The Swellers

Drummer Jono Diener talks new album, new label, and house show tour

The Swellers
The Swellers
It can be hard to make it in Michigan, a sentiment The Swellers know firsthand. The Flint-based four-piece has had nose to the grindstone for over ten years now, releasing three full-length albums and a few EPs, as well as touring endlessly.

After leaving Fueled By Ramen for a better fit at No Sleep Records, the band recently announced a new album, “The Light Under Closed Doors,” and released a new song, “Should.” This all came after the band, which has toured the world, announced a house show tour and invited fans to suggest places to play.

“You’ll be inches from our faces. It’ll be sweaty. It’ll get loud. The plan is to play anywhere and everywhere we can. Even multiple shows in a day if we can. Acoustic sets will also make an appearance quite a bit,” read the band statement.

We talked to Jonathan “Jono” Diener, the band’s drummer, about all the recent developments with the band.

Torch: You guys have a new LP coming out this fall. I know you’re making an announcement on Aug. 6 and this interview will be printed afterwards. Can you talk about what that’s going to be at all?

Jono Diener: Yeah. The album’s called “The Light Under Closed Doors.” It’s coming out on No Sleep Records. It’s going to be out October 29; that’s the official release date for it. It’s an album of ten songs. We all kind of sat down in a basement, and my brother (singer/guitarist Nick Diener) and I just had this kind of strange mental release where we didn’t want to impress anyone. We didn’t want to do anything the way we used to do it. All we wanted to do was naturally write a bunch of songs, and we’re pretty sure that’s how it came out. And the cool thing is – everything from the recording process to the artwork – it’s very raw and back to the basics, and that kind of reflects the album name “The Light Under Closed Doors” ‘cause it’s kind of revisiting this nice carefree mentality that we used to have.

Torch: I was looking through your Buzznet blog and you talked about how Bill Stevenson recorded one of your albums (2011’s “Good For Me”). How did you record this one?

JD: We’re always recording with Mark Michalic, whether it was in the single studio or in six different places including closets and things like that. We’d get all these songs together, he would mix them, and we’d be good to go, record them in a week or so. It all changed recording with Bill Stevenson in The Blasting Room in Fort Collins, CO.

It’s intense when you’re in the presence of someone that played with The Descendents and Black Flag, this larger than life punk icon. He actually produced the record. People misuse the word “producer.” Producer is, at least to us and to a lot of people, someone who is very hands on with the songs on top of the recording instead of just, “Oh, I recorded you.”

That’s an engineer, that’s not a producer. A producer is someone who dives into the songs and, not necessarily tears them apart, but helps you restructure them, makes you think of parts, makes it a little more exciting. We went really hands-on, so for four days it got to the point where we’d play these songs for Bill and he’d say, “I got bored at this part, play it again.” We kept going in there and going crazy with these songs. Not necessarily over thinking – it was just a different sound than we were used to.

We came out with this really big sounding rock record, if you want to call it that. After that, we recorded at my brother’s house, and we had [Michalic] mix that as well. For this record, we were like, we’ve been a band for 11 years now; we need to do something different. Not forcibly different, but something that just feels right. After seeing the Sound City documentary Dave Grohl did, which I highly suggest to everyone, we had this new appreciation for raw-sounding recordings. What you get is what you get. You play and you hear what you’re playing, instead of…

For example, [in] a lot of modern music, the drums are all sampled. You’ll play these parts and the engineer will go in and edit the parts and layer in other sounds with your sounds. So technically, from the beginning, they could’ve just typed in the whole drum kit and you wouldn’t have even noticed. That’s how a ton of records are made. A lot of people don’t know that, and that’s kind of unfortunate.

This record, we just wanted everything to be natural. Every hit you hear is me playing it. Every guitar, there are no crazy things going on. You plug in, you find your tone; you don’t like it, you go to a different amp. We played through all these vintage amps. I played through my kit, I just beat the crap out of it. The way it was miked, everything, it was just this really cool, raw, natural process.

Mark Hudson, the guy that did the record, he actually lives fifteen minutes away from me. It was cool. We started developing this friendship through the band Saves the Day. Now it’s to the point where I’ll go there and hang out once or twice a week just to talk about music. We had this cool, natural, hand-off mentality going on with the record:

“Does this sound cool?”

“Yeah, try this.”

It was super carefree, and I think that definitely reflects on the record.

Torch: In addition to the new record and everything you have going on there, you have this house tour going on. Can you talk about how that came about? You say you want to play multiple dates in multiple states – just how big is this tour going to be?

JD: It’s actually a really strange situation, how it all came together. So we have the new record done. Originally we were like, “we want it out in March, we want it out in June, we want it out in August.” It kept getting to the point where we’re like, “let’s just take our time, there’s really no reason to rush it.” The music industry in general, there is these cookie cutter clichés you have to follow, which kind of just pissed us off.

In the fall we’re like, “okay, our album’s coming out.” We start hearing about all these big tours going on. It got to the point where… instead of just sitting around and waiting for something to happen, let’s just book it. Literally it’s like the “Field of Dreams” mentality: “if you book it, they will come.”

