Scott “Wino” Weinrich puts the credit for godfathering doom metal elsewhere—and a lot farther back than the 1970s—but he’s still the guy who poured primordial ooze into the genre through bands like Saint Vitus and the Obsessed, and he’s still the guy who puts the tar in guitar with bands like Shrinebuilder, Probot, the Hidden Hand and the just-formed Premonitions 13. His newest album, Adrift, is mostly acoustic (with shredding fuzz) but he still jumps off stage to play and can throw a punch with the guitar still strapped over his shoulder. He speaks now about Hendrix and ziggurats. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
What’s something you promised yourself you’d do when you moved to L.A. to sing for Saint Vitus? Did you manage to do it?
I promised myself I was gonna get signed to a major label and I did, although the signing at that time was actually a little bittersweet because of circumstances. Of course I did retreat with my tail between my legs back East once or twice before that happened, but … You wanna hear a really fucking weird story? [The Obsessed] got signed to Columbia Records, and that’s Sony, and at that time they had a big black building on Madison Avenue—a black fucking building—and the address was 666. I swear to God, man! It’s so cliché that it’s almost fucking cheesy, but it’s the truth. A lot of people warned me—like people from doing zines and stuff—they told me this was risky, but at that time, I looked upon it as a license to fly. To me it was artistic freedom because they were paying to rent us a rehearsal room, paying us a salary, giving us a budget to record a record—I thought that was where it’s at. These days, things have changed so radically that it’s not even the same story.
Which would have been most helpful to you during your entire musical career—a great lawyer, a great roadie or a great mechanic?
I’d have to say a really good lawyer. I had a good mechanic and we were good roadies. We had Rosemary Carroll—she was married to Jim Carroll; she’s married to Danny Goldberg now. Back in the early ’90s, our lawyer shopped us. You know everybody knows everybody in the industry. Her prerequisite was she had to like the band. I remember we played this place the Club With No Name on Highland Boulevard. It was one of these places where every night they’d have a different name. Same venue, different genre every night. To us, it was a lame show because we had to use rental gear and exactly what we thought would happen happened—we played so hard and furious that the cabinet went out right away. When shit started going south, we’d look at each other and go, ‘Neatz Brigade.’ Our ultimate trash-’em-up song—our hardest tune at the time. So we’re just destroying the shit, and at the end here comes Rosemary Carroll. I was appalled, but she loved it! That happens—you play your absolute worst, and people will come up like, ‘Man, that’s the best I ever seen you!’
Are you the kind of person that if someone tells you something’s risky, you have to go test it out for yourself?
Absolutely. I’m totally that person. I was the oldest child so I had to break my parents in, and my sister was straight anyways. A friend of mine gave me this nickname: ‘Weinwreckage.’ I was always known sorta like the tester. If you wanna give something some kinda road test, lemme have it for a couple days and we’ll see how it stands up to my normal lifestyle. I’m not like proud, but I accepted it—they called me the ‘master of disaster.’ When you’re young, you get away with everything. When we were young in our glam phase, we used to walk into motorcycle gang keg parties wearing high heels and make-up. We didn’t give a fuck! You’d just fuckin’ drink and then if you were feeling like you might get your ass kicked, you’d just fucking leave! Or if some jocks started shit, you might wanna fight! We were always ready to fight, man. But you get older and you don’t wanna fuckin’ do that anymore.
Do you have a good fight-or-flight sense?
Definitely. I’m a Libra so I kinda got that good/bad thing. I’m pretty good at reading situations and at reading people, too. I can tell from walking into a room if there’s gonna be problems. If I can avoid a confrontation, I usually will. I’ll just swallow my pride. Classic Libra. But also classic to hold it in and hold it in and get more pissed and finally just fuckin’ pop. My wife described my personality as ‘punctuated equilibrium.’ I never heard that term before. So I researched it—I called my solo record that because I thought that’s what it was, but I found out it’s this theory of evolution, actually. The gist of it is if you have a really small space, like some archipelago in the Indies or whatever, evolutionary changes happen at a much faster pace because everything is so confined. When it’s larger, everything is paced slower. When we were recording that, me and J Robbins are sitting there and I tell him that story and he’s like, ‘Let’s go check that out.’ So he fucking googled it and we read all these theories. I don’t think she knew about that, but there it was.
The higher the pressure, the faster the evolution? Does that apply to your music?
That could be true. It definitely applies to my music and personality. I think I work pretty good under pressure. In this business, you have to. You rehearse and put blood, sweat and tears into rehearsal; you drive just for fuckin’ 45 minutes up there in front of a whole bunch of people. You’re on the spot. You can’t walk away. It’s gotta be good, it’s gotta be right—it’s constant pressure.
Do you prefer it that way?
