After a lengthy stint with Fueled By Ramen and a decade of service in the punk-rock trenches, the Swellers are free from all label responsibilities and taking the opportunity at full speed. They are currently working on their second release of 2012 at their home studio in Michigan. AltPress.com caught up with frontman Nick Diener to get the details.
Interview: Matthew Colwell
Photo Credit: Leah Jensen
So where are you, and how are you?
I’m all right. Woke up a little bit late which was pretty awesome. We’re back home after quite a bit of touring. We just did, like, two-and-a-half months including the U.K., Europe and then the States, so I’ve been home for about a week, and we’ve just been already getting to work on the new record and relaxing in any downtime we can find.
What’s the story with what’s going down at the studio this time around?
We are putting out a new EP. We started recording it a couple days ago. The cool part about it is that we’re recording it and putting it out ourselves. I’m going to be engineering and producing it and Mark Michalik, who did [the End Of Discussion EP], My Everest and Ups And Downsizing, has been helping out with additional engineering and editing and stuff like that. We’re kind of going back to how we used to do things when it was really stress free and being in control of our music in the aspect of recording it and putting it out. We’re in control of every aspect.
Where you’re headed label-wise seems to be the big question as to the future of the Swellers. What exactly is the thought on where you’re headed with all the power back in your hands?
With the [7-inch we recently released on SideOneDummy], that was just like a handshake deal because we just love everyone at the label and they love our band, so we were like, “Cool, let’s do it.” Those were two songs from the Good For Me sessions that didn’t quite fit the record. They were some of our favorite songs that we recorded at The Blasting Room, but we were kind of like, “Eh, we’ll save these.” We were actually really glad we saved those because that was almost just a taste for people to be like, “Wow! These guys put out these pretty intense songs right as they left the label. That’s a pretty cool move.” I feel like putting out those songs was super-effective as a quick teaser.
With the talk of leaving the label, we were just so excited. We’re like, “Cool, we have to do another release. Let’s get something out for the fall.” As far as we were concerned, the record cycle for Good For Me was done almost as soon as the record came out. We were the only ones really promoting it. We toured our asses off, and people really loved the record and sing along to the songs in big numbers at the shows, but we got to this point where we were like, “Let’s put out a record ourselves and outsell the major label record we just put out.” I think that’s going to be the biggest “fuck you” to the music industry that’s happened in a while.
A lot of bands are forced to become an independent band because no one will put out their records and they were dropped from their label, whereas the Swellers asked to leave the label. It’s like how you don’t want to go fucking another girl right away after the breakup. You want some time to yourself and to do things your own way. That’s exactly what we’re doing. Labels have approached us and we’re like, “Cool, man. Thank you, but wait a second. We need to do this first.”
As far as our sound with the new EP, I’m sure a million bands say, “This is our most mature record to date.” Everybody says that and then they’ll go on to say, “Yeah, everybody says it’s their most mature record to date, but…” and it’s like, “Okay, man.” I’ll be the first to tell you: this is not our most mature record to date. It’s five songs that we wrote in our basement and it’s, like, the first time in a long time that we’ve been free and able to do what we want to do. We’re not thinking about it too hard, and we’re doing it exactly the way we would have 10 years ago when we started the band. [These songs] come from such a special place—just jamming in the basement with my brother again. It’s just like it used to be.
Your 10-year anniversary was recently. It seems like a lot of the bands that have been around for similar lengths are seeking that same independent power over their music, so that’s an awesome place for you guys to be in.
Right, right. Our 10-year anniversary was [June 24, 2012] and that was a really cool thing. It’s really bittersweet because it’s like, “Wow! We’ve been doing this for 10 years on our own terms and having a blast,” but then it’s also like, “Wow! We have so much more to do and so much room to grow even after 10 years.” So this is sort of like a, “Well, here we go again…”
But I think that “here we go again” is the best feeling we’ve had in a long time because sometimes your band will hit a plateau or you just kind of get bored, and we’ve been lucky enough that people have been wanting to take us out on tour time after time. I guess that comes with writing a good song and being nice dudes.
Some bands make it through their first couple of major label records and then just get burnt out and never make it over to the next hump. Knowing that, right now could be the time in The Swellers’ career where you are making it over that hump. This fresh start you guys are getting could very well mean this is only the half-way mark for the Swellers.
That would be absolutely great. We [want] to go back to how it used to feel and how it used to be for us. We had some regime changes after we left the label, so we’re working with Reybee [Public Relations] and it’s actually the first time that we’ve had a publicist has hit us up and been like, “What do you guys like to do? What are you interested in?” We were just like, “What? You care about us as people and you’re not just going to send a press blast that says ‘The Swellers are recording.’” It’s really, really cool. We’re at this point where most bands would break up, but we have this totally new path. It’s almost like we’re starting a new band, but keeping our fanbase and band name. It’s like a fresh start, but we never went anywhere.
Getting back to the record itself, where in the process are you?
We just got the drums done. We’re kind of spacing it out over the course of two weeks, but we’re pretty much going to get this record done in about five days. We’re just doing it like we used to do it like, “Cool, we have no money and no time.” That was the attitude when we used to make records. Now, I’m doing most of the record myself, so I don’t have to pay anybody. It’s really cool being in my home studio and being able to experiment with tones. If I’m super-critical of something, I can always just redo it. I’m really looking forward to that.
Sometimes it’s better to take less time because when you spend 10 days doing vocals, you might end up over-thinking it. There’s something about that gut feeling from your first takes that may not show up on later ones.Yeah, yeah. At the Blasting Room, that was the best my voice has ever sounded because I would do two songs in one day and then took a day off and then repeated that and gave my voice some time to rest. But, that’s not how we used to do it, and people really like the way my voice gets a little bit gravely like when we’re on tour from singing so many shows in a row. It’s the same thing in the studio—just singing so many songs in a row to get it done.
We sort of started off as this fast skate-punk band and then we turned into this “Foo Fighters had sex with a punk-rock band,” and then it gets more arena rock sounding as you go [through our discography]. But, I think this [EP] is a brand new sound for the Swellers. It’s not a continuum of what you think we would sound like and it’s also not a return to form. It’s like a tangent. I feel like it’s the most cohesive record we’re ever going to put out. It’s these five songs that we wrote in a short amount of time and all in the same vein.
One of the songs is actually called “Bad For Me,” which is kind of a play on the record that just came out, Good For Me. If that has any indication of what the vibe of this record is going to be, it’s going to be pretty bitter and pretty angsty, but it’s going to be pretty poppy—these are some catchy ass tunes.
I never had a post-high school life like a normal kid. I went on tour as soon as I graduated high school, and I haven’t been home for more than two-and-a-half months at a time since then. I am a bitter, old man in a 25-year-old kid’s body. Doing this record is very therapeutic for us. It’s just like, “Phew, okay. It’s all right.” The response that we’ve been getting from leaving [Fueled By Ramen] has been the best response we’ve gotten in a long time and makes us really excited to see what people think about what we put out this fall.
What do you want people to know about this record and the future of The Swellers?
Everything that the Swellers are doing right now is because we want to do it. We just want to have fun and do things like we did 10 years ago and we’re still going to be touring our butts off. We have some great tours coming up in the fall. We could use everyone’s support now more than ever since we’re an independent band.
We’ve played some shows recently, and we’ve realized it’s way better to play a show to 75 people who are singing their hearts out than a venue full of nacho eaters. It’s very cool. We’re realizing more and more every year that the Swellers fans are some of the greatest people out there. Their dedication is so awesome. We’re very excited.