Odd as it may seem today, being a heavy metal band in the late-'70s or much of the '80s and utilizing Black Sabbath and other '70s pioneers as your blueprint was career suicide.
But the Los Angeles-based Saint Vitus — guitarist Dave Chandler, bassist Mark Adams, and original drummer Armando Acosta, with three different singers — weathered the 1980s sounding and looking the part, releasing what would eventually be a slew of highly influential records (mostly via punk band Black Flag's SST label).
At the time, there were but a tiny handful of bands attempting this proto-doom-metal style, including Trouble, Pentagram, and Witchfinder General, but it is Saint Vitus that provided the first prominent vehicle for vocalist Scott "Wino" Weinrich, who is today justifiably considered a legend within that scene. Vitus had other singers who fronted the band on a few records, but it is the Wino-fronted lineup (roughly 1985 to 1991) that produced the band's most groundbreaking work.
After breaking up a subsequent lineup in 1995, Saint Vitus reunited for a few shows in 2003 then laid low (due to Wino's commitments in other bands) until reuniting again in 2009. In the last three years, Vitus has played hugely successful shows and released the well-received Lillie-65 album earlier this year on the Season of Mist label.
The Wino-fronted lineup will hit the Hi-Tone Café on Saturday night. Recently, the Flyer caught up with founding guitarist Dave Chandler.
Flyer: What was it like to be the only Los Angeles band playing Black Sabbath-influenced metal throughout the '80s?
Dave Chandler: We would go out with Black Flag and people hated us ... threw stuff at us. Then we would go back out and play the same places, and it took a couple of years, but they accepted us. We were their metal band. And as far as how we looked, we would overhear negative comments because I had a beard, and no one had facial hair. We sort of stood out in every way possible during the '80s.
Have you had problems with royalties of the sort that Hüsker Dü, Meat Puppets, and other bands weathered with SST over the years?
Actually, we are currently in the process of getting all of the masters and rights to the SST titles back from the label, so we can do a run of proper reissues ourselves. We had to hire a lawyer to handle this for us, so I'm not sure if we are on the best of terms with SST at the moment.
I read somewhere that you guys were "dropped" from SST in 1989, but is that accurate? Did you simply leave the label like many of your contemporaries (Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, Screaming Trees, etc.) at the time?
We left the label ... We were not dropped. When we played Europe for the first time, everyone who came to the shows told us that they couldn't find our records in stores. We went back and asked SST about this, and they told us that they were distributing our records overseas, which was clearly untrue.
You were active during the first run, until 1995, then you broke up for eight or so years and reunited with the Wino lineup in 2003. What sparked the 2003 reunion? What had changed for the band in terms of acceptance and audience numbers?
At the Chicago show in 2003, we were not used to having that many people into what we were doing at a stateside show. People drove from different states to see that show, and that was the first time we stopped and thought maybe we did have an impact on things. As for what led to the 2003 reunion, I was in a band called Debris Inc., and we played the Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany. We ended our set with a cover of the Vitus song "Born Too Late." During the set, we had a bit of people watching us, but when we hit the first few notes of "Born Too Late," a ton of people crowded up and started singing along to the song. So that got us to start thinking about the possibility of a few reunion shows.
You reunited again in 2009 for a few shows. What was it about those shows that got the band to start thinking about doing an album with the Wino lineup?
The Roadburn Festival in Holland. The people from Hellfest approached us about playing that festival, which was a big deal because they put us on one of the main stages and we were able to play in front of thousands of people. It was shortly after that we started to talk about the possibility of doing an album of new material.
So how did the deal with Season of Mist, for your most recent album, come about?
Season of Mist seemed to be the one that would actually push us after they put out the record, not just sign us, put out the record, then move everything to the backburner so they could say, "We signed Saint Vitus." Season of Mist, so far, have done everything they said they would and more. We are really happy with the way they have treated us.
Saint Vitus, with Weedeater and Sourvein
Saturday, September 15th, 7:30 p.m.; $15