Interview: The Swellers

While over in the UK for the first time, Faye caught up with Nick Diener, frontman of The Swellers, before headlining the Give It A Name Introduces Tour in Newcastle.

They got talking about all the hype surrounding The Swellers, their relentless touring schedule, living a straight edge lifestyle on the road, pro-wrestling, and the new Twitter phenomenon #musicswap.

Faye: How are you today?
Nick: I feel good, we were in Scotland yesterday and it was a nice drive down here. I wish the weather was a little bit warmer, but we take what we can get, I guess.

Faye: I heard there was trouble with your merch yesterday, what happened there?
Nick: Yeah! We showed up at the venue yesterday in Scotland, in Glasgow, and we didn’t have any idea where any of our merch boxes were, they had all gone, and we’ve never forgotten our merchandise, because that’s like, the reason we tour – to try to sell some things to make some money, to keep going. So we were all really upset and didn’t know what do to, so we called up the venue and said, “Look around, let us know if you can find something.” They only found one of our boxes, out of four, so we were just sitting around, didn’t know what to do. Then Ryan thought to call up HammerFall, which was the band who was playing in the same venue, just a different part of it, because they were loading out the same time we were, and he thought maybe they accidentally took our boxes or they grabbed them for us because we forgot them. Sure enough, they were playing in Glasgow that night, ten blocks away, so we just went over here and they were like, “Here’s your stuff, we accidentally took it.” So they ended up taking it before we did, which was pretty funny and makes us feel a little bit better that we weren’t complete idiots, and we forgot it, but they were the ones who snagged it, but we’re all good now, I feel a lot better. The show last night was saved, we were all in a terrible mood, and then after we got it again, we felt great.

Faye: Cool, so how’s Europe and the UK been treating you as a whole?
Nick: It’s been great, all the UK shows have been really good so far on the Give It A Name Tour, a lot of great bands and making a lot of great friends, who we’re going to be friends with for a very long time. The Europe shows were just crazy because they were really big, Sum 41, AFI, The Bouncing Souls, Story of the Year, so getting to see that part of the world was really great. The UK just feels like home, I like it a lot, so hopefully we’ll be able to come back here as much as we tour the States.

Faye: I saw you play first on the Main Stage at Groezrock.
Nick: Groezrock was nuts, we were really nervous about it, but it ended up going really, really well and I wish we could have stayed for the second day, but we had to come to the UK and cross the channel and everything.

Faye: Did you have any expectations coming over here?
Nick: We actually had no idea what to expect because we have never been here before, and we’re actually headlining all of these 16 shows altogether, which is something you don’t do unless people know who you are. So we were hoping that at least people would know who we were a little bit and maybe want to stick around, but so far it’s been great, a lot of people are sticking around and coming out to see us, so it’s definitely a really warm reception for our first time here, we couldn’t be more happy.

Faye: This past year has saw you really make a name for yourself, how do you feel about the hype around The Swellers?
Nick: I feel like it makes sense finally, because we’ve been doing it for so long, just doing baby steps, just progressing year-by-year, every year we had something new happening, so finally when we signed to Fueled By Ramen, that was around the time we thought we had made the best record we’ve ever made and we wanted to tour more than ever, and became friends with some other bands, and we ended up touring with those bands. All of the good things that happened, all at once, got the press talking and the people talking, so we’re finally getting some recognition that we’ve always wanted and hopefully it doesn’t stop, and we can keep impressing and just making more records and keep touring, I guess.

Faye: As a whole, what’s changed for The Swellers as a band compared to a year ago? Are things easier for you now?
Nick: We still feel the exact same as far as how much work we’ve put into things, basically, when we signed to Fueled By Ramen, it seems like it would be a lot easier for us, but it ended up being the opposite, it was way more work. We needed to really focus on what we were doing, we needed to tour harder, play better and try to meet our fans a lot more, get to know more people. But, yeah, a year ago, we were pretty much just trying to figure out what label we wanted to sign to and now we feel a bit more relaxed, I would say, like the money that we make is enough for us to keep going. Whereas, a year a lot it was a little more sketchier, we weren’t sure if we were going to make it to the next show sometimes, if we didn’t sell enough merch. So, luckily, with all the hype and press, the support from people, came all that responsibility, we’re definitely a more responsible, tighter band. Basically, we’re the band we used to be, just multiplied by two, I’d say, just a little bit better at everything we do, I hope, I think. [laughs]

Faye: Some have said that The Swellers signing to Fueled By Ramen is a bit of a weird label for you, what made you sign to them?
Nick: I think it was really a classic story of how a band gets signed to a label, we sent them our stuff, they replied, saying they loved it and let’s keep talking, which is really, really cool. At first, I was really surprised because, like you said, they are kind of a weird label for a punk band for us to sign to, but they were really, really friendly and they really believed in our band. You could tell that they didn’t care how many records we sold and how many fast songs are on the record, or if we said any bad words, they were just into us as people and they liked our music, and how much we toured and our work ethic. So, by the end of the day, Fueled By Ramen were the label for us. That was the deciding factor, we just felt really comfortable and they had a great plan for us in the end.

