Of all the events that might’ve taken place in doom this decade, I don’t know if The Obsessed putting out a record was the least likely, but it had to be somewhere on the list. And the road that brought the legendary Maryland-doom-agenda-setters to the point of releasing their Relapse Records debut, Sacred (review here), is suitably winding. Never mind the fact that it’s been 23 years since the last time the unit founded and fronted by Scott “Wino” Weinrich (Saint Vitus, Spirit Caravan, The Hidden Hand, Premonition 13, Shrinebuilder, etc.) offered up what most probably figured was their final studio outing, 1994’s The Church Within — it’s been half a decade since this reunion got underway, beginning with a set in the Netherlands at Roadburn 2012 (review here).
In the years since, The Obsessed has receded and come to the fore again. Weinrich was still fronting Saint Vitus at the time in support of that band’s reunion offering, Lillie: F-65 (review here), and though that tenure would end unceremoniously following a well-publicized drug arrest in Norway late in 2014, it was the three-piece Spirit Caravan that he went back to first, reunited with bassist Dave Sherman, also of Earthride and Weed is Weed and eventually bringing on board Brian Costantino in place of original drummer Gary Isom. Spirit Caravan toured and threatened a new record, but before they could get there, they announced early last year that Spirit Caravan was now The Obsessed and they’d be continuing under the moniker Wino first put to use in 1980.
Fair enough. More tumult followed after this three-piece hit the studio with Frank “The Punisher” Marchand to track what they’d come to call Sacred, with Wino and Sherman parting ways and The Obsessed reforming for a short time as a double-guitar four-piece featuring former The Hidden Hand bassist/vocalist Bruce Falkinburg before once more paring back to a trio of Weinrich, Costantino and bassist Reid Raley, also of Arkansas post-sludgers Rwake. The Obsessed had done gigs all along with Raley in the lineup, including Maryland Deathfest, but in bringing him on board full-time, the band seems to have settled the issue as much as these things are ever settled, and though the chaos surrounding Sacred is palpable, the album itself is treated fitting to its title.
That is to say, while the process by which it came about and its aftermath have been anything but, the actual record and the songs that comprise Sacred are fluid, unconfused, progressive, and most of all — heavy. Fast or slow, light or dark, they bear the hallmarks of Weinrich‘s songwriting style, and whether they’re playing toward bluesy convention or bridging the how-is-this-still-so-wide-when-we-know-all-doomers-are-grown-up-punks gap of doom and punk, The Obsessed circa 2017 are living up to and pushing forward one of the genre’s most storied and influential legacies. Whatever the future might hold for the band, Sacred pays for its unlikeliness in the sheer quality of its craft and execution, and when this year is over, there’s no question it will stand as a landmark for even more than the simple fact that it exists — though that’s not to take away from that either, because the fact that it exists remains pretty fucking impressive.
The Obsessed are on tour now in the US with Karma to Burn, Fatso Jetson and Lo-Pan. Dates are posted here.
I had the first slot of a press day to speak with Weinrich about making the album… and a terrible connection. There was a lot lost of our conversation to the digital ether of crackles, pops, fadeouts. We got disconnected twice. Still, I did my best to recover what I could of the interview and it turned out to be plenty.
You’ll find the results below, with my thanks for reading.
The Obsessed Interview with Scott “Wino” Weinrich
Take me through the decision to move from Spirit Caravan to The Obsessed. How did that come about and what went into that for you?
