Chase Schweitzer is a musician and podcast host living in Des Moines, and his band, the Halloween Episode, will be playing Saturday, November 18 at xBk Live. Several months ago he and I first connected on the topic of a Q&A, but what materialized from the discussion was something that reached well beyond the questions I’d initially sent his way. In his follow-up message, he referred to what he’d written as something of a “stream of consciousness,” but what he sent provides a holistic view of how Chase got to where he is now, both as a musician and just as a human being, that goes well beyond a stream of words on the screen.
In his email, Chase included something of a notated mixtape, adding additional photos, notes, and audio tracks, but what follows here (and precedes the Q&A itself) is the bulk of what he sent me in his own words: A musical timeline, reflecting on the decade of work that has landed him where he is. As he added in our exchange, Chase wrote, “The upcoming show November 18 at xBk is my dream show. Since I was a teenager, I’ve fantasized about sharing a stage with Halfloves. Halfloves and Wave Cage – those guys are heroes to me. I feel so grateful for the chance to play alongside them, let alone headline as T.H.E. for the first time at a venue like xBk. I’m putting everything I have into making this show the greatest of my life. I’m putting everything into the music and leaving everything on the stage.”
ILL WAY (2013-2016)
In high school, I’d constantly try spinning homework assignments into something I already wanted to do. (I’m not sure if that means I’m lazy or efficient.) I joined the Valley High School punk outfit, ILL WAY, as band manager for a capstone project and spent the next three years helping them grow any way I could. I was already friends with Jadyn Swailes and Parker Reed (PR) but Ryan Voggesser, Henry Parizek, and Logan Abdulghani quickly accepted me as one of their own.
My introduction to the band came when Henry handed me their first CD, Marty’s Party, in the hallway between classes one day. The next year, we recorded LP2, Something New to Do, at the Sonic Factory with legendary audio engineer Matt Sepanic (most notable for Slipknot’s Iowa). Looking back, this is the first time I remember “producing” a record. It was immediately all I wanted to do. I’m not sure if the other ILL WAY members would give me that credit but Sepanic sure as hell didn’t want it.
“Producer” is a fuzzy role. To me, a producer’s job is to maximize a project’s potential however necessary — but how that happens, exactly, is different every time. For Something New to Do, I organized the tracklist, recorded scratch tracks, acquired snacks, woke up bandmates when it was their turn to record, wrote a couple guitar parts, edited the album cover and hovered behind Sepanic as closely as he’d let me throughout the long, greasy five days (the maximum we could afford).
My experience in ILL WAY is why I fell in love with the DIY scene. No emphasis on the vibe-killing fantasy of “making it” in the industry — just friends playing music. We were all going through a lot during those teenage years into our early twenties and I’m glad we had each other, even if we’d occasionally threaten to fire the drummer or fight over guitar solos.
We played with a lotta great DIY bands around Iowa but the three I remember most vividly are 515, Grandchamp, and the Yelps. PR and I were genuinely obsessed with 515; their record Mind Monsters (also recorded with Matt Sepanic at the Sonic Factory) was a masterpiece for our high school scene. I still listen to it from time to time and the catharsis it provides me… it’s hard to explain. It’s not about the quality of the songwriting, instrumentation, or production (which was all impressive). I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “outsider art” but there’s something so pure about that record. I loved it then and I love it now.
Sometimes I wish I could bottle the feeling I had moshing to “The Room and Mine” at Vaudeville Mews nearly 10 years ago. Then I listen to the song and realize that feeling is still there, deep down within me. Music always pulls it out.
Grandchamp was another shockingly good band for their age. Charlie Cacciatore (who now plays as Good Morning Midnight) was already an amazing songwriter and Andrew Jones (Zap Tura) brought so much instrumentally. I’m stoked both of them are still making incredible music and playing it all over Iowa.
And of course, the Yelps gave us Kyle James, whose near-masterful music speaks for itself.
