Sundays for me are usually a day of an embarrassingly large amount of inactivity. Coffee, breakfast, and nothing- and that usually works just fine for me, but this past Sunday was a day full of music that brought me right back to the prime of my youth. It was nostalgically refreshing in all the right ways. I headed down to Jacksonville, Florida for the Does it Matter/ Such Gold/The Swellers/ Strung Out show, where I was able to meet with Nick Diener of The Swellers and have a little chat. There is something to be said for artists who are not only willing to give interviews, but who are also actively trying to ensure that the interviewer’s experience is as smooth and enjoyable as possible. Nick is definitely one of these artists. I’ll just dive right into it and hope you guys enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed asking and listening.
Vinyl Mag: I know you’re very proud to be from Flint, Michigan. Give me some background on what it was like growing up in your hometown.
Nick Diener: Well, we played our first show there. You know, we lived in the suburbs, but we ended up spending a lot of time in Flint every weekend; even during the week we would be up there- it was the best all-ages music scene I had ever heard of back in the early 2000’s. And that’s kind of where we learned our trade. There’s just a lot to do. Good food, good people, good music, great downtown area. That area wasn’t actually there 10 years ago, it was kind of a ghost town, but it’s starting to come back alive and, you know, I dig it.
VM: Give some insight on the evolution of the music from, say, My Everest until now.
ND: Well, I guess it depends on what we’re listening to. Back in the day, we were listening to a lot of No Use For A Name and NOFX. You know, some of them were our friends, and we got a lot of influence from them. Seeing them play all the time and hanging out with them. So we were like, ‘Let’s play fast music. No one plays fast music- let’s do it.’ It was at a time when people were kind of starting this pop punk thing again but, you know, no one was shredding. No one was ripping it, so we were like ‘lets do that.’ Over the years, if you make a record of 12 fast songs, the last thing you want to do is make [another] record of 12 fast songs. So we decided to mix it up a little bit and slow it down and incorporate some of our other favorite influences- The Get Up Kids, Jimmy Eat World…all of these late 90’s rock and roll that were just rad. And then, as the years went on, we stopped worrying about other bands and just whatever came out came out. We kind of go up and down depending on what kind of stuff we want to play- fast, slow, ups, downs, hard, soft. That last record we did, Good For Me, was kind of all over the place and probably the most diverse record we had ever done. We had been a band for almost 10 years at that point. We were bored. We decided to do what we wanted to do. But yeah, so the stuff we’re doing now is us just kind of just going back to what we were thinking 10 years ago. Punk rock is a fledgling little style of music right now. These kids who are trying to play it right now are bastardizing it, and it’s pissing us off. We left our label. We were mistreated. We were angry. We decided to write this record, and it’s not the fastest, most thrashing record ever. But the content…our fans will get it; new people will get it. It’s real.
VM: Now that we’re talking about the new EP, is the first track you released, “Making Waves,” musically the general feel for the entire album? Is it directed more so towards the business or anyone specific?
ND: Lyrically, it’s kind of like we do a lot of songs that have double meanings. And it’s not intentional- it’s not tricky, and its not clever. It’s just…I want a kid on the streets to hear the song and get this from it, and I want this 40-year-old woman to hear the song and get something completely different from it. We kind of keep it open. So we wrote this record, and every song can be related to a being a band that goes through all this hard stuff and puts in so much work and doesn’t see much in return, and we’re fed up. And it could also be replaced with a relationship, for example. Like you put all of this into ANY relationship…you put all of this in; you don’t get much back. So all of the songs have that feel, and we’re really stoked to make all of those songs cohesive. The sound of the songs varies on the intensity scale. They’re kind of all over the place.
VM: You guys have opened for everyone from Paramore to Less Than Jake, and now Strung Out. Explain what makes each experience different.
ND: We’re learning, still. We always say like ‘Oh, we’ve done every kind of tour ever’, but every time there’s something new that’s brought to the table. Like touring with Strung Out- it’s mostly grown ups in the crowd. The tour before this was with The Early November and The Wonder Years, and it was the same size venues but mostly 17-year-old kids. The Paramore tour was mostly 14 or 15-year-old people. There are so many different styles of music that these people like and so many different age groups that you can’t corner any one market. That’s why we love playing to everybody and anybody…We like playing to the older crowd, because they get us, and they understand the sweat that we put into it. But, to be completely honest, the grown-ups…they get it and they like it. They say ‘great show’…they don’t buy merch- they buy alcohol. And that hurts us…but the 15-year-old kids are going to buy the crap out of our stuff, but we might not ever see them again. They’re going to like a different kind of music the next week even. So there’s a trade-off there. We don’t know who to play to and what. So like, this tour we come off stage and we’re like ‘This rules. These people are great. The bands are great. Sweet.’
