In 2012, it will have been 17 years since Saint Vitus released their last studio album, Die Healing. Following the dissolution, 2003 reformation, dissolution and ongoing 2009 reunion of the band, the new full-length, reportedly titled Lillie: F-65, will be issued on March 27 by Season of Mist. It’s the first album to feature drummer Henry Vasquez, who came aboard in 2009 to fill the role of the late and then-ailing Armando Acosta, and the first album since 1990’s V to feature Scott “Wino” Weinrich on vocals alongside Dave Chandler‘s trademark guitar sound and Mark Adams‘ bass.
Even if Saint Vitus wasn’t arguably the best American doom band ever to walk the earth, Lillie: F-65 would be an event just for how long it’s been since the last record. But Vitus, who played Roadburn in 2009 and subsequently embarked on both American and European tours, are among the most influential doom acts of all time. In both their sound and their attitude, they set the template for what would become the miseries still prevalent in the genre today, and having seen them live on multiple occasions since this latest reunion got going, including seeing them perform the new song “Blessed Night” on the Metalliance tour earlier this year with Crowbar, Helmet, Red Fang and Kylesa, I can say with certainty their appeal is more than nostalgic.
The end of June 2010 found Saint Vitus on the road for a week-long West Coast US run alongside Washington classic rockers Stone Axe. The connection there is that T. Dallas Reed (sometimes referred to around here as Tony) plays guitar with Vasquez in his own ’70s-obsessed band, the formidable rock powerhouse Blood of the Sun, but after recording a live Vitus demo in his HeavyHead studio, it was decided that he should be the one to helm the album.
Reed, whose side-project HeavyPink is the latest release on The Maple Forum (I mention it because I’d be remiss not to; it doesn’t come up in the interview once), emailed me late one night a while back and asked if we could talk on the phone the next day. It was about 1AM on the East Coast and I said I was still up if he wanted to call. The sheer excitement in his voice as he recounted being in the studio with Saint Vitus as they tracked their new album was palpable. As much as he was a professional involved in making Lillie: F-65, he’s clearly also a fan.
I didn’t record that conversation — would be weird to just tap my own phone — but we spoke again not too long ago about the process of getting one of 2012’s most anticipated albums to tape (yes, literally tape), and Reed was no less enthusiastic to discuss the project of working with and recording Saint Vitus and watching as Lillie: F-65 began to take its final shape. You’ll find that complete Q&A, along with some info about Reed‘s work with Blood of the Sun, Stone Axe and the regrouped Mos Generator, after the jump.
Also included are some pictures and video of Vitus in the studio, which come courtesy of Reed himself. Please enjoy.
Yeah. We seemed to get along pretty good. During the tour, they used all our equipment and we were compliant to everything. They understood the kind of music we play, so that right there was a cool connection. The next time they came around, I had them come into the studio – I think it was actually April Fool’s Day of this year – they came into the studio and demoed out one tune in like two hours. They did it live, two takes, and then I got them back over to Seattle for the show. They had a really good time at the studio, they liked the vibe of the place, and they thought the sounds on the quick demo represented classic Vitus sounds. So when it came around to people who they were gonna choose, there were a lot of people who wanted to do it, I think they just ended up coming to me because it was a pretty easygoing, mellow situation, and I’m cheap. They had a place to stay – they stayed at my house – they rehearsed at my house for pre-production. It’s kind of a mellow area, away from everything. No one knew anybody up here, so there was nobody showing up at the studio. It was just easy. That’s pretty much the situation.
Did they finally come to you and say, “We want to do this,” or had you offered?
Well, most of my conversations were with Henry, because we play music together. Of course, they knew that I had expressed interest in doing their record, and so yeah, they came to me when it was time. Henry said, “We want to record with you,” and then the dates started being, “Well it could be from here to here, or it could be from here to here,” so it was a little up in the air for when. I said, “You just tell me when you want to be here and I’ll make it work. I’ll make this easy on you.” The time came and it worked out really smooth.
How did doing the record compare to that demo? Obviously they weren’t just doing it all live in two hours.