Ask (2013-2014), State City (2015), Columbia (2016)
Before I go on describing all the bands I’ve played with, I gotta clarify something pretty important. Bands are just different arrangements of friends who hang out by playing music together. That could be the thesis statement for this entire thing. Don’t take any of these descriptions too seriously. You’ll see a lotta names repeated over and over.
None of us were trying to make it. We were all coping with something. And music is how we coped.
I started my first band, Ask, the same week I joined ILL WAY as manager. We had Saketh Undurty on drums, Andrew Novitskiy (the Nov) on guitar, Grady Stein on bass, and Calvin Senteza singing lead. I wrote the songs but didn’t feel confident enough to sing ‘em myself. Lucky for me, Calvin has an incredible voice and didn’t mind performing my lyrics. We played a handful of shows with ILL WAY and other Valley bands before college split us apart.
At some point during the ILL WAY run, PR, Henry and I started a spin-off pop punk band called State City. We only played a couple of shows (mostly as an opener for ILL WAY) and rotated songwriting duties. Some of Parker and I’s stuff would end up on future projects but State City itself never recorded. We were almost just a jam band honestly, we could noodle around for hours. I still miss State City. We worked off each other well.
ILL WAY and State City dissolved as friends drifted apart or moved away from Des Moines. PR and I started a new band called Columbia, which pretty much only existed during the summers when Saketh and the Nov were back from school. We only played a couple shows with the Yelps and managed to record a handful of demos.
I started cranking out my own music in my parents basement when I moved home from college. It was a sweet setup – I had a mini fridge, TV, and a sliding door closet I could use as a vocal booth. I was super depressed and writing/recording became my outlet for figuring that out.
Eventually I got my own place and assembled a lil studio in my spare bedroom. Creepy stairs, occasional mice. Still depressed, still working it out through music. I started playing solo for the first time.
Solo + the Ringwalds (2020)
I bought an old house (bats included) and built another lil studio to record my third record – this time with all the homies. PR played lead guitar, Jorb (Josh Petefish) played synth, Mikey Entin played drums, Ryan Garmoe played trumpet, and Lauren Johnson played bass. I wrote and produced the record while playing guitar and singing (or trying to sing).
We got in way over our heads recording Boys and Their Poetry. Brian and I gave everything we had for an ambitious goal but ultimately the initial release left me feeling kinda let down with myself. I’m usually imagining something different sounding than what I get but this time the gap was far wider than any time prior. I wrote the record as a solo LP and couldn’t figure out how to make it as self-satisfying as my other solo LPs. It wasn’t until later that I realized something important – when you include other people, you don’t get exactly what you want. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include other people. It means you’ll probably get something better if you adjust your expectations.
Face It Tiger (2018–Present)
I met Brian Garrels while working an event for a shitty startup downtown. I did some design and he was running audio. We immediately hit it off and eventually started sharing music and recording together. He invited me to jam with his friends, Greg Rudolph and Jake Bachman, who he was hoping to start a post rock group with. I played bass for maybe two months before we kinda fizzled out. A week or two later, Brian texted Greg and I something like, “Greg on drums, me on bass, Chase on guitar/singing?” and we were immediately down. We’ve been a band ever since.
Something glued the three of us together more than any group I’ve played with. It’s kinda surprising given we didn’t necessarily get along at first. Greg and I definitely butted heads the most ‘cause we came from such different places, musically. Greg was way more hardcore, post punk, and edgy while I was more alternative, pop punk, and whiny. Brian played mediator and somehow we stuck it out. We wrote a ton of songs together and ripped some house shows but only released one track.
Greg started leaving Iowa every spring to fight wildfires, leaving the survival of our band in question. We decided to write/record a song a couple weeks before his first departure. I called it “Sad Tobey Maguire,” which definitely made Greg roll his eyes at first (like most of my song titles until he submits to Stockholm syndrome).
(Someone came up to me after a Ringwalds show once and asked if I had a celebrity doppelganger. I said, “I dunno, maybe sad Tobey Maguire?,” and she was like, “I WAS GONNA SAY TOBEY MAGUIRE!” It made me laugh how quickly she brushed off the “sad” part and, for whatever reason, it felt like the right name for the song.)
