by Mark Kadzielawa
Saint Vitus is doom metal band, hailing from Los Angeles. The group formed in 1978, and pioneered their brand of metal all over the continent, and abroad. Back then, Saint Vitus consisted of Dave Chandler on guitar, Mark Adams on bass, Armando Acosta on drums, and Scott Reagers on vocals. While the instrumental section of the band remained intact, there were several changes in the vocal department. Notably, singers, Scott Weinrich, and Chritus Linderson, left their personal mark on band’s sound. From 1984 onwards, Saint Vitus regularly released records, and was very visible on the touring circuit throughout the 80s and the early 90s.
In 1995, the group released, “Die Healing,” album, and split for good. While the band was away, many new doom groups sprung up onto the scene, citing Saint Vitus as one of their main influences. Saint Vitus was gone, but their legend grew. Nothing was heard from the band until 2003. Saint Vitus reunited and made their appearance in Chicago, which resulted in a live DVD. In 2008, the band was back for good, with Weinrich once again behind the microphone. Due to poor health, drummer, Armando Acosta, was replaced by Henry Vasquez. Sadly, Acosta passed away in 2010, but his legacy is proudly carried on by the band. Saint Vitus eventually wrote new songs, and completed, “Lilly: F-65.” The new album shows the group well on their path, the the classic songwriting and sound, only better produced. The group is currently out on the road, where they belong, promoting the new album. Their story is certainly far from over, and their hard work is finally gaining wide appreciation.
Guitar player, Dave Chandler, talks about the second chapter in the band’s career, and explains how they got there.
In 1996, Saint Vitus released their last album, and shortly after the band broke up. What happened?
Dave Chandler: In 1995, when we put out “Die Healing,” we planned it to be the last album. It was just the time to do it. It wasn’t like a specific thing. We mutually agreed that was not our time. We’d figured that our time had passed. The music scene at that time was not embracing doom metal, or anything like that. So, we were thinking it was time to quit.
“Die Healing” features the original Saint Vitus members from the very first album. It seems like you ended with the same group of people you began with.
Yeah, that was one thing we wanted to do. We were gonna do it as a three piece with me doing the vocals, because we used to do that between singers all the time. And then our singer, Scott Reagers, heard about that. He said, “Let me do it, so we can be a full circle for the last record.” And we couldn’t agree more.
What did you do when the band was not around?
I didn’t do anything musical for like 5 years. I did not even take my guitar out of the case. I just worked, I was a bartender. I just worked and watched TV, and kind of let all the stuff fly away. Then in 2000, I started playing again.
Were you frustrated with the music business at that point?
Well, we’ve always worked our asses off, and king of got nothing back. In Europe, we had a pretty good fan base, but it started dwindling after Wino originally left. It was frustrating, and there was no reason to continue on. We’d been at it for so long, and had reach the point, and dropped down some, and just stayed there. We felt we were not gonna get back to that peak again. It was frustrating, and the business angle of it, there was absolutely no fun involved anymore. I just couldn’t take it anymore.
What re-started your interest into playing again, and eventually re-forming Saint Vitus?
My friend, Ron Holzner, who is the former bass player of TROUBLE, he was trying to talk me into getting back into the music scene. I said I would do it, if we did a fun punk rock band, and all I had to do, was scream and roll around on the ground, and get drunk. He agreed. We started planning that out, but Ron wasn’t super familiar with the old school punk like I was. He talked me into writing a couple of guitar riffs that we were supposed to show to another guitar player. And once I started playing, I started getting back into it, and realized that it could be fun again. And we did that until it became not fun. We did that for a few years.
How did it evolve into Saint Vitus?
In 2002, my band DEBRIS INC. with Ron played Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany. We were ending our set with “Born Too Late.” There were a lot of people there that rushed the stage when we did that song. They were singing it with us, and afterwards a lot of people were asking if there was gonna be a reunion for SAINT VITUS. When I got back, I kind of got a hold of everybody, and cleared the water out. I was trying to find out how busy everyone was. Year later, we did a show in Chicago, and then we hopped on the plane and did a festival in Germany. That was supposed to be it. We weren’t planning on doing a reunion. I was still doing DEBRIS INC. and Wino was still doing 3 or 4 bands. We weren’t planning on anything, and then 6 years later, Roadburn Festival asked us if we wanted to reform again, we agreed, and that lead to us playing Hellfest that same year. That was in 2009, and we were headlining one of the stages, and at that point, we were wondering if we could do a reunion tour. We did a couple of short tours in the U.S. and a long one in Europe, and just kept going after that.
When did you realize that you would be in fact writing new music?
On the last tour, we were doing “Blessed Night.” We wrote that song on the road, and we were playing it just for the hell of it. That got a lot of people asking if we were going to do a new record. That made us start thinking about it. So, we wanted to give it a try. We’ve asked around some record companies to see if anyone would be interested. There was interest, so that made us want to try to write again. I was wondering if that was going to be difficult or not, because our frame of mind is different, times are different.
Well, when you’re young you’re receptive to so many different influences, whereas when you’re older your frame of mind just isn’t the same anymore.
Well, yeah. When I wrote “Born Too Late” in particular, I was really angry at the world. And I’m not anymore, so I was hoping to get the same type of feeling in my writing. And once I’ve started doing it, it kind of wrote itself.
