For the first installment of The Other Gig, we caught up with Jonathan Diener (ex drummer –The Swellers, current member of Baggage and BRAIDEDVEINS) who works two other gigs while making music in multiple bands. Continue reading below to see our interview with Jonathan, and to check out the latest music video from his band Baggage:
Start off by telling me a little bit about yourself and your band(s):
My name is Jonathan Diener and I was most known for being in a band called The Swellers that was together for 13 years. We toured the world and eventually broke up in 2015. Now I’m currently singing and playing bass for my rock band Baggage and drumming for my experimental hardcore punk band called BRAIDEDVEINS.
Did you attend school while making music/touring? If so, why did you pursue other studies?
One week after I graduated in 2006 The Swellers went on our first full U.S. tour. After that it became a few times a year to being gone 10 months out of the year. There wasn’t time for any schooling because not only were we gone so much, but we were convinced this was our end game. Most recently the only schooling I’ve had was taking an online comic writing class through SVU in NYC from comic writer Mark Sable.
What is your Other Gig, and why did you pick up this second trade?
I currently have two other gigs. My first is a freelance writer for magazines like Alternative Press and sometimes Noisey. As time progressed and my touring life started to slow down I needed more sources of income, especially after not landing two major drumming auditions I thought I’d nail, I got a job as a barista at Starbucks. It’s mainly to have consistent cash flow, pay my bills and not be the 18-year-old slob that I was living like for the last decade.
How does your Other Gig both help and hinder your band?
Working as a freelance writer gets me more great contacts in the music industry in addition to getting paid, and working at Starbucks gets me free coffee to write more music and lets me live comfortably enough to tour here and there. For example, I used to eat Taco Bell once a day and hope that would last me until I fell asleep because I didn’t have money. The first time Baggage toured we went out to nice restaurants for breakfast every morning and it was comfortable and great. The only hinderances I have would be from being wiped out after a long, stressful day at work and not wanting to write music or be in the headspace to be creativity. Once I switched to night shifts I was able to get more done during the day and by the time I’d get home I’d pass out. Starbucks is very flexible.
If you work your Other Gig while on the road, how do your bandmates react to your work?
Doing freelance writing on the road is extremely easy. I have the luxury of being able to pitch my ideas rather than being assigned a ton, so I could get work here and there and do it during the down hours of the day wherever I can find wifi. Touring is mostly hurry up and wait, so taking advantage of the waiting is crucial. No one is bothered by it, really.
Has a fan of your music ever recognized you at work? If so, what was that interaction like?
When I worked at Guitar Center I had a few guys strike up conversations with me and once some guys had me sign their drum rug that I sold them which was pretty funny and flattering. It’s hilarious watching my coworkers reaction to that kind of stuff because they’re not very familiar with my other life. At Starbucks sometimes people will recognize me from Swellers or Baggage and I feel bad when we’re in the middle of the rush and I probably don’t react the best way. One time doing drive thru a woman said she liked my band and I said, “Oh cool!” and the window closed on me and she started driving away. I hope I don’t come off like an asshole, I swear I’m nice!
Has your band/music ever cost you a job?
I’ve lucked out and gotten every job I tried out for. The only time being in a band has cost me jobs was when bigger bands reached out needing a fill-in drummer while I was in The Swellers. In retrospect, I could’ve probably been drumming for a decent-sized band now, but I was always loyal to Swellers since we started it from scratch.
Some bands working Other Gigs might feel stuck. They potentially feel worried about making money, finishing school, not devoting enough time to their music, etc. What advice would you give to these musicians?
People need to define what success means to them. There really is no formula to having major success in music, but being able to work and support yourself while being in a band is very doable. If you want to tour a lot, get a flexible part-time job like Guitar Center or Starbucks. Don’t expect to get paid a ton of money, but it’s a nice placeholder while you focus on the thing you really care about. Set aside one day a week to have band practice and a few hours a day to do songwriting or practicing your instrument. Jobs can suck the life out of you, so you actually have to schedule time for yourself to be an artist.
Any additional thoughts if you have any!
Try to get a job that isn’t directly related to the thing you do. I thought selling music gear would be an advantage, but I got sick of hearing people wailing on drums and guitars all day and it made band practice even harder. Most jobs where you’ll make actual money will be watered-down versions of the things you love. Keeping the music separate stops you from feeling burnt out and your passion will still be there. Take care of your bandmates and make sure everyone is happy. Take risks when you need to, but don’t put yourself in financial ruin or destroy the morale of your band from over-touring. Start small and expand when you start seeing the reactions you want. I’m doing that now with Baggage and it’s seeming to work out in our favor.