VM: I appreciated your No Use For A Name tribute that you played tonight. Was that a personal homage to Tony Sly?
ND: Of course. You know, Tony Sly is probably my favorite songwriter to ever live and the reason I started this band. To be on tour with Strung Out, who were his close friends and labelmates…to be able to pay tribute to my favorite singer with one of my favorite bands is awesome. So I have to stop and put myself in my place often.
VM: Personally, it seems that The Swellers prefer to be on the road. Is this true?
ND: We put ourselves out there, because I refuse to get any other job, really. And its not like we’re making a living doing what we’re doing, but I’m able to pay the rent with what we’re doing, which is more than I ever thought we’d be able to do. But yeah- I love being on tour, and I love being home about 50/50. If we could tour six months out of the year and be home six months out of the year, that would be super awesome. But the chances are, we’re going to be on tour about eight or nine months out of the year- and sometimes 10. It depends. But I really love a good balance, and in the future I really hope we can tour less while still becoming a bigger band. If something was to happen and the band could never tour again, I wouldn’t be bummed out, because we’ve been able to do everything we’ve wanted to do. But I would be a little bit like ‘What could have happened if we kept going?’
VM: How did the collaboration with MxPx come about?
ND: I don’t know where it started. I think Mike from MxPx saw us in Orlando when we were on tour with Bayside. You know, sometimes you have to really work to get the crowd interested. So in Orlando, we were just saying the weirdest stuff to just people freaking out, and Mike loved it and thought it was hilarious. From there, we kind of just stayed in touch- email, Twitter, Facebook…whatever it was. And he was just like, ‘I want you to sing on the new MxPx record.’ So a few months later, we were singing on their new record, the record came out, we hung out a few more times on tour…just another one of those ‘WTF?’ moments. Like, what is going on? So the fact that I’ve gotten to collaborate with some of my favorite musicians growing up is one of the coolest parts about being in a band. MxPx was a pretty awesome milestone.
VM: “Vehicle City Blues”- can you tell me what the driving force behind this song is?
ND: Oh yeah. That song is about one of the scariest things that I’ve ever been a part of. It’s about Flint, MI. It’s about a serial killer who was stabbing people to death in our city while I was living in the city. They found one of the bodies about 10 blocks from my house. Not like gang stabbing, but like brutal stabbing just out of being an insane person. So it was very scary having a lunatic in our city. And a lot of people lived, which was the scary part. So they were sent to the hospital right near my house, and a friend of mine who worked at the hospital said they would get these blood-bathed human beings just ripped to shreds but still alive. And so the serial killer was at large, and when we left on tour and I’m thinking, ‘I can’t believe I live in this city; I can’t believe I live in this world.’ And that’s what we wrote the song about. Flint’s been through its times, and that was just another low.
VM: Anything you would like to say on leaving Fueled By Ramen?
ND: Not really; it was just time to go. We weren’t really going anywhere from there, and we decided it was time to go, and they said ‘alright’… they were cool enough to let us go. They had realized we weren’t at home on the label anymore; they had changed formats and weren’t as much worried about the little punk rock bands anymore. We were kind of overlooked a little bit, and they will admit that. So we said we were going to do it on our own, and that’s kind of where we are now. We had a home; we could have new homes, but we decided to make our own.
VM: One last question- do you guys operate on your own social media, with or without being on a label?
ND: Yeah, we’ve always run our own Facebook and Twitter, and the label used to have our password as well. So if we were on the road or if we were in England or somewhere there was no WIFI, they would post something important for us. But yeah, you know, we’re the ones who answer everything. I mean…that’s just weird. If a kid asks me a question about my lyrics, I don’t want some executive responding.
From what I got out of my time with Nick, the future for The Swellers seems to be wide open. Possibilities of joining on a label and touring the UK were all thrown around, but the one thing that was very clear was that they aren’t stopping any time soon.
The Swellers will be touring the US with Strung Out until early October, so be sure to catch them on tour while you can. Pre-orders of their latest EP Running Out Of Places To Go can now be made online.
Samantha Gilder is a native of Saint Simons Island. She attended Georgia Southern University for a brief stint where she studied Journalism, and although she became your statistical “college dropout”, she strives to pursue her goals with the best of them. Growing up, music and writing were the top two most influential things in her life; fast forward to the present and their roles in her life are just as prominent, with the only (major) differences being that now she is not only a writer but a mother. She has eternal love in her heart for her daughter. She bartends at a local coffee shop/café/pub where (lucky for her) the appreciation for music is equally shared between her employers and co-workers.