Actually, their main tracking was in three short days, so they did it fairly quick, and we used a lot of the same concepts, where they tracked everything live with a scratch vocal, and we kept almost everything. There were still some arrangements that we needed to work out – because they came in here and practiced for two days, and we did demos of all the songs. Because they weren’t finished. They’d never played them together all at once. They had to come in. First day, we did demos with Chandler singing on them, then Wino took those during that first night, listened to them, had all the lyrics, got the phrasing down. The next day, we demoed the songs again without Chandler singing, with Wino singing, and then he came in and refined those by singing over them again later in the evening. After we’d already cut them with his live vocal, he went through them again and tightened them up. Then on day three, we went into the studio, and started on just like I said, pretty much live takes. If the drums got kept, we could punch in and fix other things. Most of the guitars were cut live. He might overdub a rhythm during a solo or vice versa, but generally, he would cut the whole thing in one take, and then minimal, minimal overdubbing. And Mark had a few fixes, but generally they plowed right through it. We had some arrangement things we worked on during the session, but all in all, super-smooth. It was all done to 2”. 24-track to 2” tape. That was another thing why they wanted to do it here. They wanted it to tape. They wanted that sound. Then pretty soon, we moved to my house and mixed the record and did a few overdubs. We did Wino’s acoustic bit. He did a little interlude. We did that here, totally at my house, and a couple of guitar parts, overdubs I wanted them to do. Little things where I said, “Why don’t you add something here, something there?” And then there’s a whole end section, where Dave does all this noise guitar, and we did that whole section here, the last song, here.
Dude, how cool is it that Saint Vitus recorded at your house?
Yeah. They stayed here the whole time. To me, it was super-trippy, because the stories were going at all times. Mark and Dave have known each other since they were in middle school. You could name any bands from the ‘70s, and they’re, “Yeah, we saw those guys a couple times,” or whatever. They saw everybody. They saw Thin Lizzy, Sabbath. All these great bands. It was just conversations the whole time and all they’d do is sit around and talk about what they did when they were young. I mean, touring with Black Flag and all that stuff, being on SST and the things they went through when they were on the road back in those days, playing with a lot of punk bands and stuff. Because they would package tours with SST bands and they would be the total black sheep of the whole thing, and just hearing those stories of them talking about super-cool stuff. Pretty amazing, actually. I kind of wish I would’ve interviewed them. I feel like, now, after getting to know them, there deserves to be a documentary about them. There’s enough weird things that happened over the years that there should actually be a documentary. I wish I would’ve done a lot of interviewing. There’s a lot of footage of them talking about this stuff, but there’s not straight-up, nice camera interviews that we could’ve done. So that, on top of them just letting me do the record, and then having a lot of say in what I did… It was weird to have Wino at the microphone allowing me to guide him in whatever way I felt was necessary. And he was very easy to work with. He was like, “If you think that’s killer,” or, “If you don’t like that, I’ll do it again,” and he would allow me to do that kind of stuff, along with Dave. Chandler pretty much has his vision of how it’s gonna go. Ultimately, he’s the guy that has the last say on everything, but he was totally easy to work with. Between all the band members and me, we came up with things really easily. Decisions were made quickly and easily, and pretty much always for the best. Couldn’t have been much smoother, really. And we did retain the sound, the Vitus sound, but having Henry play the drums the way he does added a certain different element to their sound without taking anything away from the original.
How do you mean?
He just hits really hard, and he’s thought a lot about the arrangement of the songs and what needs to be there. Him and I spent time taking things out, adding things, making things simplistic or more for the music. He’s willing to work with that. He’s not, “I want to be flash.” He wants to play what’s important for the song, and that, to me, for a drummer, is number one. You’ve got to serve the song. He’s totally willing – in other situations I’ve worked with him as well; in Blood of the Sun – to do that and listen to what I have to say. And that’s cool, when you work with drummers like that.
Part of the thing about those early Vitus records too is they’re so simple and direct. It might not necessarily work with someone going off in any direction.
