Interview with Cole Becker from SWMRS

When I’ve heard that the great SWMRS are gonna play my city during their tour with All Time Low, I knew that I needed to do an interview with them – the guys are kinda like the hottest new shit out there. Actually, they’ve been together for 13 years which is quite the feat for the band members who are only in their early 20s. When Cole Becker (vocals, guitar), Max Becker (vocals, bass) and Joey Armstrong (drums), all true Punk kids from Oakland, California, wanted to support The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in 2004, they started their first band Emily’s Army: Max’ and Cole’s cousin Emily suffers from the disease and thus gave the band their name. After touring a lot with guitarist Travis Neumann and recording two records with Joey’s father Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, they parted ways with Travis in 2014, added Seb Mueller on bass, while Max switched to lead guitar.

The new line-up gave them the perfect chance for a complete make-over: the SWMRS were born. 2015 and 2016 turned out to be the most defining years of the band so far: a new EP with the single “Miley”, a crazy Punk Rock homage to Miley Cyrus, was released and got the band some mainstream media coverage. After that, they recorded an album with Fidlar’s Zac Carper, the epic “Drive North” including its eponymous track which urged people to abandon the fake L.A. for the more authentic Bay area in Northern California. The album was released in February 2016 on their own independent label “Uncool”. At the end of the year, SWMRS decided to sign to influential Rock label Fueled By Ramen (Twentyone Pilots, Paramore, All Time Low), which re-released the album with the new track “Lose It” and the Punk Rock anthem and single “Palm Trees”.

Since March, Cole and his bandmates have been touring Europe as support act for All Time Low – a combination that sold out almost all shows of the tour. I managed to check them out in Cologne and they were absolutely fantastic. You can read my review of the show HERE. Unfortunately, due to a scheduling conflict, we couldn’t do an interview there, but it was only a few days later when the band was in Hamburg that I had lead singer Cole on the phone for an in-depth interview! We talked about touring with All Time Low, how the East Bay Punk has influenced SWMRS, if drinking alcohol and doing cocaine is the SWMRS-way to tour, how Zac Fidlar traumatized Cole and so many more cool shit it would take up another page to list it all. So, why the fuck don’t you just read the full interview below?

How has the tour been so far?

Cole: It’s been so good, I love it out here! It’s been really cool watching a band like All Time Low who really knows the ropes of doing these bigger venues and we’ve been learning so much.

Are they cool?

Cole: They’re great guys.

Do you hang out in between shows?

Cole: Yeah, all the time!

That’s great! Do you even have the time to check out the cities?

Cole: Some days, but we were sharing a tour bus with Waterparks in the UK, so we could check out more things there. We’ve been in a van here, so we haven’t had as much time to explore. But what we’ve seen, we’ve loved. ​

And you have kind of a crazy schedule, right? You’ve traveled from Cologne to Amsterdam to Berlin, now to Hamburg.

Cole: Yes.

Lots of traveling! You’re touring in a lot of cities in a short time.

Cole: Yeah, we are super busy, it’s all we can ask for, really.

What do you do to stay healthy on tour?

Cole: I like to walk a lot. I just walk around places. Sometimes, if I have enough energy, I go on a run. Seb runs every day, Max goes to the gym a lot, Joey goes to the gym. We all eat very healthy. That’s the main thing. If you do this every night you kinda have two options if you wanna have enough energy to do it for four months and a half: One is, you drink to make it fun and then you do cocaine to wake yourself up, or if you’re us and a lot of other bands, you run and you eat healthy and you try to sleep at the right time.

You’re still young, you wanna be around for the next 40/50 years like the Rolling Stones.

Cole: Exactly, that’s the plan. If we can play Brazil like the Rolling Stones, I’ll give you a million fucking dollars!

Haha, I’m gonna write that down!

How do you keep your voice in shape? Do you have any funky warm up techniques?

