Interview: Wino Talks About Signing to Volcom, Going Acoustic, Savoy Brown, Pentagram, Spirit Caravan, New Shrinebuilder, Saint Vitus and Much More
He might be the single most pivotal figure in American doom. Scott “Wino” Weinrich, in a career that’s lasted more than 30 years and is only showing signs of speeding up, has assembled the greatest pedigree in heavy music that doesn’t belong to someone with the last name Iommi. From his years in outfits The Obsessed and Saint Vitus to his ongoing involvement with the supergroup Shrinebuilder, Wino has left a stamp on the genre that — try as many might — simply cannot be duplicated.
And yet, it’s not his legacy that he wants to talk about. In our interview last week, there was some discussion of the “old days,” of course, but it was more about the work of others with whom he’s played, or been friends with — and what was coming next — that really seemed to be what was driving him most. The love of the music. What the hell other reason could there be? There’s no glamor in it. Who the hell cares if a bunch of bearded dudes say, “Cool riffs, bro?” If you don’t love Heavy, you go do something else. You certainly don’t make it your life’s work.
Next month, Volcom Entertainment will release the LP version of Wino‘s first solo acoustic album, Adrift (review here; CD available on Exile on Mainstream), and if you’re unfamiliar with the man’s doings in any of the above bands, or Shine/Spirit Caravan, The Hidden Hand, Dave Grohl‘s Probot, Victor Griffin‘s Place of Skulls or his innumerable guest spots and contributions to others, let it say something that after 30 years, he’s still pushing himself into new territories.
There was a lot to talk about and limited time, but in the Q&A below, Wino discusses the experience of writing and recording Adrift following the death of bassist Jon Blank of the Wino band (also featuring drummer Jean-Paul Gaster of Clutch), the origins of his new, two-guitar outfit, Premonition, where some of the drive to keep starting over comes from, his deep and abiding respect for his fellow players, the status of the Spirit Caravan reunion that bassist Dave Sherman alluded to some while back on this site, and much more.
It was a very conversational interview, as you can see for yourself after the jump. Please enjoy.
Are you signed to Volcom? I know they’re doing the EP release of Adrift.
We aren’t physically signed yet, but we are going to sign. Maybe as soon as this weekend. We’ve been back and forth between the legal people, and yeah, I think so. I’ve got a couple releases coming out, and I think it’s a pretty cool opportunity.
How did that all come about?
Saint Vitus. The music director [at Volcom] does this single thing. The monthly singles club, or however much time it is. He’s gonna do a Saint Vitus single. So you know they’re pretty loose (laughs), if they’re gonna do a Vitus single. Basically, what happened was, David [Chandler, Saint Vitus guitarist]’s personal manager is also our tour manager, this guy Rodney. He’s been working in the industry for a long time, buying merchandise and all that kind of shit. He knew about Volcom, so he arranged to have the single done and out. David didn’t like the ending to one of the songs, he rejected the music, so then he contacted my friend, sort of my best buddy who travels around and records everything we do. He just happened to have a whole bunch of Vitus stuff, so he put my buddy in touch with Volcom, Volcom found out he was hanging out with me and said, “Oh, we’re big fans, we’d really like to get in touch about doing something,” and the next thing you know, we’re down here working out a record deal. I think it’s pretty cool. I think it’s a great corporation. Everybody’s got a real good vibe, there’s no pressure at all. As long as we sell some records, it’ll be cool.
What do you have coming out this year?
They licensed Adrift for a limited edition vinyl and I think they went through them already, so they’re probably going to license another run. Me and Scott Kelly from Neurosis, we do this acoustic thing, so we’re teaming up to do a mini-tour, it’s like eight cities. He’s been doing that for a while now, playing acoustic around, but I just started doing it. We’ve got a single coming out on Volcom, where each of us do one song on each side. That’s coming out. They licensed Adrift. And Premonition, this band I’ve been working with for… Well, I’ve known the one guy for 20 years and we never did anything, finally decided to make a record. And they liked the demos, so they said they’d put it out. We did a single, and we’re right in the process right now of mixing a full-length. Suddenly I’ll have a lot of releases out on Volcom. They give a pretty fair deal.
