Interview with Cole Becker of SWMRS
Updated: Jan 13, 2020
Arriving in the UK to say goodbye to an era of their album, “Drive North”, is never an easy task. But the four boys from Oakland, California, known as SWMRS, have a few tricks up their sleeves to make sure we never forget, even with the many more things to come. We chatted to lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist, Cole Becker, about the album, what the future holds for them, and School of Rock!
So this tour is to mark the end of this “Drive North” era; how has this been for you guys?
It’s been really fun, it’s been kind of like a dream; we put out the album, and we kind of wanted to be able to play big shows, and sold out shows, and stuff, but we didn’t think it would happen, so when it did, and now this is happening, it’s kind of like the victory lap. It feels really good, and it’s cool to get to talk to all these different people coming to see it, cause our songs have taken on a different meaning for every person that’s into it, and so it’s cool to hear about the different interpretations and the different experiences with our music; I think it’s really really amazing.
This is technically your third album with your previous work under “Emily’s Army” - how do you think these albums differ from each other?
I think there was a lot more thought that went into making “Drive North”, in that it wasn’t necessarily like we sat down and tried to make a more mature album. But in the time which elapsed between Emily’s Army, and SWMRS, we had grown just that much more, it was 2 years, and we were all finishing up puberty, and doing new things in life, getting new experiences, listening to different kinds of music, getting new ideas about the world. So I think that’s what sets them apart from each other. There’s just a lot more experience behind what happened with “Drive North”, than with Emily’s Army.
“Drive North” was also re-released when you signed with the record label, FUELED BY RAMEN - how did it feel to have people from there say essentially “we want you!”?
It was pretty cool, I think it was conflicting because I was so proud of what we had built, you know, with our own label, and kind of running things all in a really small, tight-knit group, and having full control over what we were doing, and I was really proud of having been able to do that, because we’re from Oakland California, where it’s not just the old DIY scene; there’s a very strong tradition of “do-it-yourself” culture that was probably the most popular in the late 80’s/early 90’s, but it’s still a huge part of the culture there, and so it was definitely conflicting. But it was really cool to know that we had gotten to the point where we were wanted, and I think realising that the work we did put in and do ourselves led up to getting a relationship with a label like FUELED BY RAMEN, who are going to support that kind of autonomy still, is really important and cool, and very exciting.
What would you say is your favourite song to perform live?
We’ve been covering a new song every night, and usually those are my favourite, because it changes what SWMRS own every night, but when we can do a cover, it’s just fun to change things up, and so we covered “I Want You To Want Me” by Cheap Trick [in Southampton] by Cheap Trick, and it’s cool; when you’re playing a song that somebody else wrote, you don’t realise that you’re putting in your own meaning to it until you’re kind of performing it, then you start to feel why you love the song even more, and so that’s a cool feeling.
So the band have gone through a big journey to get where you are now; you’ve said in interviews that the film “School of Rock”, starring Jack Black, and directed by Richard Linklater, made you want to create music - tell me more about that.
You know when you’re 8 years old, and a movie comes out that shows 8 year olds not in this paternalistic way, but as people who are super-capable of putting on a great rock show; like that’s so inspiring! Seeing kids shred that hard; we thought we were gonna pick up instruments and be able to shred that hard instantaneously! There was no doubt in our minds we could do it because of that, and that was an empowering movie for kids because it just shows you that anything is possible, even if it is a movie and it’s fake; when you’re young, there’s no distinction between reality and Hollywood - very inspiring.
Who would you say are your biggest influences, in terms of sound?
I would say probably The Clash, if we had to pick one because they were just so fearless both to say what they wanted to say, and what needed to be said, and also they weren’t afraid to blur lines of genre. That’s a special thing, to be so shamelessly political and powerful; they were just a show of power, and that’s such a cool thing.
What was the writing process like during the making of this album?
You sit down with an acoustic guitar, and whether you’re feeling sad or just feeling like writing some funny words down, having stupid thoughts; that’s how I usually write songs, just sitting with a guitar and a piece of paper, and then Max [Becker, lead guitarist and vocalist] does the same thing. He actually wrote Palm Trees. I wrote a few of the lyrics, but he wrote most of Palm Trees, and then he wrote the songs he sang, and I wrote the rest of the songs. It’s just fun, and then we get together as a band, and try to figure out different arrangements for it. We tried really hard with this last album to incorporate more of the subtle influences that we just happen to have growing up, because there was a really huge rap scene that was happening in the Bay when we were 10, 11, 12, and that music really filters into your life, whether you know it or not, and so with making the songs on “Drive North”, we were trying to create a sound that not only captured how we were feeling, but what it felt like to be growing up when we were growing up, so that’s kind of how the writing process played into the sound.
