Interviewer(s): Jeanine Woody (Station Manager) and Grace Twaddell (Social Media Director)
Interviewee: Max Becker
Date of Interview: 10/9/2019
Location of Interview: Phone Call from the studio in the Towers A1 Lounge
Aired: 10/10/2019 at 8pm
Transcribed by: Jeanine Woody (Station Manager)
SWMRS is a band from Oakland, California that is taking the music industry by storm. Their new album, Berkeley's On Fire, reflects the influence of politics on a new generation. Each chord is perfectly constructed to create a new sound that incorporates aspects of punk, hip-hop, etc. The catchy songs help give an insight into the direction the band is hoping to go in. We were lucky enough to score an interview with Max Becker and talk about his love for School of Rock (which was filmed at Wagner) and learn more about the core values of the band.
This is WCBG broadcasting from Wagner College, the School of Rock. WCBG Small College. Big Voice. Hi, I’m Jeanine and I have a special guest with me here today, Max Becker from the band SWMRS. Max is one of the vocalists and he plays lead guitar.
*Cue “Hellboy” by SWMRS*
Max: Hi how’s it going Jeanine?
Jeanine: It’s good, how are you?
Max: I’m good, I’m good, I’m just…I’m actually on the east coast right now as well.
Jeanine: Oh, that’s really cool!
Max: Yeah, yeah, how’s your day going?
Jeanine: It’s pretty good, I’m working on my senior thesis so, it’s going.
Max: Oh s---, wow, yeah that’s a thing, cool.
Jeanine: So, we’re super excited to have you and we really appreciate you doing this interview with us.
Max: Yeah of course, no I mean, I’ve actually been on a kick lately of just trying to do, I’m trying to do more independent interviews any ways, so it’s really cool you guys reached out.
Jeanine: Of course, I know you guys are one of my favorite bands now.
Max: Oh sick.
Jeanine: Yeah, I actually got into listening to you guys over the summer it was in like a running playlist for like pop punk and then I was like oh okay this is really cool.
(Just to preface, Jeanine does not run, she was looking for upbeat music while travelling to her summer internship)
Max: Ohhhh. Sick, do you know what song it was? I’m always curious what they have on those.
Jeanine: I feel like it was “Lose Lose Lose”
Max: Yeah, that makes sense. Usually they’re like “Palm Trees”, “Hellboy”, or “Lose Lose Lose” for those kinds of things so it’s really interesting. I feel like “Lose Lose Lose” makes the most sense. So, rad.
Jeanine: So, I know you guys became a band because of the movie School of Rock
Max: Yeah, yeah, we did.
[1:48 Interview begins]
Jeanine: So, as you know Wagner College is where School of Rock was filmed
Max: Yeah, yeah, it’s so cool
Jeanine: Yeah, we were watching it and we were like oh my god that’s our dorm building, which was really kinda cool because I haven’t watched it in a very long time, but it was nice to see, and I was wondering what your favorite part of the movie was.
Max: My favorite part of the movie, there’s a lot of favorites, I mean I can quote pretty much every section of it. We used to watch it, first and foremost we used to watch it every weekend on our—because Cole and I, we’re brothers, we were on—our family did ski team in Tahoe, and every weekend we would watch a movie on the way up to Tahoe, it was either School of Rock or Holes so those are the two most quoted movies in my family. I’d say my favorite part is—I like the last show. I mean like there is nothing more inspiring then when you know Billy, the fashion kid, has to like—no he doesn’t do it on the spot. Like Gordon, I know even their names, so Gordon, is the lighting kid, he does a light show on the spot because he missed the file. That’s already crazy for a ten-year-old. And the you’ve got, everyone is wearing their uniforms because the outfits got messed up and he’s like that’s not a bad idea and then they’re like, you know they left school anyways, they got him out of his apartment, and they’ve played the show. Honestly, when I heard that song for the first time, I was like that was one of the greatest songs ever written. I was eleven, I was like wow, that like there more than any other part is probably what inspired our band the most. Is when they played the actual show at the Battle of the Bands.
Jeanine: That’s really cool. It’s pretty interesting how like that one moment was one of the things that really influenced you guys. I think that’s super, super cool.
Max: Yeah, I mean like it’s a ten-year-old movie you know. That doesn’t matter. Movies are supposed to make you feel something and it made us feel like we could do anything.
Jeanine: That’s totally true. I feel like when you’re young, it definitely sets a—kinda like a foundation for your future, in a sense. Kinda inspires you to go on track to do something.
Max: Yeah absolutely.
Jeanine: So, I was also wondering how growing up in Oakland influenced your music style.