I had heard the idea behind Premonition was to just play live.
Maybe that’s the same person who said we were gonna be an all-improv band. I don’t know. Basically, here’s the deal: Me and my buddy, we’ve known each other for 20-plus years. We’ve always jammed together. Two guitar players. He has this woodshed out in the middle of nowhere, we can crank it up at whatever hour. We’ve been doing that for years and years, and he really wanted to make a record. We had good chemistry, and I said, “Okay, we’ll make a record.” It’s a good opportunity for me to jam some more and keep my word. The songs are good. He sings and writes some stuff too, and I’m the guitar player. So all of a sudden, I’ve branched out into two guitars. It’s pretty new.
It’s got to feel a little strange to be doing stuff like that at this point in your career. After playing guitar for so long, suddenly you’re doing acoustic records and joining bands with two guitars.
The thing of it is, the power trio, for as much power as you can have, is definitely limited. As I’ve matured as a player, I like a challenge. You can lock a good groove, and hey, power trios are cool, but there’s just three of you. That’s fine if it’s together, but if it’s not together, it’s not together (laughs), you know what I mean? The thing about playing with another guitar player is, I did most of the writing in my career – except [Spirit Caravan bassist Dave] Sherman wrote a considerable amount of stuff, and I wrote a lot of the stuff. Now, I have other input, other ideas for songs coming at me, and that spurs my creativity. If I get really into somebody else’s song. Usually it’s a challenge to learn other people’s stuff, because everybody has a different rhythm, a different way of counting. Like when Kelly writes something, I just cannot fucking count it. Eventually I’ll feel it, but I’ll try to count it, and man, “Is that six? Seven?” And people say the same thing about me. It’s just fun.
And like you say, it’s a challenge too.
The acoustic thing is more daunting than playing electric. You’re up there by yourself with a wooden guitar. You don’t have any band members. You don’t have a wall behind you. I started to pay attention to some classic Americana that I’d overlooked. I started to realize that it was pretty ballsy. The way I got into it was, unfortunately, Jon’s death, but I’m glad I did. It was Jean-Paul [Gaster] from Clutch [also drummer for the Wino band]. When the bass player from Punctuated Equilibrium died suddenly, right on the eve of a big tour with Clutch – I was just thinking about Jon last night, he was so good – but when that happened, Jean-Paul was like, “Look, we should let him go. Why don’t you just play acoustic, get on the bus with us, travel with us, and warm up the Clutch show?” My first thoughts were, “Holy fuck.” I didn’t want to do it, because, you know, I remember Clutch in the early days, when they were punk rock and shit, and their crowds were pretty brutal. I was thinking, “Man, acoustic guitar in front of a Clutch crowd? I don’t know.” And he was like, “Hey man, times have changed.” They took out William Elliott Whitmore and Kelly Carmichael. So I did it, and it went over pretty good, surprisingly. I made a go of it, and after that, I just decided to keep doing it, because it’s fun. Fun and challenging. Plus, I like writing songs, too. A song that’s just one guy on an acoustic guitar is definitely different than a full band.
Did you do a lot of writing on acoustic before, or would you write riffs on electric guitar?
Usually whatever’s laying around. I didn’t have acoustics for some years, but usually if there’s one laying around, that’s good to do a bunch of writing on. You can just pick it up wherever when you get an idea. Could be anytime.
It had to be a different experience recording the acoustic record.
