By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the most important of Black Sabbath’s many 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 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 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 from Vitus 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 Records, putting out the landmark album The Church Within in 1994. Unfortunately, poor sales would lead to another dissolution for the band.
Wino briefly retired from music, but soon emerged as a torchbearer for the old-school doom sound. He led 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 acclaimed album Lillie: F-65 in 2012.
Wino also recorded with the doom supergroup Shrinebuilder featuring him alongside Neurosis founder Scott Kelly, Melvins drummer Dale Crover and Sleep/Om bassist Al Cisneros for the quartet’s one self-titled album in 2009 as well as issuing several acoustic albums, including three collaborative collections with fellow songwriter Conny Ochs.
In 2017, 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. That version of the trio recorded and released Sacred for Relapse Records later that year, marking the first new Obsessed album in over two decades.
Wino has stayed busy since then, touring with the band as well as signing a a deal for a new acoustic solo album for Bay Area heavy-rock imprint Ripple Music, which launches the label’s Blood and Strings series of acoustic recordings featuring established doom and hard-rock artists with Wino’s new effort, Forever Gone that was released June 26. CBS SF recently spoke with the guitarist from his home in New York State’s Catskill Mountains about the new recording and how he’s been dealing with the global COVID-19 pandemic.
CBS SF: Ordinarily, I would just dive straight into asking about the album. But under the circumstances, I kind of I feel like an obligation to ask how you’ve been holding up in our new weird American reality between the pandemic and the civil unrest?
Scott “Wino” Weinrich: You know, I think this is all pre-planned. It’s sad and it sucks, but it’s like they were having all the conferences and planning for what they were gonna do two years ago. I think the virus is real. I think it’s bad, but I definitely think it’s been weaponized. This is the opportunity that these people have been looking forward to for a long time to A, reset the economy or reset the global currency and B, to basically just keep their foot on our neck even more. I mean, I personally think that this is this is just part of the big plan and the big plan is basically to reduce or completely get rid of individualism.
You look at the pandemic, you can buy liquor, you can buy cigarettes, but you can’t buy books; you couldn’t buy art supplies. You couldn’t buy anything that makes you an individual. I think slowly but surely, the powers that be — I call it the Big Ugly — they’re going to try to stamp out the individual is a and basically enslave a few more. That’s what I really think. That’s my true beliefs.
CBS SF: Are you close enough to DC that you’ve been able to see what’s gone on there as far as the protests? It sounds it sounds like you’re in a pretty remote area…
Weinrich: I am remote. I’m about three hours from New York City. I’m up in the hills. I’m up in the mountains of the Hudson Valley, in the Catskills. But my children and my band, where we rehearse, is in Maryland, which is very close, D.C. I was actually in D.C. visiting a friend of mine. He’s got a store down there. The only reason he’s still in business is because he has money enough to pay have his whole store sheathed in iron. He has the f–king iron riot doors installed. All of his competitors have either been robbed or looted.
It’s really sad. This is all part of a plan to try to turn people against each other. There are a lot of signs pointing towards government involvement in this s–t. And that’s the really scary part, you know? You know, and you go you to kill people or cull the population, I mean, what do you do? How do explain that s–t to your kids, you know?
CBS SF: As I was preparing for the for the interview last night, I was listening to your song “Manifesto.” And it struck me how spot on that song is, even more so now from when it first came out ten years ago…
Weinrich: You know, I’m going to start playing that song again live. When it first came out, somebody did a really cool video for that song. I think it resonates with people. I just want to play music and enrich people’s lives. That’s what I want to do. That’s the gift that was given. I never thought we’d ever see, social stuff like this in my children’s lifetime, but I guess I was mistaken, unfortunately.
CBS SF: You were set to come out to San Francisco to play the the Ripple Music 10th anniversary party earlier in June. I was one of dozens of things that have been cancelled by the pandemic I was looking forward to. I was I was wondering if you had anything else that got derailed because of the current circumstances, like other touring plans for the summer?
Weinrich: Oh, yeah. Everything. One of my all of my dreams was to play South America, you know? And the Obssessed were slated to go to South America this month. That had to be postponed. Hopefully it’s just postponed. And then, the tail end of the Today Is The Day tour got cancelled. We were having a really great time with Today Is The Day and I think we were playing really well. We had all kinds of stuff set up, man.
The Ripple party I was very disappointed about; that the Ripple party didn’t happen. But I must say, when Todd [Severin, Ripple Music co-founder and CEO] called me, he said “Listen, we’re going to move forward with the record. We’re going to move forward the release date. We’re not going to change the release date. We’re going to go ahead with everything.”
