Saint Vitus interview with Dave Chandler

Dave Chandler. Saint Vitus. There is really no way to sum up the impact of those names within the confines of an introduction to an interview. So I will just say this... it is an honor to present this to you, the story of one of the greatest American guitarists in heavy music's history. He doesn't do many interviews, mainly because he's busy as hell, but also because of some misquotes and bad interviews in the past. So here it is, word-for-word, from the man himself.

HSS: OK, let me ask you about your earliest memories of music. Did you grow up in a house with parents playing records, or did you find your own stuff as a teenager? What was the first record you heard that blew you away?

DAVE CHANDLER: I grew up in pretty much a " geek" household. Don't get me wrong, I couldn't have asked for better parents, but the only musical influence I got was from TV. I would see stuff like Sinatra or Sammy Davis on variety shows, and I saw the Beatles & Stones on the Ed Sullivan show. But when I saw the Monkees I knew I wanted to be in a band!! The first song that got me was "Jam Up and Jelly Tight " I think it was by Tommy Roe... then I heard the Alice Cooper Group & that really changed my world!

HSS: So, what was the first guitar you ever got?

DC: Like most people I started with a used acoustic, then a cheap electric, & when my parents saw that I was serious they bought me my first Gibson SG.

HSS: On that note, who were your first jam buddies? Did you have any bands before Vitus? Do your time in any cover bands?

DC: I was never in a "cover" band ( although Vitus did cover Judas Priest "Cheater" when we first started ). Mark Adams & I started playing together just after high school. We did originals... that way no one could say we played it wrong.... because we wrote it!

HSS: So you and Mark start jamming. When do Armando and Scott Reagers enter the picture, and how soon after did you guys start doing Tyrant?

DC: In 1978, within a couple of months of us being a band, a friend of ours decided that he wanted to be the singer, so we were letting him do that. He had seen an ad that Armando put up ‘drummer looking for a band’ at a local music store, so he called him and Armando came over to my house and listened to me and Mark. He thought it would be good to do something together and he had a rehearsal space. So we went over there, and we got another mutual friend of ours to play bass because Mark was playing rhythm guitar at the time.

After a few months, the bass player decided that he wanted to play pop music, because new wave was really popular at the time, so he went to go do that. Armando suggested that Mark be the bass player and not have two guitarists, so Mark went out the next day and bought a bass. The line up stayed the same through out most of ’78 except for when we got rid of the singer because he just wasn’t doing the job. Armando had a friend that could sing like Rob Halford and, at the time, we wanted to be like Judas Priest, so we decided to take him on. He stayed with us until our first show, which was in Aug. ’79, and he showed up to the show wearing girl’s clothes, jewelry and makeup, so after the show I fired him.

We decide to be a trio, with me singing, and we stayed that way for six to eight months. All we were playing was backyards and house parties; we didn’t have any other club shows. We were having a party at my house one night and I was so loaded I forgot the words to my own songs. Scotty was there, and he was singing the words at me, so after about a month of trying to convince him, he decided to join and be our singer. I always knew he was a natural because he could always mimic the singer of any band that we would listen to. Then we started playing whichever clubs would hire us and we were using the name Tyrant, which is the name we had for our first show in ’79. By now we were sounding more like Black Sabbath and realized that that was the type of music that we wanted to play. When we found out there were a lot of other bands named Tyrant, we took our name from the black Sabbath song Saint Vitus Dance and we have been Saint Vitus ever since.

HSS: There are some Tyrant recordings out there. Ever thought of releasing them? The die-hard fans would go nuts.

DC: The only Tyrant recording, that I know of, is a four-song demo with the singer that we had before Scotty and the only copies anyone has are on cassette. There is no way of mixing it for a release, so any copies that are out there, are all that anyone can get. I wouldn’t want to release anything without mixing it and the guys that recorded it originally kept of all the originals.

HSS: You guys started jamming in 1979, but didn't release the first album until 1984 right? Give us some insight into those first 5 years of the band. Were you doing a lot of shows, and is that how you met up with Greg Ginn to release your first record?

DC: We were playing as many shows as we could at clubs, and house parties, usually for no pay. We were doing a show at a local club and the SST band Overkill came to our show to pass out flyers for their upcoming show. They were trying to be a punk /metal cross over band (they would have been one of the first). They were looking for bands to play with them and knew that we had a tiny connection to the punk rock scene because Scotty was friends with the original bass player for the Circle Jerks. They asked us if we would open for them at a couple of shows and we said ‘'Sure why not?'’ They booked a show with us, and being a Black Flag fan, I asked if there was any way that they could get someone from Black Flag to come to one of our shows. I didn’t think anyone would, but I was just curious to see what their opinion of us would be if they did show up. It turns out that Greg, Chuck and Henry came out to the show.

