Drugdealer’s Ben Schwab unveils his own immaculate brand of sepia-tinged soft rock, on Sylvie’s self-titled effort, in our SEPTEMBER 2022 issue of Uncut, available to buy here.
Sylvie mastermind Ben Schwab is a bit of a late bloomer. “My father’s a musician and I grew up listening to him play with his group Mad Anthony,” he says from his home in Silverlake, LA. “He’d also play lots of music from his generation like Todd Rundgren, Steely Dan, The Beatles, all that stuff. I was listening to that music early on and inspired by it, but I didn’t start playing guitar until I was 21 years old or so.” But since he began writing and performing original songs as a student at the California Institute For The Arts in nearby Santa Clarita, Schwab’s made a name for himself as one of the premier revivalists in LA’s eastside music scene.
In the duo Golden Daze, Schwab and bandmate Jacob Loeb channel the spirits of Simon & Garfunkel and Crosby, Stills & Nash, their gossamer harmony singing layered over textural folk-rock arrangements. Schwab also performs with the shape-shifting LA collective Drugdealer, led by songwriter Michael Collins, which takes its cues from classic psych-pop and soft rock of the ’60s and ’70s. With Sylvie, Schwab applies a similar but much more hands-on approach, acting as songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, producer and engineer in his garage-slash-studio. “I do it all myself and feature good friends of mine who I believe in,” he explains. “The idea is that it can change and expand.”
The Sylvie moniker is taken from a deep cut of the same name by British folk-rockers Matthews Southern Comfort, released in 1970. He discovered it shortly after joining Drugdealer and bonding with Collins over music. “There’s just something really mysterious and special about it,” Schwab says. “We liked it so much that anytime we found a lost song from that period that was really good, we called it a ‘Sylvie’. I was nervous to name the group after someone else’s song, it seemed like a bit much, but then I just rolled with it.”
“Ben is incredibly deliberate and intentional in his production and writing,” says singer-songwriter Marina Allen, who performs on Sylvie’s self-titled debut, which Schwab first posted on Bandcamp in October of last year. “We tried “Falls On Me” in different keys, different tempos, with different melodies and different lyrics until we finally landed on the album version.” The song highlights Allen’s silky alto singing and details the emotional ups and downs Schwab felt amid a breakup and transformative period in his personal life. Its minimalist, mid-tempo arrangement of piano, bass, drums and slide guitar recalls The Carpenters without the orchestral schmaltz, a maudlin-adjacent ballad that finds hope in Allen’s lilted insistence that “No-one’s gonna break my heart again”.
Sam Burton rounds out the collective on vocals and guitars, with contributions by Angel Olsen’s drummer Sam Kauffman-Skloff, brass blower JJ Kirkpatrick and pedal steel player Connor Gallagher, a scene go-to for spirited glissandos. Schwab’s dad John also makes an appearance, his voice narrating “50/50”. Full Time Hobby are poised to issue an expanded version of Sylvie on vinyl, featuring two new tracks, “Further Down The Road” and “Stealing Time”. Schwab is hopeful that this wider release will bring the band overseas for the first time, despite the fact that they were in a harrowing car accident in Arizona recently, at the end of a short US tour. They sustained minor injuries, but have since recovered. “I’ve just been laying low, taking it easy, trying to be healthy,” he says. “We’d love to come to the UK and Europe.”
Sylvie is out on October 14.