PropertyOfZack had the chance to speak with our good friend Jono Diener of The Swellers just last week. Jono and I discussed the band’s decision to leave Fueled By Ramen Records, where they see themselves in the current landscape of the scene, excitement for the future, a new 7”, future label situations, and so much more. Make sure to check it all out below!
It was just recently announced that The Swellers had parted ways with Fueled By Ramen after three or four years on the label. When did the discussion start and when did things come to fruition?
Definitely a few months ago. We all started talking about what was best for us in general. I think a big part of it too was that we kind of realized that they would understand because they have these bands that are doing so well. And then a band from a world like ours. A DIY and I guess punk band being bunched with those other bands doesn’t really make any sense for them because of the way they promote. They have a surefire way of doing promotion for those bands. But when you put a band like us in it, it doesn’t really work. So one thing led to another. The little things added up. Not saying that the label is doing poorly. You look at a band like fun. and they’re breaking world records right now for sales. We just wanted to do our own thing and we think we’ll be better off.
It doesn’t seem like you guys have any bad blood with the label or anything. But The Swellers don’t really fit on the label too well. Do you regret it at all? Or do you think it’s helped regardless?
I think it definitely helped. When we signed, the whole point was that we signed to a label that was the best choice at the time. It definitely was. We got some really crazy opportunities out of it. It definitely opened a lot of doors. Literally, like in the song “2009,” we said “I won’t rewrite anything.” I like what happened to us and it got us to this point. But because we did all of that, it’s not that we learned from a mistake, we just learned how the reality of things worked in the major label affiliated world. I think we are where we are today because they chose to sign us in the first place. And that’s a good thing, that’s not a bad thing.
I feel like the landscape of our genre has shifted too since you guys got signed. I feel like pop punk or whatever you want to call it was the last in the forefront and now within the last two years it really has begun again to be the center of attention. Even if it wasn’t a priority for a label like Fueled By Ramen. Are you optimistic about things too? It seems like there are all these great things for other pop punk bands, even if you don’t want to be on a label like No Sleep or Rise or Hopeless. But it seems like there is a large community out there now that wasn’t there when you signed.
Yeah. The comparison a lot of people make is talking about how back in the Drive-Thru Records heyday where there was a whole label of bands that people were stoked on. Regardless of how the label operated, people are like, “Oh man, I have Rx Bandits and The Movie Life.” All those bands. It developed into this huge thing to where they would tour together and do all this cohesive stuff together. With us, we were always in a weird spot. Because we were on a label called Search And Rescue Records. When we were on that, we had Alucard which Ryan in our band was in before. That was the only band we could really tour with. We never had a label that was like, “Hey punk rock fans. We’re putting this out there for you.” We never had that. We never had hype, we never had this big connection with all this other stuff. We were just the weird odd band out all the time, but we just happened to make friends with bands in other scenes and all that. It is bizarre because when we started the band and over the years, all we were thinking about was, “Oh man these Fat Wreck Chords bands. We’re going to be touring with them all of the time. It’s going to be the best.” Then after a while it was like all of the bands we grew up listening to either broke up or don’t really do anything anymore. It kind of moved over into that new pop punk direction. So I think when Four Year got signed to Decaydance. And Set Your Goals got on Epitaph. I think there became a mini signing spree. It was like the Sunset Strip thing back in the day in the eighties. So I think people thought we were part of that, but all of us and our friends bands each got signed with different labels. So it was really interesting seeing where that went. Now you look at a label like Rise, they have like twelve new bands. But they’re all really good bands. I think it’s really cool and I’m just interested to see how things turn out. Like how they are now. Because you can look at a label and the way I look at is if you would go to their warehouse and you could leave with five different bands’ shirts, you’re like, “Okay, that’s really cool that they can do that.” And there’s a lot of labels where there’s this one band you like and then with everyone else you’re like, “That’s alright.” It’s pretty cool. I just hope that it doesn’t isolate people too much. Because whenever a genre gets too big, it’s like a radio song. A song blows up on the radio but then you get so sick of it because you hear it every day. It’s the same as hearing people talk about pop punk all of the time. It’s so cool that’s it’s doing bands like The Wonder Years and bands like Transit and Man Overboard and all of them. But is it going to be this weird bastardized version of what it is and all of these local bands start doing that? And then over time it just gets so obnoxious that it kills itself. And then some new genre destroys that. It’s all cyclical. It happens every few years. Once you realize that and not only adapt but kind of stick to your own thing, so everything is blowing over you, you just keep chugging through. I think that’s kind of what our band did. Every time something kind of got popular, we didn’t do it. So maybe that hurt us in the long run, but we’re just doing what we want. Hopefully people can notice that, you know?
Do you think in the eyes of not necessarily The Swellers fans but of fans of The Wonder Years or Man Overboard, that it seemed weird that you guys were on Fueled By Ramen and now maybe being off could open you up to more fans in another way?
A lot of people didn’t even know we were on the label. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing. It’s pretty strange knowing the fact that we’re going to be doing our own thing for a little bit. I think that will make more people open to listening to us. Because a lot of people with certain labels, they look at it as, “This band’s on that label? They sound like this.” That’s kind of the preconceived notion. So with us it was just like, “Oh they’re an FBR band. Okay whatever.” That was the peak of people’s interest. They were like, “I don’t want to bother with them.” They would see the Paramore comparison or the fact that we were friends with them and toured with them and people make their own opinions, whatever. We did what we thought was cool and different and we did it. But I honestly think that moving on is going to make a lot more people focus on the band The Swellers, rather than who we’re affiliated with. That’s been something that we’ve been wanting to do for a really long time.
So what’s next then?