I was blown way. To me, that was really amazing. You know, I decided to call the record Forever Gone and I thought that record was going be forever gone. I thought after recording it, I thought that was it. Todd, he’s a special person and Ripple, it’s a special label and these are special times.
He really impressed me with his tenacity on pushing forward with the music. My deal with him is just product, you know? Like, instead of getting money, I get records so I can sell that stuff on the road. That’s like money in my pocket on the road. But now there is no road! So he told me straight up, he said, “I don’t care where you sell them, I don’t care how you sell them, you’re not going to step on my toes. I just want the music to get out there.” That is f–king amazing, you know?
CBS SF: That’s great. Yeah, Todd is an excellent guy. I’ve only known him for the past couple of years. It’s funny, because we grew up out in the same same part of the the Bay Area, in the East Bay suburbs. But didn’t meet him until a couple years ago. I was going to ask, how did you end up signing with Ripple? I actually think I was there if it went down when you were in San Francisco playing at the Bottom of the Hill. I think it was August of 2018…
Weinrich: That was that wasn’t the night that we officially consummated the deal, but that was the night that started the ball rolling. Matt Bacon basically invited Todd down so we could meet. So after talking about stuff, I met with Matt a couple more times and he sort of clarified for me how the label works. So I sat down and gave it some thought, I decided with the acoustic record, I wanted it to come out on Ripple.
So basically, we signed up for this one record. Whether or not we had to do any electric stuff or not, I don’t know. I hope so. Matt had a lot to do with it. It’s been really cool. He loves music and it’s all about people that love the music.
CBS SF: I was curious with this with this solo album, what’s the difference in the approach that you take with a proper solo record versus what you would you’ve done in the past, say, with the acoustic collaborations with Conny Ochs?
Weinrich: When I was working with Conny, we were in Germany doing it with his producer. Everything was pretty organized and together. I was working with his time frame because I would have to fly back to the States or whatever. So it was pretty regular and went pretty smooth. With Forever Gone. I was recording it over here. I actually did a couple of different sessions over the winter.
And I must say that I wasn’t really happy with some of that stuff that I’d recorded already. The end result was I felt like maybe I hadn’t taken enough time with the material to really think it through. Because a lot of the songs I though were too fast and I felt like I needed a couple more strong songs. So I gave it a couple months and then I went back in and re-recorded the stuff.
I used a couple versions from the very first session. I used “The Song’s At the Bottom of the Bottle” and I used “Was Is Shall Be.” Those two songs I kept from that session and everything else I redid. I redid them to a click, playing them slower and I wanted it to really flesh them out. I wanted them to stay raw, but still flesh them out pretty good.
And then, when all was said and done, for a couple of songs we brought in bass and drums. So I got the Obsessed guys to do that. Both [new bass player] Brian White and Brian Casino, our drummer, really stood up and slayed. They laid down some killer stuff.
It was good all the way around. It took a long time, but Frank Marchand, the engineer, he is amazing. He works me, he makes great suggestions. and he really pushes me to excel in the studio. It took a little bit longer and it was a little bit less organized, but I’m happy with the end result.
CBS SF: You ended up reworking four tunes that you’d done with Conny on your previous collaborations. Were those songs that you had in mind to do new versions of?
Weinrich: Not only were they good candidates, but I really wanted them to kind of come to the surface. I mean, because of that we recorded those on Exile on Mainstream Records. Here in the states, a lot of people don’t have that stuff. The only people would get that stuff is usually when I have a lot of it to sell myself, you know? So I kind of felt like those were really some of my stronger songs and I want them to see the light of day.
I definitely consulted with Andreas [Khol], the label guy with Exile on Mainstream over there to let them know what I want him to do, and they were totally cool. I mean, it wasn’t like I was just doing anything rogue. I mean, those are my tunes anyway. I feel like they rounded out the record real good.
CBS SF: I know that Frank Marchand worked with you on Sacred, but given that he’s from Maryland, I was wondering if you if you had history with him before that?
Weinrich: Not that much. Not that much at all, actually. I know him and on occasion we’d run into each other. To be honest with you, I knew he was an engineer, but I never knew how good. I heard some stuff he did. A lot of what he would do for the local bands, he would do really out of the kindness of his heart. He’d be like, “Pay me money later, come on in and record.” And a lot of that stuff never saw the light of day because some of these artists would never come back to get their stuff or they never paid him.
