“I feel like I’m in Quadrophenia but instead of mods it’s white people with dreadlocks and harem pants,” quips Cole Becker, singer and guitarist in SWMRS, as the band stands huddled up in an alleyway reeking of piss and Chinese takeaway behind the pub they’re playing later that night which - due to the incredibly loud punk band soundchecking upstairs and the large number of drunk music fans downstairs- is a bit unsuitable to do an interview. But being battered by the wind and feeling nauseous from bad smells is far more rock and roll then a warm and comfy pub. Although, at one point, a rather enthusiastic hen party interrupts, which results in all of us losing our train of thought. The alleyway ends up feeling like an even less appealing spot.
The California band was formed by life-long friends Cole Becker, Max Becker and Joey Armstrong when they weren’t even teens, and they’ve since added Seb Mueller on bass. The boys, who formerly made up pop-punk band Emily’s Army, changed their name to SWMRS in late 2014, not only shifting moniker but completely reinventing their identity. If you google Emily’s Army, the most related search is for Green Day’s frontman, Billie Joe Armstrong - who happens to be SWMRS drummer Joey Armstrong’s dad. Yet if you search for SWMRS, there’s barely even a mention of Green Day.
“It’s been great” enthuses Cole. “We definitely get taken more seriously,” the equally as enthusiastic Max Becker confesses. “We don’t get compared to Green Day nearly as much. We have a more distinct and mature vibe. We’re much happier in ourselves and our fan base is at least eight times bigger than before.”
SWMRS released their angsty garage-rock debut album ‘Drive North’ earlier this year. Listening to the album, you can feel the different influences breathing life into the four indie kids. The band clearly draws inspiration from the Clash and the Ramones, as well as more modern punks like FIDLAR; indeed, it was FIDLAR’s Zac Carper who produced ‘Drive North’. But it’s not only punk that galvanises them these days. You can also hear the strong influence of The New York Dolls and The Beach Boys. It’s this mixture of influences that results in the band sounding so fresh and unique. It’s safe to say they have shed their teenage pop-punk skin, and have matured in a very impressive fashion.
So, you feel you’ve finally shed the Green Day connection?
I think so. It will probably never go away as it’s Joey’s dad, but we are a more distinct band now - we don’t play pop punk anymore. We very much have our own unique sound.
You’re getting lots of acclaim these days - do you think this is evidence you’re being taken a bit more seriously now?
Its exciting, we’re always touring, so we don’t really have a gauge on what’s happening. We wake up, maybe eat at a gas station then drive, so to then hear we’re in a magazine is pretty special.
As well as changing name you’ve also ditched record labels and released all SWMRS’ music on your own Uncool records. How did that come about?
We didn’t want to sign to a label until we had our feet firmly on the ground, so we decided to stay independent. When you’re young and bringing an album out, you get taken advantage of really easily. We just thought ‘why can’t we do it on our own?’ We realised there wasn’t a good answer to that question, so just did it.
Uncool isn’t just a label, either. It encompasses everything you do as a band, right?
Yeah exactly! We did our own ‘Uncool festival’ at [Berkeley music club] Gilman Street, which was crazy. We sold out two nights, which was over a thousand people! That was definitely the biggest thing so far. Plus everyone loves the Uncool t-shirts, it’s definitely our best selling merch.
How much do you guys think music reflects what is happening in the world right now with terrorism, the refugee crisis, and civil rights all being at the centre of the agenda?
In pop music it really reflects it, because right now we are so oversaturated with bad news all the time. We never get an escape from it; we’re always on our phones - like the other day we got the Egypt air update from The New York Times. It’s constant. This is the reason pop music is so stupid right now; there’s no other way you can completely shut yourself off, other than listening to shit chart music. We want to give people a different way of escaping without it being stupid.
Do you make a conscious effort to make your music political?
What we try to do with songwriting is have political undertones for people that want to dig deeper, because as soon as something is a political song that’s all it is. It’s the problem with making overtly political music. Our music is definitely more a personal political thing, it’s like ‘what’s in and around me and how can I talk about it?’ It’s difficult to make overarching statements when you’ve only been in the world 21 years.
Photo: Alice Baxley