A few hours before their concert at Santeria in Milan, we had a chat with Max and Cole Becker, brothers co-lead singers from SWMRS. The band, originally from California, counts other two members, Joey Armstrong and Seb Mueller, and is now touring Europe to promote their new record “Berkeley’s on fire”.
“We’re really happy to be back in Italy,” they say “people here are awesome and there’s so much energy in the crowd. We’ve been here twice in 2017, always in Milan, and now we feel like it’s time to go play in other places where we’ve only been on holiday, Liguria or Toscana for example.”
Speaking of your new record, Berkeley’s on fire, we’d like to ask you more about the political themes related to the songs. You’re from Berkeley, city that has an history as center for political and social activism. What impact did your city have on your music, lyrics and life?
Max: Definitely a great one, when we were growing up, we always knew that music and politics were inextricably linked. There’s no way that you can make music and not be political at the same time. Years ago, we used to busk on Telegraph Avenue, near Berkeley’s University. We love Bob Dylan and it’s there that the Free Speech Movement was born in the 60s’.
Do you think music nowadays speaks about politics enough?
M: I think people try to do so, but sometimes they just do it the wrong way. It seems like they don’t really mean it, they just say some strong words to get attention but not to actually make a change. They would just say “fuck trump” and that’s it.
Cole: I mean, give us some details, don’t say “fuck trump” unless you’re going to do something positive about that too. We already have enough negative energy around the world, you know? The thing about America is that everyone is really angry and sad about the political situation with Trump, and he’s creating so much negative energy that everyone thinks there’s no way out of it. The fact is that we can really do things about it, and if you just say “fuck trump” without telling people they can do something and that they can be a force for change in their community, then you are just saying nothing.
M&C: 2020 by the way is going to be the year for politics in America, and, if Bernie Sanders doesn’t have a chance, probably he’s too old, there’s other 15 people better than Trump. My favorite opinion on the next election was from the rapper Killer Mike (Run the 2wels). He went on tv to support Bernie and said, “I don’t think you can beat Magneto without Professor X”. We really can’t get through all this mess without spreading a positive and strong message. It’s time to move past all this negativity and start over.
Your new record is very different from the previous one (Drive North, 2014) in terms of sound. What were your biggest influences?
M&C: For us Blur are the biggest inspiration: they are four people from the indie-rock scene but they push themselves to reach different sounds and styles. There’s a little bit of influences from disco too, we love dancing. When we are listening to music and making it we’re constantly thinking about the one thing: why do people listen to a certain kind of music and why do they like it? We go through different kinds of music: we listen to disco, soul, 90’s boybands and everything that has a beat, a riff and a text that is about something that everyone can relate to. That’s music to us.
M: Personally, a big inspiration came from one exhibition that I saw at the Guggenheim Museum in New York some years ago on Italian Modernism, the Futurism movement. We even wanted to name the record Future Vision for that. I was really inspired by the concepts of velocity and movement coming from Boccioni’s sculpture Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio. When me and Cole and the other guys think about music, we like to think of people moving and dancing to it. We want people to dance in a genuine way to our music.
M&C: One of the most influential artists was Skepta, the British rapper. We saw his show at Reading Festival, and he created the biggest mosh-pit we’ve ever seen in our lives. But it was a different mosh-pit: people were dancing and were not angry as you’re used to see at many concerts, where people fall to the ground, get hurt or get pushed out of the circle. There was some kind of happy energy that we want to create in our mosh-pits too, like being lifted into space.
This new record sounds like an experimental one, we can see a change of direction, maybe? Who did you collaborate with to produce it?
M&C: Rich Costey, an amazing person that let us experiment and grow a lot. He’s most known for being Muse’s producer, a band that pushes the boundaries to other directions, like we want to do. Thanks to his experience, he was really good at making us understand where we were ultimately headed. He let us be free and spread that positive force we were talking about earlier. He’s also really into the philosophy of what we’re doing, all the Modernism and dancing stuff.
Our first album was produced by Zac Caper, the singer from Fidlar. We toured with his band and we were huge fans of their first record, it’s been a milestone for all the guys from California like us.
Regarding today’s rock scene, do you think that this kind of music can become mainstream again? Maybe looking at other genres or combining multiple influences, like the way you’re doing?
M&C: Today, rock music is becoming “for old people only”, it’s kind of conservative. Obviously, Foo Fighters or RHCP are great band but they became popular when they were young because they did something new, at that time. We love when older people love our music but what we want to do is to make music for new generations, so that people our age can say “that’s ours” rock music. Pop-punk’s moment has been 15 years ago, grunge was 25 years ago, there’s no reason that we can’t make new stuff for our generations, without sheltering in the past. We want to make music for everyone, and to do so you have to change something.
Your record is very focused on the California underground scene. Are there any bands you particularly like or that you think will do good in the next years?
M&C: It’s hard to say because success usually happens when a person or a band gets the right opportunity to be ambitious. A lot of people, especially in California, are really happy with what they’re doing over there and they’re just so afraid to loose it that they eventually settle down. It’s really hard to say if some of the bands or people we know will start growing bigger because in California people make things differently from the rest of the world.
Ultimately there’ll be a new music scene and a new way to make it, but I don’t really know who will make it. There’s so much energy there and so many young people that play music and do shows around there. They have seen what we do and what other bands like Together Pangea and The Marías are doing, and they’re trying to jump in.
Every time we play, especially in California, we see a lot of people in our public that we know play music too. It’s good to see guys and girls with our same ambitions at our shows. It’s very easy to start making music in California these days, any type of music, from rap to jazz.
One of the best bands circulating right now it’s called The Garden, they’re our friends and they play this super cool progressive-punk and know how to make it so artistic at the same time. They’re pushing forward and we know they’ll be someone.
Before you go. What do you expect from tonight’s show? Since the early evening lots of boys and girls started to crowd out here, this means your relationship with them is very special and strong, is it?
M&C: We love our people because they’re very open-minded and they try to experience our show like something that they won’t get anywhere else. That’s why we don’t like to have phones up or anything like that. Everything else happens on your phone but what you’re listening to, what you have in front of your eyes, won’t happen again. What we want is to interact with people. During a concert everything about what you give and get, in an infinite circle of energy, is love: even if we don’t know the people in the crowd personally, we are all able to spread love and let feelings out, and it’s just amazing.