Spirit Caravan was with Dave Sherman and then we had a succession of drummers. Where I met the current drummer for The Obsessed, Brian Costantino, was actually many years ago. He was a friend of the band when The Obsessed was together back in the ‘70s and ‘80s and he and I had not seen each other for quite a while, so we put Spirit Caravan back together we had Ed Gulli playing drums…
So Brian came around and I didn’t realize in the time that we had been apart that he had played the drums. He came around for rehearsal and Brian sat down behind the kit and we had a little jam and that’s kind of what started the whole thing rolling because the wheels are coming off the wagon a little bit with Spirit Caravan and Eddie didn’t want to tour and there’s some other issues and so I just looked prior and so BrIan was pretty much never in Spirit Caravan. Now Sherman’s on the record, but some other things happened and we trying to move ahead without him. So basically when I met Brian I realized after our first couple of camps that Brian grew up on The Obsessed. It was his favorite band and in the years we had been apart from each other, he had become quite a successful drummer and he was tired of what he was doing which was kind of like cover stuff and playing with some local bands.
He had basically just retired from playing and then I came along and gave him a call one evening and was like man do you want to reform The Obsessed and he said, “Yeah let’s do this.” You know, it’s the kind of chemistry that really reinspired me. It’s exactly what I needed. I realize that the songs, the old type of songs for me seemed to be timeless and I just started right away and we really kicked it off. It really was about a chemistry thing between me and Brian and there was this confusion after that with the [lineup, and] I decided to try a little experiment so I called [Bruce Falkinburg] to the basement and he goes “yes,” and then my fiancée came and we decided to put [the band together as a four-piece].
Well, everything was pretty groovy at first, but a touring commitment and came up and there was some wavering and I had been assured that everything was going to be cool but it became obvious to me that it really is all about commitment and I understand but not everybody is just willing to leave their job and just play musical instruments. So I’ve got nothing for admiration of everybody but reality [was that] Bruce had to be replaced and Reid Raley was actually our first choice but he’s eight hours away from where we rehearse and for some reason I just forgot what a rogue one he was. Anyway we brought him in and we’ve had a couple weeks and man the chemistry is just extremely focused now. We’re back in a three-piece with Reid, and man, it’s really on. I feel completely energized.
You had played with Reid before in The Obsessed though as well. He was at Maryland Deathfest with you, right?
Yeah, Reid is a very personable guy and while I was touring with Vitus, Reid saw I was having some issues with Guy, who played on The Church Within and was a member of The Obsessed for some years. Guy had some immigration issues but didn’t really tell us and so he booked the Maryland Deathfest kind of knowing that he wasn’t going to be able make it. So it was kind of weird, but Reid told me “whatever you need if you need me to play bass for you to help you out, I will,” so I said at that point in time, “Yeah, why don’t you do that?” So me and Reid have some good history.
Is it a little strange? Sacred is the first Obsessed album in 20-odd years and it’s such a different band.
The only thing different is the bass player. We were a three-piece when we recorded Sacred. The nucleus of The Obsessed is me and Brian and I think the addition of Reid is nothing but good. And I’m very proud of the record. We’re already playing seven songs off the record, and we play the material live and I’m super-proud of that record. I think it’s great. I not just saying it because it’s my record but I think it’s the best sounding record I’ve ever done. I’m completely inspired. We’re ready to take these songs out on the road. I mean it’s been a long time, but you know, but it seems the time has never been right in the past and it seems like everything is lining up pretty good now.
Why do you think that is?
I think it’s because A) the music is top notch and B) In my opinion I think that I also must say that in my opinion, Frank Kozik and his label Man’s Ruin was pretty crucial in kind of opening up the door to hard rock and stoner rock or whatever, and he also opened up the power of the internet. I mean, come on, back when The Obsessed was starting to take off we did a video for “Streetside” and if you got on Bevis and Butt-Head, that was a venue. If it didn’t pass the Bevis and Butt-Head test you were done (laughs). I remember “Streetside” hit Bevis and Butt-Head and one of them said, “Ah they look old,” and that was it. But now you’ve got YouTube. The label. We’re on a very strong label. The label did really, really well and I feel honored to be on Relapse, and there’s a mutual respect thing and I think it’s just good now. I can’t say I fully understand why. I just know this is the time.
Talk to me about the Obsessed now as opposed to 20 years ago? How is it different for you? Has it felt like a crazy last couple of years after the whole situation with Vitus, playing with Conny Ochs, doing the solo stuff. Does going back to The Obsessed feel like going home for you?