After our set was done, Chuck approached us and said that they liked us, and asked us if we would like to do a record with them. Of course we said yes and right away they booked us to do some punk rock shows, and the first one was with them (Black Flag). We did this, along with all the normal parties and shows we did on a regular basis, all the way up until 1982 when we recorded the first album and it was supposed to be released that year. That was during the time when Black Flag got into their infamous lawsuit (around 1982) putting a halt to any SST releases, including their Damaged album, until the lawsuit was settled. Within those two years, we just did shows up and down the west coast and Arizona with punk and metal bands. When the record was finally released, in around November 1984, we went on our first national tour supporting Black Flag (Dec. of ’84).

HSS: The Black Flag connection and the story of those shows are a huge part of the lore of your band. Usually I hear that the hardcore crowd hated you guys... sometimes I hear that you bludgeoned them and won them over. So which is it? And going back now, what moment or show stands out more than any other?

DC: Both depictions are correct and there were many things that stood out, but mainly our first punk rock show. We were the first ones on, and I believe there were three other bands and Black Flag headlined. The stage was about a foot tall from the ground up and the place was completely jammed packed with about 400 crazy punk rockers who gave us absolutely no response what so ever, you could hear crickets after our songs. I remember back in those days we would get extra loaded and would be especially drunk because we were nervous, so Mark moves his bass to one side and grabs his dick with his free hand and screams "Fuck you motherfuckers. Suck my dick." Now everyone in the crowd is pissed off, violent, throwing things, and showering us with spit. Black Flag, of course, loved this and the word got around among the punk underground that if you wanted to have a really violent worked-up crowd, just have Saint Vitus open up for you.

We took beatings from punk crowds at every show all the way from 1981 through our first tour with Black Flag in 1984. In those days punks were very particular about what they liked and didn’t like and even thought they found us utterly boring and cliché, the fact that we would not give up or change our style somehow endeared us to them. By the time we did our second tour with Black Flag in the summer of 1985 a lot of the same people who trashed us, liked us and gave shit to the people who were still trashing us. Eventually this lead to us playing to ALL punk rock crowds, it would be rare to play to a metal fan. The punks even got to the point to where they actually started liking us and buying our records. (I would like to thank all of the punk bands that booked us with them because that is what helped us ‘get-over’ with the crowd.)

HSS: Scott Reagers only lasted through the first few records, but his vocals are now a piece of doom metal history. What was his reason for leaving? Also, was Born Too Late a strange album to get through for you guys with the transition?

DC: The reason for Scotty leaving is quit simple, we weren’t making any money and he couldn’t afford to be in the band anymore. He had actually quit the band before we did our ill faded winter tour of 1986. I talked him into doing it, even though he didn’t want to, and it would have been his last tour. He left about mid-way through because of a bizarre accident. He was left at a rest stop called Green Acres in Virginia and he thought that we had ditched him, we finally got a hold of him at the Richmond bus station and he did a couple more shows before he ended up going home. We finished the tour as a three piece. The transition to Wino was not hard at all because I had been singing for a while before he joined and going from myself on vocals, to a good singer, was quite easy. Besides, we already had the whole album written except for a few songs.

HSS: So we get to the Wino era of the band. The story has been told before I'm sure, but tell me a bit about your earliest memories of coming across Scott "Wino" Reinrich.

DC: On the 1986 tour when Scotty quit we were already set up to meet Wino on the east coast. A mutual friend of ours had turned us on to The Obsessed, told us that the band didn’t exist anymore, and thought that Wino would be a good singer for us. We all agreed that he would sound good, including Scotty. I just wanted to make sure that Wino understood that he would only be singing because I didn’t want two guitarists in the band, and he agreed. Then when we finally met him I didn’t think it would work because I didn’t like his image, but we all decided to give it a shot and obviously it worked out to be cool.

HSS: You managed to record three amazing albums, a live album, and an EP with Wino, and many prefer this lineup of the band. It's kind of romanticized a bit now, but the world still hadn't caught up to you guys' sound, had they?

DC: No they hadn’t, we were still playing for two separate styles of music that hadn’t meshed yet.
The majority of the people didn’t know how to take us because they had no category to put us in.

HSS: So Wino heads off to do the Obsessed again in 1991. Had you been aware this would happen, or were you caught off-guard? And at that point was Vitus done in your mind, or were you immediately looking for a new vocalist?

DC: At the time we knew Wino was unhappy and we all had a feeling he was going to quit soon, so it wasn’t really a surprise when he did, but he didn’t tell anybody so when we found out we were, of course, surprised. We knew right away that we needed another singer because I already had C.O.D. written and we weren’t just going to quit because we needed a singer.

HSS: At this point Christian Lindersston joins you and records C.O.D. There's definitely mixed feelings from people about this one. Was Christian in a no-win situation? Were you expecting to keep the band going with him for longer?

DC: We did auditions on our own and had a singer that we liked, but the record company turned him down because they really wanted Chris in the band (Count Raven had supported Saint Vitus on a tour.) He wasn’t really in a "no win situation" because we tried to make things work, but I found that I couldn’t work with him and it just wasn’t gelling, so I knew there was no reason to keep him for another record.

HSS: So Scott Reagers returns for Die Healing, considered by some to be your finest effort. Was there a feeling of rejuvenation on this record? The whole thing just sounds so driven to me.

