CBS SF Talks To Doom Legend Scott “Wino” Weinrich

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the most important of Black Sabbath’s down-tuned disciples to carry the torch of doom metal, Scott “Wino” Weinrich has left an indelible mark on heavy music over the course of four decades. The influential figure first emerged on the Washington, D.C. punk scene, confounding hardcore audiences with the sludgy riffs and lumbering tempos of his first band, The Obsessed.

The Maryland-based group would refine its ominous and foreboding sound for the better part of a decade, but would split up just as the band started making inroads towards a record deal (though the early version of the trio did manage some recordings). Wino would relocated to Southern California for a stint fronting like-minded West Coast brethren Saint Vitus.

Contributing to three albums by the SST Records act including the influential 1986 effort Born Too Late, Wino would grow as a singer before splitting to convene a new line-up of the Obsessed with drummer Greg Rogers (later of the ’90s doom group Goatsnake) and future Kyuss bass player Scott Reeder. The Obsessed would garner enough buzz to get signed to Columbia, putting out the landmark album The Church Within in 1994. Unfortunately, poor sales would lead to another dissolution to the band.

Wino briefly retired from music, but would emerged as a torchbearer for the old-school doom sound. Leading a variety of bands including Spirit Caravan, the Hidden Hand, and Place of Skulls as well as participating in several Saint Vitus reunions (one resulting in the new album Lillie: F-65 in 2012), recording with the doom supergroup Shrinebuilder featuring Wino alongside Neurosis founder Scott Kelly, Melvins drummer Dale Crover and Sleep/Om bassist Al Cisneros and issuing several acoustic albums including three collaborative collections with Conny Ochs.

This past March, doom metal fans rejoiced at the announcement that Wino was putting together a new line-up of the Obsessed with longtime Spirit Caravan bassist Dave Sherman and new drummer Brian Constantino. CBS SF recently spoke with the guitarist about touring with the new version of the group and their plans to record the first new Obsessed record in two decades ahead of their current tour arriving in San Francisco for a show at Slim’s with support from Karma To Burn and Sierra on Thursday, June 2.

CBS SF: The first question I had was about this line-up of the Obsessed. You’ve reunited with Greg Rogers and Guy Pinhas from the ’90s version of the band previously, but it sounds like this line-up was an outgrowth of already playing with Spirit Caravan. Was there a single moment when it dawned on you that this trio should be the latest incarnation of the Obsessed?

Scott “Wino” Weinrich: Yeah, there actually was that moment. It sort of crystallized when I realized that with this particular line-up’s chemistry, I was hearing the songs the way I initially heard them and the way I’ve always wanted to hear them. It was kind of an epiphany when I realized I did really want to play these tunes and that they seemed timeless.

I’ve been asked to do a lot of Obsessed reunions — and I’ve done a couple — but never felt that it was just quite to tour or to record again. But after hooking up with my friend Brian Constantino, it seemed like everything fell into place.

CBS SF: So had you already been touring in 2014 as Spirit Caravan with this trio?

Scott “Wino” Weinrich: No, we had toured with the original Obsessed drummer Eddie [Gulli] for the last Spirit Caravan tour. That was one of the reasons why things happened the way they did, because Brian used to be Eddie’s tech in a way. It seemed like with Eddie the wheels were coming off the wagon a little bit and nobody was really happy.

At some point during the rehearsal process with Eddie, Brian sat down behind the drums, and we really had no idea about his depth and were pretty amazed. It was a little bit strange, but at one point in time, Dave Sherman and I just kind of looked at each other during the last tour with Eddie playing drums, and we sort of had this telepathic communication — “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” The writing was on the wall at that point.

CBS SF: You’ve played a handful of Obsessed shows you’ve done at festivals in the past few years, this is the first time the band has toured since the ’90s. How has the reception been so far?

Scott “Wino” Weinrich: The reception has been great! We’re moving through a bit of the heartland right now where traditionally you have shows that aren’t as big as on the coasts or in the larger cities, but we’re getting a great response with the shows out here. We’re thrilled, even with some of the shows early in the week. We were trying to keep it under our hats, but when we played in Philadelphia, we signed a recording deal with Relapse Records right before that show. So we’re pretty psyched and everything is cooking.

CBS SF: I have a friend who works in PR down in Los Angeles and I didn’t see her Facebook post about the Relapse deal until yesterday, but was thinking “Great! That’s something else we can talk about.” Has the Relapse deal been in the works since you first announced this line-up of the Obsessed back in March?