Max: Definitely is a big influence on the music style. We have a lot of different things going on musically whether it’s the underground punk scene from Gilman Street, or the Hyphy Movement, or Hieroglyphics underground 90s rap. A lot of—I guess technically, there’s like a pop punk scene too, we actually didn’t—we kinda like landed in the pop punk in a really strange way. And then, actually we don’t really consider ourselves to be pop punk because we don’t really. I mean pop punk stems from like Blink-182 whereas what we do stems more from like The Clash. And I would say they are two separate things, but I’d say even though The Clash are from London, the Bay area in and of itself is more of a politics driven scene. So, you get more music like The Clash whether its obviously like Green Day or Operation Ivy or stuff like that. So just, I think what it mostly does, is being a musician from the Bay Area is—it gives you this sense that your music should be inclusive because the scene is based on inclusivity. Specifically, Gilman Street is based on—I don’t know if you know much about this venue but literally when you walk in there’s some rules on the door that say, “No Racism, No Sexism, No Homophobia.” They would probably expand it if they rewrote them now it was written in like 1987, they’ve stuck true to those values ever since. And that, that really sticks with you when you—we played our first show there when we were—Cole was thirteen. It really sticks with you, you know when you’re getting your chops.
Jeanine: I was wondering if you could describe your sound in three words for me.
Max: Sure. Don’t laugh, this is how I wanna—this is how I usually talk about it with the rest of the band. It’s more like the three goals we are going for. One of the words we toss around a lot is explosive because we wanted to feel like if someone is at our show or listening to our music they get up and do something. So just like, kinda like an explosion, an explosion is kinda happening in your mind or wherever. This inner fire to want to dance or to make a change or to be a better person or something like that. Explosive, I would say its punk for sure. Mostly because we tend to believe that punk is more of a feeling rather than a sound. And I feel like songs like Lose Lose Lose or Palm Trees or Figuring It Out we are talking about things that are punk values. But even songs that we have that are way not guitar driven like, let’s take April in Houston or Hannah, it’s like—I think those are punk songs because of the way it makes you feel. It’s a feeling of defiance. So, I’d say we are explosive, punk and I’d say dance. The reason I’d say dance is not like EDM dance, its more like our music is movement based a lot of, a lot of the show—I don’t know if you’ve seen us before but a lot of our show its like an hour and fifteen minutes of like nonstop movement for the crowd. And we’ve wanted that since we were, again ten years old, so once we saw School of Rock, and it’s a big, big part of how we write songs. So explosive, punk and dance. Those are the main three words.
(Prior to this interview, Jeanine was practicing the questions with Serena. They were discussing Hot Ones and when Serena answered this question pretending to be Max, she said their sound is “Explosive, fiery, and spicy.”)
(Jeanine has never seen their shows in person but would love to one day if they come to New York.)
Jeanine: Okay, that’s super, super cool. Personally, my favorite song off Berkeley's On Fire, is “Too Much Coffee.” I was wondering what your favorite song would be.
Max: Oh cool. Yeah, I—that’s really sweet, I spent a lot of time writing that one. I always like when people like that one, like ah it’s being appreciated.
Jeanine: It’s super relatable.
Max: Yeah sick, awesome. I think, the two—there’s like two. My favorite, I have like four favorite songs. But pretty much I think the pair of “Berkeley [‘s on Fire]” going into “[Too Much] Coffee” is something I’m really proud of. I think Berkeley—when Cole showed me the demo of that, so he wrote that one, I was like wow, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything like this in my life. And I’m like so proud to be in a band with my brother, like wow, you’re amazing. And it kinda inspired me to write the intro of “Too Much Coffee,” because they’re actually in the same key, they’re both in D, but one of them is in Drop D, but they both start with harmonics on the guitar and so the way it was designed was to always be played back to back and we play them back to back live too. But if you play them back to back in the recording, you’ll see it’s like a transition into the next song. So, I like those two together, but I think the two most well-rounded impressive songs on the album are—I think the best song on the album, the best song Cole’s ever written is “Lose Lose Lose.” Only because I just think—it’s one of those, it’s hard to explain, it’s one of those songs, I think you play it for anybody and its really hard for them to find a reason not to like it.
Jeanine: Yes, that does make a lot of sense
Max: And then, yeah, I like “Trashbag Baby” a lot because when I wrote that riff I made it because I had this idea—we play a lot overseas, and what happens when you play in England, is they sing the guitar riff, and I really wanted our guitar riff for them to sing at our shows. So, like for example, like “Seven Nation Army” they go like *sings the riff from Seven Nation Army* its like being in a soccer game. So, I wanted to have a riff where we do that too. So, we go there and literally worked. Like we play in the UK and its like *sings the riff from Trashbag Baby* so those—I mean sorry that I didn’t put it in one song, but I’d say if I had to do one song its “Lose Lose Lose” but those four, I think I’m most impressed with us about.
Jeanine: And definitely, I agree. Honestly, the album is just a really good album in general.
Max: Oh, thank you.
Jeanine: And I know you write a lot of the songs, so what is your favorite lyric that you’ve ever written.
Max: Um…I’m most proud of the “Lose It” chorus. Just because it seems to keep growing even three years after its come out. The um—we get stats on Spotify and like all that stuff. That’s not what its about but its like really cool that Lose It, which was—wasn’t even supposed to be released and then it just kinda like we had in our back pocket and the label was like “do you have an extra song” and we were like yeah, we are kinda hesitant about this one because its kinda slow and it remains to be our most popular song so I’m really proud of the chorus lyric, which is tell me why’d you have to have such a damn good taste in music/if all my favorite songs make me think of you/I’m gonna lose it. I think the reason its last so long and the reason it keeps growing and streaming really well for us is because of that line. It’s just a relatability thing.