But for one reason or another, I don’t really know, I never knew he was as good as he was. So when we finally got together and we got to talking in his studio and I saw what he had going on, I was blown away. I pretty much plan on using Fred for the foreseeable future.
CBS SF: When I was looking at his background. I was impressed at the breadth of stuff he had done. I say he did something with Bad Brains and he worked with Bob Mould. I also saw he worked with Calexico, which actually kind of made sense given the sound of this album. There is a band that gets this certain atmosphere for both their live shows and their recordings. And I think he kind of imparted a little of that kind of atmosphere on this record. It sounds phenomenal…
Weinrich: I’m excited about to talk about Frank. He’s got the best of both worlds. He’s got full and total command of the digital realm and all the newest stuff, but for instruments, he’s got all the cool analog stuff. He’s got all the cool vintage pedals. I mean, it’s like a Les Paul orgy in there. He’s got all these guitars, he’s got drums.
Like, he’s got so many bitching snare drums that you can really tailor the sound of each song with different drums. So he’s got it all going on, man. He’s really an intense guy and a fantastic producer. And also a musician. I mean, he was the actually the first choice that I ask to play bass to the band. He’s a great bass player, but he respectfully decline because he does other things.
CBS SF: So you did some multi-tracking on the on the album, like you already mentioned that the guys from Obsessed contributed. You did additional vocals and I’m figuring that’s your electric guitar on the various songs where there was electric guitar added. But “Song’s from the Bottom of the Bottle” sounded like a straight, stripped-down live take. Was that one where you did a few takes and just picked the best one?
Weinrich: Yeah, that was I think maybe the first take of the second session. And then if you listen, there might be a second guitar there. I think it’s basically just one guitar and I fattened it up with another guitar, just playing the same things. The one that I used from the very original first session was “Was Is and Shall Be.” I don’t know if you noticed or not, but on “Lavender and Sage” and “Was Is and Shall Be,” the female voice in the chorus of those songs are by my young daughter.
CBS SF: Oh, really? I was going to ask you who that was…
Weinrich: That was her dream. It was her dream to come into the studio. I was just totally overjoyed to be able to give that to her, you know?
CBS SF: That’s awesome. How old is she?
Weinrich: She’s twelve.
CBS SF: That’s fantastic that you were able to get her involved. Those are two of my favorite songs, to be honest, Let me just jump ahead a little, because I was going to ask specifically about those anyway. I understand why you’d put the Joy Division cover “Isolation” at the end of the album as a great kick-ass way to close things out.
But I thought that “Lavender and Sage” could have been the last song on the album too. It’s elegiac and haunting. It actually kind of reminds me a little bit of “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails. Not the melody so much as the mood. I was going to ask what was the inspiration behind that tune?
Weinrich: Well, “Lavender and Sage” is kind of personal; like a personal journey. That was a song about one person in particular who really colored my life and I feel like at the time I was a little bit too out there, you know? It’s been a strange life and it’s been kind of a struggle playing this music and dedicating my life to playing this music. And along the way, there’s a lot of heartache and a lot of experiences. I just felt I should put that element into the music.
I must say that was really the hardest song of the whole record, the whole procedure. I actually had been working on the lyrics to that song for a couple of years. So that was the big hold up. That was the one song that held us up and that’s the one Frank started to get a bit pissed off about. Because he’s like, “You need to get those lyrics together and get that song in!” He thought the song was good. One day I was just like, “Ok, I’ve got to make this happen.” And I kind of had the divine inspiration to finish it off, which I was really glad about.
You know, sometimes in situations like that, I have to try to change my whole approach to the tune. I have to put myself in another state of mind. And somehow I managed to do that and I managed to finish that tune and it came out really good, I think. It definitely is kind of the weird ballad on the on the record, but I was happy the way it came out. And I felt very relieved when I finished it because it was one of those things that kind of hung with me for so many years and I could never really nail down. And I was finally able to nail down it. I’m super happy. I’ll probably start playing it live too, I hope.
CBS SF: There are two songs on the album — we already mentioned one,”Was Is and Shall Be” — and “You’re So Fine” that both kind of depart from the more dark, somber vibe of the record. “You’re So Fine” kind of has this summertime swagger to it. It almost sounds like it could be like a lost Skynyrd tune. “Was Is and Shall Be” offers a little hope and redemption. Were you looking to bring something different as far as mood to the album with those two songs?
