This is an interview with Dave Chandler (guitar) from St. Vitus. I did it in Vienna in February, before their show.
First, could you please tell us about the very early years of St. Vitus and about the way Wino joined tha band. He was doing The Obsessed in Maryland so what made him join St. Vitus?
Dave Chandler (guitar): We have been a band since 1979. That’s when we did our first live show. In 1986, our singer Scott Reagers left. We knew he was going to leave and a lot of people in the underground knew he was going to leave. And a lot of people suggested Wino because his band The Obsessed wasn’t happening anymore. A guy gave us a tape of The Obsessed and we liked what we heard. Then he came to see our show, I believe in ’86, when we played on the East Coast. We didn’t know anything about him until we heard the actual tape. And he wasn’t doing anything so he moved across the country and started rehearsing with us. We recorded “Born Too Late” only a couple of months after that.
Obviously, the name “St. Vitus” comes from the Black Sabbath song “St. Vitus Dance”…
Yeah, that’s where we originally took the name from. We wanted to make sure that St. Vitus was not satanic in any way ‘cause we didn’t want to deal with the satanic bullshit that was going on at that time. So we looked up and we found out that he’s actually the patron saint of musicians, dancers and healers… and all kinds of good stuff. So we were like “Wow, that’s cool.” So we took the name from the Black Sabbath song “St. Vitus Dance” and we liked the fact that the disease was kind of a nervous, twitching thing back in the old days.
Does the album title “Die Healing” have something to do with that, too?
No. Actually, it came about because we knew it was going to be the last album. If you read it literally, that means that you are dying while you’re being healed. Then it would mean that we are being healed by coming back – and we are dying at the same time because it was our last record. But if you translate it to German, it says “THE healing”. So it’s got a double deal there.
Why the German reference? Were you so popular there?
Yeah, when we came to Europe in ’89, everybody loved us in Germany. That’s why we singed to a German label. Everywhere we’ve been we had great shows but in Germany we always feel like we’ve been here before. So we decided to that because it amuses people, too. Which is always fun.
Besides Black Sabbath, you were also influenced by Black Flag. You had a tour with them and your first couple of albums came out on their label – but did you eve tour with Black Sabbath?
No. But we did Hellfest in France last year and we played after Heaven And Hell finished. That’s the closest we’ve ever came to playing with Sabbath. But that would be a lot of fun to do. I would like to do an Ozzfest tour someday, that would be kind of fun. Actually, I don’t think we ever played with any of our influences because they’re all from the ‘70s: Alice Cooper, Blue Öyster Cult… But we did play with Blue Cheer and became friends with them. We also played with some of the punk bands: Black Flag, G.B.H., Agnostic Front…
By the way, do you think there will ever be a Black Sabbath reunion with Ozzy again? Will they make an album or will they tour together again someday?
I don’t know. It would be cool. It will probably depend on everybody’s health because they’re not exactly really young. Neither we are, we’re all over fifty except for our new drummer.
Is it true that Wino left the band because, according to a contract with Hellhound Records, he had to reunite The Obsessed?
You have to ask him about whether it’s true or not. I know that we had difficulties at the time. We were not getting along, we were fighting with each other and things like that. We knew The Obsessed put a record out and we said that if he wanted to tour with them, that’s fine. We have pretty much figured that once he started doing that he wouldn’t want to come back because things were not that good. But I don’t know if he had to or not. He never told us that he had to do it, we just felt he wanted to do it and we pretty much expected it.
What do you think of your albums that you’ve done without Wino?
I like all of our albums except for C.O.D. I’m not happy with that one, I don’t like the way it was produced. My favorite albums are “Die Healing” and the first one. Coincidentally, neither one of them has Wino but it’s not the reason. I like the first album because that’s actually a live album. We did that live in the studio and we didn’t do any overdubs of anything. And I think “Die Healing” is the most professionally sounding album.
So, as you mentioned, you called it a day because of personal differences…
Pretty much, yeah. Mark wanted to quit, I wanted to quit, everybody was fighting with each other, it was really crazy at that time, nobody was getting along with anybody. Wino was unhappy, we were unhappy, so it was inevitable he was going to go do The Obsessed. Which actually worked out kind of a good thing because it gave him a weird persona for him when we got back together.
In 2003, you played a show in Chicago at the Double Door with the “Born Too Late” line-up. Why Chicago? Does it have anything to do with Trouble?
