SWMRS reinvents punk for the new era and it’s working: Berkeley’s on Fire review
I was a senior in high school when I discovered SWMRS. I don’t remember exactly how I found out about them but I do remember the ”Figuring It Out” music video showing up as a recommended video on Youtube. I was the stage manager for our school musical that year, and ended up reuniting with my current best friend, Calli. We knew each other, but weren’t really friends at that point. Our jobs were to mop the stage and get props together before performances. One day when we were mopping and setting up mics on the stage I asked her if she had listened to SWMRS before, and I played them on my phone (I think this is how it happened anyway). We spent the last two months of high school only talking about this band. We planned on going to see them for the first time when they opened for All Time Low in my hometown of Los Angeles at the Novo. That was the first time we saw them, and we followed that up by seeing them again later that summer in St. Louis.
Calli lived in Portland after high school so she had more opportunities to see them than I did, but the timing worked out perfectly, and she ended up coming back to St. Louis to see SWMRS co-headline with the Interrupters (that same night we also became obsessed with the Regrettes). We started getting recognized at SWMRS shows in St. Louis because we were known for being really loud and, quite frankly, obnoxious; one time we brought fidget spinners.
My ex boyfriend came with us to that show. I don’t know what possessed me in invite him. Maybe I was still hoping something was there between us (even though I knew there wasn’t), but it didn’t matter because I didn’t think about that relationship and my heartbreak at the show at all. All I could think about was my favorite band and how grateful I was that my best friend was there seeing them with me. Calli and I decided we wanted to get SWMRS tattoos. She ended up getting Uncool written out by cole on her forearm. I was going to get Figuring It Out in the same place but opted against it when my mom hit me with, “Do you want that on your arm at your wedding?”
And, you know what, she’s right, but after sitting with this new album for a little bit, I intend to get mine and finally complete the friendship/band tattoo. There’s some background about what SWMRS means to me and how their music has been there for me. I even got in my first car accident while ”Drive North” was playing (I wish I was kidding); this band has been there for a lot!
When SWMRS released the first single from the album, “Berkeley’s on Fire,” in summer 2018, I felt so much excitement flow through me. It’s the first and title track of the album, which really sets the tone of what is to come. I had a harder time warming up to the second single they released, “April in Houston.” The song is a total 180 compared to what came before. It’s different, and if I’m being honest, I was concerned that I wouldn’t enjoy the full album.
The night before “Trashbag Baby” came out, Calli sent me the lyric zine the band had sent to their email list.
“These lyrics are weird. I don’t know how this is going to sound,” she said.
Turns out, ”Trashbag Baby,” is one of my favorite songs, ever. Period. Also, I love the music video. As someone who has been trying to get back into skating, this video made me want to do it more.
After a first listen, my stand out song was “Lose Lose Lose.” I don’t have anything bad to say about it. It’s a relatable upbeat anthem, and I imagined it live right away. Max’s standout song is “IKEA Date,” which feels like a follow-up to “Lose It” from 2016’s Drive North. I’m a sucker for cute but melancholy love songs, and many of Max’s songs on this album are some of his best.
The next song is “Hellboy,” which feels like a call to… snap out of it. Hellboy is going to be insane live. SWMRS is a punk band and if anyone doesn’t believe that, just play “Hellboy”.
“Bad Allergies” is my favorite Max song on the album, and not because I have bad allergies myself. The lyrics touch on a lot of things I’ve thought and felt before.
Now here’s the thing; the closing track, “Steve Got Robbed,” is pretty weird, and I haven’t quite gotten used to it yet. It’s a big tempo change, and a lot of moving elements. I don’t hate it, but I had to listen to it twice because I felt like I missed something at first.
I noticed on Valentine’s Day (the night before the album dropped), that SWMRS’ fanbase has grown significantly since I first started seeing them. Nayelli (@nayelliabarca on twitter) is actual SWMRS royalty among fans. Shoutout to her because her memes are hilarious. And Cynthia (@uglycynthia on twitter), with your amazing collages: please don’t ever stop creating! I think it’s incredibly cool to be a part of such a large creative fan base. It makes me happy.
I won’t be reuniting with Calli for any SWMRS shows on this upcoming tour, as our schedules don't align, but you know now that I wouldn’t miss their St. Louis for the world. I’m thinking of adding their Milwaukee or Chicago dates in April as well.
Upon completing this article, Drive North started playing in my head, and I can’t help but associate each song with a unique moment in my life. I love that a band like SWMRS is making punk music, and introducing punk to people who may not have known where to start.
You know what, I forgive them for making an entire song about hating my hometown in Drive North. There is something really special about this band and their music. They are the kindest people I’ve ever met, and they put on some of the best shows I’ve ever attended. I definitely will still be getting my SWMRS tattoo. Suggestions are encouraged. Bring it, Berkeley’s on Fire. We’re excited to have you here.