I could tell you I don’t, but I’m pretty sure that’s why we all do it. If we even have a reason for it. But it’s part of it. And the sacrifices that come with it—people need to be aware. If someone’s thinking about living this lifestyle, you gotta be prepared for a lot of sacrifices. Bet your ass—I can bank on this—you’ll get offered the coolest show in the world or the best show for your career move and it’ll be on your wife’s birthday. That’s just the way it is. And you gotta think it through careful and then you go do the fucking gig—make all the apologies you can possibly make and hope they understand, but you take the gig. That’s what sets people apart.
What’s the best way to apologize?
‘Hey, you’re into this music, right? We met at this show because we both loved this band and loved this music—would you keep me from doing this music?’ And the answer is ‘No, no, no,’ and then you’re like, ‘Well, by the way … I’m gonna be outta town on your birthday, maybe!’ It’s brutal, man.
Is it true that you refused to let a hip-hop producer use one of your songs for a sample?
I don’t wanna name any names, but a pretty famous rapper—on ‘Smilin Road’ on Punctuated Equilibrium, there’s this moody part with the EBows, and he wanted to sample that. He offered me some dough, but it’s not about the dough. It’s about, ‘Do I wanna hear that beautiful part that I treasure in a rap song?’ And I didn’t. I could see writing for somebody—if somebody said, ‘I’ll give you 75 grand if you play an EBow part on this,’ most likely I’d do it! Unless the music was so hideous that suicide would be a better option. I’m not out to write a sappy pop song. That’s not gonna happen. I’m never gonna put pen to paper like, ‘Oh boy, if I do this, I’ll get a million dollars!’ That’s not my way. If a song I write becomes a hit, that’s good because if it’s a song we play, that means we like it. I branched into the acoustic genre now and I know on the internet there’s some chatter like, ‘Oh my God, is he gonna go soft on us?’ No, that’s not gonna happen! There might be a little bit of a different flavor, but hey—I was born and raised on Neil Young. I got turned on to Townes Van Zandt and I cover a couple of his songs in my set. … I do ‘A Song For’—absolutely his heaviest song in the world, from right around the time of his death. I don’t think anybody has to worry.
Do you know the story behind ‘If I Needed You’? He was hanging out with Guy Clark and drank a bottle of codeine syrup and dreamed he was playing that song, and when he woke up, he remembered it perfectly and that’s it.
That’s wild—I call that divine inspiration. If you have a good song and you know it’s a good song, and you struggle to put it together. It’s that last verse that eludes you. You know it’s there, but … but sometimes you get the whole shebang in one go. I had pneumonia—I been on the road since September and I been back about a week, and the flu went around the bus, and then me and the drummer both got pneumonia. So I was laid up in Berlin and it was pretty serious, and I got the divine inspiration for this tune and wrote the whole tune then and there. ‘Dead Yesterday.’ It’s not out yet but I’m gonna play it at the party.
How much of Adrift did you write to be acoustic? How much was songs you had and decided to record acoustic?
It was pretty much all written to be acoustic. ‘Adrift,’ that riff I’ve had for a while—I play that electric. But everything else was pretty much written with my acoustic. After [Punctuated Equilibrium bassist] Jon [Blank] died … that was heavy, and that’s sorta what made me go do this. And it was a lot better than I thought! Playing with Clutch acoustic seemed a little bit daunting, you know? But it turns out—the second show in, I put together a little pedal board with fuzz on it, and if shit got a little bit hairy, I’d just step on the fuzz and start wailin’. That seemed to work pretty good!
How do you be heavy with just an acoustic guitar?
It’s about the power of the song. The song itself is the most power you’re gonna have. It’s pretty much all you got. My biggest problem is keeping the tempos even. I get excited and I wanna race. But I play pretty hard. I fucking muscle the acoustic. It’s pretty rowdy shit! That album was a cleansing thing for me. So the songs are pretty passionate.
How do you know if it’s a powerful song?
To me, it’s just a gut thing. When the riff comes in and I get the feeling—sometimes I get a chill. I know that it clicks for me, and if it clicks for me I’m gonna play it, and fortunately what clicks for me also clicks for other folks. My philosophy on life is pretty much … I’m given a gift, and I just really feel it’s more important to give than receive. I feel I kinda gotta carry the torch.
We asked Saint Vitus’ Dave Chandler if he thought you had to have had a hard life to play the blues and if you had to be bummed to play doom metal. What do you think?
Your life’s experiences are really important in that. I used to be of the philosophy—when I was younger—that if you were happy, you couldn’t write a heavy song. Now I know that’s not true. Heavy can be heavy in a lot of different ways—heavy sounding, heavy lyrically, heavy emotionally. I don’t think you have to be real angry to write a heavy song although … it probably helps!
What is something you do need to write?
