SWMRS’ Cole Becker Discusses Touring and Band’s Raucous New LP ‘Berkeley’s On Fire’

Phoebe Fox
– SWMRS’ Cole Becker
Cole Becker performs with SWMRS.

Cole Becker misses the road.

“When I’m not on tour, sometimes I feel like an old man,” the 23-year-old musician tells Pollstar with a laugh. “I just read all day. I just go on walks.”

For Becker and his bandmates in SWMRS — Pollstar‘s latest Hotstar — touring “the old punk-rock way, put ‘em in a van,” as manager Chris Georggin puts it, has proven invaluable. The Bay Area pop-punk group, filled out by Becker’s brother Max, bassist Seb Mueller and drummer Joey Armstrong (the son of Green Day frontman Billie Joe), built their reputation on the road, sharing bills with DIY acts such as Wavves and FIDLAR and bigger groups like Blink-182 and All Time Low.

Come March, the energetic young band will embark on their biggest headlining tour yet, playing venues including New York’s Brooklyn Steel and Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club — and they’ll take those stages armed with songs from their explosive sophomore LP Berkeley’s on Fire. Due next month, the record is SWMRS’ most ambitious statement to date and, thanks to the involvement of producer Rich Costey (Muse, Death Cab for Cutie), has an arena-ready sound to match.

Pollstar connected with Becker to discuss the inspirations behind Berkeley’s on Fire, how they’ve cultivated their passionate fanbase and why their distinctly Californian brand of punk has such broad appeal.

How has touring helped you forge your connection with your audience?
Cole Becker: The most important thing about our live shows and the reason people feel the way they do when they come to them is that we don’t leave anything up for questioning. Every time we get on stage we really try to make ourselves as vulnerable as we can. That’s really valuable and people need that space in their life. It feels really good to create that space and watch people open up in the same way. There’s a reciprocal energy flow. It’s really hard to explain but you feel it and you get lost in it.

You’re headlining bigger rooms than ever on this tour. How do you plan to maintain that intimacy?
We were super lucky. The first shows that we all saw as a unit – Max, Joey and I – we got to watch Green Day in some of the biggest venues that people can play. Growing up and seeing that there is a way to maintain the intimacy and the power of your live show at every step, I think that’s an incredibly invaluable thing that we were able to learn from watching Green Day. They can make a 10,000 person venue feel like it’s the small show on the tour. It’s pretty funny.

What did you learn from touring with Blink-182 and All Time Low?
When you play too many punk shows you start to think, “Aw, man, every other kind of show is lame.” Opening for those bands really opened my eyes up to the fact that everybody needs music in their life and you shouldn’t feel guilty about abandoning smaller shows to give more people more music. When when we started playing with All Time Low it was like, “Whoa, this is pretty fun and these guys are clearly having a lot of fun. It’s worth pursuing this thing that they have. It doesn’t water down what we’re doing.”

You’re touring all over the country, but playing this type of music that’s strongly identified with California. Why do you think this genre resonates for so many people?
Things that come out of California really just are things that come out of everywhere. California is a place that everybody has moved to. America on its own is like that, but California has the most recent memory of migration. Of grappling with that mentality of “You’re new, the world is new, the world is kind of uncertain.” That uncertainty speaks to young people in particular because older people get set in their ways, but Californians don’t get set in their ways. They’re always questioning and always growing. I think that’s something that young people everywhere can relate to.

Berkeley’s on Fire is a pretty eye-popping title. What inspired it? What themes were you working through on this album?
We had some time off and I was doing a lot of kind of fun reading about the history of Berkeley and really digging in deeper about the history of the place we grew up. I ended up writing quite a few songs that were rooted in that history and thinking a lot about Patty Hearst, and thinking a lot about Charles Manson and thinking a lot about the Free Speech Movement. At the same time, Berkeley was blowing up in a similar way once again. There were a lot of conflagrations because the Berkeley College Republicans kept trying to bring in awful hate-mongering speakers on campus. There were a lot of riots surrounding that. So, I wanted to document the exciting time that we live in now and draw parallels to the exciting time that kind of formed the ethical identity of Berkeley.

How did working with Rich shape Berkeley’s On Fire?
We’ve all known that we could, given the opportunity, make an album that has as much meticulous detail and ambition as the records that Rich has made. When we were given the opportunity to work with Rich, there was no question. We were going to put everything we had into it and really relish in the experience of being able to learn from somebody who knows so much about music and knows so much about making records.

Can you speak about your experience with Chris as a manager?
It’s so fun working with Chris. There’s a crazy energy between us because he, at times, has a crazier rock star mentality than anyone in the band. At any given moment, either someone in the band is a loose cannon or Chris is a loose cannon. But what’s cool is that he’s so talented at what he’s doing. He knows how to have an amazing, crazy, fun night out on the town and also get the deals done for us at the same time. Like, at the bar he can do that. I have 100% trust in him. And he trusts in us. It feels like we’re a unit and we’re going to take over.