No. I mean kind of because at that time I was in a band called Debris Inc., with bass player Ron Holzner from Trouble. We had various drummers, our current drummer Henry Vasquez was one of our drummers. We were always playing Chicago when we were touring around the country with Debris. When we decided to get the Vitus thing back together it’s because we had an offer to do the With Full Force Festival No. 10 so we said OK, Vitus will play if you let Debris also play. And they said “OK, that’s good.” I wasn’t planning on doing Vitus anymore but I wanted to do that ‘cause I had done Wacken the previous year with Debris. We did some Vitus songs and the response was really good so I wanted the guys to see that. We did Chicago because that’s where Debris was based out of and we needed to do a warm-up show before the festival.
These is also a video recording of that show which later came out on DVD. Is it still available?
I think so. You can go to the Debris website and still get it.
Is Debris Inc. still active?
No, I stopped that after a while because it became more hassle than fun and I didn’t really want to deal with it anymore. St. Vitus wasn’t doing anything but then we got some interest in Vitus again for Roadburn so then it just kind of happened.
Originally, did you only want to play that particular show or did you already think of starting St. Vitus again?
No, we just wanted to do that one and I was going to continue with Debris. And Debris stopped in 2005 so I still did that for a couple of years after that.
Then in 2008 you got together again and the next year you did the Roadburn show.
Yeah, we got the offer to do Roadburn so we said “OK, let’s go and do that”. We did a show in New Orleans before that for the same reason we did that warm-up show. That’s where I live, we have a rehearsal stage and everything set up so that’s why we did New Orleans. Roadburn opened up the door to do Hellfest which opened up the door to do this tour so we’re going to see how many more doors open and see how far we can roll on with this at the end of the line before we all croak, ha ha!
During that tour, you parted was with your original drummer Armando Acosta. Why? I read his statement according to which you fired him…
That’s always going to happen when you’re the person who has to say it to the person. Physically, he has a lot of problems, he really needs to go to a doctor and be taken care of – and he doesn’t want to. He just couldn’t do the songs and he told me and Mark that he can’t play the way he used to. We told him not to worry about it and to play straight not doing any of his fancy stuff. But he didn’t listen and just could not do it. Basically, I’ve always been the person in charge of St. Vitus so it’s up to me to make the decisions, good or bad. We had a band meeting with every single person including our manager Rodney and we all agreed that we can not let it happen this way. There’s going to be almost 100.000 people so that’s really important. And I had to be the one to tell him because that’s my job in St. Vitus. I take all the credit for the bad decisions and the good decisions ‘cause I make them. Everybody agreed and I was the one who had to make the phone call. So I’m the one who fired him but actually, the whole band agreed. We even told him: “If you go to a doctor, get healthy and play again, good.” But Henry Vasquez is the shot in the arm that we needed. The kick in the ass that we needed. He’s a lot better than Armando, his timing is impeccable and he’s the loudest drummer I’ve ever heard in my life.
What about the future of St. Vitus? Do you plan on doing another album?
We’re talking about it. It depends on how this tour goes. If the tour goes well we’ll probably will. The way this tour is going so far is looking really good. And if we do it’s going to be the line-up you’ll see tonight. Henry is our permanent drummer.
What do you think of the fact that the doom metal scene is very active again?
Yeah, it’s cool that doom metal is back in action, for lack of a better term. It would be sad if it would just fade away because it’s a legitmate form of metal. I still think it’s weird that people have to label every different little tiny thing. Basically, it’s all heavy metal. When we were doing this it was nice to see some of the kids that came to see our shows and tried to be in bands that did doom metal. It’s a great feeling and it’s good for us now because all those kids kept doing it and now that we are back they’re like “You are the people that made us do it”. So it’s cool.
What do (doom) metal and the underground movement mean to you?
Well, obviously, the underground means everything to us. As for the label “doom metal”, I think it’s fine. We never heard of it until we came to Europe and on one of the tours they said we were doom metal. And I thought that made sense because my songs were about death, destruction and doomy things. My mother used to call our songs “funeral music”… OK, whatever they want to call it, that’s fine. I still think it’s a strange thing but I can understand it. Most of the world seems strange now, ha ha!
How do you view the fact that people often refer to St. Vitus as one of the most important bands of the genre?
Oh, that’s very very flattering, we love that. But we are always the first people to say that Black Sabbath started it. Everybody else just followed them. But when magazines write about the history of doom metal, it is nice that we are among the top people they talk about. That’s a lot of fun. We bought this theing called Encyclopedia of heavy metal and there’s a giant picture of me under “doom metal”. That makes me feel good. When Black Sabbath were doing it that label was not there. So as for the origins of the name “doom metal”, we are one of the first ones – if not the first ones.
Any last words to close this interview?
Well, to those who have our records, I want to say thank you all for hanging with us all these years. That’s great. Hopefully, we’ll get to Hungary someday. If things keep going the way they’re going we’ll just keep expanding our territory that we play in. We’d love to come over there, we have friends who said it was great, we’d love to come to you guys. So keep the faith and hopefully we’ll be there.