Personally, I’m not a really super-depressed person—but this has been the best years for my career ever, but for my domestic situation it’s been a couple of the worst. I’m in the middle of a serious dichotomy. You never get it all! I got another new song I’m gonna play—‘Labor of Love.’ I know that’s a common term, but that’s what it’s all about. It really is truly a labor of love. At the end of the night when you’re humping that SVT—I’d always tell [Dave] Sherman [of Spirit Caravan]—‘At the end of the night, who the fuck you gonna see across that cabinet?’ He said, ‘You.’ I said, ‘That’s right.’ Because nobody else is gonna do it—nobody else wants it like we do. That’s why I’d carry two cabinets up those stairs instead of one because we want it.
That’s a good philosophy of life. ‘Two cabinets.’
Bring both of ’em. Fuck it. Do the extra work.
Aren’t some of the Adrift songs from when you were 16?
‘I Don’t Care.’ I’ve always had it. I played it for [Clutch drummer] Jean-Paul [Gaster] and he said, ‘You should play that one live—that’s a good song.’ I wrote that song when I was young; I was angry and getting ready to have my freedom taken away from me—I think that’s still very relevant. I feel that song will always be relevant to me. I’ve gone through my whole life—you get ostracized based on the way you look or what you choose to do for a living. I really never learned a trade cuz I always had to pick up and go with the music, and even though I’ve done a lot of stuff and I can do a lot of stuff … there’s times I remember coming back from tour and seeing the 9 to 5 guy on his smoke break and thinking, ‘Man …’ You almost want that normal life. But then it comes to be about 9 o’clock and that doesn’t feel right. You wanna be on stage! It’s just in you.
What country has the rowdiest crowds even when you’re just playing acoustic?
I’ve been touring acoustic, and there’s one song I would do where I’d jump down in the crowd and unplug my guitar and play this song, and there’s only two countries where the crowds are so hyper that when they were clapping, they didn’t keep time—they sped up on purpose to fuck me up. That was Scotland and Italy. I love both of those countries but those dudes are almost a little too impatient! And one show in Germany—it was this street party and the Germans like to drink, so this guy was hammered and we were in this tiny little place. I was doing my set and this motherfucker keeps whistling—you know the kid that whistles so fucking loud? ‘The Whistler?’ Like seven feet away and these blood-piercing whistles! At first I made a couple jokes. ‘Why don’t you come up here and whistle “Yankee Go Home”?’ No response. So I keep playing but I look at him and he made a fist—the universal language. So finally I say, ‘If you don’t fuckin’ stop whistling, I’m not gonna be responsible for your consciousness.’ And so that’s exactly what happened, man. I unplugged my acoustic—I still had it on me—and I punched him right in the mouth. And once I punched him, then I was like, ‘Oh man—what if this guy’s a karate expert?’ And then these German chicks got in my face like, ‘Your songs are so spiritual blah blah blah but what’s this violence?’ And some other chick is like, ‘I got it all on video!’ Blood runnin’ down my hand … people were telling me they were just about to kick him out, but no one had made a move to and I felt threatened, so … that ended the performance.
Do you know if Woody Guthrie ever punched someone out while he was still strapped to his acoustic guitar?
I don’t know if Woody Guthrie ever punched somebody out, but I’ll tell you what—he wrote some great songs. Billy Bragg covers one and I don’t know the name and Billy Bragg didn’t know it either—about halfway through his set he plays this song about how ‘the rich get richer and the poor get poorer/and my woman died on the cold cabin floor.’ I been trying to find the name of that song because that song is fucking heavy, man. I tell people—Hank Williams, Sr. is the real godfather of doom. He’s the godfather of doom, not me.
Michael Moorcock wrote lyrics for Hawkwind—is there any writer you’d ever wanna put music to?
I appreciate fiction but I don’t read it really at all. Philip K. Dick was pretty cool. Scanner Darkly and the one that became Blade Runner. I like a lot of these … for lack of a better term … like David Icke. But I drew some heat when I mentioned his book …And The Truth Shall Set You Free—
—because he always talks about lizard people?
The only book I mentioned is the book that’s not about the reptilians! It’s about secret societies. But people threw a firestorm on the web—people calling me an anti-Semite and saying when I meant reptile, I really meant Jewish! In that first Hidden Hand record, I said ‘read these books.’ And listed them. And people are trying to tell me that I’m trying to cram reptilian beliefs down people’s throats, which is so far from the truth! The stonerrock.com people just went wild! They were going nuts with this! I had no recourse—I had to assume a new identity and fight back on the internet! The name that I chose to be my cyberwar was ‘Dagobert.’ Dagobert was a Merovingian king who killed his own mother. I sent a couple—what do they call ’em? Flames? People were saying I was an anti-Semite cuz of David Icke’s first book and I wasn’t even going nowhere toward that! I was fucking pissed off! I told those motherfuckers, ‘Lemme ask you this—have you read the book?’ ‘No, I haven’t read the book but blah blah blah …’ What the fuck is that? He had to admit he was basically a fucking douchebag. That first Hidden Hand record is when I first went online and you know how it is. You can get sucked into that quick. I was going through reviews, really hungry about what they’re gonna say about this new record—and motherfuckers come up with this shit? When people just start stabbing at you like that—it’s just wrong. I had to fight back! That was just stupid wrong!