Nick actually brought it up. He just said, “why don’t we just do house shows?” I was super skeptical at first, but he sat me down and explained it. There are about eight to twelve major tours, and I could list them all right now and you’d be like, whoa that’s insane. The problem is, they’re all within the same two months, so they’re all going to be competing with each other, all this crazy stuff going on.

Or, you could choose to go to a house and see a band play. We’re going to try to play long sets, and do different, weird stuff, and it’s going to be super intimate – maybe two bands tops. It’s going to be like, hey, we didn’t tour for seven months, and then we did Warped Tour. If the majority of people who like us weren’t there, now it is [their] chance to see us. It’s in this weird, special setting, and it’s the perfect way to release a record, we think.

So we’re doing things like… Nick mentioned we’re going to play a bowling alley at 2 p.m. and then that night, play the basement of a pizza place — in the same state, but four hours away. A bunch of weird stuff like that, but that’s how we started touring. People don’t realize you don’t just have things fall into place. You could sit around forever, lose momentum, and fade away, or you can say who cares, let’s do whatever we want.

That’s what this is about. We’re playing actual people’s houses, we’re playing some legit venues for the big CD release shows, but everything else in between is just whatever. The tour’s going to be pretty long – it’s actually five to six weeks. It’s going to be the longest one we’ve done in a while, but it’s going to be so cool and relaxed.

Compared to Warped Tour, you’re not outside all day. You’re driving, you go to someone’s house, you can set up whenever you want, you can play however long you want – as long as the cops don’t come. That’s going to be the part we have to worry about, but we’re going to learn an acoustic set. We have all these other ideas planned just in case, the whole backup plan situation.

The whole idea – with the record, the album art, everything – is back to basics, and that’s the perfect way to release the record.

Torch: Now, I have to ask. Ferris State, we’re out here in Western Michigan – and you guys are very proud to be from Michigan – how many dates are you going to play in Michigan? Are you going to hit all over the state, including Grand Rapids?

JD: I know we’re going to try for Grand Rapids. We already have a place in mind, which will be pretty cool. The funny thing is, Nick and I lived in Grand Rapids for eight years, but that was before the music scene got cool and exciting. We know there’s so much crazy stuff going on down there now.

The idea for when we play there – I believe it’s going to be at the end of the tour, late November or so – but we haven’t play Grand Rapids in two years, if not longer. We played Kalamazoo for the first time I think a year, a year and a half ago, and it was phenomenal. I’d never even been to the city and it was a good show. Grand Rapids was our old stomping grounds, so I’m pretty sure that whatever we end up doing there, we have enough of our friends who moved from Flint there to have this collective of cool punk rock thinkers. Grand Rapids is definitely on the list, for sure.

Torch: One more question we should hit. You recently switched over to No Sleep Records from Fueled By Ramen. You reissued your EP “Running Out of Places to Go.” Could you talk about how you ended up choosing No Sleep and how it’s been so far?

JD: Yeah, it’s been kind of a strange journey. The No Sleep thing started, actually, when we were on Fueled By Ramen. Our album “Good For Me” was coming out, the one we did with Bill Stevenson, and we all agreed we wanted No Sleep to do the vinyl release of that. We became friends 2009, 2010, and we all started talking. We figured it would be the perfect marriage: FBR would do digital, CD, and No Sleep would do that.

But there was distribution, upper management, all this other stuff going on, so it didn’t work out. When the Fueled By Ramen thing was coming to a close, Side One Dummy agreed to do a seven inch for us of two songs that we wanted to release from the “Good For Me” record but weren’t able to. So we got out of the contract and did a seven inch with them.

It got to the point where we were so burned out from labels where we wanted to do it ourselves; we didn’t care. So we released “Running Out of Places to Go.” The idea behind that was similar to this, kind of back to the basics, but it was more like an angry release, a physical music release and one for our psyche.

I think we did a Strung Out tour, but it didn’t even come out on that. Then we went to Australia, we came back and played the Fest, and did a tour with Diamond Youth and Pentimento, and that was it. That was all we did for that record. We did some Michigan shows afterwards and that was it.

We all kind of forgot about it because we were so burned out from the music world crapping all over us, to put it lightly – to use the technical term, “crapping all over us.” When we got the Warped Tour confirmation, I was just like, we need to rerelease the EP and give it some life, and that’ll buy us some time for the new record that comes out.

The funny thing is, a lot of people are hearing it for the first time. With the No Sleep thing, Chris (Hansen) has wanted to work with us for a long time. We were finally in the right place to move on to a label.

I was working at Guitar Center, and I just texted him, “Do you want to put the record out?” “Yeah.” “Can you want to write up a contract?” And an hour later we had one. It was the most laid back version of it.

Chris has been awesome. All the No Sleep guys – I didn’t even know they had a full staff when we signed, then we went there and, oh cool, you’re like a whole label now. They’re really cool and really chill.

Chris is instant with his responses, too. The only problems we’ve had are him saying “You guys didn’t get this done in time.” That’s the cool thing. We have someone pushing us to get stuff done. We love it. We love the bands on it. I think it’s the perfect home for what we’re trying to do.