We started recording an album last year and are finally closing in on a final product. I’d say late this year/early next year is likely.
The Halloween Episode (2020–Present)
I started the Halloween Episode with my buddy Morgan Burmester and a few other usual suspects. Mikey plays drums, Brian plays bass, Jorb plays synth, Garmoe plays trumpet. I wanted to start a band about being quiet rather than being loud. Up until that point, all my collaborative projects had some kinda “punk” mixed in but my solo stuff was usually more ambient and emo.
“The Halloween Episode” is usually my favorite episode of every show. The typical sitcom format is flipped on its head and all the characters play slightly different roles. Crazy stuff can happen in the halloween episode, stuff that can’t happen throughout the rest of the season. But the true meaning behind the name is a little more complex.
A few years back, one of my oldest friends went missing for several days in October. I saw him just a day or two before he left and could tell something was wrong. I wanted to help but didn’t know how. I was sick to my stomach thinking I might never see him again. But I also felt guilty – guilty I didn’t raise the alarms and call someone when I knew something was up. When he came home safe, I promised myself I’d never take him or any of my other friends for granted ever again.
“The Halloween Episode” can be a dark time in anybody’s life. Just like a sitcom can have many seasons, I’ve had several halloween episodes throughout my life. That particular one inspired me to start the band and here we are.
villin: On your website you’ve shared something of a mission statement that reads, “Motivated by Des Moines: The goal is glory, not for self, for the city.” What does that mean to you?
Chase Schweitzer: I fell in love with Des Moines as a kid, scraping my knees on the bottom of Ashworth Pool. I grew up here and I’ll probably die here but I don’t blame people who yearn for a more established scene or accepting community. Some get driven out by Kim Reynolds culture, some just need to escape their hometown. If I believe we can be better, it’s on me to prove it. So I guess that’s why I stay.
The mission statement, while cheesy, is an expression of love. Nothing I do matters to me unless I do it for Des Moines. I love Seattle and Nashville and Atlanta and New York but I love Des Moines more. I’m stubborn, I guess. I wanna see my city thrive. I think that’s my passion in life.
villin: My introduction to your music came by way of tapping into the Pretty Fort podcast. You and Parker have been consistently working on that for roughly four years and are inching your way closer to 200 episodes across two PF podcasts. That show was preceded by another podcast you two did together called Fairly Local. What was your goal for FL when you started it and why’d you close up shop with that in 2017?
Chase Schweitzer: Wow, you know the deep lore. Parker is the first person I remember talking about podcasts with. It’s hard to imagine now because podcasting ultimately became so ubiquitous – but back in high school, it was pretty niche.
We started our first show together as teenagers and named it “Fairly Local” after the Twenty One Pilots song (lol). Every week, we reviewed two new releases (one local, one from wherever) in a laid-back, conversational format. Of course, now there are millions of shows like that for every conceivable genre or niche… but in 2014, the idea seemed at least somewhat novel.
Fairly Local kinda sucked but still made it some 60 or so episodes before fizzling out. It was essentially the first draft of Pretty Fort and taught us everything we needed to know before starting a new show. Our shared passion was the scene, especially Vaudeville Mews and the 80/35 Extended Universe. We wanted to zoom in on the “local” part of “Fairly Local” and thus Pretty Fort was born. The show has grown beyond our expectations and is probably my most proud creation. I’m sure PR would say the same.
villin: Why is it important to you to focus on local music?
Chase Schweitzer: The simple answer is, “Because nobody else will.” The real answer is more complex.
The most moving, captivating, perspective-altering musical performances I’ve witnessed have happened in dingy rooms with a handful of other people – all of us clinging to the same moment in time, swaying in unison, captivated by something organic and unfiltered on a stage only six inches off the ground, shuffling our feet on sticky, PBR-soaked floors. I’ve been to my fair share of arena shows but Des Moines taught me that if you like music more than spectacle, you have to seek it out from the source.
