Dave Chandler is one of the greatest, unsung, American musical innovators of the latter half of the 20th century. In the late 1970's punk rock was in full spring and heavy metal was adopting the punk energy in order to reinvigorate and reinvent itself away from the bombast of most prevalent 70's rock.
To most bands this meant playing faster, particularly bands of the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) who inspired the thrash movement. However, there were those who chose a more traditional approach. Between the years of '77 and '80 a handful of devout Sabbathians: Pagan Altar, Witchfinder General, The Obsessed, Trouble, and Saint Vitus reached further back into the past, extracting their American blues roots and interjecting them into their own unique brand of heavy metal; rather than play faster like everyone else they played slower and what could be more punk? They would help to develop a style of very slow and downtrodden heavy rock which would come to be known as doom metal.
If you would've seen Saint Vitus's name on a flyer for a show in the early 80's you would've guessed they were another west coast hardcore band. In retrospect, Saint Vitus has been the most penetrating and influential of the original doom metal bands making Dave Chandler almost single handedly responsible for the sound of an entire sub-genre of heavy metal. I say almost, because it takes two hands to play the guitar and in many ways he is the heir to the Hendrix mantle as far as American rock guitar playing goes, though his own warmth and humility would never dare to suggest such a thing. I had the honor to speak with Chandler during Saint Vitus's recent tour stop here in Portland, Oregon
Wes Cueto: Hows the tour going?
Dave Chandler: It's going pretty cool so far. We've had a few shows with small attendance but everybody there was there for a reason and was having a really good time so that's really what matters.
DC: The only bad thing was Keko (Weedeater drummer Keith Kirkum) hurting his arm so they're gonna get a substitute drummer that we're picking up in Frisco but that's the only like lame thing that's happened, everything else has been really good.
WC: In the 70's there were almost no bands playing doom metal outside of Sabbath so what bands besides Sabbath were a big influence on you in the beginning?
DC: Yeah cause doom metal was completely non-existent, no one ever heard of it. Besides Sabbath, for me personally people like the Alice Cooper group, Blue Oyster Cult, Jethro Tull were the main ones. The first band that made me want to play music was The Monkees, watching the TV show. So I really got off on that. The 70's was a really diverse time in music, there was like a lot of big bands that played a bunch of different stuff that was really cool. So we kind of just liked everybody in a way.
WC: Did you have any guitar heros growing up?
DC: Well, like Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce from Alice Cooper and of course Tony Iommi, Ritchie Blackmore. I was never a big fan of Zeppelin for some reason.
WC: Yeah, me neither.
DC: Yeah, I was never like a huge Page fan. He's great but I was never really into him. Mark Farner from Grand Funk I really liked. Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom in Blue Oyster Cult.
WC: I hear a lot of Hendrix in your playing, was he an influence at all?
DC: Not really, he was a little before my time but I've heard a lot of people say that. I think it's because I make a lot of noise and use the whammy a lot, which he did too. I could never be the virtuoso that he was but I find that very flattering. I also find that very odd because I was never into him and he's so much more intricate... I could see the similarities especially if you were tripping on acid or something and the guitar solo comes on... I don't light my guitar on fire, but I do try to play with my teeth (laughs).
WC: What's your favorite Sabbath album?
DC: Probably the first one because it has that second side with "A Bit Of Finger / Sleeping Village / Warning" which is my favorite Sabbath song.
WC: Why did you guys change your name from Tyrant to Saint Vitus?
DC: There was a million bands called Tyrant all over, everywhere. Then we discovered one that had an album out so we were like "Ah screw that!" We always liked Sabbath, obviously so I was like, "Let's do 'Saint Vitus' but take the 'Dance' off but let's research it and make sure it isn't taken" because back then a lot of the thrash metal was coming up and ya know like, you never know. So we found out that the actual Saint Vitus is the patron saint of musicians, dancers, actors and dogs and we were like "Oh good!"
WC: Cool man, glad it worked. What led to the departure of Scott Reagers after the first two albums?
DC: Basically... well, to be crass- money. We were making absolutely nothing going out on tour and coming home in debt. The rest of us were single, just living on our own and working jobs or whatever, he had a girlfriend to support who was eventually going to be his wife and she wasn't working so he had to do that so there was just no way that he could continue.
WC: What're some of your favorite memories from those days in the 80's?
DC: I remember it was really fun to play the hardcore punk shows and to take their shit for two years or whatever it was, then to have it reverse was really good because then they were on our side. There's not many metal bands that can say they only did punk shows for three or four years or more and that's all we did, we didn't do any metal shows.