Faye: You released Ups and Downsizing on Fueled By Ramen last year, would you agree that, that record is a lot more accessible and radio-friendly than your past releases?
Nick: Definitely, compared to our last record, it seems to attract a way broader audience, which was our goal, we wanted to have all of our influences come together, like the rock and pop stuff, and the punk stuff, and just kind of bring it all together. We recorded the record even before we knew we were going to sign to Fueled By Ramen, so we already had an idea of what we wanted to do, so when we sent it to all the labels, they were like, “Cool, this is great, we can put these songs on the radio, and you can have these songs for the punk kids, it’s all over the place.” Every song still sounds like The Swellers and that’s what we were going for, we were hoping it wouldn’t sound really jumbled and strange, but we’re really happy with the way it came out and I think the label is, so it’s good.

Faye: Have you been writing for your next record, or are you just concentrating on touring?
Nick: We’re actually always writing, Jonathan and I are always coming up with new ideas, and always playing on acoustic guitar while we’re on tour, just trying to figure out what kind of sound we want next. We’re going to be demo-ing some songs soon and coming up with some new ideas, and hopefully be recording a record sometime over the cold months, in the winter, so we’ll see what we can do.

Faye: You seem to tour relentlessly, are you not worried about getting burned out?
Nick: We’ve been doing it for about four years now, we haven’t been home for more than 2-and-a-half months in four years, so we’re constantly gone, so I think we’re really used to it by now. The fact that the tours are getting better and better is helping, before, like back in the day, there was moments where I was like, “Why am I doing this? We’re playing to no-one, we’re spending too much money. We’re gone for six months at a time, it’s not worth it.” But, now, with all the exposure, all the shows have been worth it, and helping us out for the long road.

Faye: You seem to go on some very diverse tours, do you take most tours that you’re offered?
Nick: We get a couple of tours offered to us and then there’s tours that we want to get on, and, so far, a lot of the tours we’ve wanted to get on, we’ve somehow got on, which is great. We really wanted to tour with Paramore and that ended up working out, we wanted to tour with Less Than Jake right after and that worked out. The one that was a surprise was Motion City Soundtrack, our manager called us up and said, “I think we’ve got a Motion City tour.” which was absolutely amazing, we didn’t even know that tour was happening, so that was a big surprise. This Europe thing was really thrown into our laps, we really wanted to come here, and then Warped Tour this summer, so we cover a lot of bases. We won’t do absolutely every tour, we’re a little bit picky, but if it’s a great bunch of bands in a bunch of great cities, then we definitely like to do it.

Faye: I saw you on the Paramore tour in Boston last year, and you seemed to really connect with the audience, despite them probably not being your usual crowd.
Nick: I think there was a lot of kids at those shows that were really into new music, a lot of those people, it was their first concert they had ever been to, I talked to a lot of people. There was also a lot of people who had never heard a band like us before, and the fact that we were the first band of the night, we had that obligation to get everyone excited, like, “Hey, we’re the first band, let’s go!” So, a lot of people were being really supportive of what we were doing, we sold a lot of stuff, and made a lot of new fans and friends. It was just a great tour to be on, and all the kids were really cool and really awesome.

Faye: I read that you’re straight edge, which obviously has roots in hardcore, are you into hardcore at all, even though you play very melodic music?
Nick: Only a little bit, I like a lot of the really old hardcore bands, I haven’t been listening to too many new hardcore bands that are around right now. The whole straight edge thing was basically just because we wanted to be sober, it wasn’t because of the music at all. There’s a lot of bands where members will be straight edge because of some hardcore band they liked, and they fall out of that phase, like, “Oh, I don’t want to do it any more.” They’re just not in it for the right reasons, I guess, even if it helped them out, great. It’s like Jonathan and I like to do it because we like to be sober, and that’s it, but, yeah, I love a lot of hardcore bands, but I think my main love is just the poppy-rock stuff, just big, nasty guitars and punk rock’s great too. I listen to a little bit of everything when I can.

Faye: Can you remember when you became straight edge?
Nick: I don’t know, I was just like a really young kid, and I didn’t smoke or drink or anything, and I found out what straight edge meant, and I said, “Cool, that sounds like me!” I was probably 14/15-years-old. I’ve actually never had a drink or done a drug in my life, it’s always just been a part of me, I guess. I like being able to drive whenever I want, and I like not beating up my girlfriend, and I enjoy not smelling like shit. It’s a good feeling, just always being clean and nothing’s disrupting my signal. I don’t know where I’d be if I wasn’t like this, being a band, writing and touring, I’m glad I had something to keep me grounded.

Faye: Yeah, ‘cause this touring lifestyle seems to be like one big party, is there ever peer pressure from other bands?
Nick: I think anybody who knows us, knows that we’re just not going to, like sometimes they’ll joke around, like, “Oh, come on!” Like with The Bouncing Souls and Story of the Year, and when they found out that we didn’t drink, they were joking around with us, like, “You’ll turn 27, and you’ll start drinking.” and then we’ll make fun of them, it’s all in good fun, no-one’s ever given us a hard time. It’s been great, we’re all like a big family on tour.