Weinrich: I was, but it also felt like they were natural songs; they came naturally to me. But yeah, I think it did help to break up, like you say, the somber mood. “Was Is and Shall Be” was inspired by a few things. It was was inspired by a love interest, but it was also inspired by a saying. It’s actually a Russian toast. I was with a friend of mine, this Russian guy. He gave a toast in Russian and I said, “What’s that?” He goes, “That’s a toast we do that means ‘What was, what is and what shall be.'”
And I thought it was really profound in kind of an oblique way and I kind of tied that into how I was feeling about love. It’s something that’s in you, it’s something that has to come in and something that’s there. I felt that it had a hopeful vibe. And “You’re So Fine,” that’s what it is. It’s a straight up, feel good rock and roll song. Again, I think was just how I was feeling.That’s another song that I’d been carrying around for a little while and wanted it to see the light of day.
You know, when you were talking about the somber vibes, I did want to mention one thing. The lyrics to the second song, “Taken,” those lyrics were given to me by Brian Constantinos, the drummer from the Obsessed. Those are lyrics he wrote about his mother because he never met his real mother.
Periodically, he’ll give me a piece of paper. He’ll say, “Oh, you know, I was just messing around with some lyrics. If you ever feel like you can use these, take them. Here you go.” He’s given me a couple songs. These particular lyrics, they really touched me. I was blown away by how passionate and how tortured they were and he was, in a way.
So I took the lyrics and I didn’t really tell him I was gonna do it. And I came up with that one riff and I knew right away, “Ok, this is going to be his song.” And so I wrote the music, added the lyrics and played him a Garageband version of it. I said, “Hey man, this is a gift to you from me. This is your birthday present.”
I was blown away to be able to do that for him and he was blown away. He played it for his relatives. That song, it’s dark as hell. I think it’s really dark. But at the same time, it’s life for him and it’s life for me. I just want to add that because I wanted to give him credit for those lyrics and to explain how that happened.
CBS SF: The first time we talked over ten years ago, you mentioned that you thought of Johnny Cash as kind of a doom pioneer given the darkness and heaviness of some of his songs. A few years after that you, contributed to that Townes Van Zandt tribute record with the guys from Neurosis. “Bottom of the Bottle” definitely has a Townes Van Zandt vibe to it. Did you have him in mind when you wrote that song or were there any songwriters you were thinking of by way of inspiration for that tune?
Weinrich: Not really. I mean, the inspiration for that song came from a talk I was having with Mark Adams from Saint Vitus on the bus one night after a show. His father was really the country music and he was in the country music a little bit. But he told me his father, who was deceased, had said to him, “You know, the song’s at the bottom of the bottle.” His father wasn’t a musician. Again, I thought that was profound, more so considering Mark came from a whole line where all the males in his family were alcoholics except one. And they all died from alcohol except one. He’s still alive, but I think he suffers from the same ailments.
The bottom line is it became like a lifestyle song. It’s a song about choices. I wasn’t thinking about Townes Van Zandt when recorded that, but his stuff is a pretty big influence on me. I watched the movie “Heartworn Highway” and there’s guy at the end of that movie talking about him who said Townes Van Zandt’s music was avant garde. And that’s so true for his genre. He stood with his songs and the way he delivered them and his phrasing were so unique. It’s mind blowing. I don’t like everything; I don’t like really happy sounding music. I especially don’t like how, after his demise, they added strings to his songs. I can’t stand that s–t.
But he was a definitely a big influence. Recently I’ve gotten into some Tyler Childers. I really like that song “Hard Times.” I really like that song “Nose on the Grindstone.” So I take my influences from everywhere, but I really like the darker stuff. As I said before, the more melancholy stuff I think is just more expressive of this life. And that’s what seems to have always gripped me.
CBS SF: I’ve read the “Isolation” cover could be traced back to when you lived with Joe Lally from Fugazi and how you introduced him to the Stooges Raw Power album and he introduced you to Joy Division. It does what a good cover should, staying true to the song but bringing it somewhere new…
Weinrich: I heard somebody say it was “countrified.” It’s definitely different. It almost sounds a little bit more upbeat, a little happier. I’ve loved that song my whole life and I’ve always wanted to record it. I’ve always covered it. I’m glad you like it. I really was hopeful that we would do it justice, you know?
CBS SF: You’ve done a number of interesting covers, like the Savoy Brown song from Adrift, and I’ve seen you do your acoustic version of Motorhead’s “Iron Horse (Born to Lose),” which is amazing. Did you have any other covers that you considered for this album? Have you ever thought about doing like an album of just covers?
