Preach to the punks
Thy Saviors deliver irreverent sermons and songs
Wil Sweetie has a very deep, very real love for gospel music. That might not be immediately apparent, though, as his band Thy Saviors’ whole act seems to be poking fun at classic gospel.
For one, they wear matching outfits that resemble choir robes. And in between songs, they preach the good news of “Big Jesus,” who they describe as a bigger and better Jesus. At their debut show in February, they passed out their own Thy Saviors religious pamphlets. Sweetie even gives sermons. During that first show, he delivered a very passionate and irreverent anti-masturbation lecture, which stirred up laughter from the crowd. Even though it’s certainly funny, the band insists they’re not actually making fun of religion.
“It’s not like we hate Christians or are insulting people who are Christians,” drummer Aaron Reeds says.
According to Sweetie, this is how he shows his love and respect for old gospel. Gospel, along with old blues and soul, has always influenced his bands, but that influence is much more prominent for Thy Saviors. He’s even let it pervade every thematic aspect of the punk-garage act, from the outfits to the band’s name itself, though he claims it’s actually a reference to their mission to “save the world from bad punk rock.”
And he takes his whole performance seriously. He’s listened to many old gospel sermons—research, essentially—and respects the craft.
“It’s an art … to actually be able to talk, to keep your shit together, to not repeat yourself. If you listen to a good pro wrestler, they do it. You listen to a good preacher, they do it. All of that is practice,” Sweetie says.
His teachings are completely improvised, and different every time. Besides speaking of the sins of masturbation, he’s also gone off on current events and gun control.
The music, on the other hand, is completely worked out It’s fun, catchy punk rock steeped in blues, soul and garage rock. And of course, it uses some traditional gospel chords.
At their first show, Thy Saviors were the headlining act, with a nearly hour-long set. That may seem like a lot of material for a new band, but it’s nothing for 38-year-old Sweetie. He estimates having recorded 98 solo albums, plus more with bands.
A majority of that hour-long set was material specifically for Thy Saviors, which formed in October of last year—and he’s already written more.
It isn’t just him spitting out music, either. He attributes it to the group’s friendship. Sweetie has been playing with Derek Johnson (bass) and Big Jack Traction (keys, sax, tambourine, bugle) for two decades.
“You need to be in a band with your fucking friends,” Sweetie says. “You can just knock out material because everyone’s into it.”
Sweetie says most Sacramento crowds never cared about his bands—he’s Citrus Heights proud—and that he doesn’t care, either. His most well-known prior band is Positraction, which he says no one liked because they “drank too much and didn’t make friends with other bands.” But the first Thy Saviors crowd of 30 people seemed to like it, which Sweetie can’t help but relish a little bit.
“I didn’t hear anything negative,” Sweetie says. “If I did hear something negative, I would continue to do the same shit. Fuck them.”