What do you think is the most tragically lost ancient knowledge? Something the modern world has yet to rediscover?
Probably all the stuff the Mayans coulda taught us. Or the people who inhabited Teotihuacan. I think those people could probably do stuff we can’t do. I think sound and magnetism had a lot to do with how they could move the pyramids around. There’s modern people who have been able to unlock that—like the Coral Castle dude, who moved those stone blocks overnight. Or that dome—the Integratron. Those guys, they were of a different branch. They vibrate on a different frequency. That’s why people get contacted. People get contacted by different species—aliens, for lack of a better term.
Have you read John Keel? You’d love him.
That shit really happens. Where I hang out is in the high desert. Right outside of Palmdale—heading down the 138 to San Bernardino or Vegas. Pretty remote. Just the other night I bought a Native American wooing flute and I learned how to play it. We know the military has some weird shit on the other side of the mountain. Edwards and the black ops shit. We see weird shit in the sky all the time. Some of the time we know what it is, some of the time we don’t—some of the time we don’t wanna know because it’s too fucking weird! Twinkling little orbs that move around. I’m standing there in my black fur hat playing my flute, and I stop—and all of a sudden like way in the distance, really far away, I heard another flute. It’s like it answered me. So I thought, ‘Just an echo.’ But we’re out here all the time and I know it wasn’t a fucking echo. So I ask my buddy, ‘Do you fucking hear that?’ ‘Yeah, that’s fucking weird.’ So I played a couple more notes and heard dogs bark in the distance and heard the flute again. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Just fucking bizarre. This is all Native American lands. Who knows what I coulda conjured? People who mess around with shit they don’t understand, they’re always setting themselves up, you know? What do you think about this whole Planet X Nibiru thing? I read Zecharia Sitchin a while ago and recently I read an interview with Slayer and I was stunned to find that me and Kerry King have the same philosophy on this planet. I read about it a long time ago and everything has been pointing toward it. Now NASA admits it exists. It’s trippy to have it come true.
What is your favorite top-secret program?
I won’t say it’s my favorite, but one of the most interesting is—I think it was Project Orion? Now, Tesla was a fucking genius, and Tesla was ruined by Edison and people like that and died in fucking poverty. And the Philadelphia Experiment was really interesting because it really happened. Al Bielek talks about how aliens gave our military intelligence this weird chair, and if you sat in this chair, it brought you right to a state of pre-orgasm, cuz they say that’s when you’re most sensitive, and they hold you there and that’s how they could time travel. And they could go back in time. So they started kidnapping kids—this is our government, of course—around Long Island, New York, in Montauk, to put through this fucking machine. And basically they all said the same thing. When they went ahead to 2012, it just ended.
If you could see any moment in the past, what would you want to see?
I’d definitely wanna see Hendrix somewhere. And I’d like to see one of those pyramids go up. Not necessarily an Egyptian one. Like a Babylonian ziggurat go up. See it being built with magnetism and sound.
Have you ever read the book Mass Dreams of the Future? Hypnotists tried to project people into ‘future lives’ and they reported either like space paradise or black smoke.
Well, the space station thing—that’s basically where the elite are gonna run to. They’ve already got bases up on the moon. They value money more than human life, so they’re not even gonna tell us about the impending disaster and just bail on out. Now the FEMA prison camps—that’s another story. I don’t really know what they’re planning, but if you go to YouTube, they got a bunch of shit on that. Ten thousand or 500 thousand of these plastic coffins that three bodies can fit in and they’re just stacked? Like for disease—they say they’re expecting a global pandemic. Or these prison camps and these trains—we knew somebody who was a welder working for one of those military companies and they were welding fucking shackles into railcars. Go to YouTube and check out FEMA prison camps. It’ll make your blood run cold, man. Our government is basically planning on rounding us up, color-coding us by our radicality and then slave labor somewhere—maybe the moon? Probably the moon.
I saw you talking about slaves on the moon in Arthur.
Who was talking about that? Oh, I was—if it was someone else, I wanna get the book!
WINO WITH SCOTT KELLY, AFTERLIFE AND TEXAS DEATH STAR ON SAT., FEB. 5, AT THE VIPER ROOM, 8852 W. SUNSET BLVD., WEST HOLLYWOOD. 8 PM / $15 / 21+. VIPERROOM.COM. WINO’S ADRIFT IS OUT NOW ON VOLCOM ENTERTAINMENT. VISIT WINO AT SCOTTWEINRICH.COM.