Music is a means of escape from the craziness of the world, but for SWMRS, it’s also a way to make a difference. Though their second album, Berkeley’s On Fire, features songs that address turbulent relationships, feelings of frustrations, and anxiety, it also features their social commentary on the political unrest happening around the world. Their brand of upbeat, raucous punk rock doesn’t just get your fists pumping in the air. It sheds light on issues around them and represents freedom to speak out for what you believe in – a message they hope to pass down to their fans.
Taking a break from their tour, SWMRS sat down with GENRE IS DEAD! to talk about their new album, the current political climate, and the freedom of musical expression.
GENRE IS DEAD!: Welcome back to Germany!
SWMRS: Thank you!
Cole: We love being back.
GID: The last time we met you played the MTC club with The Regrettes, so much has happened since then. You’re back with a new record, Berkeley’s on Fire. Congrats on the release!
SWMRS: Thank you!
GID: In my opinion – and I promise I don’t say this to every band that I interview – this will be my most favorite record of the whole year.
Max: Awww! Thank you! You’ll like it live tonight!
GID: I know you must have answered a million questions about your record’s name already, but what I think is really interesting about it is that it immediately gets the listener into a certain mood. Berkeley’s on Fire is such a simple, yet strong sentence wrought with a political subtext. A lot of bands are very careful when dealing with political topics in their music and here you are giving your record a political stamp with its name. Was that your intention?
Cole: I think we wanted to send a message to everyone who has people listening to them that we live in a time where you shouldn’t have the luxury of just standing in the background because a lot of things are on the line right now. And we’re musicians first, but it’s time for everyone to do their part and to speak up. And so that was one of our few contributions that we really would like to make to the political moment.
GID: What I also think is really intriguing about the record is, on one hand, it has this aggressiveness for example in “Lose Lose Lose.” But on the other hand, it has such incredibly laid back moments like “Ikea Date” for example. How did this dichotomy come to be?
Max: That was the whole idea. The whole idea was we wanted to have songs for every single type of person or different feelings because right now I don’t think anyone sticks to any specific genre with what they listen to and because of Spotify and Apple Music, within a couple of seconds you can switch your emotions and what you want, so we wanted our album to be like that. If you’re feeling like you want to get punked up you can listen to “Berkeley’s on Fire.” If you’re feeling like you want to be alone and in your bedroom, you listen to “Ikea Date.”
Joey: I think one of the biggest advantages we have as a band is the fact that we have two individual incredible writers because you have two people who can identify with different people in the crowd. So you have Cole who writes a lot of songs that are really interactive – they both do it, but Cole primarily writes a lot of songs that are interactive with the front and the middle section of the crowd. But one of the most magical moments for me is when we start playing “Ikea Date” is looking at the back of the room and seeing all the people who are singing along hardest to that song. We’ve always been a fan of making sure everyone in our show feels included and having two writers who are able to connect with all types of people in the crowd, I mean, I don’t know any other band who could do that as well as we can.
GID: Yeah, I think it’s one of your strengths to have two different writers in the band. And in the song “Berkeley’s on Fire,” you sing the line “TV news is bad for you/and bad TV is news for you/it’s just a ploy/keep you under control.” Now the trust in modern media has extremely suffered these recent years, especially under Trump’s presidency. Young people like your fans are growing so disoriented and with so much insecurity. Do you think you can help them navigate the fakeness by making them aware of such issues?
Cole: Yeah, we were just watching the trailer for – Tom Morello has a master class and he was saying – it’s a really epic ad where he’s like “I didn’t have faith in the news, I didn’t have faith in my teachers, I didn’t trust anyone. What I trusted was music”. And I think, without being as intense as that, that’s kind of how we feel. The only thing that we know for certain is what we can do is make real things happen for people. So when people come to a show – I think the media… or everything is so confusing right now. And our music is not confusing. It’s about a feeling and it’s putting words and sounds to feelings that are deeply, deeply inside of you and giving you a space where you can let those out and be yourself finally.
Joey: And just being thoughtful because there are a lot of people who are in the media, who are very thoughtful journalists. And do a very great job at what they do. So I think just making people think about what they’re listening to and think about what they’re watching is the goal. We don’t want to be up there saying “fake news!” and “media is bad” because there are a lot of smart, thoughtful people doing really good work. And journalism is very, very important now more than ever. So it’s like figuring out and inspiring kids to think about what they’re listening, what they’re watching, who they trust and who they want to put their faith in.
Max: And who knows maybe someone listening to us will be the next Anderson Cooper and they’ll have that initial mindset where they just want to tell the truth. They just want to present issues, so the world can be a better place. Also, it can inspire someone, you know.