Cole: No, I’m lucky. My voice is really strong. I have never had that problem with losing it and I probably should take better care of it cause I smoke a lot of weed and…uhm [laughing]…I need to take better care of it, but Max and I do do a little bit of a warm up just to get our singing in tune with each other, just to get ourselves ready, we just go through all the background vocals of the set right before. It takes like ten minutes.

How do you cope with all the attention especially now that you’re signed and the label is promoting you like crazy?

Cole [laughing]: It’s hard, it’s definitely weird. It gives you a strange perception of yourself. I’m not complaining about it because most people would kill to get the kind of attention that we get, but it is strange. You just have to factor that into your day that you’re gonna spend 30 minutes meeting people that know you so much better than you will ever know them. It’s a bizarre thing definitely because I fear that if I can’t perceive myself as a normal person anymore I won’t be able to write as well. Sometimes, I really have to push what just happened out of my head in a way, so it doesn’t inflate my ego too much to where now we are out of touch and we are not making good music anymore.

You’re also doing visual art, right?

Cole: A little bit, not so much now that we’ve been on tour because it’s kinda hard to in a van. We just like to draw. Seb takes really cool photos, I like to draw, Max draws a little bit and does some writing.

I think what you told me about self perception would be a good theme for an art show.

Cole: Yeah, thank you, I might steal that from you [laughing]!

To talk a bit more about the fans: I feel like sometimes fans forget that musicians are musicians because they want to make music and not because they want to spend all day meeting fans.

Cole [laughing]: The hard part is that a lot of people do music, because they wanna be famous and that’s where these fans get their perception of us. So it’s hard. I wanna talk to all these people, they are all so interesting and they all have their own cool things about them. I wanna see them all do cool things with their lives. So it’s definitely hard because they only get so much time with you and they think they know you so well, so they are trying to pack all this emotion into 30 seconds of talking to you.

It’s probably overwhelming, right?

Cole: It can be overwhelming. It’s also really fascinating, too. I had a really great night last night talking to some fans who came to the show in Berlin. They used to be really big fans of Emily’s Army and one time we did a Twitter competition where we were like “Okay, best acoustic cover of Emily’s Army gets to come to a show for free, but they were from Germany so they never got anything for this. But they won. That was a while ago and then I talked to them last night and one of them is this girl, she’s now the singer of a Heavy Metal band in Berlin called New Greed, and then the other one is now a rapper and he is super cool, too. That was an exciting moment, because meeting fans who take away from our music like “Oh, I can do this, too”, that’s a really nice thing.

And you hang out with your fans at the merch booth after every show, Max told me in Cologne.

Cole: Yeah, we try to.

So, what do you think about paid meet & greets. Is that something you would do, or do you think it’s kinda weird when fans pay you for meeting them?

Cole: Yeah, I don’t think that personal time with me is worth money, so I probably wouldn’t do a paid meet & greet but I don’t judge other people for doing it. It’s a great way to make money, but at this point in my life, I don’t personally believe in it.

As a fan, I’d probably feel weird thinking the person is only meeting me because I paid for it.

Cole: Yeah, exactly! I would rather announce a time where you can start RSVPing and the first RSVPs get to come in. ​

Yeah, that’s a good idea! When you’re on tour and traveling a lot, how do you pass the time except for running around? [Cole laughs] Do you have any other wild hobbies or have you invented some stupid games?

Cole [laughing]: We all read a fair amount of books and we play a lot of chess, too. That sounds probably pretty pretentious saying these things, but it’s true.

Haha, you’re so smart, reading and playing chess!

Cole [laughing]: Yeah, it sounds fake and a lot more boring than it is, but our chess games get heated. We start screaming at each other.

It’s the Punk Rock version of chess.

Cole: Yeah, [laughing] exactly.

Can you share a special tour anecdote?

Cole: Yeah, one time we were in Nebraska, driving home from our last tour in America and we pulled up to this gas station where we saw this Nebraskan couple with their kids and they were forcing their dogs to breed. They were forcing their male dog to inseminate their female dog. It was sooo crazy and they were making the craziest noises. Have you ever heard dogs scream before?