It was hard. Way hard. It’s really strange. It was harder than I thought it was gonna be, by a longshot. But something strange: Adrift is probably gonna be the biggest selling album of my career, except for Probot. I’m stunned by the response, and I’m stunned by the sales, but I don’t know, man… (laughs). You know, when I put that record out, I really figured it was a crap shoot. I figured some people were gonna like it, I’d take a lot of heat from people saying, “Ah, is he gonna mellow out? He’s playing acoustic. Is he gonna go soft?” Man, I’m not gonna fucking mellow out (laughs). I can’t mellow out. Are you kidding? But I don’t care what people say. I’m trying to get deeper into the acoustic, and it’s getting darker and heavier. Getting easier to play slow.
Is that a challenge?
Yeah. You’re up there by yourself, so usually you’re pretty amped up. I have a tendency to ramp my speed up a little bit, and I just have to force myself to slow back down. Without a drummer. But it’s cool. We’re gonna be at the Mercury Lounge for our last show. You’re in New York, right?
New Jersey, yeah… I remember seeing The Hidden Hand in Philly around the second album. You played with SunnO))) at some art gallery.
I remember that show (laughs). That’s the first time I’d ever seen SunnO))), that show. It was an insane show. That place is fucking insane. Rods and Cones or whatever it was. Weird place. I thought The Hidden Hand was a fun band, man. I really had high hopes for that band. As I had high hopes for Spirit Caravan, you know? People are under the impression that I start a band, that I use a band to climb up the ladder, then just ditch the guys, and it’s totally untrue. I’ve been hearing a lot of these rumors lately. The bottom line is this: There’s always people out there that really want you to fail. That’s just humans. I’ve heard that rumor. But it’s definitely not true. I really, really thought that every one of those bands was gonna be the one.
Why would you start a band, get a bunch of momentum going, and then have to start over? How is that supposed to be climbing a ladder? I don’t really understand that.
It’s daunting to start over too. Another thing was, in the Spirit Caravan days, I had just come back from California, and people were always tauting me as having major accomplishments. To be honest with you, I didn’t have much of a discography at that point. I got totally straight and all that stuff, but I feel like I was a little uptight. I feel like I was a little uptight, because the other guys were drinking a lot on tour, and I was always having to babysit, that’s how I felt. But at the same time, I think I might have been a little bit uptight. My state of mind has changed. Right when I turned 50, I was like, “I’m gonna enjoy the rest of this life, and I’m not gonna worry as much, because it’s not worth it.” I have a better attitude towards things now. I don’t know if things would have been any different. Pretty serious reasons why those bands ended. Usually it has to do with somebody’s personality. Somebody flipping out. Let me see if I can cite a couple hard examples… Throwing a plate of food at the wall backstage, right in front of the lady who cooked it and saying, “This is dogshit,” as the plate slid down the wall. That’s kind of when I knew it was over with The Hidden Hand. When the drummer shows up to a really important band meeting drunk off his ass and proceeds to give me a bunch of lip, you know, just off the rocker, that was another one. I don’t know, man. I try. You try harder, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen.
You keep going anyway. It doesn’t seem to hold you back.
It affects you, of course, but I’m gonna keep going. This is all I do. 50 now, It’s not like I’m gonna learn a trade or something. That’s one thing about it. Sometimes when I’m home, I see people walking around in the middle of the day and I catch myself thinking, “Man, wouldn’t it be nice to have a regular, stable nine to five?” but man, within seconds, I’m like, “Agh, this is what I do.” I enjoy it. I really enjoy it, but you’ve got to sacrifice a lot for sure. It’s a tradeoff. The thing about my situation, my karma or whatever, is you can bet your ass that the best gig, the best tour I’ll be offered, will be right on my wife’s birthday, or my son’s birthday, graduation, or something really super fucking important. It happens every time. Every fucking time. I’m gonna miss my daughter’s birthday in March on the Vitus tour. I missed my son’s birthday in October on the Vitus tour. I did a lot of touring in Europe. September all the way past the New Year. But like I say, I guess you’ve got to be willing to make those sacrifices. Most people are sane, and not willing to make those sacrifices, but you gotta carry the torch, I guess. It’s what I do, and that’s pretty much it.
And you’re doing Roadburn again this year?