Henry respects that, too. If you’ve seen Vitus with him, he’s respectful of the original, Armando’s drumming. He plays it exactly. And that’s out of respect. And that’s what people want to hear. They wan too hear it played like it was originally done. So he’s a great choice. Probably I couldn’t think of anybody else that could have the respect and willingness to do it like that. When you start working with Dave, you let him do his thing. He’s his own guitar guy. I gained a lot of respect for him doing the tours and then doing the album. I understood him a lot more afterwards. I understood his playing a lot more and where he was coming from and learned to respect it quite a bit, and understood why SST picked them up in the ‘80s. I know exactly why now.
Because if you listen to all those early SST bands, all of them have really interesting guitar players. They didn’t play like everybody else. They had their own thing going on, and Chandler and Vitus fit into that 100 percent. All those bands had weird guitar players, even the ones that made it big. All the way through to Hüsker Dü and Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth. All those bands. Even Soundgarden – Kim Thayil’s an odd guitar player. And all those bands on SST have those trippy guitars, and the songwriting too that was against the grain. And Vitus fits. They grew up and hung out together, so that probably is part of it too, but when they were on SST, I understand why.
What can you tell me about the songs on the album?
They all seem to be pretty much of a lower tempo. Slow. A couple of them – there’s one tune in particular that picks up and gets pretty fast at the end. There’s a couple of weird interludes. There’s a Wino acoustic interlude, and there’s some noisy guitar business going on. The lyrics are dark, as usual, but even more apocalyptic, in a way, which is cool and fits. Slow, doomy, super-doomy, heavy. There’s a kind of bluesy number, too, which is slightly different for them, and also, Dave does an acoustic guitar on one of these intros, and for Dave, he said that’s the first time he’s ever played an acoustic in the studio. So that’s an interesting little tidbit there, I guess. But the album ended up being about 33-35 minutes, and there was some concern from the band that it was too short, but if you go back to their catalogue, almost all their albums are 33 minutes. The first song has four kick drum and cymbal hits, and then everybody’s in and Wino is singing right there. It’s literally three seconds and everybody’s in and going. It’s been like 16 years or something like that since their last album, why don’t we get it in there and going right off the bat? And everybody agreed, and like I said, it was a really nice group effort. It wasn’t hard to work with them at all. But it is a slow, heavy, doomy album.
Can you talk a bit about getting that classic Vitus sound, especially out of Dave’s guitars?
Okay. Now, Dave’s guitar sound is his guitar sound. You really can’t mess that up unless you try really hard. The rig he used: he used my JCM800, I think it’s an ’82 or something. Early model. He used a Mesa cabinet or something. When I went to mic this thing, his settings all are everything on zero tone-wise, bass on 10, and then of course preamp and volume; preamp all the way up, volume at five or six, over halfway up. So there’s no midrange, no treble, no presence, bass all the way up. I tried to sneak a little mid in there, and I went back a little bit later, and he had turned that shit down. So he gets his tone, because it’s so muddled and everything, but I didn’t want to change that too much. That’s his sound. There’s been engineers on certain albums where they tried to make it more trebly, and it just didn’t seem to work. I just put an SM57 in front of one of the speakers so I could at least get as much top out of it as I could, and just let him, “It’s your guitar sound and I’m not gonna mess with it.” One or two takes, one or two overdubs here and there, and that’s it. Mostly live, recorded with the drums, and that’s all we really had to do. I didn’t want to destroy anything. I kept the drums pretty big and thunderous, like they should be. I verbed them up a little bit, but the songs being as slow as they are, that kind of bigger mid-‘80s sound worked for it. Snare’s tuned in the middle range, probably. It’s probably lower than I thought, but Henry was hitting it so hard that it had this appearance of being tuned higher than it was. Not cranked by any means, but that sounded really good. He seemed to be really happy with the snare sound, so that was good.
Obviously you’re no stranger to recording. Did you feel like this was the most pressure you’ve ever worked with?
