SAINT VITUS: WE’RE STILL BORN TOO LATE
(from Heavier Than Thou available from SST)
Saint Vitus has held a special place in my heart since I first heard ‘Look Behind You’ on the eclectic and inexpensive SST compilation The Blasting Concept Vol. 2. The song is a paranoid trip through hell—an immediate stand-out. It rocked like Black Sabbath—who, thanks to my older brother, I had loved since before I got a real skateboard—and it also had a palpable DIY pulse like Black Flag, who were of increased interest to me after I got a real skateboard. They had a killer logo and made even cooler records while unknowingly creating the sound of a genre of heavy metal that had yet to be named. I spoke with Saint Vitus guitarist and founding member Dave Chandler from his home in New Orleans prior to Saint Vitus’ return to the city where they started. We talked about heavy tunes, getting stoned, punkers, an Obsessed tape I’d like to hear and two-year-old headbangers. Dave Chandler is also not only a forefather of the entire genre of doom metal, he is also one of the happiest guys having the most fun playing it—often with his teeth. This interview by Kurt Midness.
Perhaps you are familiar with the debate among blues dudes about whether or not one must have lived a hard life to play the blues. Must someone be bummed out to play doom metal?
Dave Chandler (guitar): Not necessarily. It kinda helps with lyrics to be angry or depressed. I’m happy now. When I was writing for Saint Vitus, I was more pissed and bummed or wrote songs about being fucked up. I’m writing new stuff now and I’m really happy—but people will probably still see it as being pissed off and bummed out. I do believe bands should have to pay their dues and do it yourself. Every band should have to live in a van for a year. Bands shouldn’t just get a career in music handed to them, which seems to be the way it works now.
Should one be stoned in order to play stoner rock?
Dave Chandler: Nah. Not necessarily. To me that is a vague term. ‘Stoner rock’ to me—that is just rock. I think someone thought they were clever when they coined that term. I do think all music sounds better when you’re stoned, but that’s just me. With me getting stoned helped out, but not necessarily to play doom. Some people get stoned and play jazz. Getting stoned opens your mind and you become more creative. Some people will argue that. Most people I know that play doom metal get stoned—not a lot of straight edgers.
There are a lot of different names describing a lot of different musical genres these days. What do you call Saint Vitus?
Dave Chandler: Doom metal—definitely. We played for years and never heard of that. Then I heard us referred to as ‘doom metal’ in Europe and I thought, ‘Yeah, that fits.’ My mom used to call it funeral music. I think if you didn’t know anything about Saint Vitus, but were told that we are doom metal, you’d have an idea how we sound.
Now that Saint Vitus are seen as progenitors—and masters—of an old school doom metal sound, have you ever thought that the old Saint Vitus credo of ‘born too late’ should actually be changed to ‘born too early’?
Dave Chandler: No, not really—we’re still born too late. We’ve just outlasted everybody. The few fans we had from back then grew up and had kids and now their kids are listening to Saint Vitus and listening with their friends. And there are a lot of new fans that come to the shows. I’ve literally seen a two-year-old at a show with little earplugs giving me the metal horns hand sign.
Is now a better time to be in a doom metal band?
Dave Chandler: I guess I’m not sure. Doom metal to me is an underground genre, but the underground is a lot bigger than it used to be. Here in New Orleans, doom metal is extremely popular, but you go somewhere else and people aren’t into it at all, so it depends on where you are. There is really only one band to play doom metal at an arena-sized level and that’s Black Sabbath.
Having cribbed the name Saint Vitus from the song ‘St. Vitus Dance,’ I’d think Black Sabbath was obviously an early influence. What other heavy shit were you into when you started the band?
Dave Chandler: I was really into Judas Priest, but everybody was into different stuff. [Drummer] Armando [Acosta] was really into Rush, [bassist] Mark [Adams] was really into Lynyrd Skynyrd and I was really into Judas Priest and Mahogany Rush… Alice Cooper, Blue Cheer. That’s how you would get together back then. If you were into that kind of rock, you would hang out. Mark and I have been friends since high school listening to this stuff, so we started a band. When I was real young it was different stuff that got me interested in music—stuff like the Monkees made me want to be a musician. When I started playing guitar, the first group that really inspired me was Alice Cooper. I was already listening to Black Sabbath, but it was Alice Cooper that made me really want to start a band.