With Shrinebuilder, yeah. Have you seen Shrinebuilder yet?
Yeah, at Le Poisson Rouge, in New York.
That was a great show, yeah. That was one of those magical shows where everything on stage is picture perfect. The sound was perfect, the lights were perfect, everybody played real well. Except for me and Al [Cisneros, bass; also of Om], we almost had a collision on stage. Aside from that, I thought that was a fun show. That’s a fun band for me. That’s really a fun band for me. Playing with [drummer Dale] Crover, man? Fuck. If I were to die right now (coughs), or couldn’t play music, I’d have to be happy, because I got to play with Crover, [Probot spearhead Dave] Grohl, and Gaster.
Those are pretty good notches on the belt, those three.
It’s humbling for me, because those guys… When [Chris] Hakius quit Om and the Sleep trip – he was also gonna be in Shrinebuilder – he was in the original conception, me, him and Al. He quit and we were just like, “Fuck, what are we gonna do now?” Al went like, “Who’s you’re favorite drummer we could have?” and everybody said Crover. And then he fucking accepted! I think it was just fated to happen, but it’s a fun band to play in, that’s for sure.
Are you guys going to do another record this year?
Yeah, we are. We’re starting to get the songs ready. The songs are written. That’s one good thing that came out of that volcano, actually. We couldn’t get over to Europe, and it’s the only time we all had together, so we all went to L.A., to the rehearsal room, and basically fleshed out the record. We played one part of it on this last tour we did, but yeah. It’s gonna be cool. It’s gonna be heavy as hell. Actually, it’s fucking really fucking heavy. Kelly’s writing some amazing stuff, and we’re all collaborating. He’s a great guitar player. He won’t tell you that he is, but he’s a great guitar player. He may not be Yngwie Malmsteen, but he knows the power of a song and delivery for sure.
That comes out in his acoustic stuff too, definitely.
Do you like that stuff?
Yeah, I do. I was a big fan of his earlier solo stuff too, and Blood and Time.
Did you get a chance to hear Adrift?
Yeah, I bought one of the wood-box versions from Exile on Mainstream. Did a whole review. The short version is “I liked it.” I think the “Shot in the Head” cover was my favorite.
“Shot in the Head.” What a great fucking song. Savoy Brown did that song. What’s really interesting about that song, I heard that song when I was young. Young young. A boy. When I was an adolescent. I loved it. I immediately loved it. But I only heard it that one time, and I never heard it again until two years ago, when my buddy who was really into Savoy Brown, I was like, “You know ‘Shot in the Head?’” and he was like, “Hell yeah, that’s on Lion’s Share!” It just blew my mind that after all that time, there it was. I did it a little bit differently, but if you go to that record and look up who wrote that song, Vanda and Young wrote that song. The AC/DC production team. It seemed a little strange. The two producer guys tried to write a hit or something (laughs). But, to me, that’s pretty much the epitome of the lifestyle. I think it’s a cool song.
It was a good fit on the record. I thought it was interesting in general that you would do the acoustic record, but it made sense, given the circumstances that brought it on.
Yeah, I had a rough year. Jon died the year before, then my separation and all that shit. The separation getting nasty. She got the kids involved, as far as making it so I couldn’t see them. All that kind of stuff built up, and Andreas [Kohl] from Exile is pretty much the visionary. He had asked me a while back, years back, “Would you ever consider doing an acoustic record? I think it would be great and I’d put it out,” and I just wasn’t interested. He had William Elliott Whitmore and was way into it. I finally decided to do it, and he’s the visionary, because he put me up with this German singer-songwriter named Conny Ochs. The second show, we were backstage jamming, and we knew it was on. He’s a great player, and we had this chemistry that’s pretty cool. The rest of the tour, we just jammed together during each other’s sets, and it was great. He really helped it out, because he’s pretty dynamic on his own, and I’d bring him up about halfway through my set and close the set with a little more of a raucous jam, and it was working out real good. Andreas is pretty on the ball. He’s a really, really great guy. He makes the music scene turn in his part of the world.