It felt like going home for me and you have to understand that between me and Brian, Brian grew up with The Obsessed. It was his favorite band. It was Obsessed for all these years, so that has been like his main focus and when we reconnected I was truly flabbergasted that he’s an astounding drummer and it we haven’t seen each other in how many years?
It’s actually really mind blowing in a really, really good way. So we’ve got this amazing chemistry, lived together, we’re like a hardcore team and it finally feels right. The Church Within was cool, but with Greg and Guy, it’s touring, but when I started the reunion stuff, the one-offs, it just didn’t feel right. I’ve kind of felt in way as if I was been going through the motions. I’m really feeling good about stuff, like the chemistry between me and Brian and Reid. I’m pretty excited. I made a pretty important lifestyle changes to embrace this wave.
Can you talk about that?
Obviously, anybody who knows my past knows I had a very long period of sobriety in this reunion and after the separation and I lost the ability to see my kids and then we got separated for three or four years, i was pretty torn up and I fell back in my old ways but I’ve got to tell you, I was depressed and I did what I had to do. Had to get up out of bed in the morning and do what I had to do.
Right around that time was when Vitus was heavy touring, the brand new Vitus record, I did the Adrift record, I did the Shrinebuilder record, I did the Premonition 13 record. So basically I did what I had to do to be able to get on with my life and my career. So after a while, I must say, with Saint Vitus, to get into that stuff and to get into that mode and do that stuff, I had to be pretty loaded. I mean, it was like a requirement for me. The music is so primitive and so primal, especially playing live I had to really get into that state of mind to do it and that state of mind to me and in those days meant about 20 beers and half a fifth of liquor and as much shit as I could cram up my nose, but you know, that was the singing in Saint Vitus so things were a bit different.
Nobody can live that way forever. It caught up to me in Norway and I did get deported and that was kind of a bummer for me. I didn’t end up taking any charges, but it’s still kind of a bummer now I have to pay out the ass for visas and I have this ban from the Schengen countries, which is sort of like the EU, for five years, so I’ve already had three of that. So basically you pay the price. So I had to grab the reigns and I did. Now you know I’m back on the bandwagon, back in my head, living a sober lifestyle.
How has it been working in The Obsessed in that mode?
It’s fantastic, I just feel like all my focus and energy is in the right place, everything is where I feel it need to be. I’ve always been interested in alternative spirituality, if you will. I’ve never been into any organized religion or the denominational trip, but I consider myself to be pretty bright. I always want to learn and I always need to learn but I think that I try to awaken to the situation of the reality.
My personal spirituality has always been one of my main focuses and I’m just continuing my research, as I put it, and I’m just focusing on playing it right and I’m not one to blow my own horn but I do think I’m playing at the top of my game right now and I think that we have an absolute killer chemistry between the three of us and I thought, “man, this all I’m doing.” I’m playing the acoustic guitar here and there, wherever the listening party is, and at some point, I will do something else with Conny because I love Conny and we [need another record and tour] but right now The Obsessed is all I want to do. It’s where my focus is right now.
Can you tell me about going from touring a reunion band with The Obsessed as opposed to taking it on as a creative project again? You did that big tour last year with Karma to Burn, but how has it been moving from a reunion, to a working band, to a creative project?
I think it’s been refreshing and rewarding, actually because we get to go on tour. We were with Dave and there were some issues there. I mean listen, Dave’s loyalty and his heart never in question, he’s a great guy, so basically I don’t want to insult him and put him down in any way. He’s a great guy. I feel now that the record is coming out and it’s an incredibly strong record, it’s getting amazing reviews so far and I’m very happy.
We’ve already got three new songs we’re working on and we’re going to go back in the studio with our same guy from Sacred, Frank Marchand. We have three songs now. Hopefully by the end of the tour we have another two, and we’ll be halfway to another record. Whether we can have it finished, I doubt it, but we can at least get a couple in the can. So I feel completely energized, reinspired, and we’re getting it on, man. This is what we do, 24/seven. This is what I enjoy doing. When I’m in the studio, that is my perfect embodiment, that is when I am the most happy, and so yes, I’m just looking ahead.
