Dave Chandler of St. Vitus on the band's early days at SST and what inspired the reunion
St. Vitus (due tonight at Summit Music Hall) were one of the pioneers of a style of music that took its direct inspiration from the first four, maybe even the first six, Black Sabbath albums. The band's aggressive guitar work flirted with psychedelia but was too heavy to ever be considered a psychedelic rock band.
Needless to say, St. Vitus never fit in with the metal scene at the time, which was rife with acts with sartorial affectations from Aerosmith and bands like Slade and The New York Dolls. And so the group instead became involved with the then hardcore scene sharing tours with Black Flag and SST putting out its first handful of releases.
Today, terms like "doom" and "stoner rock" are used synonymously with the guitar-driven sound and rhythmic dynamics that St. Vitus perfected early in its career. We spoke with guitarist Dave Chandler about the band's involvement with SST and the Wacken Open Air show that instigated the Vitus reunion.
Westword: How did your band get to know the guys in Black Flag and ultimately release records on SST?
Dave Chandler: They had a band called Overkill on their label. They were trying to get them to be their crossover metal thing. They went to a show we were doing just to flyer the parking lot and we got to talking. They were having trouble getting bands to play with them because they were doing this crossover thing. Then they asked us and we said, "Sure, we'll play with anybody." When we found out they were on SST, I asked if anyone from Black Flag had come to the show, I just wanted to meet them because I was a fan. Greg, Henry and Chuck showed up and they asked us that night if we wanted to record and we said, "Hell yeah!"
Westword: A lot of people these days refer to St. Vitus as a "doom metal" band, but when you started, there wasn't really a genre title like that. What were you going for back then, if anything specific at all?
Dave: Back then, there were no names like "doom metal" and "stoner rock" -- "punk rock" and "heavy metal" were about it. We just wanted to keep the old Black Sabbath thing alive because that was when Ozzy had left and Sabbath had changed their style of music and sped it up some. Nobody else was playing stuff like off the first four Sabbath albums, so that's what we wanted to do. We were also into Judas Priest, and that's why we had the faster songs too. The singer we had in Tyrant could sing like Rob Halford.
Westword: You went on tour with Black Flag a couple of times. What was that like, and how did audiences greet you at the shows?
The first time we went across America, it was down south and up, then across Canada, and then back down to L.A.. That was the first time those audiences were exposed to us. Pretty much ninety percent of them hated us with a passion. They were throwing whatever wasn't nailed down and generally fucking with us.
That was in December '84, and we went back with Black Flag in August in '85 and the same people that had given us shit were up front cheering us on because we didn't back down from them, we didn't stop playing when they gave us shit and we didn't cry about it. They spit at us; we spit back. Then they were like, "Hey, these guys are fuckin' cool."
They didn't necessarily really like our music any more than they did before, but they just accepted the fact that we were pretty much like them, except our hair was longer and our music was slower. We got a little shit about, "You guys are the ones that made Black Flag grow their hair." We didn't -- you just get tired of cutting your hair on tour.
Was there a guitar you favored then and even now?
I always used a Gibson SG. It's my favorite one. I just bought a Schecter Flying V, because it has a Floyd Rose whammy bar on it, so that it stays in tune. You have to have custom ones put on a Gibson, and they don't stay in tune very well. My guitar of choice, though, is the SG. It looks like what Sabbath played -- that was the first thing. I like the double cut-away because I can grip the neck better.
With a Les Paul, you have to bend your hand. I don't have to do that with an SG, which is what I also like about the Flying Vs. Also, the SGs have a bevel on them where your right hand goes when you're strumming so you're not against a hard edge, but a smooth edge, and you can slide along it easily.
What kind of amps do you use?
Marshalls. When I started, there was only fifty watts and a hundred watts. Now, when I have my choice, I get the JCM 800. Cabinets, to me, are not that big a deal because I don't have to have my cabinet match my heads. I prefer to have a full Marshall stack because it looks nice, but as long as I have a JCM 800 head, I can get whatever sound I want out of the cabinet.
How did you went up meeting Scott Weinrich and get him in the band?
At that time, people were doing cassette tape trading. We had a mutual friend, and he knew that Scott Reagers was going to leave Vitus. So he sent us a tape of The Obsessed, who were already broken up, and he was Wino's friend, and he goes, "Hey, you might be interested in this guy because his music is kind of similar." And we said, "Oh that's fucking cool!" So we set it up to meet him on the '86 tour when Vitus went out to play in D.C.
Scott Reagers actually asked him if he would join the band. And he was like, "Yeah, why not? Fuck, I have nothing to do." He wasn't in The Obsessed anymore. We literally knew him and talked to him for one night, and he ended up playing in the band. I remember something fucked up happened and we left Scotty at the rest stop and had to go back and get him. So we missed the show and we had no money, and Wino loaned us twenty bucks for gas.
When you were on SST, did you record with Spot, or was it someone completely different?
The SST ones were Spot, except for Mournful Cries. And that was only because Spot had moved away. Spot is a funny guy; he would stay up all nights on coffee but no other stimulants. He was really good. He worked fast, and he was funny and nice. We did SXSW the other day and he was at a bar down the street and grabbed our manager, because he had a Vitus shirt on, and said, "Hey, if you're going to the Vitus show, tell them Spot says 'Hi.' I wish I could be there but I'm working." Slowly but sure, you run into people, and I like to keep in touch with them. I talk to Joe Carducci once in a while on the internet and such. He and Spot did all the SST stuff.
I think Joe lives in Wyoming now.
Yeah, he does! He and Bill Stevenson live in the same general part of the country now.
What got you guys to get back together.
I was in a band with Ron Holzner, the former bassist of Trouble, called Debris Inc. We did the Wacken Open Air festival in 2002, and we were doing, for the last two songs, "Dying Inside" and "Born Too Late." I was tripping out because I'd never done a festival before. All these people, all these years later -- and a lot of them were really young -- were singing the words.
All kinds of people asked me, "Hey, why don't you guys get back together." And I thought that I would like for Armando Acosta and Mark Adams to see what I saw. The only problem would be if Wino could do it with all the bands he's in, but he said it would be no problem. We flew out to Chicago, rehearsed for a couple of days, then went over to Wacken and did that. The response was pretty good, and so we're still doing it.
You probably know this, but a lot of people, not even just in metal, would cite your band as an influence.
We hear a lot of people tell us this. It's nice to hear, but it is kind of trippy, because we never thought anyone would care one way or another what we did.
You're working on a new album?
Yeah, we're working on it a little. We have one song we're doing in the set on this tour. I have a few others the other guys just haven't heard yet, but they're basically done. So when we get back from this, we're going to a little bit longer rehearsal. And we've got a couple of festivals to do in August, so we're going to learn a couple more. So we can do some more new stuff then.
If things go according to schedule, which, of course, it won't -- this is rock and roll -- but if it were to go according to schedule, we're looking to have something done by the end of the year to get out by next year. If anything, we might end up doing an EP if we can't get a whole album.
Some people consider St. Vitus part of that sort of thing Trouble and Pentagram were doing. Did you feel like you were part of a kind of scene or were you not involved in that at all?
When we were doing it, we had no idea those bands existed at all. Basically, the only scene we were in was the punk scene. We never did any metal shows because they were all like Poison and people like that. Their fans hated us worse than the punk rockers. And after a while, the punks liked us, so we just played to the people that liked us, which happened to be the punkers. So we were never really part of a "scene" scene -- like there was the D.C. scene or the scene from another place. We always just kind of stayed around with the punk rockers, pretty much. I guess you could say we were in the punk scene.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.