Scott “Wino” Weinrich: It came a little bit later, but not too much later. We’re being managed by Pellet [aka Sean Pelletier], who has also got Pentagram and a couple of other bands. He used to work for Relapse, so he kind of had an in there. I had wanted to be on Relapse in the past and we’d run a couple of discs by them that they weren’t really interested in, but now things have shuffled around. There’s some staff there now who are Obsessed fans, so I guess before the timing has always been a little bit off, Now it seems like everything is coming into focus.

CBS SF: I noticed from some of the set lists I’ve seen posted that you’re including a few Spirit Caravan tunes on this tour…

Scott “Wino” Weinrich: Actually, most of the Spirit Caravan songs on Jug Fulla Sun were songs that were destined for the Obsessed’s second record that never happened. The Obsessed had already played “Lost Sun Dance” and “Melancholy Grey.” The second Obsessed record, if we had done a second record for Columbia, I thought was going to be like a nuclear bomb. And the core songs ended up on Jug Fulla SunWith Spirit Caravan, Dave Sherman contributed some riffs too, so we’ve got a couple of songs that were co-written by both of us.

CBS SF: Has it been tough to narrow down the tune selection from the Obsessed albums and Spirit Caravan albums?

Scott “Wino” Weinrich: It’s been hard man, it’s been really hard. We did a song list before we left Maryland and we had close to 50 songs or something like that, so we just had to decide. Though it was a little easier once we realized we were going to be the Obsessed, we just started focusing on that stuff and interspersing what we thought would be the best Spirit Caravan songs.

And I do some different tunings, so that comes into play when you’re writing you’re set list. You don’t want to be changing tunings every song, so you start doing it in blocks. And then you get into the whole trip of how to pace the set. That can be crucial sometimes, especially when you’re playing with bands that play real fast. You don’t want to bring the level of intensity down too much. There’s a real science behind that, but I think we’ve carved out a pretty good set. I’m really excited to get back out to San Francisco. It’s one of my absolute favorite places to play.

CBS SF: In terms of the deal with Relapse, how far are you along in writing the material you’re going to record after the tour?

Scott “Wino” Weinrich: Well, I’m figuring I’m probably going to do in the neighborhood of 10, 11 or maybe as many as 13 tunes. Basically, for a modern record, you want to be close to an hour. People complained a lot about the last Vitus record that it was too short, but I thought it was a damn good listen.

But taking that into account, we’re probably about three quarters of the way there. We have some lyrics to write and some other concepts we have to work on, but we’re really super excited. As soon as we get off the road, the ideas are going to flow.  We’ve got the guitars in the van and we’re playing nonstop, just bouncing ideas around. I’m confident. We’re super inspired. I thought The Church Within was a really great record and I know this record has to be as good or better, so I’m excited.

CBS SF: The last time we talked, you told me this great story about when St. Vitus played the Farm in San Francisco in 1986, there was this scrum between the skinhead punks and security guards…

Scott “Wino” Weinrich: Oh yeah! I watched it happen!

CBS SF: During my research I learned that The Church Within was actually recorded in the Bay Area at Alpha and Omega Studios in San Rafael. I was wondering if you had any recollections from that time?

Scott “Wino” Weinrich: Yeah, that was Sandy Pearlman’s studio. He was the longtime manager of Blue Öyster Cult and wrote the lyrics to “Cities On Flame With Rock and Roll,” He was a major player with the band and also did some production work, I think with the Ramones [Editor’s note: Pearlman also produced the Clash and the Dictators, among others].

I was a huge Blue Öyster Cult fan Tyranny and Mutation was one of my all-time favorite records. Pearlman was this elusive dude you’d see running around wearing this military cap and dark shades any time of day or night. So I saw him flitting around when we were doing pre-production and started playing the riff to “7 Screaming Diz-Busters” hoping I could kind of lure him over and get him to tell some stories.

Sure as s–t, he comes up and says “Man, is that “7 Screaming Diz-Busters?” And I say, “Yeah, I was just playing it just so I could talk to you” and I introduced myself. Actually, one night before we’d left the studio, I remember I asked him to manage us. I think I’d had a couple beers and the other guys in the band were really looking down on me for that because we’d actually promised the gig to somebody. Sandy actually accepted! He wanted to manage us, but I guess I’d overstepped my bounds a little bit. It didn’t come to be, but he was a really cool cat.

CBS SF: When you were recording at Alpha and Omega, did you stay in San Rafael too?

Scott “Wino” Weinrich: Yeah, we stayed in a little hotel where we had a kitchenette and stuff. There are some interesting stories flying around from that little vacation [laughs].

CBS SF: So how longer were you here?