DC: In my opinion, I agree with it being our finest effort and I always said that. It was the first time that we worked with a real metal producer (Harris Johns) and it shows. Probably the main driving point behind that record is the fact that I knew it was going to be the last one and I wanted to go out with a bang since C.O.D. had been so bad. The fact that Scotty was back in the band was a surprise to us when it happened because it was his idea. I told him that it would be me singing again and he thought it would be good to bring things around full circle with himself on the last album. I don’t know if we felt rejuvenated, it almost felt more like a relief that it was finally done.

HSS: Unfortunately, after doing a bit of touring, you guys packed it in, and the original lineup hasn't been seen since. In your mind, that's the end of Vitus?

DC: Yeah, that was the final thing and was planned from the beginning to be the final thing.

HSS: I remember reading a Guitar Player magazine in the early 90's and the featured article was an interview with Buzzo (Melvins) and Kim Thayil (Soundgarden), and the interviewer kept asking them about their influences and why they had decided to play slow music, when everything at that point was about playing fast, and they repeatedly mentioned you and Vitus as a major inspiration behind their style. I remember thinking "Man, if only they'd stuck it out" or "Maybe now they'll get the credit they deserve." At what point did you realize the impact you had on heavy music?

DC: Well we always heard for years from bands that cited us as influences because we knew most of them personally. But we started realizing the impact when we did the 2003 reunion, especially in Europe, when old time fans were introducing us to their children who are now fans, which is a trippy thing. There are also the magazines and metal encyclopedias citing us as one of the founding bands of the doom movement. Things like that urged us to do the first reunion.

HSS: So tell me about the move to New Orleans. You find yourself down in a city that has a whole scene of musicians who practically worship you. Has that been a driving force in the band occasionally coming back and doing shows?

DC: I moved to New Orleans to get married to a girl from that area. And I felt that a change was needed in my life. I wouldn’t say that the people here worship me because they’re my friends. New Orleans is similar to Europe in the fact that they are much more open to the underground and obscure bands. It is nice to finally have the recognition that people show me now, since I’ve been here, and it is easier to be a musician and live a normal life and meet like-minded people in this city. The fans, and my friends were a huge influence toward the decision to do shows again.

HSS: Southern Lord has reissued V and Live, but the rest of the Vitus catalog is still hard to track down. Will we be seeing these albums again at some point? I heard you lost some masters in Katrina. Is that true?

DC: The only masters that I have are for C.O.D. and two unreleased songs from that same time period, and I didn’t lose them. There are a lot of complications to getting things reissued and re-released and we’ve been working with our management on this for quite a while. The only thing that is coming out positively right now is Die Healing on limited edition vinyl and then CD.

HSS: Wino is a legend, and deservedly so, but I've always wondered why you've never really done any other things outside of Vitus (besides Debris Inc of course). Absolutely no disrespect to Wino, as I'm a fan myself, but I've always thought that "Hey, Chandler is the dude that wrote the riffs." Is there any particular reason that you haven't done much outside of Vitus? With a scene as fertile as NOLA, are you working on any new bands now?

DC: When Saint Vitus ended in 1995 I was so disgusted with the music scene that I wanted nothing to do with it and I didn’t even listen to music at all anymore. It took five years for Ron Holzner to talk me into doing Debris inc. We started doing that for fun and when it became not fun anymore I decided to quit because I’m too old to live in a van for a month on tour. It did get me interested in wanting to keep on playing and that did help me want to get Vitus back together. For a while before we actually started concentrating on doing Vitus reunions I was playing a bit with Jimmy Bower (Down) on drums and Pat Bruders (Crowbar) on bass. We didn’t have a band name, but we did record four songs, and you never know, we may jam again, but for now I have to concentrate on remembering my own songs.

HSS: It's so great that you guys are doing shows again. Would Vitus ever record again? Also, would we ever see a show/ tour with Scott Reagers? Are you still in contact with him?

DC: There has been talk about doing a new album and there seems to be some interest within the public and the industry. So I’m not going to confirm anything but I’m not going to rule it out either. I do talk Scotty every so often. I can’t see any type of tour with him as the singer. The main line up that people ask for is the Born Too Late lineup and that is what they‘re going to get. Be careful what you wish for.

HSS: So Vitus was Born Too Late, but it looks like you will Die Healing eh?

DC: Ha! We’ll see…

Special thanks to my metal brother-in-arms Ian for hooking this up.


Anonymous said...

Just a quick note on this. I tried to take it easy on Dave, while also wanting this to be one of the more comprehensive interviews of his out there, which wasn't hard, since he doesn't usually do interviews.

So yes, I could have nerded out on every single riff, but in the end, decided to try to cover as much of their career as possible... and have this serve as a primer for those who aren't readily familiar with Vitus.

I definitely plan on chatting with Dave again someday (in person next time).

Anonymous said...

A great interview! Thanks for publishing this!

Andy Roxx said...

Great interview! Dave and Wino are legends