We’re doing a 7” with SideOneDummy record. We’re not signing to them, but for just that 7”we’re releasing with them. It’s called Vehicle City Blues. The title comes from the song on the 7” about this serial killer in Flint. And he stabs I think it was like thirteen people. And a lot of it happened a mile from our house when we lived in Flint. We weren’t home during it, but a bunch of crazy stuff was going down. That happened in real life, especially so close to home. Because we used to watch shows about it and we were freaked out. So it became this huge thing on the news everywhere and finally the guy got caught. But the side we focused on was how our friend worked at the hospital and he had to treat all of these stab wound victims. It was from the perspective of him or whoever in the hospital. Just like, “Well, here’s another one. I have to deal with this again.” So we actually had that before on the Good For Me record. We held that off; we held four songs off total. Just because we thought they could do something cool on their own. So we put that with another song called “Red Lights” which is kind of a positive spin on living in Flint. So it kind of has this dual sided thing, literally Side A, Side B. So that’s coming out on SideOneDummy. Then after that, I think we are going to record an EP this summer. We’re most likely doing it on our own and kind of just see how things go. Right now it’s weird because there is so much stuff going on with labels and we kind of just want to tread our own way for a second. I guess a comparison that one of our friends used was, “It’s like dating a girl and you just got out of a really bad relationship. The next girl you go on a date with, all you are going to do is start judging her over things you didn’t like about the last girl. And it’s going to skew your perception of everything.” So I think doing things on our own is going to be this nice breath of fresh air for a second where we can be clear-headed. And if anything, I think our friends and more people will support us because we are trying to do it on our own. Because that’s actually how we did stuff from the start, you know? We booked our own tours, sold our own merch, we did all this stuff. Even when I would sell merch online, I would sell way more than we’re used to just because it was me putting it out there rather than someone else. So we’re just trying to be our own band for a little bit and see how that goes.
So when are we going to see that SideOne 7”?
It should be out at the beginning of The Early November tour. We’re going to have it with us on the tour and I think the release date is like a week into that, like the next Tuesday. I’m not entirely sure when the pre-order and all of that stuff is going up, but I’m just excited either way. I just want to get this thing out and show people the new song and all of that.
So you do have that The Early November/The Wonder Years tour following up the UK tour. That should be a pretty big US tour.
Yeah. We did the AP Tour. That was the last bigger tour we were on. Then we did the co-headliner with You, Me at Six and it was way bigger than we thought. We were pleasantly surprised by that. We were like, “Oh, wow. Apparently we can do stuff on our own.” We didn’t realize that. So that was a cool experience just seeing how that kind of touring worked. But it’s going to be really nice going back out playing big venues again. We haven’t done that in a long time. We’ve always wanted to tour with The Wonder Years. We’ve always known about The Early November so when we heard about the whole reunion thing… during that we were in Australia with Hellogoodbye and we made really good friends with Joe from Hellogoodbye who is also in The Early November. The weird part is Carmen from Young Statues. He flew down to Australia just to hang out for a few days. So me, Joe, and Carmen were hanging out all of the time and it’s bizarre because that’s kind of what our tour turned into, you know? It’s time now to be in the US, it going to be really cool.
So this summer, you think you are going to just take some time off to write and record the new EP instead of touring?
Yeah, I don’t know. I know we are going to try to do a ten year anniversary show. Like maybe something like one show in Detroit and then one show in Flint. I think in the Flint one too, we’re going to try to have all our old band members play songs with us and do literally like the whole discography. So we have some ideas of Michigan stuff. As far as tour schedule and the summer, I think we’re actually just going to take a break for a little bit. Because we’re not used to doing that. We actually have about six songs completely done. Which is super weird for us. Because the fact that we are planning an EP and we have more than an EP’s worth of songs. The cool thing is that if we have an overflow of songs, we’re going to work on those for a full length later on. So we’re just literally writing as much as we can. Nick has his own studio in his house, so I’ll drive up there and we’ll demo and just hang out. And have like, “Sweller” days where were like living together and doing it all the time, but half-assingly. It’s been pretty cool. A lot of stuff in the works right now.
So if you do record that EP this summer, we’ll see an early fall release and some touring? You’re just going to keep it going from there?
Yeah, we’re also playing The Fest in Gainesville, Florida. So I think we’re definitely going to do a tour around that too. That might be our next US tour after The Early November tour.
To close things up, how do you feel about doing this on your own right now?
Well I think a lot of people think it’s like quitting a job you were okay with and being like, “I hope this new job’s okay.” You know? You don’t really know what to expect until you start it. I’m usually the one in the band who worries and over thinks all the stuff. But the way other people put it, they’re like, “Yeah. Remember the problems we used to have? We don’t have to deal with that anymore because we get to do it ourselves.” Now if there’s anyone to blame, we get to blame ourselves for once. I think one way that is a really big weight off of our shoulders is the global situation with our records. I think it was two years ago that we started going to the UK. And this is our fifth or sixth time there already. We’ve always paid for it ourselves and that was how we always did. We just made contacts with people. They liked our band, they got us on shows. So what we want to do is reward the people for helping us so much around the world by giving them a proper release. There is just certain things where we could treat things better than doing it through second hand labels around the world that are affiliated by Fueled By Ramen. We’re just excited to be like, “Oh. We can pick and choose who we want for once.” We’ve never been able to do that kind of thing. Even if we get back to Japan and stuff like that. The way we look at it is: The whole world is way more important than just our country. You can make a career out of going overseas only if you wanted. So why not cover the whole world all of the time? That’s kind of the number one thing that’s changing it for us. But I’m just excited. It just feels completely different, you know? So I’m happy.
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