s not like a press on vinyl worthy release, we just went on old harddrives and thought it would be cool. I think one day we’ll try to do like a legit thing but that will be way in the future. For now this is just a nice thing to help us back on our feet. Plane tickets alone for this tour were like $4000 which was like our whole bank account [laughs]. Luckily all of the stuff is helping us pay everything off, because we wanna go back home and go back to normal.
What’s reception been like to the B-Sides collection?
Well it’s been good, it’s only like three real songs and the rest is just like alternate stuff. Only thing I feel bad about is like if people expect actually expect us to play the songs live because we feel beyond them now. Well I guess there’s one or two we would play but the one thing we didn’t realise was bands like Saves the Day and Alkaline Trio, they did their B-Sides thing and they have like 15 totally new songs and they’re all pretty good and they do play some of them once in a while. We are not that band [laughs]. What we do is write enough songs for our record and get rid of the other ones. We just scrap ‘em or we use parts of them to make new ones. The reaction to this has been cool but its like the same three or four songs that everyone is talking about. The rest are just more for collectors.
Finally, what are your plans for the rest of the year?
Right now we’re just waiting on one or two tours. We’ve gone a completely different direction than we used to. We used to do two month long tours and hit everywhere and just go crazy with it. This years been way more relaxed. We did a short tour with I Am the Avalanche and we might do another short run with them down to Florida. We’re trying to keep things short and sweet and try not to overplay anything. Because what we used to do was go to the same place every two months, and people would stop showing up or think they’d just catch us next time we were there. We don’t want people thinking that. And on top of that we have like jobs at home, we have girlfriends, we all have lives – obviously the band for me is my number one priority but what we’re trying to do is just chill out a little bit, you know? We want people to remember us and want us. I do wanna try to get around the world against at least once, and around the US. I don’t know when we’re coming back here but we’re always down to play any festival anywhere. We still haven’t played Download or Reading and Leeds.
You guys would fit in well on that lineup.
We wish [laughs]. I don’t know if they’re still booking bands or whatever. There’s so many things that we just almost get and things fall through our fingers a lot. But our band is content with that, you know? It’s just like that is the story of The Swellers, we do things our own way.