No, I don’t think so.

Cole: Yeah, I don’t know if you wanna hear it. It’s crazy.

Yeah, I bet. That’s a pretty fucked up story, you’re sharing.

Cole: Yeah, if you want a little bit more of a PG story let me know.

Na, we don’t do PG on GID [laughing|.

Cole: Hell yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

I was surprised you don’t play the song “Drive North” this tour, why is that?

Cole [laughing]: I know, it’s funny. It’s on our merch, too. I think it’s one of our harder songs and these fans…for a lot of these kids, it’s their first concert ever and other shows we don’t get to play songs like “Lose It” or “Turn Up” as much, so we used this opportunity where the fans are a little bit more open minded to play the softer songs.

You’re gonna play it at the next headline tour though?

Cole: Yes, definitely!

That’s great, cause I really wanna see it live.

Cole: We played it in Berlin last night.

Oh, dammit! Well, good for the Berlin fans, bad for me, haha.

[Cole laughs]

So let’s talk about the album! You’ve released “Drive North” independently last year, but then got signed by Fueled by Ramen in fall and re-released the record. Why did you decide to ditch independency and sign to a label after all?

Cole: We had a rule that we’d never like to rule anything out, because we don’t like to limit ourselves.

That’s a good rule.

Cole: Thank you. We always thought really strongly that being independent was the way to go. When we met Fueled by Ramen and we realized that they really just want to support exactly what we do, it was clear that it would only come with benefits signing to them. They are great people and they really know what they’re doing and they love music, so that’s all you can ask for with a label really.

I think Fueled is a good label because they are focused on rock music. I’ve talked to a few bands who were signed to major labels that have a lot of mainstream pop artists and are focusing on the artists who make a lot of money which is the Justin Bieber’s of the world and the small rock bands have to suffer and have to wait a long time for their music to be released.

Cole: Yeah, exactly. That was the last thing we wanted. That’s why we did it independently in the first place.

You guys are from the East Bay in California which is a historical place for Punk music. East Bay Punk bands like Operation Ivy, The Replacements, Rancid, Green Day, AFI have influenced rock music a great deal especially throughout the 80s and 90s. How does that influence you as a band now and how did that influence you personally as a musician especially when you were younger and just getting into music?

Cole: I always think about how lucky I am to have grown up to just having those people as role models because so much of that music, what it did for rock music is, it forced people to be more honest with the songs they were writing and so I’m really thankful that I was surrounded by that kind of honesty growing up and was able to take from that. Not only just the music but also its…you know, all of those bands are married to the ethos of Punk rock not just the music and they all set this example of, just because you’re a musician, it doesn’t mean you can’t also make visual art, you can’t put on shows yourself, your world is not limited when you come from where we come from and so that’s really cool. It’s all about “Do it Yourself”-culture and it doesn’t mean “Do it alone”, but it means “Do it yourself” and make sure you’re making your own decisions. That’s special because a lot of bands growing up elsewhere don’t get that and they end up signing a bad deal that takes all of their creative freedom away and that’s exactly what you don’t want.

A lot of bands are flocking to LA…

Cole: Yeah!

Drive North!

Cole [laughing]: Exactly!

You recorded your album with Fidlar’s Zac Carper and I’ve heard he used some creepy techniques to “motivate” you. [Cole laughs.] So please tell me more about that!

Cole: For some of the songs we had to go to darker places to get the right vocal take and so he would lock us in the studio with all the lights off and not tell us when we were allowed to come out. And he would just randomly press record. And he actually figured out a secret way to get into the studio from the other side and kind of run around in the live room and instill fear in you.

And you’re not traumatized now?

Cole [laughing]: Our relationship is just now getting better.

Haha, you just started to breathe calmly in his presence.

Cole [laughing]: Yes, exactly!