That was a blast because bands would come in from out of town and call SST and request us to open because they knew by the time we got done the crowd would be so pissed off and violent that they would have a volatile show. So we got to play play with like all kinds of different people and it was always like as soon as we'd start setting up, the punks would start throwing shit (laughs).
WC: (Laughing) That must've been fun.
DC: It was! It was really a growing experience and it also taught us the fuckin' DIY thing because we never had any help or nothing! They taught us that that's how you pay your dues and if something good happens you're thankful, like right now we're like "Whew! This is really cool" but we did earn it.
WC: Absolutely. On the album V you guys did something very different with the track "When Emotion Dies" which was unlike you had done anything pervious to that or since so I was curious where that came from?
DC: We just wanted to do something fun because Wino is a guitar player so I was like, "Let's do a weird like 'Laguna Sunrise' or something like that. A weird, bizarre, acoustic thing and you play it and when you get the music then I'll just ad lib something." So I just wrote the words down and she (the female vocalist on the track) was going out with one of the guys from Hellhound at the time, which was the label that we were on and it just so happened that she was a schooled singer. We were gonna have this local trio of girls do three different backing vocals but they got a chance to hop on tour with a bigger band so they couldn't do it and she goes, "Well, I can do three different octaves. I'll just do all three vocals." So that's how that came about. It was mainly for fun and then we planned on using it as an intro.
WC: Interesting. In '95 you guys did Die Healing which saw the return of Scott Reagers back into the fold. What was it like working with him on that album as opposed to the first two albums back in the early days?
DC: Well, I mean once he came to rehearsals and everything it all just flowed back like riding a bicycle. The only thing different was the fact that we recorded that album in Germany, not in America obviously. So that was a big difference but you know we had like a label behind us that had not a lot of money but enough so that we could go to a good studio and have a metal producer do it, which was Harris Johns. He produced all the Sodom albums.
WC: Oh cool.
DC: Yeah, prior to that it was like Joe Carducci and Spot and everyone who did a great job but they were punk producers and alternative producers. They had never done any metal before us, ever. That's why I think Die Healing, besides Lillie (F-65, their new album), is like the best sounding record that we have. I think Die Healing and the first one are the best sounding besides Lillie, because on the first one SST didn't know what to do so we just set it up like rehearsal and recorded it. Then Die Healing was done by a metal guy.
WC: I had read somewhere that you said Die Healing was your favorite Vitus album, is it still your favorite now that Lillie is out?
DC: Well no, I mean Lillie is my favorite now obviously. I always said that mainly because of the production on Die Healing but like the best album songs wise is Born Too Late, still. Those songs are just like thee Vitus songs. The only one that could really compete with Born Too Late would be Lillie, I think.
WC: Is that why Die Healing is so hard to find, because you recorded it in Germany?
DC: Yeah and also we had just barely got it out, did two weeks into what was gonna be a long tour and Scott quit again. So we just gave up and said, "Fuck this, we're done, this is bullshit." So Hellhound stopped production like, "Bang!" and so whatever they had put out for the tour and for the little bit of initial sales was all that ever got put out. So it went away quick.
WC: Wow. Is there any chance of that being rereleased?
DC: It's been rereleased in a limited edition that sold out immediately. We're working now with Season Of Mist to get the whole catalog. If we get the whole catalog, then they would put together something that had every single record. We have most of them right now and there's still a couple we're hassling over.
WC: That'd be wonderful. How'd you guys approach the studio this time around for Lillie?
DC: Well, the main difference was that we couldn't really rehearse because we live so far apart from each other. I live in New Orleans, Mark (Adams, bassist) lives in Lomita, California which is by San Pedro. Wino lives in Hollywood and Henry (Vasquez, drummer) lives in Texas. So I just would record the riffs, put them on a disc and send it to them and send Wino words for the songs that I wrote the words to. Then everybody would just practice, same way when we'd go on tour, we'd get together in Texas and rehearse for like two or three days and go do what we have to. So we just went and did that. Everything flowed together really smooth for the weird type of rehearsals, if you want to call it that. So when we went in the studio we didn't like really waste any time.
WC: Cool, and where was it recorded?
DC: In Port Orchard, Washington which is not really an island, because it's hooked at one spot with a weird little bridge, but I guess it is kind of an island. Tony Reed from Mos Generator and Stone Axe, we went to like a studio that he knew (Temple sound), then we went to his house studio (HeavyHead sound) to mix it and get the work done. So he worked like all the magic on it.