Weinrich: You know, that’s been postulated. Some other people have mentioned that to me. But I think I’ve got too much original stuff right now to do that. Although that would be pretty cool. The Townes Van Zandt covers that I play a lot of times in my set, whether it be “A Song For…” or “Nothin’.”
Really quick, back when we were doing the CD of Townes Van Zandt songs, I kind of struggled. I had to do three songs for the CD version of that tribute. On the record, they struck one of my songs out, so the third song was really a struggle to find. I wanted to do something in the vein of “Nothin'” or “A Song For.” And so I redid “Rake.” At the time. Scott Kelly was the only person I know who had covered “Rake.” So I asked him if it was cool if I redid “Rake,” and he said yeah.
Then I noticed Dorothia [Cottrell from Windhand] did it on her solo record and I noticed Mike [Scheidt from YOB] did it for the second volume. So that’s allowed. I just think “A Song For…” is one of the heaviest songs ever written. If I ever cover a Townes song electric, it’s got to be that one for sure. And I’ve wanted to do that for a long time, to cover “A Song For…” electric. What a heavy tune. He was really intense.
You know, another friend of mine who’s in a motorcycle club in Texas, he turned me on to Blaze Foley. Falling. He’s got some really interesting stuff going on. I don’t like everything he does, but he’s got that really great voice. There’s a couple songs of his that I really love, like “In the Misty Garden.” What a f–king great tune that is. He’s got this deep voice and you can tell that his life has been really hard with a lot of heartache. The way he died, man…
He was friends with Townes Van Zandt. They were all in the same little group of outlaw songwriters in Texas. I guess when he died, they put some money together to get his guitar out of pawn. It’s a pretty interesting story. The Duct Tape Messiah they called him. I’m a late bloomer to all this stuff, but I’m starting to dig deep into the Americana folk music scene to try to find those tunes. I’m always looking for that one tune to cover. So, yeah, I derive a lot of inspiration from that stuff. But if I were to do another cover, man, is going to be that Townes Van Zandt tune “A Song For…”
CBS SF: Beyond the limbo that touring and live performances are currently in, what other plans to you have in the works? From our past conversations, it seemed like a reunion with St. Vitus or Shrinebuilder probably weren’t in the cards. Do you plan to work on a new Obsessed album or do you have any other newer projects you’ve got cooking?
Weinrich: What I’m working on right now, what we’re working on, is the next Obsessed record. Of course, we encountered major slowdown; the train came to a halt completely for a minute, because Brian White our bass player, he’s got older parents he’s in very close proximity with. So with the worries about this virus, we basically halted work on the new record. But we have the record fleshed out as far as the basic ideas and the songs that are going to be on the next Obsessed record. That’s going to be my focus.
We are still booked at this fest in Taos, New Mexico. They moved it to September. So with any luck, we’re going to be playing Monolith on the Mesa in September. So that’s what we’ve got on the books right now. There’s also some talk about the Obsessed going into Canada, and I guess Psycho Smoke Out [a Los Angeles festival scheduled in April] has also been moved. I don’t know, I can’t remember what the exact date on that was.
I did a streaming thing for Cult Nation playing the acoustic guitar here at the house I’m living in. It was kind of weird. A lot of people said it was good, but it looked like I wasn’t that into it. It was hard to get into; I had a deadline and redid it a bunch of times. Playing your whole set all the way through with no audience…I was pretty enthusiastic about it, but I guess it didn’t translate. Whatever it might be, that’s what the world is these days. We talked about the Obsessed getting together to stream something. If we can get the audio together, we were going to do it in Frank’s studio. So that’s still in the works maybe.
It really pisses me off because, basically, it’s sort of like the story of my life in a way. Right when I’m starting to see a lot more people getting into the music, a lot more people being exposed to my music, I saw my numbers come up as far as record sales and stuff. And then this virus.
It just goes to show you can’t really rely on your government. You can’t look to government or these leaders to f–king help you in any way. I mean, they’re giving everybody relief, they’re printing all this fiat money. They’re getting people hooked on the government again because everybody lost their jobs and needs the unemployment money. But you know the hammer’s gonna come down; you know it is. How can it last? There’s no gold to the back up the money, there hasn’t been for years.
All I really want to do is bring my music out to the people; to play my music and try to enjoy my life and try to enjoy my children. My children’s lives they’ve been majorly impacted by this. My young daughter who sang on the record, she said to me, “You know, this is scary. I’m scared.” And it’s so hard know when you hear that, because there’s nothing you can do really. I mean, all I can do is vote with the small voice that I have. So I appreciate the venue to be able to talk about things a little bit, because it’s all that we have.