It’s the one that will at least get me out there more. It will help my profile as an engineer. Whether anybody really likes what I did or not is another thing. But yeah, I didn’t feel a lot of pressure because I felt comfortable with them. Until Henry started telling me he was getting texts in the studio from certain producers and engineers wondering who was doing this, who’s doing this record, they wanted it, who’s doing it. That type of stuff. So now I’ve got actual people with ears wanting to know. That’s different than just general listeners. That’s when I started to get a little nervous. And my console started tripping out on me, right as we’re getting ready to start tracking. So I’m underneath this thing, pulling out wires, trying to reroute shit all of a sudden. Old equipment has a tendency to break down at the most inopportune moments, so that kind of made me a little stressed out, but once we started going, I felt really good about it. I knew that it was going to work after the first day, and, once again, everybody was super-easy to work with. I felt there was a little pressure, and now I don’t really feel that at all. After the mix, I don’t feel anticipation about it coming out, about people saying things. All I wanted to do was make an equal or better-sounding than any of their other records, and I feel like I may have accomplished that. That’s by the listener. The people listening, they’ll be the judge. I’m not that worried about it.
And in the meantime, you just finished doing the Blood of the Sun record too, right?
I just got back on Sunday.
You went down to Texas.
Yeah. That’s my fifth trip to Texas to finish that. From start to finish, it’s been over a year, because everybody’s doing other things, and I have to go down there to do it. And that ended up being John O’Daniel and Rusty Burns from Point Blank. John sings almost all the vocals on it, except for one song that Wino sings on, and then Rusty plays about a third of the lead guitar, and I played all the rhythms and the remaining two-thirds of the leads. It really turned out to be – it’s a Blood of the Sun record, but it’s more of the way I wanted to hear them. When Mos toured with them in 2008, I thought they should sound more like a ‘70s band on record. So it’s cleaner sounding. The keyboards and the guitars aren’t fighting. They’re moving out of each other’s way to be heard now. On the other records, they fight a lot. You can’t really hear a lot of stuff because everybody wants their place. We had to find a nice area for that. So yeah, I just got done with this, so it’s actually on my mind. I’m still reviewing the mixes and I have to have the engineer down there do some tweaks to them. So that’s been really on my mind, but it’s gonna be a good record. Right now we’re just looking for a label. There’s a few that are interested.
Is Mos Generator going to do shows? I know Ripple is doing that re-release.
Well, we did a show two days before I left for Texas, and that was the release show for this reissue. The show was great. We played way out in this small town that I grew up in. It’s an hour and a half west of me, towards the ocean, and there was people driving for hours, so that was a great show. We played that whole record and some other stuff. We brought out a really nice light show and a nice P.A. system, so we’d make it an event. It sounded good and looked good. We’re probably not going to play again until this new album’s done. I feel like if we just keep these shows at a minimum, then they become more of an event and we don’t get burned out on playing shitty shows. When the album comes out, I’d actually like to do a West Coast tour, and that’s it. I would like to do more than that, but I don’t think I can ask more. Now that we’ve gone into hibernation, especially the drummer has pretty much locked in his life for the rest of his life. Music was gone for a year and a half, and now he’s just locked into probably what he’s going to do the rest of his life, which is hang around and work and have a family. So I don’t see much more touring in the future.
Sometimes that works better for bands though. People want to see the show because they can’t see the show all the time.
If anybody’s interested, that’s what we’re hoping. And that seems to be the case, even with the last show there, a couple weeks ago, whenever it was. People driving three, three-and-a-half hours to come down. Like, Stone Axe, around here, we can’t draw anybody around here because we play so much. And now there’s this weird assumption that we’re somebody, so we’ve been making good money around here. So that’s why we’ve been playing, because these little bars want to pay us good money to come in and play. People are there, but it’s not like huge deals. All we do is work all year to make money to go to Europe. That’s pretty much all we play gigs for, and it keeps us in shape too.
You’re doing the London Desertfest, right?
We’re doing two sets. We’re opening the thing, and we’re doing a set playing all Free songs. Then the next one will be a regular set. Now we gotta start working on these fuckin’ Free songs, and let me tell you, it’s not easy. Dru [Brinkerhoff, vocals] was gone for six weeks working, and we didn’t rehearse with him. He’d just come back on the weekends for gigs, and we’d try to do it without him, and it was really weird to play those songs without vocals. Tomorrow is the first day we start working on it, because I want to play them like they’re out own. I want to be that comfortable with them, and they’re not as easy as they sound. But anyway, that’ll be fun.HeavyPink, Port Orchard, Saint Vitus, Tony Reed, Washington