The Sweet Chariots' Freddy Schwenk: It's Better Than Hardcore

In a musical world fueled by electronic beats and pop star remixes, there is little room for a revival of rock 'n roll nostalgia. However, South Florida rockabilly quartet, the Sweet Chariots, is dedicated to proving otherwise.

A few years ago, seasoned drummer Freddy Schwenk crossed paths with Thomas Warren while he was still performing as more of a folky solo artist in Port St. Lucie. Both were looking to explore other avenues of music, specifically in the rockabilly genre, and decided to form a band.  After moving through a handful of bass and guitar players, the duo finally found the missing pieces in Matt Parker and Steve Satch.

With their freshly combed pompadours and tight black T's, the Sweet Chariots fit the rockabilly poster-child mold. But don't let the scent of Murray's and cuffed denim fool you; it's not just all good looks and boyish charm on stage. Singer Thomas Warren's powerful vocals and spine-tingling shrieks evoke the spirit of Elvis and pay homage to the great Jerry Lee Lewis. Combined with an array of retro campy lyrics and bluesy energized breakdowns, the talent behind this revivalist band is undeniable. Having two EPs under their belt, the Sweet Chariots felt it was time to work on a debut album. Named after the track "Bad Man," the album will be released on November 25 at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach. 

In a candid session at notorious local dive, Kim's Alley Bar, drummer Freddy Schwenk spoke to County Grind about the upcoming album Bad Man, the band's unconventional writing process, and the importance of good hair. 

County Grind: Who are the Sweet Chariots? How did you guys meet and start the band?

Freddy Schwenk: I've been playing with Thomas, our singer, for about two years now. When I originally met him, he was doing solo stuff locally, kinda folky stuff. I liked his music, we had talked about me playing drums with him a little bit. So, I started playing with him and it went over really well. We clicked musically and both wanted to be in a rockabilly band.

But, why rockabilly?

Well, Thomas grew up on that stuff and my dad [when I was growing up] would always play stuff like Elvis and a lot of classic rock too. So we kind of went in that direction. Stopped playing a lot of the folky stuff and started to play rockabilly, and this is where we are.

Where does the name of the band come from?

Basically, we were just trying to figure out a band name. I'm not going to pretend that there is this big, uh, meaning. One day we were talking about that "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" song, we wanted to pick an old hymn and cover it .So we picked that one, and while we were learning it, it just kind of came to me. I was like, "Let's name our band the Sweet Chariots." And we did. And here we are.

And the rest is just history, right?

Yeah right? [laughs] So we ended up recording that song and putting it on our first EP. And it turned out pretty good. So that's our band name now.

But before rockabilly and the Sweet Chariots, at one point you were in the band Surfer Blood, right?

Well, yes. When we started the band it was called TV Club. It's been a few years since our first show, I'm not really good with remembering exact timelines. Probably about three and a half years ago. When we started playing, I played bass. JP the singer and TJ had some songs and they needed a bass player. I wasn't a bass player, but I was there. We were terrible at first, but started to click and we played a lot of shows down here. It was fun.

To go from playing that type of music to the rockabilly scene is quite a jump. How's that change been? Do you like it better? 

I mean, I had a lot of fun playing with them. But I was in someone else's band. JP is an awesome songwriter, he wrote all the songs. We worked on structures and everything as a collective with the drummer. But, what I'm doing now with Thomas is something that we both wanted to do together and we started it from the beginning. So, I like it better in the way that I'm doing something that I wanna do. Me and Thomas have always always been on the same page musically, he's like my musical soul mate. [laughs] Honestly, it's never been this easy to play music with somebody. So yes, it's totally different. I had a lot of fun. I learned a lot from JP, but now I'm doing what I want to do. I'm back on drums. So, I guess that's why I like it better. [laughs] Plus it's better. Wait, is that off the record? Maybe? [laughs] Blackmail....[laughs]

And what about the other guys in the band? How did you meet them?

Newest additions are Matt Parker and Steve Satch. We've kinda had three different bass players, two different guitar players, but most recently we've been playing with them and it's definitely the best fit for our band musically. And Matt has really good hair too. Really good hair. He's not even that good at guitar, but he looks really good. [laughs]

Is that a requirement, having good hair, to be in the Sweet Chariots?

Um yeah we kind of give our bass player a freebie on that one. But yeah. Good hair.

What's the recording process been like for this upcoming album?

Honestly with recording, we did about ten songs in an hour. Really, really, informal, live, casual. That's basically what we do. As far as writing the material, me and Thomas would talk over text message about lyrical ideas and Thomas would sing a melody or a chorus and send it to me, ask me what I thought. And that's really how we do it. One night he would send me a chorus that he was singing into his phone, text it to me and the next day we would play it. We've had new songs where we'd told the other guys in the morning what key they were in, and we'd play them that same night.

Wow. That's really crazy. How's the album going to sound in comparison to the first two EPs?

Well the first one had a few song that we were still playing under Thomas' solo stuff, that we kind of rewrote. It was more polished and we were going for more of a clean sound. The second one had four songs, and is a little more like the direction that we're going with the new one. The new album is really raw, a lot of room mics, very basic recording techniques. Really simple song writing, but it's better. I dunno. [laughs] It's just a lot better. Way better.

What's the name of it?

Bad Man. Basically we just wanted to take a song, one is called "Bad Man" and wanted to use that. Just like we've done with the other two. We like to keep it simple. Thought it was the best idea to do that, instead of trying to come up with some stupid name that doesn't even mean anything. So we took a song that we liked the best off it, and used it. So, Bad Man it is.

How'd you pick Respectable Street for the CD release show?

Well, we kind of partnered up with John Wylie to book a show with a lot of bands. We wanted to do a big show on Black Friday and it kind of just worked out that we were recording an album. And the good thing about it is, well we're super lazy, so it also gave us a deadline to finish the record by -- November 25. Without this show being booked, we probably would still be sitting on ten songs.

Are you excited for the show? Did you guys pick the lineup?

Yes. I'm really excited for the show. I think it's going to be a really good show, it'll be great to be playing with bands that I actually like. We didn't really pick the lineup, they were mostly handpicked by John Wylie. But obviously we wanted to have our friends, Everymen, and our bass player's other band, The Darling Sweets on the show. Also, the Howling Winds are playing, which are younger kids that have really come a long way. We've played a bunch of shows with all the bands, so I'm pretty stoaked on it.

And finally, what do you think about this massive resurgence of rockabilly, swamp/gypsy punk music that is happening throughout South Florida?

It's better than hardcore.

Sweet Chariots CD Release Show. With Everymen, the Darling Sweets, the Howling Winds, the Prescription, and Out of Sorts. Friday, November 25, at Respectable Street, 518 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Admission costs $10 and includes a free copy of Bad Man.

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