Can you talk a little more about your time in the studio for this record? Working with Frank?
Frank is an amazing guy. He had to set up a little unconventionally, his room where he recorded wasn’t a control room. It was an open area. He likes to listen loud. He likes to mix loud but I’m telling you it was an orgy of vintage equipment. He’s got at least 10 [stacks] of different size and variety, mixed models.
What about the diversity on the album? It covers a lot of ground.
…For example, “Stranger Things,” when Reid was listening to the record, he goes, “ok, that song really put the ‘what the fuck?’ nail in the coffin.” That song threw him for a loop. It’s not that he disliked that song, but he just thought it was really, really different. That song was an acoustic song. I woke up one morning like, “fuck, what am I trying to even put it in a box like that? Why am I trying to make the specifics,” because The Obsessed has always been about diversity. We cut our teeth in the early days playing with punk rock bands. We can play super-fast, and we also like really slow stuff. A good example is the fact that of course I’m a diehard Black Sabbath fan but I’m also – I love Joy Division. I love The Stooges, The Dictators.
One of my favorite records is Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing by Discharge. So our tastes and our influences were always very diverse but we grew up in an era where it was all about energy. It was all about passion with the punk rock thing and also with the hard rock we listened to. I think that’s what’s really – always – you are a product of your influences, obviously just the same depending on your youth and childhood and really how wounded you are (laughs) in the rest of your life. It’s the same kind of theory.
I think the diversity is what makes it interesting because if I listen to a record where every song sounds the same even though it might be a good record, but every song sounds the same! I’m happy to bring a little diversity to it. I’m happy to people to kind of be like, “woah! This is weird or interesting.” I just think it makes it more interesting and it’s actually very natural, the way it came out.
It’s a pretty personal record. Especially the song for my kids, that’s a very personal song. But man, hey, my life is an open book and my theory or my philosophy if you will is, man, it’s all about passion, but it’s all about the power of the song. The song might need a guitar solo. It’s really about the power of the song.
The same way when you listen to the radio or you’re in a bar and an old song comes back again, one of your favorite songs from whenever it was, it has a way of invoking those good memories. Bringing back a feeling or maybe even remember the day when you listened to that song when you had memorable events like that. It’s really about the power of the song and it’s about the passion.
I really believe that I was given a gift in this earthly trip and I believe that it’s sort of my duty or job to carry the torch man, and to enrich other people’s lives and mine as well. It’s more rewarding having someone say, “hey, your music touched me in a way that was special,” or maybe even, “your music saved my life.” I’ve heard that before. To me that’s way more rewarding than a bag of gold on the table.
What’s next? The tour in May and then back in the studio. Then what?
The tour in April/May and then we will be in the studio recording some new material. Then we are going to be going to the UK including Scotland and Ireland. Then we’re going to be going to South America and Australia. By that time, man, it should be time to go back to Europe. We plan on touring pretty hard for the next couple of years. And also, in between then we’ll be writing another record.
When do you think you’ll squeeze in Conny Ochs?
Me and Conny have been talking and when there’s a break in the action, a break in The Obsessed action, for whatever reason that might be, then Conny said he’d like to come out and play the US and more than likely we’ll do a short tour out here.
One last thing, off topic. There was talk a while ago about a project with Nick Oliveri. What happened with that?
Actually it was me, Nick and Joey [Castillo], but Joey was really busy at the time. He was on retainer with Scott Weiland at the time and even though we tried to put it together he was just too busy. Joey‘s had a little run up, he’s I mean some bad luck, but we might revisit that. But right now I’m focusing on The Obsessed. They’re both amazing people and amazing players and it was something that like, it came up, we wanted to do it but Joey was pretty busy. In the future.