A little over a week ago, my friend and I were wandering through the streets of Amsterdam trying to find a concert venue that doubled as a movie theater. We paused on a corner, confused by the Google Maps instructions and without cellular to check where we were. It was then that an angel appeared in the form of a punk teenager in denim on denim, a black beanie, and reeking of cigarettes. Him and his companion crossed the street ahead of us, and my friend and I felt incredibly stupid and confused. A line going down the block had formed outside of a metal and glass building; there was no name on the building and my friend and I weren’t sure we were in the right line. It was the end of spring break, and we specifically planned to return to Amsterdam early so we would be able to see SWMRS, an Oakland punk band, in concert. We hadn’t thought the band was that popular, especially outside of the US, so walking to the back of the line, we stared at the various colored heads and leather jackets and hoped that we were right.
Originally Emily’s Army, the band of four released two albums under this name before transforming into SWMRS in 2014 and gaining bassist, Seb Mueller. With Mueller, Joey Armstrong, and Cole and Max Becker went on to release Miley/Uncool an EP from 2015. The following year, the band released their debut album Drive North and things took off from there. Three years later, and with their second album Berkeley’s on Fire recently released, SWMRS has moved on from the pop-punk band they were when Emily’s Army, and are proud to call themselves a modern punk rock band now. Beyond making great music, the members of SWMRS hold some strong values about equality, representation, feminism, and politics. Some believe this could be due to drummer Joey Armstrong’s father, Billie Joe Armstrong, frontman of Green Day, who is known for his strong values, but I believe SWMRS is creating something completely new.
When writing songs, SWMRS never goes into it with the idea of writing a political song. Cole Becker is quoted in saying, “I’m a firm believer that nobody should force politics into their lyrics… but SWMRS’ music isn’t necessarily political at this point in time, because to write important political songs it has to come naturally” (Melissa Wilke). Music reflects the time period, and at this point in time, nothing isn’t political; even when trying not to be political, it ends up there anyway. When my friend and I went to the concert, it became obvious to us at one specific moment that alongside SWMRS, we were the only Americans in the room. In a song off their newest album, SWMRS writes a line directed towards Putin as a way to tell him to stay out of American politics. The only people in the room who understood the line and were screaming their heads off were my friend and me. Everyone else in the room was enjoying the music, but to my friend and me, we were reminded that even though we weren’t in the US watching our politics in action, they were still going on and we still deserve to be angry about them.
Along with being politically aware, SWMRS is very conscious of their fans and the safety of everyone at the concert. Immediately after initiating a Wall of Death, where a mosh pit splits down the middle and runs at each other full force when the beat drops, lead singer, Cole Becker, stopped the music and talked about how everyone at the concert was a part of a community. In a community, people take care of each other. Becker recognized that a mosh pit isn’t always the safest place, and in a dark venue, it is hard to see exactly what was going on, that’s why as a community the crowd needed to watch out for each other. If someone was being groped and hurt in the pit, Becker demonstrated how one should jump and yell and make a commotion to get the attention of everyone around. The band would stop performing immediately, and in Becker’s word, “kick that motherf—er out.” SWMRS care for their fans, and are responsible for them at a concert, and they want the fans to know that.
Sounding pretty great, right? Well, SWMRS are actively outspoken about their support for feminism and the LGBT community. In a recent tweet from user hurricane_phi, they wrote “did you not get the memo? swmrs belongs to girls + the gays.” Many of the band members were quick to respond and agree with the statement, also continuing the conversation by saying that SWMRS works hard to include everyone and to make it known that their music is for everyone, no matter their gender, sex, ability, race, sexual orientation, etc.
SWMRS love to make music. They love to connect with people through something as personal and powerful as their songs. Not only is their music great and redefines genre, but the members of SWMRS are great, respectable people. During this time in history, a lot is going on socially, economically, and politically, and it is musicians like SWMRS that inspire generations to talk their opinions and fight for what they believe in.
When my friend and I left the concert, I was stunned. I have been to plenty of concerts, and only one other performance– The Killers, Governor’s Ball 2016– stayed with me long after the music stopped playing. I’m sure I began to irritate my friends with the constant loop of SWMRS’ music and delusions that Cole Becker was my soulmate, but I could not stop thinking about the concert. When music touches a person, it changes their perspective of life, and that’s exactly what SWMRS has done to me. Not only their lyrics, but all the band members (including touring member Jakob Danger Armstrong) have inspired me to make a statement. The band just finished the European leg of their tour and have some US dates coming up; I would highly suggest looking into this experience or at least their Spotify account.
UPDATE: Since writing this article, SWMRS has yet again done something amazing. They announced their involvement with Project X, a movement working towards the protection of Title X. The band has also released SWMRS Fund, which is dedicated to supporting organizations at the front lines of social and political movements, such as climate, racial, economic and gender justice. People can donate through the website, and $1 from all tickets sales for SWMRS’ current tour will be donated to these organizations. To learn more and check out the organizations SWMRS will be donating to, just go to this link: https://swmrs.com/swmrsfund/ .