The musical fabric of the next decade is being woven as we speak. Not at stadiums or exorbitantly priced festivals but at small venues and in crowded basements across the country and across the world. If you’re pouring your heart out on a Tuesday night to a crowd of three at the Mews, it’s ‘cause you have something to say. That’s what I wanna talk about. Those are the shows that changed my life.
villin: My favorite thing about Pretty Fort to this point has been your recurring focus on Slipknot. How have those episodes changed your view of the band?
Chase Schweitzer: I gotta admit I was never into Slipknot (or anything that hard) growing up. Pretty Fort kinda forced me to familiarize myself with their discography and I’m so glad I went on that journey, despite how grueling it was at times. If Iowa is gonna be known for just one band, Slipknot certainly isn’t the worst option.
My taste in music is much broader now; I appreciate harder stuff and I’ll casually listen to Slipknot here and there. I wish they felt more like a “band” and less like “Corey Taylor plus a band” in this current era but I guess I should just be happy they’re still kickin’.
It’s definitely a dream to have a member of Slipknot on the show. I think Jim Root is hilarious and would love the chance to talk to him. Hit me up if you know how to get in touch with Jim Root (haha).
villin: Through focusing so much of your time on the podcast over the years, I’m curious what you get out of doing it. Has the “why” shifted since you started?
Chase Schweitzer: The “why” has certainly shifted. In the beginning, PR and I were simply hitting record on conversations we were gonna have anyway. We never had to force the “local” part. We genuinely loved our scene and the podcast was essentially just a fun way to hang out and meet our favorite artists.
Once we got deeper in, the show started feeling like a responsibility as much as a hobby. When news of the Mews closing broke, PR and I rushed downtown for an onsite interview with Amedeo. Telling the story of the venue and explaining its death felt like a serious responsibility of Pretty Fort. Who else was gonna tell the story but us? (Of course, The New York Times interviewed Deo the next day.)
The show is so much more than a hobby now. If we have any semblance of a platform, it’s our obligation to advocate for the people and places that make Des Moines so special to us. The scene gave us so much – we gotta give back and tell the stories no one else will.
It weighs heavy on me sometimes. I get discouraged and find myself unable to record that next interview or review that next record. But no matter how long the break, Pretty Fort will keep coming back. I promise.
villin: Could you tell me a little more about what Greenwood Sound is and what your role is with it?
Chase Schweitzer: My buddy Brian Garrels and I have been producing music together since 2017. We’ve spent thousands of hours recording, editing, mixing, and mastering stuff for us and our friends. Greenwood Sound is our brand and (eventually) our studio. We’ve worked with Wave Cage, Seth Cloe, Juno Kaplan, Bouquet, and others so far. We have a specific passion for maximizing fidelity while preserving the “DIY” feel.
villin: Earlier this year you dipped your toes into writing, covering Kyle James’ album for Little Village. Have you done any other writing about the scene over the years I might have missed?
Chase Schweitzer: Besides my rants on Twitter and a couple high school poetry compilations? Not much, haha. I would love to write more for Little Village or other small journals. Someday I will write a book about Des Moines and our scene – I just gotta let the story play out first.
villin: Looking back, you’ve been part of a slew of musical projects over the years, including the Halloween Episode and working with the Ringwalds. For the uninitiated, what’s one song you’d recommend new listeners of yours to start with?
Chase Schweitzer: The vast majority of my music has been removed from streaming and stashed away on my computer until I can figure out what’s worth sharing later. If you wanna check out something, I’d listen to “Ghost Story,” which is still available on Spotify, etc.
villin: What are your favorite venues/places to see live music?
Chase Schweitzer: I fear nothing will ever compare to Vaudeville Mews. What Des Moines really needs is a community theater – a place for young bands and artists to play without needing to sign exclusivity contracts or book shows eight months in advance. A place where cover is “whatever you wanna charge” and you get to keep it. If new musicians don’t have a place to develop, Iowa will stop exporting music and the mid-sized venues sustained by touring acts will slowly sink too.
I don’t know how to change course but I’m gonna try everything I can. Des Moines deserves it.