Scott “Wino” Weinrich: We were probably there for a week and a half or maybe two weeks. We had a pretty good sized budget. We picked Alpha and Omega because it was an all-analog studio and we put it down to real tape. We had our German friend, Mathias Schneeberger, who helped engineer. Now he plays keyboards for Masters of Reality and he’s done work with Goatsnake. But at the time we flew him out from Germany.

That’s actually one of the mistakes I think I made. We didn’t let the label get one of the name producers they wanted. We just wanted to do everything in-house. We had that DIY punk rock ethic. So that’s one of the ways we could have maybe kept the label from falling asleep so quickly, if we had used one of their producers. It probably wouldn’t have gone well, but who knows? We were very paranoid. We wanted to keep things close to our chest.

CBS SF: Since you first got back together with Saint Vitus to tour in the early 2000s, you sort have gone back and forth between playing with them and doing your own thing where you’re playing guitar and singing versus just singing as you do with Vitus. When you take a break with Vitus, how does it feel to have the weight of the guitar back when you’re out onstage?

Scott “Wino” Weinrich: Vitus was a very big part of my life. That band took me across the world. It was an amazing experience. Over the years, I think there’s been some personality issues; some defensiveness and bitterness. I know when I first played guitar in the band, I thought it was blow-down heavy and so did everybody else. There was a little bit of professional jealousy going on there with David [Chandler, Saint Vitus founder and guitarist].

I’m really not that way. I’m a team player. I think it took him a really long time to realize I was on his team, for whatever reason. The bottom line is I did spend a lot of time with Vitus and I feel like that’s how I really learned how to sing. When you don’t have a guitar to hide behind anymore, it’s a whole different ball game. I really enjoyed the role of being just the lead singer.

I didn’t write that many of the song lyrics. I mean, I wrote a few lyrics to a small percentage of the songs, but a lot of people credit me for doing songs that I didn’t write. But I can identify with that stuff, so I can sing it. Sometimes I’d have to insist on a little change here and there. David always would throw me a bone and say, “Hey, do you want to help write this tune?” So I always had a little writing and contributing on every record.

But he was always the guitar player. It was his band. Weirdly enough, I guess they’ve decided to carry on without me, which is kind of a mutual decision. Basically, I want to focus on playing guitar and writing my music. Health-wise, it might have been a blessing in disguise to get out of Saint Vitus, because I had to get really loaded to do that job, you know? [laughs]

Don’t get me wrong; Vitus is a really important part of my life and it’s something that I really love. I totally respect those guys. I wish them well.

CBS SF: The last time we talked, we got on the subject of lost, unsung heavy bands from the 1970s and one of the groups we talked about was Bang. Since then, the group has become active again with two of the three original members. I saw that they’re one of the headliners along with the Obsessed at the Maryland Doom Fest at the end of this month…

Scott “Wino” Weinrich: Yes they are! And you know, I haven’t seen them with the new line-up yet. But I know that Pellet, our manager, he managed them briefly. But he didn’t seem to think that he could do what they needed, so they moved on. That said, I know Dave Sherman has seen them and said they’re absolutely phenomenal. I’ll definitely try to see them Saturday night. I’ve hung out with Frank [Ferrara], the bass player and singer. I’ll see them that Saturday night for sure.

CBS SF: One last question. I know with the new album in the works, the Obsessed will be your main focus for the immediate future. But I’m a big fan of the Shrinebuilder album that came out in 2009 and was lucky enough to see you play in Oakland. Are there any plans for that group to work together again?

Scott “Wino” Weinrich: A lot of people ask me that. I thought that was a very cool trip. Me and Al [Cisneros] have always agreed that we wanted to do another record. Things went a little sour for a minute; there was a little bad blood because of some stuff that happened that was a mistake. But I told Al and everybody that I wanted to do a second record. I think at this point in time, Scott Kelly is putting the kibosh on the thing.

He seems to have some animosity towards me and…whatever man. All I ever wanted to do was play. I think in certain situations, the money pushes some people a little bit more. I’ve never been driven only by money, but I think that came into play with that band. I think the idea with some of these people is to make as much money as possible and to strip it down as much as possible. Whereas I thought with our pedigree, we should be carrying a small amount of production. We should have the people we need to help us have a kick-ass show, and if we lose money or break even the first time, we need to stick with it and it would snowball.

But nobody really listened to me. Nobody listens to me ever, really [laughs]. But I don’t give a f–k. I just say what I think would be right and I put it out there. And if it doesn’t fit, so be it.

The Obsessed, Karma To Burn and Sierra play Slim’s on Thursday, June 2, 7:30 p.m. $21-$26

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