INTERVIEW: Jonathan Diener of Baggage/The Swellers/Braided Veins Discusses “Not Safe To Drink”
If you’ve seen literally any news lately, you’ve probably heard about the Flint Water Crisis, where essentially the town’s water supply was contaminated with lead, thanks to the city cutting corners and switching the main water source in order to save money. This has left the city without drinkable water, and thousands of people have been exposed to possible lead poisoning as a result of aging pipes.
Multiple relief efforts are being made, including a special project headed up by Jonathan Diener, drummer for Baggage and Braided Veins, and previously The Swellers, until the band called it a day in 2015. The Not Safe To Drink compilation currently features 37 bands, including a reunited Swellers, and will be used to raise money to help the city of Flint. Yesterday, we caught up with Jonathan to get more information about the project:
B&E: Obviously the Flint water crisis has been everywhere lately. How did the idea for the Not Safe to Drink compilation come about?
I’ve been very active on my twitter posting about the Flint Water Crisis and trying to get people involved and aware. Normally I just post bad jokes, but I was finally being an activist for something I believed in. My friends who write me asking if everything was OK or making some jokes, and my buddy James Shotwell sparked the idea to get involved musically. We decided to make a compilation and within 24 hours we had 40 bands wanting to be involved!
B&E: A ton of bands are participating by sending over their songs. Were there any that got into contact with you out of nowhere, or did you have to reach out to everyone?
We had over one hundred emails, texts, facebook messages and more of bands trying to get involved. I didn’t want to exclude anyone, but at one point it was so overwhelming we finally had to cut off our submissions. We also tried to pick those that seemed passionate and would raise awareness compared to the bands that were just looking for exposure, which is a strange thing to do with a charity compilation that has a clear directive. This isn’t really about music, it’s about getting 13-25 year olds to donate money to a cause they normally wouldn’t be able to.
B&E: For those that don’t know, where will the proceeds from Not Safe To Drink go to?
All of the money is going to FlintKids.org which is the Community Foundation of Greater Flint’s Child Health & Development Fund. It helps children and citizens around the city dealing with lead exposure with everything from developmental education and nutritional education. The city has had trouble for decades and now this has made things even worse for everyone. Things shouldn’t get to where they were before the water crisis, they should surpass that.
B&E: I know that you grew up in Flint, and The Swellers were from Michigan, but what made you decide that you needed to do something for the community?
We’ve always been involved with helping Flint. It’s the underdog of the country, the center of recession and it’s needed help. Now that we have the world’s attention, we can utilize this 15 minutes of fame to show how bad things really are and hopefully work to make them better. The damage is already done when it comes to lead exposure, because it causes irreversible damage. We can’t raise millions of dollars as a band to replace all of the pipes, and even if we did people would still have to deal with it and will for over twenty years. Things are bad and the least we can do is write one more song to get people active in helping the people that are already suffering.
B&E: If people would like to get more involved, where should they start?
Everyone is sending bottles of water, but donating money directly to FlintKids.org has big picture ideas for helping our city. Do your research and read as much as you can. Instead of just being angry at politicians, try to help the people dealing with it. It’s also an issue of systemic racism. The people living in and near the housing projects aren’t even getting the free water delivered to them like the rest of the city. We need to work on educating and breaking those barriers in more ways than white, tattooed folks moving in and moving the black communities out. It’s happening all over our country. We should work together instead of replacing existing communities.
B&E: Finally, to end this on as positive of a note as we can, how does it feel to come back and do one more song as The Swellers?
We were working on the song today and I finished tracking my drums. It’s really good and it’s by far the LONGEST song we’ve ever written. We’re angry enough to add that edge that The Swellers were known for and it covers a few types of styles we’ve played over the last 13 years. Nick did a great job piecing it together and as unfortunate of a situation as this is that brought us together, I’m glad we’re the ones taking action. Music is a powerful thing.
Not Safe To Drink is out Feb 20th and up for pre-order now! When you do pre-order you get my band Baggage’s song, “Flint” as an instant download.
Thank you to Jonathan Diener for the interview. Please pick up the compilation, you’ll be helping thousands of people by doing so.