There’s a lot of great stuff over there right now.
Europe is insane. They were the first to catch on to the heavy music and they’re still doing it. The heavy rock revival in the States has happened what, the last five years? It’s been building, but your cult followings got bigger with Sleep, Om, Neurosis and all that kind of stuff. Melvins, of course. The Melvins. Look at The Melvins. Did they start the same time – let me think about this now. I guess Pentagram is older.
They had those demos from ’84 that got released a couple years ago.
You gotta figure, in ’84, The Obsessed was together, but I don’t think we’d done anything. Maybe starting to play out. They’ve been doing it for a while. It’s cool. And they never stopped. I did an interview with a guy earlier in the day who’s doing a piece on Pentagram, and he was asking me a bunch of questions about them. Pentagram has definitely got their loyal following.
I just saw them in Brooklyn with Victor playing guitar, they were pretty great.
Who’s playing drums?
Tim Tomaselli, from Place of Skulls.
But now Gary [Isom, drums; also ex-Spirit Caravan]’s out of the band, right?
Yeah, I think so.
I think those guys clashed a little bit, him and Bobby [Liebling] from what I heard. But yeah, that’s too bad. The guy who was doing the interview just told me they were looking for a drummer. Their press release said Tim was only filling in, so it’s interesting. Where the fuck’s Hasselvander?
I interviewed Bobby last year and he…
A little bit. Enough that Hasselvander posted a response, a “Screw you” kind of situation. I think there’s some bad blood there.
That’s a trip. Pentagram, man. They were one of the first bands that came out. I saw them with Richard Kueht and Vance [Bockis], who later became the first Obsessed singer. I saw that version of Pentagram warm up Judas Priest out here that was a converted supermarket, called Louie’s Rock City. I walked in there, and they were playing “Review Your Choices” or something like that, and I had no idea there was another band that was the kind of music that I liked, that was like us, in our whole area. I walked in there and I was blown away by this fucking heavy sound, and Bobby. The whole delivery was just insane. That was right around the time of the High Voltage single. “Scream.” That was a pretty heavy lineup. So that’s how I got to know those guys. I met Vance later, and I saw Bobby once after that, and the next thing you know, Vance was in the band. [Hasselvander] was another guy that was instrumental. I remember he was the first guy to start talking about Motörhead, and the first guy to talk about Venom. I remember distinctly, he could play “Overkill,” the drum thing, and was doing it way back when, before I’d even heard them yet. He was instrumental, really. I kind of expected him to be in the band.
One last thing. I talked to Sherman not too long ago and he said you guys were going to do a Spirit Caravan reunion?
Well, there’s been talk about doing it again, and Sherman just proved to me again why I don’t want to work with him. I don’t really want to go into details, because I don’t want to embarrass him, but he’s the kind he’s the kind of guy who’ll know something real private about you and he’ll just – out of the blue – decide to talk about with it with some wacky journalist chick who’s almost a stalker. He’s gonna tell her all this fucking shit, all this private shit that he knows. Bottom line is you just don’t do that, man. After all we’vebeen through. After all the things he’s done to cause the acrimony in the band, then he still does something like this. It’s mind-boggling. So I don’t know. I just don’t know if I can do this thing again. I was the one like, “I’m gonna offer an olive branch to Gary, we’re gonna do it.” We got all excited about it, talking about it and all this shit, and next thing you know, he’s running his mouth about the this crazy shit that he shouldn’t be talking about at all, to this Mouth of the South peckerwood chick, who’s seriously a stalker. Okay. So that spun around and I heard about it right away, and I never dreamed in a million years that I was gonna hear someone talking about that. Fucking Sherman. He’s a piece of work, I tell ya. I love him, man, but he’s just a piece of work (laughs).California, Exile on Mainstream, Los Angeles, Premonition, Saint Vitus, Shrinebuilder, The Hidden Hand, Volcom, Wino