[Photos: Brett Gross]
In their role as Flint, Michigan’s entry in the pop-punk sweepstakes, THE SWELLERS have been on roller coaster as rickety as the one gracing the cover of their 2009 release Ups And Downsizing. The band—vocalist/guitarist Nick Diener, guitarist Ryan Collins, bassist/vocalist Anto Boros and drummer/vocalist Jonathan Diener—have experienced their fair share of highs (signing to Fueled By Ramen, touring with Paramore, recording with Bill Stevenson) and lows (record sales, mismatched tour bills, lack of acceptance from trend-based music scenes). They’ve taken all of that and channeled it into their upcoming fourth full-length, due later this year on No Sleep Records. We spoke with the Diener brothers on the eve of recording vocals for their new LP to get the scoop on what they’re creating, and what’s inspiring them nowadays.
One of the differences of being on a record label when you’re making a record is you have deadlines you have to meet. So, there is that outside influence kind of pushing you toward the finished product, and you might otherwise sit around and be perfectionists about it and not ever finish what you’re working on. Have you found yourself having those struggles making this record?
JONATHAN DIENER: We’re taking our time on it, but we set a deadline. Nick is very good at that kind of thing where he says, “Hey, dudes. I booked studio time. We’re recording here.” It’s kind of intimidating at first, but then you realize that it’s the fire under your ass where you have to get stuff done. But, we always do it when we’re, like, 70 percent ready with the record. We’ve been writing machines, so out of nowhere, “We’re doing it this time.” Boom! Okay. I think we finished writing the last song, technically the day before we went in. It was the right version of it where it was, like, that song wouldn’t have been there if we didn’t have that time set already. It’s kind of nice.
Right now we don’t even know when it’s coming out or anything like that, and we’re trying to keep telling ourselves there is no rush. There is no real crazy push to do anything right away, but we’re also responsible, so we’re trying to make sure we do stuff in a timely fashion. We’re kind of setting these artificial deadlines for ourselves.
NICK DIENER: Yeah, we don’t want to rush it, but we also don’t want people to forget about us. Technically, we don’t have to put out a record this year. We don’t have to put one out next year, either. We’re trying to set it so that it makes sense so we can take our time and make sure everything is done right. With Good For Me, that one came out almost a month earlier than we wanted it to. There was no tour to coincide with it. It wasn’t even in stores the week that it said it was coming out. It was kind of a disaster, so I’d rather be safe than sorry and take our time. This has been the longest break we’ve ever had from touring, as well. We’ve been home for, like, six months, so the reason we do want to get it out as soon as we can is because we’re tired of being at home. We want to get back to work.
In terms of the recording process, on past records it’s been the two writing and demoing everything, and then you bring it to the rest of band, who then work on it, but it’s still very much the Dieners writing all the songs. Given the fact you’ve had this steady lineup for probably the longest in the Swellers’ career, are Ryan Collins and Anto Boros involved any more with songwriting than they were before?
NICK: It’s not so much if they are involved in the songwriting and stuff, but I think they’re almost producers in a sense where we bring them songs, and they’ll say, “I really like this part,” “This part didn’t really catch me,” “This whole song would kind of make the whole record drag” or “This one is really awesome. I think it would be better if we added this part to it.” I kind of feel bad, but Jonathan and I were so busy demoing and so involved in the writing process that our guys didn’t really hear these songs until three weeks before we hit the studio.
JONATHAN: They’ve been in the band long enough where they know exactly where our heads are at. They were both fans of the band before joining. We toured with their older bands, so we kind of have this mutual understanding of where they put their trust in us as far as what the songs are going to sound like. There was never a time where we sent songs, and they’re like, “Seriously? I don’t know. This kind of sucks.” It’s like, “Hell yeah, cool. I learned the songs. Let’s go jam them. We’ll work up stuff.”
You worked with Michigan producer Mark Hudson this time. I’m sure proximity played in to that decision, but I know he was also doing the last couple Saves The Day records too, and you were up there recently when they were recording. What was it that drew you to Mark specifically?
NICK: We’d always heard of Mark being an old, Flint [Michigan] dude, but he was also this guy who was kind of elusive. We never really met him; we never really got to hang out. We found out later it was because he was always on tour for the past 11 years we’ve been a band. He’s out with Against Me! all the time, Saves The Day, Thursday [and] Taking Back Sunday. He was with that whole slew of bands, and I didn’t process that during all of that he would come home, work on his studio. He moved around a lot, but now that he’s settled up in Fenton, Michigan—which is Jonathan and I’s old hometown where we went to high school—we’re just like, “This is crazy. This guy is recording really cool bands like Taking Back Sunday and Saves The Day, and he did Chiodos’ first record that was on Equal Vision. He’s in our backyard. Let’s go check it out.”
I know you’ve both spoken before too about how recording with Bill Stevenson for Good For Me was pretty much one of those dream-come-true, bucket list kind of things you never thought would actually happen. So, given that we’re now a couple years removed from that experience, and you just finished recording the bulk of your current record, what’s different between the studio experiences this time?
JONATHAN: I think the biggest part was we technically didn’t have a producer this time; it was very much Nick and I. The way we did the EP, it was this weird way of venting the way we felt, musically and I guess lyrically. We were writing in the basement, and we were like, ““We don’t give a shit. Let’s just go for it.” The way we’re doing this record is the same way. Because Nick’s job is recording records and I’ve been one of the songwriters forever, we finally got to the point where we’re like, “I trust our own judgment.” Whereas with Bill, it was really hands on in there where it was like—not ripping songs apart, but definitely getting in the room with us and playing parts with us and all that kind of stuff. So it was way more relaxed this time.