WC: Nice. You guys have any new material in the works?
DC: Not yet, I mean, I'm fuckin' around with riffs but we're concentrating on doing this. Then, when this tour is done, which is in about eleven days we're not doing anything until like February I think. Which is when we do the full European tour for Lillie, because what we just did was like festival hopping it wasn't a full support for the record. So then after that you never know, but I have this time off so we'll see what happens. We're just taking shit one day at a time you know. Before the album even came out people were like, "You gonna do another one?" and I'm like "Let this one come out, what the fuck? (Laughing) We don't even know if people are gonna like it or not!"
WC: (Laughs) Yeah man, there's a lot of anticipation behind Vitus.
DC: Yeah and Season Of Mist is cool man. They want us to do another one but they said, "If you feel you can't, or for some reason, don't want to or whatever, we're not gonna hold you on it." So that's like really cool.
WC: That is very cool. What would you be doing in life had you not gone into music?
DC: What I do, which is work at an herbal head shop. We sell like holistic stuff and voodoo potions and weird shit like that and then we have a back room with pipes and stuff. So yeah, I guess I'd just be doing that, which is what I'll be doing when I get home. (Laughing) I'll try to slack off for as much as I can and my wife's like, "You can have a couple weeks but then you better get your ass back to the store."
WC: (Laughs) Do you have a favorite beer?
DC: Miller High Life!
WC: Fuck yeah, dude! Me too!
DC: The champagne of beers! That's all I drink.
WC: I see. Tell me about Debris, Inc.
DC: Well, that was originally just supposed to be fun. (Former Trouble bassist) Ron Holzner talked me into it on the premise that I wound only sing and could act stupid drunk and it would just be a full on punk rock band. He didn't really understand a lot of punk rock, at least not the way that I did, because he had just heard bands that he liked. He never went through it or anything so he didn't know how to write any like weird riffs or anything so that got me back into like playing guitar, trying to write riffs for that for someone else to play. Then it just worked out that I did and he told me later, (puts on a dopey voice) "Yeah, that was my whole plan." Which I doubt, I think he just decided to like jump in on the fact that I was playing guitar again you know. It was really fun at first and it was supposed to be ONLY fun and near the end it became like just a pain in the ass and no matter what we did, we would lose money. It was just fucking ridiculous and people were like pissed off and it was just like terrible.
The only really good thing that came out of it was that we got to do an album, which I think some of the songs are really good. Some of them I think should have been left off in lieu of some ones that were left off. The best thing about it is that's where I met Henry, our drummer. He was the last Debris drummer, he did it for the last like few years that we were in the band so when we needed somebody in like a split second to do a gigantic show, I was like "I know someone, we're just gonna call fuckin' Henry." I'd had no one else in mind and I figured unless he was on tour with Blood Of The Sun, he would do it cause it was always just one show and all he had to do was learn some other Vitus songs because we were already playing two or three Vitus songs in Debris anyway. So we were like, "Dude, we're playing Hellfest" and he was like "Oh fuck yeah!" then after that it was like "Dude, we need a drummer."
WC: That's awesome.
DC: Yeah, and he's great he adds a lot of power. God bless Armando (Acosta, founding Saint Vitus drummer from '78, played with them up until his tragic and untimely death in 2010) he was a great drummer but Henry actually, I think, really fits the style of the band more just because of how powerful he is, I really think so. A lot of people have said that too, we met some old fans on the last big tour we did with Helmet and they were saying, "Yeah it's a lot more powerful."
WC: One last question- It's the Halloween season, do you have a favorite horror film?
DC: Yeah, John Carpenter's The Thing. The first one with Kurt Russell, I've probably seen it thirty or forty times. I love that.
WC: Nice! Jeremy Wagner from Broken Hope said the same exact thing when I asked him that. That's funny.
DC: That movie is bad ass. I like the next one too the one that they put out after that, the prequel, I thought it was good! I liked the way it ended with the one dude who survived getting in the helicopter and chasing the dog, it ties it back, that's fucking bad ass.
WC: Yeah man, I really like Prince Of Darkness. I'm a big Carpenter fan.
DC: Yeah, that one's okay. I like a lot of his shit but I really dig The Thing. That one I can watch it like anytime and not be bored. I like sitting there and saying the lines with them like you know, "You've got to be fucking kidding" when the spider thing runs past (laughing) It's great, I love that fucking movie.