When I listened to your album for the first time, I have to admit I didn’t really expect a lot, because I found out about you through the Green Day connection [SWMRS drummer Joey Armstrong is Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong’s son] and I was like “Oh yeah, the son of a rock star, he’s probably doing the same kind of music like his dad.” [Cole laughs] So I was a little biased, but I was almost taken aback because your sound is really unique and special. It got me really excited about you as a band. How did your sound develop into what we can hear now on “Drive North”?

Cole: Thank you! I think…the way I’ve been describing it is like there’s a little writer and a little musician that lives inside of you and that’s the thing that comes up with the creative things that you do. For us in order to make that writer come out and write things and make music that’s original, you have to feel it. So what we do, we grew up listening to…we have Spotify so we can listen to any kind of music we want. We never had to decide what kind of genre we were into and we were surrounded by rock music so that was obviously gonna be the base for us. But from there, there’s no limit from what we were listening to, so all the little writers inside of us were just getting fed by A Tribe Called Quest, Kraftwerk, there’s a bunch of different things, and so when that writer is ready to come out, it has all these different influences. So that’s how it starts to sound like its own thing.

Since Spotify you can almost say that genre is dead.

Cole: Hopefully, yeah.

But it’s interesting to hear that you are also inspired by Hip Hop music. Do you have any other artists that inspired you?

Cole: Working with my friends is always really fun, so I have friends who rap and friends who make beats and stuff, and that’s always inspiring. Right now it doesn’t seem like there is a young Rock band that’s both respected across the board and also huge. In Rap you have that a lot, like Lil Yachty, for example. He’s huge and also everybody respects him. Right now there is not a band like that. The bands who are like that are getting older. They had these huge beautiful amazing careers, like Green Day who have been huge this whole time but also everybody respects them. That’s why we look to Rap a lot in terms of how careers pan out. Just how can we bring that back to Rock music. Hopefully as many people as possible will hear our music and we’ll still have their respect because it’s coming from a real place.

In Rock music you often have the problem, like when Green Day signed to a major, people screamed “Sell out”. It’s always the same and it’s so stupid really!

Cole: It really is, yeah. Luckily we haven’t really had to deal with much of that, especially because of Spotify and because the lines are so blurry now. People just think good music is good music and hopefully everybody is smart enough to know that. A band like Run The Jewels, a Rap group, that’s one of my favorite bands right now, because they are so punk in how they do things and what they talk about. They don’t limit themselves. Just because they are a Rap group, it doesn’t mean they are not like the most Punk thing I’ve ever seen. They are a lot like The Clash when you see them live.

What inspires you most when you’re writing the lyrics of a song?

Cole: I’m not really sure. Sometimes they just flow out of you. I think, in order to make sure that your lyrics are gonna flow really well and make sense, you have to be distracted a lot. You can’t focus too much and you can’t think too much about them. So a lot of the best lyrics have come to me while I was drawing, or writing in my journal, or listening to other music, or just walking around. Going on tour is really great for writing lyrics because, for me and also Max, we like to walk around and see places. We like to just explore and while you’re walking around things just come to you.

Especially when you’re in new places, I guess.

Cole: Exactly, so touring is really inspiring because you’re stimulated by so many new things all the time.

What’s your favorite song on the album and why?

Cole: I think “Lose It” is probably my favorite because there is a raw energy there that we captured really well. It’s a really simple song and it’s a really sparse production, but it’s also something that wasn’t easy for us to do, because we grew up playing fast loud Punk music and that was one of the first songs we recorded, where we were like: “Oh, we can do something else and we can still have it sound like SWMRS.”

That must be a great thing to experience, because a lot of bands, especially in the beginning, are stuck in their sound.

Cole: Yeah!

So which artist or album do you have on repeat currently?

Cole:This band “Toys That Kill”. Their album “Fambly 42” I’ve been listening to non-stop and then the second Kraftwerk album.

I would have never guessed that you listen to Kraftwerk.

Cole:I fucking love Kraftwerk. That’s why “Hannah” sounds the way it does.

Ah, okay! So a lot of bands seem to split up lately. I feel like last year, almost half the bands I know split up. What makes you stick together as a band, because you’ve been together actually for a long long time, right?

