SWMRS presents: UNCOOL FEST 5
Girlpool, Ultra Q, B.A.G. (Blimes x Gifted Gab), KUROMI, DYGL
2036 University Avenue
near Downtown Berkeley BART
Berkeley, CA, 94704
Doors 5:30 PM / Show 6:30 PM
There’s never been a punk band like SWMRS. That’s probably because it’s too limiting to label the Oakland quartet, “a punk band.” SWMRS draws on a variety of influences from the Beach Boys to the Ramones, creating their unique sound.
You might initially detect the caustic broadsides of The Clash and the amphetamine bubblegum of the Ramones. But within the carefully penned lyrics, propulsive energy, and raw honesty, you can hear the echoes of Public Enemy and Frank Ocean, A Tribe Called Quest to Kurt Cobain.
Listen to “Harry Dean,” the first song on their debut album, Drive North. The guitars draw blood, the drums detonate, and lead singer, Cole Becker unleashes a bleak but rowdy sneer.
The song chronicles the evolution from high school square-to-learning to let loose. It’s about the smallness of our place in the universe and the realization that you can do whatever you want. The central influences are the actor Harry Dean Stanton and “Cheap Beer” by FIDLAR—whose lead singer, Zac Carper produced the album.
“When I was younger, I used to write really political songs and was angry all the time,” Cole Becker, 20, says. “I eventually realized that you don’t have to write songs about politics to let people know that you’re thinking”
The band officially formed in early 2015, but their roots stretch back for years—to when Becker, and his childhood friend, Joey Armstrong (drums) began playing music together at 8 years old. They didn’t know how to play their instruments, but they’d seen School of Rock, and tabbed Cole’s brother Max to sing and play bass.
Before graduating high school, they’d already released two full-length albums and a handful of EP’s. They’d toured the world, and shared stages with Pennywise, Rise Against, and Soundgarden.
But SWMRS is a wholly new endeavor. The band recruited their friend Sebastian Mueller to play bass and Max Becker switched to lead guitar. Yet it’s more than just a slightly different formation: they’ve gone deeper, thought harder, learned to play with more power yet greater control.
After seeing them rip up the stage at Burgerama IV, Saint Laurent Paris creative director Hedi Slimane became so enamored with SWMRS that he asked them to walk the runway at his Paris fashion show, and write the soundtrack for his Spring/Summer 2016 presentation. Fueled by 40 oz. bottles of malt liquor, they turned in a 17-minute version of “Like Harry Dean Stanton.” It went over very well.
Their approach is crystallized on the album’s title track, “Drive North,” It’s not a command; it’s a concept. It’s about hometown pride and the desire to create a unique cultural identity. It’s allegorical and subversive, and could be the theme song for the Golden State Warriors the next time they play the Clippers.
Or listen to their first single, “Miley,” which i-D Magazine called, “the most punk tribute to Miley Cyrus ever.”
“Miley does exactly what she wants. It’s really rare to see somebody doing that, Cole Becker says. “She's a business commodity, but seems to have maintained creative autonomy, which is super punk rock. And she's standing up for sexual freedom and gender fluidity…that's important, and something that not a lot of pop stars are doing."
In 2016, punk rock isn’t just aesthetic. It’s about the ideas. It’s about upending expectations and finding freedom in your own voice. SWMRS have made a timeless but modern coming of age album—one that reminds you that you aren’t the only one trying to beat against the current.
Originally released on the band’s own Uncool Records, Drive North was re-released by Fueled By Ramen in October 2016. The new version of the album includes previously unreleased songs “Palm Trees” and “Lose It”.
The music Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad release as Girlpool occupies a transient space. Their constant evolution makes it perfectly impossible to articulate exactly where their project falls within the contemporary musical canon; this is one of the many reasons Girlpool’s music is so captivating.
Never before has a group’s maturation been so transparently attached to the maturation of its members. This is due in large part to the fact that Girlpool came into existence exactly when Girlpool was supposed to come into existence: at the most prolific stage of the digital revolution. Both online and in the flesh, Tividad and Tucker practice radical openness to the point where it may even engender discomfort; this is exactly the point where it becomes clear why theirs’ is such a special project: they accept the possibility of discomfort—Chaos—and show you how to figure out why you might feel it. This is achieved through their ability to empathize as best friends and partners in creation, with the intention of making music that provokes.
They met in November of 2013, and released their self-titled EP just 3 months later. Both were playing in multiple bands at the time. Harmony was 18. Cleo was 17.
The growth they have fostered in one another over the years explains the project’s disparate discography; each record is a photograph of Girlpool, growing over time. Their roots are a certain shade of punk—organized chaos dressed as ear worms. “Where You Sink,” one of the first singles off their latest record, What Chaos Is Imaginary, gives you an idea of how much things have changed since 2014.
It’s not all good.
“I was experiencing a lot of mental health issues,” says Tividad of the title. “That song comes from a place of being disconnected from reality. The world is so complicated. It’s hard to believe in magic, or that anything exists.” Notice the order: magic, then the principle existence of things. A peak into Harmony.
Though it is the 3rd track on Girlpool’s newest record, “Where You Sink” was written at a time when the two were living in different states on the East Coast. It proved to be a period of immense change for the both of them; each focused—more than they ever had before—on their solo music.
“Before, we would build our songs together with four hands, from the ground up,” says Tucker, referring to the songwriting process that produced the debut EP and 2015’s critically acclaimed follow-up, Before The World Was Big. “Our songs used to be intertwined in a different way. We brought our separate experiences to the songs that we crafted together, we valued understanding that they were multidimensional.”
Their solo work consistently breathes new life into Girlpool. The two have since become comfortable with the process being more independent, more fluid. They both take part in the production and arrangement of the music, but they’ve strayed from beginning hand in hand in every instance. They connect somewhere along the way, working together when it feels right.
Discussing the new process, Harmony says, “It’s helped me find validity in parts of my writing I found to be unapproachable. I thought my stream-of-consciousness was unsophisticated.” There’s probably a great pun available re: shedding self-consciousness to release a more sophisticated stream-of-consciousness. In any case, What Chaos Is Imaginary—the record and the song—is what the stream looks like when self-consciousness is shed.
Where Harmony embraces chaos, Cleo organizes it. “It’s hard for me to feel completion without achieving a vision that I have. I’ll imagine the kind of climate I want to create inside a song,” says Cleo of his process. “Once I fall in love with the direction, it’s getting there that can take time.” Finishing a song may take time and even prove to be difficult for him at times, but the product is invariably polished. Considering the near-perfect balance in the songs on What Chaos Is Imaginary, their dynamic makes sense. “It took a really long time to record this record. It feels like a photograph of a very transitional time.”
What Chaos Is Imaginary is a collection of songs unlike any Girlpool songs you’ve ever heard, exactly what Powerplant was to Before The World Was Big. For the first time, it is clear who wrote what song. 2019 will see drum machines and synthesizers and beautiful/new harmonies and huge guitars and at east one orchestral breakdown by a string octet.
“It was invigorating playing stripped down and raw when Girlpool began. As we change, what gets us there is going to change too. ”It’s hard to imagine what might follow What Chaos Is Imaginary. Girlpool’s growth has a steady momentum forward, towards something greater with every stride that they take.