The current state of punk rock could be compared to a virus that survived a full course of antibiotics: Its numbers are small, but it is strong and coming back with a vengeance. Bands like WAVVES, Fidlar, Twin Peaks, and now SWMRS (pronounced “swimmers”) are keeping punk rock a healthy virus amongst the deluge of often shallow, self-indulgent, and overproduced creations of a mutated organism called mainstream music.
SWMRS consists of brothers Cole (vox/guitar) and Max Becker (bass/vox), Joey Armstrong (drums), and Sebastian Mueller (guitar/vox). The band formed in 2004, but in 2015 they added Seth Muller to the band and had a breakthrough year; they toured with Wavves and Twin Peaks, played huge shows at Beach Goth Festival and Burgerama IV, and will release their third album — but the first under the acronym SWMRS — Drive North, February 12. I spoke with vocalist and guitarist, Cole Becker earlier this week to see what these smoking guns are all about.
So what was it like working with Joey’s dad, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day? It was pretty cool; he’s more like a father figure to us. So it’s like working with one of our dads.
For your new album, Drive North you worked with producer Zac Carper rather and Billie Joe. How was that? He was a really good producer and he definitely helped us figure out our sound. But at the same time it kind of came at an expense, you would think that he’s a really fun loving guy, but he’s not…he had a swear jar and we had to put money in the swear jar. Usually with that sort of thing, you would use the money to buy something for the group, but he just took the money. I’m really grateful for it because we created a really good album because of it, but it was a really trying time….
You don’t consider yourself to be solely influenced by punk rock and you draw from bands like Tribe Called Quest and other hip-hop groups. There are like three songs where we tried to create a vintage hip-hop feel with a newer punk sound. Both of the instrumentals for the demos that I made I used this drum machine and it has this boom-bap kind of hip-hop feel to it. Songs like “Hannah” and “Mr. Kiss” are really influenced by Tribe. Mainly in the production, I don’t think we will ever rap, but the production is influenced by Tribe.
Tell me about “Miley,” I thought the way you have her smoking blunts is very hip-hop. She keeps burning blunts, fuck [laughs]. It’s kind of part of the way we talk, just because were from Oakland and the kind of music and vernacular that we grew up with. We want to insert that into our songwriting and to paint a portrait of what it’s like growing up around here.
What is it like growing up in Oakland? I think of Green Day’s “Welcome to Paradise.” Do you have any Oakland anthems? Yeah, “Figuring it Out” just came out, and there are a couple others. The song “Do You Have a Car,” is kind of endemic about growing up in the Bay Area. The Bay is just a really beautifully place and there is a huge convergence of culture. It has a rich music history with hip-hop with Hieroglyphics and the hyphy movement. And there is tons and tons of rock music that came out of here — Third Eye Blind, Journey, Jefferson Aeroplane and Tower of Power. Tower of Power rules.
What does punk mean to you? Punk, especially where we come from, is about challenging the status quo and addressing issues. East Bay punk is all about activism and there is a long, long line of conscious punk bands coming out of here and that’s what punk means to me. That doesn’t mean that were only going to write political songs but it’s always in the back of our minds as an East Bay punk band.
What’s your favorite food? I like kimchi-fried rice. There is a place next to my college — and oh also shout out to Monster Pho down the street from where we recorded our album. Yeah we went there like everyday, we love pho. Tacos Sinaloa and Gordo Taqueria… those are all good. Oh and my mom makes really good bunt cakes.
Have you played FUNZONE before?No, but we’re really excited, it looks like a awesome new venue.
Yeah, you can warm up in the batting cages No way! There’s batting cages? Hell yeah! That’s awesome! That’s going to be awesome.
411: SWMRS play Saturday, January 23, at FUNZONE, 226. S. Milpas. St. Call 805) 962-6666. They will be joined by another totally radical, candy-punk band from last year’s New Noise, The Aquadolls.