We received quite a lot of fan questions to ask you; Charlie Gabriel asks: Do you put pineapple on pizza?
Yes. Very rarely, but honestly, that shit fucking is so fire though! You can hate me if you want, but I don’t call it pizza, but it’s really tasty.
Dom Brouder asks: Favourite up and coming UK bands?
I saw this band the other night called Sacred Paws, from Glasgow; I really liked them. I guess people don’t really consider Creeper up and coming anymore, cause they’re playing the O2. I love Creeper; I really like Ratboy too, The Big Moon, I thought was really cool. Obviously grime is not up and coming at all in the UK, but in America, it’s finally starting, and people are finally starting to get it, so like Skepta, and JME, like all BBK is so sick.
@clairlevanss asks: What is your Hogwarts house?
At the risk of sounding cliche, I think probably Gryffindor honestly, because I’m not exceptionally smart like a Hufflepuff, I’m not exceptionally clever like a Ravenclaw, and I’m not exceptionally fucking mean like a Slytherin, so Gryffindor always struck me as people who just like have the emotion and the energy to care about things, and so that’s probably me.
@sizzlingshibe asks: Favourite place you’ve been on tour?
Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, Japan. Just the island nation of Japan, for sure. Greatest place in the whole world.
@bethtredrea asks: Best part about being in a band?
Waking up next to Seb [Mueller, bassist] everyday; it’s pretty nice, and just getting to travel for free, and play music; I have the coolest job ever, and sometimes it’s easy, when you’re tired and grumpy to forget that instead of sitting at a desk, or delivering mail somewhere, I get to just travel and play music for people who like it, and I’m so lucky there are people who do like it, and so it’s the best job ever, I’m so grateful. Music is the best language of all languages.
@lovserclubx asks: How does it feel to know so many people look up to you?
It’s definitely scary because sometimes, especially now that, ever since this All Time Low tour, things have been picking up a lot, and people are becoming fans a lot faster than people used to, and so their interpretation of who I am is different from older fans, and I think people want to place a lot of meaning in my personality, and it scares me because I think people should always remember that their heroes are human too, and it’s dangerous to have heroes, because I really try to be a good role model for people who are looking at it, but at the same time, I’m like “I’m gonna fuck up one day”, and it’s gonna hurt a lot of people. So, at the risk of sounding like I’m discouraging people from looking up to me, I always try to promote the idea that you should be your own saviour, your own hero, because our only relationship is through music. It’s crazy and beautiful and amazing that people can conjure up so many emotions about me based on music and social media, but you gotta know that the most important love to get is love from yourself.
@dirntsbass asks: If you could take back to life an artist who missed, who would you choose?
Probably Prince, honestly. I miss Prince. Prince was amazing. I’d say Prince, or David Bowie. Or Nina Simone.
@swmrs_issa asks: What’s a song that people would be surprised to know you listen to?
Probably Prison Song by System of a Down. It’s one of my favourite songs. People don’t think I’m that hardcore, but I am, I swear to God.
@zionscnco asks: If there was a movie about the band, which actor would star as you? Who would you cast for the rest of the band?
Probably Michael Cera, I would say. He’d be a good one. I’ll probably cast the guy who plays Joffrey Baratheon [Jack Gleeson] for Max, and just give him a bunch of tapes of people speaking in an American accent. For Seb, I’ll probably cast a Muppet. And Joey [Armstrong, drums], definitely the guy who plays Pablo Escobar [Wagner Moura] in Narcos.
@paperlanternns asks: If you could have a jam sesh with any 3 musicians, who would they be?
Alright, Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest, maybe Johnny Marr [guitarist, The Smiths], and then Kim Deal [bassist] from The Pixies.
Spencer Gilmour asks: Weirdest thing you’ve eaten?
Octopus balls; not like testicles, but balls, hot octopus balls in Japan; very strange. And sea urchin.
Finally, now that “Drive North” era has ended, what are the plans for the future?
Sleep a lot, and garden, maybe plant some food. Probably go read a lot of books, and write some songs, and put them on an album for all y’all. We’re gonna record probably in February/March, after we go to Austrailia, and we’re gonna release an album, come back, and do the same thing all over again!
"Drive North" is out now! SWMRS are currently on tour in the UK, and will be co-headlining a tour in the US with The Interrupters.
Tickets available here: http://m.bandsintown.com/SWMRS