Did you identify Saint Vitus as a metal band when you started?
Dave Chandler: Pretty much—back then there was just heavy metal and that was it. Otherwise you were a hard rock or blues band or a pop band or something else. When we hooked up with the punk scene in L.A., we called it hardcore metal. Back then there weren’t a lot of bands that you would call metal. Bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest were called heavy metal, but a band like Montrose or Led Zeppelin was considered hard rock or hard rock blues. There were only a couple bands you’d call heavy metal.
Would you say that Saint Vitus—like Metallica—didn’t find a lot to like or support about the L.A. metal scene back then?
Dave Chandler: As soon as we played our first show, we knew we didn’t fit in. We knew we didn’t want to do the whole Hollywood hair metal bullshit. They didn’t want anything to do with us either, so we stopped playing in L.A. You end up playing where people want you to play.
How did you get involved with Greg Ginn and SST?
Dave Chandler: Early on we would play anywhere that would book us. In those days bands did everything themselves. You would make your own flyers and pass them out at other bands’ shows to try to get people to come to your show. There was a band called Overkill that was on SST. They were one of the first metal-punk crossover bands. They were handing out flyers at one of our shows and they asked us to open one of their shows. I asked if they could get the dudes in Black Flag to check us out because I was real into Black Flag. Greg Ginn and Chuck Dukowski came to the show and they liked us. Greg asked if we wanted to do a record for SST and we were like, ‘Yeah!’ and it went from there.
How did the punk scene in L.A. respond to Saint Vitus? Did you bum out folks that came to pogo and slam dance?
Dave Chandler: At the first show they basically ignored us. They couldn’t care less. Mark did something that pissed them off and they did the typical punk thing and started trashing us. I think the punkers thought of us as a typical LA metal band. We confused them, though, when we played the really slow stuff because they were used to hearing fast music. We gained their respect eventually because we never stopped playing when they hated us. It kinda turned around and eventually we played only punk shows in L.A. Heavy metal people in L.A. never liked us.
Is Wino the new guy in the band again?
Dave Chandler: No—actually, we have a new drummer. Henry Vasquez. [Vocalist] Wino’s an old man like the rest of us.
Did you know about the Obsessed when Wino joined the band?
Dave Chandler: We had a mutual friend that gave us a tape and we thought he’d work out. We liked his voice for sure, so it was just a matter of whether or not we would get along.
Are you an L.A. native?
Dave Chandler: I grew up in Lomita which is near San Pedro. That’s where Mark still lives.
How did you end up in New Orleans?
Dave Chandler: I met a girl that was living in Los Angeles temporarily who’s from here. I’d been wanting to get out of Los Angeles, so we moved out here and got married.
What does your dentist have to say about you playing guitar with your teeth?
Dave Chandler: It was really funny when I chipped my tooth one time. He told me it files down your teeth, so after a while you have to get caps. I chipped one he had worked on and he said, ‘What happened to my tooth?’ I was like, ‘That was my tooth.’ Then I told him what happened and he was like, ‘Jeez!’
What made you want to add that to your repertoire?
Dave Chandler: I’ve never been the greatest classic guitar player. I couldn’t just play something like Steve Howe, so I started doing as many tricks as I could. It looks good and it’s fun to do. The audience really likes it when I do it. That’s the main thing—it’s fun.
Is it easier on the teeth if you tune down?
Dave Chandler: No, I didn’t notice a difference. We tune down a half step because Wino’s voice is a little deeper. It’s hard as hell to do, but it’s a lot of fun. I got to learn it all over again to play these shows—but we wouldn’t be doing this at all now if we weren’t having fun.
SAINT VITUS (WITH WINO) WITH SAVIOURS, TOTIMOSHI, ANCESTORS AND CROWNED BY FIRE ON THUR., JAN. 28, AT THE ULTRAVIOLET SOCIAL CLUB, 2684 LACY ST., LOS ANGELES. 7 PM / $29.50 / ALL AGES. ULTRAVIOLETSOCIALCLUB.COM. VISIT SAINT VITUS AT SAINTVITUSREUNION.COM OR MYSPACE.COM/STVITUS.