SWMRS co-leader Cole Becker is hanging from the ceiling. The California punk rockers are charging through bracing, hook-y songs off their debut, Drive North, at a New York show. They even return to the stage after their allotted set time and keep rocking unplugged through a cover of the Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry.” In classic punk fashion, the venue’s lack of compliance only encouraged them to play harder, and halfway through the song, the sound jolted back on.
SWMRS’ punk ethos is more Kathleen Hanna than Henry Rollins: As heard on Drive North, the subversion of patriarchy is part of what drives the band. They are a product of their respectively progressive upbringings in Oakland, where the young band members grew up loving riot grrrl and entrenched in feminist teachings. “I became aware at a pretty young age that I was benefiting too much from the patriarchy,” Becker, a current Berkeley student, explains. During their sold-out NYC show, he used his platform to encourage the band’s teenage, female fans to be the primary crowd surfers.
“It’s one of those things where you don’t think about it until you play a hundred shows and only see aggressive, hyper-masculine dudes crowd surfing on top of 14-year-old girls. We feel like it’s our duty to uplift the voices that aren’t as easily heard as ours.”
SWMRS rose from the ashes of teen-punk outfit Emily’s Army, a band they formed in middle school with assistance from drummer Joey Armstrong’s father – Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day. “When we were 13 to 14, he was telling us to text every time we wrote a song,” says singer-guitarist Max Becker, Cole’s older brother. “He’s basically just another dad. … I mean, he is.”
Emily’s Army released two albums before changing their name and issuing 2015’s Miley/Uncool EP and this year’s Drive North with bassist Seb Mueller. “At the end of the day, we just wanted to start something new,” Max explains of the name change. “Emily’s Army was a pop-punk band and now we’re more of a modern rock & roll band.”
“It was almost like playing a sport or doing a summer camp,” Armstrong says of the former band’s fleeting nature. “We realized we actually want to be musicians full-time. This is what we like to do.”
For their debut as SWMRS, they linked up with FIDLAR‘s Zac Carper, a member of their Burger Records family. Carper proclaims himself as the band’s “sensei,” though the boys talk about him like family, with Carper’s sister Alice even joining the mix and becoming their touring photographer. “They drove me absolutely crazy, but that’s because I’m getting old and they’re young,” Carper admits, lightly chastising their goofy nature.
“My favorite memory of the whole recording process was making [Max] cry,” the producer offers with diabolical mirth. “He wasn’t paying attention.”
“He made me cry like every day,” Becker admitted separately, with Armstrong calling him “very sensitive.”