How would you describe the new songs?
Well, I try to keep them true to what we do. I wanted them to be modern enough, so the kids, like younger kids, or maybe kids getting into us, may be able to enjoy it. But at the same time, I wanted to keep it the same, the old way, so the old fans would dig it. I personally hate it, when a band reforms and they don’t sound anything like they were. I think that’s just ridiculous. So, I try to get it to come out that way, and it seems to work. A lot of people say the new album sounds like it was recorded in the early 90s. So, I’m very happy with that assumption. That’s what I was striving for.
And the general response from the fans to the new record?
Oh, it’s really good. It’s really cool. I guess during that time we were gone, doom metal became a legitimate genre. There are bunch of newer bands that play doom metal, and they cite us as the influence. So, during that time we were gone, many people who never heard of us before got into us through seeing other bands wearing our shirts, and talking about us. So, when we came out again, they wanted to see the band everyone was talking about over the years. There were all kinds of weird rumors about us circulating.
It sounds funny, but it appears like your previous run was playing a genre that wasn’t completely legitimate.
It was just that nobody paid any attention to it in the past. People in other forms of metal thought it was a joke. Now, they realize it’s not a joke.
What is the meaning of the album title?
It’s like a double meaning. If you look at the artwork, the girls is like an addict, left behind in the deserted hospital. Her name is Lillie, F stands for female, patient number 65. And she’s deserted, and whole concept of the album is the weird trip that she goes through when she realizes that she stuck in there. And if you take it literally, Lillie: F65 is a barbiturate that was popular when we were in high school, and we used to take it all the time. I used to take it all the time. It’s basically a horse tranquilizer. It’s just a little thing for the fans to puzzle over.
Unfortunately, your longtime drummer, Armando Acosta, who is no longer in the band, passed away recently. Care to say few things about him?
Well, you know, unfortunately, Armando got real sick, and he didn’t want to go to the doctor. He was pretty much in denial, he couldn’t play anymore, even told Mark and me, “I can’t play anymore.” We did Roadburn Festival with him, and it was like three shows after that, he just couldn’t do it anymore. So, we had to hire somebody to do the Hellfest show, and I’ve already played with Henry in DEBRIS INC. so he was my first pick. As for Armando, like I said before, he refused to go to the doctor, and everything caught up with him, and he passed away, which is terrible. Since I’m the leader of the band sort of speak, I was the one who had to call him and tell him he was not in the band anymore. Of course he got mad, and talked a bunch about it on the internet, which was expected. But, unfortunately, that was the last time that I got to speak to him when he was pissed at me, so he passed away being mad at me. I feel crappy for that, but we begged him to go to the doctor, and he just refused.
What general memories do you have of Armando?
He was always a good guy. He was always a joker, always doing stupid, silly kid jokes. Saying stupid things, and making us laugh. He was really cool and fun to jam with all those years. He was a good guy.
Some time ago, I was reminiscing with the COC guys about Armando. I remember walking into the Metro back in 1985, and you were already playing, and there was Armando wearing that huge metal crown. You couldn’t help but be floored by the sight of that.
Yeah, the Conan Headband (laughs....)
Actually, shortly after that very show at the Cabaret Metro, I remember hanging out with you at the doorway, and just talking. And I remember you talking about the band, and the upcoming album, “Born Too Late.” You were explaining the title, that the band was born too late to play Woodstock.
Well, when we were kids we went to like US Festival, the second California Jam, and stuff like that. With “Born Too Late,” I used to say that if we were the same people at the same ages playing the same songs starting in 1969, instead of 1979, we would went over much better. And that’s why we were born 10 years too late. When we started doing this, hair bands were getting big, and punk rock was big, and there really was no place for us.
There are a lot of punk rock links in your career. Not only did you tour a lot with punk rock bands, but you were on SST Records, Black Flag's record label.
Actually, after touring with BLACK FLAG for a couple of years, we ended up on their label. SST records would do a lot of shows, and bands would come from out of town, and request that we open up for them because the crowd would be so violent and agitated by the time we were done, so they would have a crazy and wild show. We did that for a while, and after taking the shit from the punks for all those years, and giving everything back to them. If they spit, we spit back, they adapted us as one metal band that they liked. Then after that in America, we only did punk shows. We never did any metal tours.
After all that hard work in the 80s and 90s, were you surprised by the legacy you’ve left behind?
I was very pleasantly surprised. We quit in 1995 because it didn’t make any difference, and it didn’t. Nobody gave a shit at all, except for us. We’d figured, that’s it. And once this started happening, we were like, “What the hell is going on?” People were bringing their children to us who grew up listening to us. It’s a really good feeling to know that all the hard work we actually did, did something. We just didn’t know about it.
How are things looking from now on?
Well, things are looking good. We are finishing a tour, and there is nothing else planned for the rest of this year. Early next year, we’ll do a full blown European tour to support the new album. After that, we don’t really know. We’re taking one day at a time. We’re not making any future plans. The record company definitely wants another album, they’re good to us. They’ve said, “If you do some stuff, and it’s not up to par with this album, or your past work, we’re not gonna hold you to that.” So, they were really cool about that.