Faye: It’s good that you still feel like that, because it seems like a lot of people in bands, who claim to be straight edge, the older they get, the less they care.
Nick: Yeah, like, for me, I couldn’t care less about the title ‘straight edge’, you can take that title away from me, and I still won’t drink, and I still won’t do drugs. It just doesn’t make sense to put something in my mouth and light it on fire, and drinking something that’s just been sitting here, rotting, like wine and beer, it doesn’t make sense to me. I’d rather drink some fruit juice, it tastes better and it’s cheaper. [laughs] It’s good stuff.

Faye: Aren’t you vegan as well? Is that hard to keep up with on the road?
Nick: It’s harder in Europe, for sure, because of the language barrier and there’s not as many option on the mainland, but I managed to get my way around it, and the venues are really, really supportive if you let them know that two vegans are coming, and they’ll have stuff ready for you, and all the other people know not to eat it, because we need our food, otherwise we’re going to be really pissed. [laughs] Jonathan’s vegetarian, but he doesn’t like dairy, so we eat a lot of the same stuff together.

Faye: You’ve obviously fans of wrestling, and even have a song titled Montreal Screwjob (a big wrestling controversy), are you able to keep up-to-date with it?
Nick: Yeah, I don’t have TV at my house – I mean, I have TVs, but I don’t have cable, because we’re gone all the time, so I don’t want to pay for it, so we just hear it from other people, or watch it at someone else’s house. The Internet’s a good way to keep up with things like that, but it’s kind of tough, we don’t even know what’s going on in the world right now, we’re just in our own little tour world, it sucks. We were just watching a Bret Hart DVD, and that’s where we came up with the title for that song, and we just needed a name, we were like, “Let’s just call it that!” The song really has nothing to do with it, but we just like the name. [laughs]

Faye: Didn’t you do an April Fools joke last year, on AbsolutePunk, announcing that you were going to write a new theme for CM Punk, is he the wrestler you’d most like to write a theme song for?
Nick: It seemed that CM Punk made the most sense, it seemed like it was the most believable, but, yeah, if I could write a theme song for anybody, it would definitely have to be Bret Hart, because he’s my favourite, but he already has a great song, so maybe we’ll just re-do his song one day, we’ll see how it goes. [laughs]

Faye: Who, in your opinion, has or had the best ever theme music?
Nick: Well, Bret Hart was always my favourite, because I would just get that rush when I heard that song, like, “He’s coming! He’s coming!”, but one of my favourite intros of all time is The Undertaker’s, just because it’s so scary, and it’s just awesome. It’s good theatre.

Faye: Have you ever been to a live show?
Nick: Twice, a long time ago, though. I saw Stone Cold and The Rock in a Buried Alive match, so there was a giant mound of dirt, and they were burying each other, and we were a hundred feet away, just like, “Woah, this is crazy!” It’s been a long time since we’ve been, though.

Faye: Can you tell me what #musicswap on Twitter is?
Nick: [laughs] #musicswap, I don’t really get what it is.
Jonathan: I’ll explain it, the very first day of the tour, I was trading music with people, just, “Here’s a new band.” Dragging the album to the computer or whatever, and I was like, “Hey, when we’re driving, let’s listen to each other’s music, we’ll do a music swap.” Then, for some reason, when you’re listening to music while you’re driving, that turned into #musicswap, so Tim from All or Nothing started posting it every 5-seconds. [laughs] It’s not anything special, it’s just literally listening to music and going back and forth. So, he’s very excited about that, very, very excited about that. [laughs]

Faye: So, what’s next for The Swellers? You’ve got Warped Tour coming up, do you have anything in-between this tour and Warped?
Nick: Yes, in-between, we get home and we’re home for like three days, and then we go out with Crime in Stereo and This Time Next Year, and that’s only for like two weeks or something, then Warped Tour, and we’re still trying to figure out our plans for the fall. Hopefully, we’ll be coming back to Europe and the UK, we’re trying really hard, but it’s always up in the air, we never know exactly what we’re doing, but, yeah, it’s going to be good, we can’t wait. Hopefully, we can do Reading and Leeds, we’re going to try that, but we don’t know anything right now, we’re just doing what we have planned, and seeing what comes up later.

Faye: Change the record, who should we be listening to?
Nick: Let’s see, we keep talking about Living With Lions from Vancouver, they’re great. A band called Heartsounds, they’re from San Francisco, they just signed to Epitaph, good friends of ours. I’ve really been digging a band called Ninja Gun, their name sounds really funny, but they’re just really good, indie-rock kinda southern band, really cool. Lemuria, just signed to Bridge Nine, those guys are going to take off, awesome people. Oh, and Cheap Girls, I’m wearing their shirt right now. All good friends of ours, and bands everyone should check out, for sure.

Faye: I think that’s about it, is there anything else you want to say?
Nick: Just check out our record, it’s our in stores in the UK now, and thanks so much for doing he interview, I appreciate it.

Faye Turnbull.

Many thanks to The Swellers, for more information on the band, visit: www.myspace.com/theswellers

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