Grace: So, I noticed you mentioned about unreleased music. I wanted to know if you really had an opinion on this kind of trend that’s been in music of releasing artist’s unreleased music after they’ve passed away. Like, what is your opinion on that? Because they can’t really consent to being like this is my final product, this is what I’m proud of.
(Grace came up with this question on the spot. She thinks this will go down as one of the weirdest questions Max has ever been asked. Maybe it will be memorable.)
Max: Umm…true. I mean, I think…when you become a musician, you kind of enter this unspoken agreement that whatever you do is going to be—is going to exist in like forever. Because even songs that were written before recorded music have just passed down as like folk songs and ideas. So, that’s kinda why people do it. Like it gives you the opportunity as a human being to do something permanent and even if its something you’re not proud of obviously, unless you were like a racist lyric or something and they’re like oh, you know obviously I would imagine that no one wants to come out with that. But I would say like, sometimes musician’s most vulnerable song that they don’t actually release, I think its really special to hear them. And you know what, they’re dead. *laughter from Max and staff* It’s a sad thing to say, but I think like they’re not alive anymore, you know and part of what it is and I don’t know if you feel this about bands, but when I’m a fan of a band, it’s almost like it’s a messed up thing but it’s like, it’s almost like the band is an object and it belongs to you. And what we try to do with our band is we want to belong to our fans because we feel like we will exist longer in time if people can claim us as their band. And if—if one of my favorite artists posthumously releases a song, I feel like even though its their life, you know as a fan it belongs to me. And so, I would I think that’s the magic of music. So yeah, I’m all for it. Maybe that’s a controversial answer. *Max laughs*
Jeanine: What type of impact do you hope SWMRS will have on the music industry?
Max: I think, you’ll see this in 2020 from us, or perhaps the whole 2020's, is we really specifically want to change the way bands, mid-level bands exist in the United States. I think it’s really easy for us to do really well. It’s not really easy for us, its hard, we are tending to do pretty well in the UK and Europe and internationally, Australia, stuff like that. But the United States is massive, and its so, as you guys know its so polarizing, there are so many different opinions going on, and people can’t agree on anything so its really hard for bands to like figure out to, a way to get big anymore. And I think what you’ll see from us, is we’re currently working on something that I can’t really tell you about a way to approach the United States, in a different way and really I’d like to say that SWMRS will impact the United States music industry, for a lot of bands, to just inspire them that you can do it. And like, just because you’re playing rock music or whatever, doesn’t mean you should give up or be happy with a certain—making it to a certain level. You should—we wanna inspire people to pretty much never stop growing as musicians, and hopefully our impact in this next decade will do that for—on as big of a scale as we possibly can.
Jeanine: Okay, well I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to talk to us here and thank you so much.
Max: Oh, of course. Thanks for reaching out. I’m excited to see the article.
Jeanine: Bye! If you really enjoyed today’s interview, that was Max Becker from SWMRS, is
S-W-M-R-S. Please take a listen to their new album Berkeley’s On Fire. Thank you for tuning in today. And stay tuned for our Staff Picks!
[17:07 Interview with Max ends]
[17:31 Staff picks begin]
Emily: Hi my name is Emily and my favorite SWMRS song is “Drive North” because I’m from California and it always makes me laugh because I really relate to the lyrics.
(Emily is from Sacramento and when Jeanine showed her this song she couldn't stop laughing about how true it is)
*Drive North plays*
Serena: Hi my name’s Serena and my favorite SWMRS song is “Berkeley’s On Fire,” because I think it’s a really upbeat and interesting way to tell the story of the Berkeley riots. And I’ve always loved how music can express real life events that might be crazy or tragic or weird in a way that everybody can enjoy.
(Serena loves saying Berk-ley's-on-Fire in the same intonation as the song. She wanted to change the words for the interview to say "why-he-so-fire?")
*Berkeley’s On Fire plays*
Grace: Hi I’m Grace, I’m the Social Media Director, and my favorite song by SWMRS is “Trashbag Baby.”
*Trashbag Baby plays*
Jeanine: Hi I’m Jeanine, I’m the Station Manager of WCBG, as I said in the interview, my favorite song off Berkeley’s On Fire is “Too Much Coffee.” We’re gonna throw it back to their first album released under their name SWMRS, Drive North. My favorite song off of it would definitely have to be D’You Have a Car? It’s definitely a super fun song to jam out to, I know I sing it around my house all the time. And it’s just something that—it’s just a fun song you get to listen to and… vibe with. So, thank you for listening!
*D’You Have a Car? plays*
(Songs played during the interview: “Hellboy,” “Lose It,” “Too Much Coffee,” and “April in Houston.”)
If SWMRS is ever in New York, let us know we would love to have you visit us!