Cole: Yeah, I think what binds us more than other bands is that we were friends first. We are like best friends. We hang out every day when we’re not on tour. Having that kind of deep understanding of one another and just like how to – [Cole suddenly starts laughing] – they are walking by laughing at me right now – just being able to understand each other and being able to talk about things openly without it being awkward, that’s what holds us together so much tighter than other bands. Because other bands are driven together by professionalism. They hire each other, so it’s awkward ‘cause you gotta spend a shit ton of time together and so, if you don’t know each other extremely well before you start touring together, then it gets really weird.

You already hosted your own festival, the Uncool fest at Gilman, but if you had the chance to create your own festival anywhere in the world with any band of your choice, how would it look like? Which theme would it have, where would it be and which bands would play there?

Cole: Okay, it would be in Oakland, California. The headliner would be SWMRS and Vince Staples and then we would have PWR BTTM play, we would have Twin Peaks and we’d bring…and we have unlimited budget, right?

Of course!

Cole: Okay, Ice Cube, we’d probably get Snoop Dogg and we’d get Jawbreaker, Run The Jewels. We’d also…maybe…who else would we get, like Rock bands? Fidlar would play! Cloud Nothings would play. The Rolling Stones would play.

Ha, of course!

Cole: Yeah, but they are not the headliners. Just SWMRS and Vince Staples are the headliners.

No, of course not, they will open for you.

Cole: Yeah [laughs], and we’d just get a bunch of hopefully…somehow we’d make it that every local band that we’re friends with could somehow play, cause you’re friends with people at home and you like ’em a lot and you like their band a lot and they’re always like “Yo, we should play some shows!” and I’m always like “Yeah, we should”, but I don’t know when that’s gonna happen, because we have so much shit going on. So, somehow we’d use that festival to make that the show where we’d get to play with everybody we wanna play with.

What about Miley Cyrus?

Cole: Yeah, she’d do a set. She would do it with Wayne Coyne from Flaming Lips.

Awesome! I can’t wait for that festival to actually happen!

[Cole laughs]

Do you think it’s important for artists to sing about social-political issues? Especially at times like these when racism and hate seems to be on the rise?

Cole: I’m a firm believer that nobody should force politics into their lyrics, because there’s nothing worse than when a band is trying too hard to do something that just isn’t them. And that’s why we’re all very political motivated people, but SWMRS’ music isn’t necessarily political at this point in time, because to write important political songs it has to come naturally. But that doesn’t mean, we don’t believe that everybody should be speaking out and making sure they’re using that platform to get people to invest more in the future of their countries. For us, what we’re trying to do, is encourage people to just learn how to think for themselves, cause there’s a lot of people who, no matter on what political spectrum they are, they are followers. And that follower mentality can only work for so long before somebody corrupts it and turns it into something bad. So if everybody thought for themselves and looked around, in the 100 ft. radius around them, and just made sure that that 100 ft radius was the world they wanna live in, then the world would be a great place. And so artists have to promote that message.

That’s a great point to end the interview. Have a great show tonight, enjoy your time in Europe!

Cole: Thank you!

You’re going back to the US soon, right?

Cole: Yes!

Safe travels and say hi to the other guys!

Cole: Thank you so much, have a good rest of your day. ​

SWMRS tweeted yesterday that they’d come back to Europe this fall for headline shows, so keep and eye on their website and socials! The record “Drive North” is out now and can be purchased at any store selling good music.

 

Melissa Wilke

Editor-in-chief | After two years in PR, I now work as an Account Manager in an advertising agency in the beautiful city of Duesseldorf. I’ve been blogging for 7 years on several websites and started working as a freelance writer for music magazines in 2013. I believe in the social value of music and its power to change the world for the better. My favourite bands/artists are Green Day, Enter Shikari, Linkin Park, Marmozets, SWMRS, Lana del Rey, Paramore, Foo Fighters, Nirvana and too many more to list them all.

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