As you look up and down the festival lineup for Psycho De Mayo this year, it’s hard not to think about how different the lineup would be if Saint Vitus never existed. The masters of doom metal are widely recognized as one of the genre’s forefathers (along with festival mates Pentagram), but their influence goes far beyond a single sub-genre of heavy music. Many of the bands that will grace the stages of Psycho De Mayo on May 11th can attribute their slow-downed and heavy roots to the work of Saint Vitus. That body of work continues to inspire bands today but it also continues to grow significantly in volume. For 35 years Saint Vitus has been touring the world bringing their brand of metal to fans in three different decades. To celebrate this achievement, Saint Vitus is embarking on a West Coast tour this May performing their iconic 1986 album Born Too Late. We caught up with founding member and guitarist Dave Chandler to look back on 35 years of Saint Vitus, share some crazy stories from the road with Black Flag, and get some insights into why their performance at Psycho De Mayo this year is going to be particularly “trippy”.
Rabbits Black: Alright, let’s get right into it. What’s going on in the world of Saint Vitus right now before the upcoming 35th Anniversary Tour?
Dave Chandler: Well, a couple of years ago… wow, I guess it’s been a couple of years now, we put out the Lillie album. Right now Wino and Henry are out with Spirit Caravan. Wino goes out on tour when Saint Vitus doesn’t. When Wino and Henry get back we are going into rehearsals for the 35th Anniversary Tour. We haven’t done the second side of Born Too Late in a long time. We usually play the first three songs at some point here and there, but that’s it.
Rabbits Black: Beyond perfecting Born Too Late, are there any others songs you are working on for the tour?
Dave Chandler: I do have about half of a new album ready. The actual plan was to be working on the album when Wino and Henry got back from their tour with Spirit Caravan. We got some bookings for the fall so we’re going to use the summer to try to write stuff and hopefully get something recorded. We don’t have anything actually ready to record. We really kind of set a high bar with Lillie and we can’t be under that with the new album.
Rabbits Black: Any chance that we will hear some songs from the new album at Psycho De Mayo this year?
Dave Chandler: If I don’t feel that we’re really actually ready to record, we will be guinea-pigging audiences with these new songs. You know I’m hoping to have one of the songs ready for the tour and the festival, I’m not saying anything for sure but I’m hoping to have one. I got it done, I’m hoping the other guys can pick it up! We want people to know we just didn’t stop after Lillie.
Rabbits Black: What’s the recording process like this time around? What’s everyone’s role on this album before you get to recording?
Dave Chandler: It’s a little difficult nowadays because no one really lives near each other. Mark and Wino both live in Southern California. I live in New Orleans and Henry lives in Texas. Our rehearsal space where all of our equipment is, that’s with Henry in Texas. We can’t get together a few times a week and work out new songs and stuff like that. So what we did with the Lillie album was that I just put some stuff down on CDs and sent it to the guys and then everybody learned it. We went into rehearsals for about three days and played it for ourselves, then we went into recording.
This one we are hoping to do a little bit different because Saint Vitus will have all this time off and we are hoping that Wino can have enough time off so that we can go to Texas and pretend to be a band for a couple of weeks and actually really learn the songs correctly. If for some reason Wino can’t do it then we probably will just get us three together, myself, Henry and Mark, get all the songs learned so that we can go into the studio and make sure the band has it down, because Wino picks up this stuff really fast so it won’t be a problem. Like a normal band really!
We actually write everything. On the Lillie album the song “Blessed Night” we were doing for a sound check and worked it out into a song over a couple of tours and started playing that and everybody contributed equally on that, but most of the time it’s me.
Rabbits Black: How do you feel about the state of the current Saint Vitus lineup? You and Mark Adams are founding members obviously and still driving forces.
Dave Chandler: Wino has always been what people call the quintessential singer. Scotty is a really good singer and he’s got that operatic voice, but Wino is a good singer on the aggressive side and he fits the music much better- I think he does. Still there are songs that Scotty does that Wino doesn’t want to do. We are not going to tell Wino that he has to do these songs. There’s some songs he doesn’t feel or like, and that is good because I would not want him to feel uncomfortable.
Rabbits Black: A few years ago Armando Acosta, the drummer throughout the band’s history, passed away. What was the impact of his passing on the band?
Dave Chandler: Armando’s death was really a blow. You never want to speak ill of the dead who are gone forever, but I will say Henry has been a blessing in disguise. Henry plays more in a Seventies-style, he hits harder and is way more powerful. He fits the groove of the songs better because Armando was always a big fan of progressive music, what we called in the 70s a style like Rush, so he would always think that he didn’t have to hit hard, he could play with his wrist and be subtle and do these fancy little rolls. That was good for us, it was kind of like a niche for Vitus when we started. When Armando got sick and we had no choice but to get someone else, my first choice was Henry because I had worked with him before and I knew he was really good. Then it was like night and day, even old fans were like “Wow, you guys are so much more powerful.” We have people who say they didn’t like us before say they like us now. We are really pleased with the lineup.
Rabbits Black: You guys have toured the world for years now as made evident by the 35th Anniversary Tour. How has the fanbase for your music changed or evolved over time? When you look out into the crowd, what are the fans like looking back at you?
Dave Chandler: Well you know we get the older fans. When I say older fans they are like our age! Because they were our age way back then, and they are like “Oh they are playing again, I thought there were dead!” So they still come out! What I find very interesting is we get a lot of kids who since they can remember have been brought up in a household of their parents playing our records. I have people come up to me and say my mom told me that she took headphones and put them to her stomach and played Born Too Late while I was in there! Our fans are really cool now, the age that they run goes from age 14 to 64. It is really cool!
Especially in Europe a lot of the fans are kids, like 17 and 18 years old. We also have kids who are in their 20s whose parents turned them on to us and sometimes they have a little tiny child who knows the songs and the little tiny child knows us and that’s so cool. I remember meeting this little girl one time in Germany and her dad was like “Honey, this is the man who wrote Born Too Late“. She looks at me, gives me the devil horns and says “Born too late!”
Rabbits Black: Devil horns from a little girl in Germany! So she knew your music, and a lot of the bands on the Psycho De Mayo bill this year have been influenced by your records as well. What bands on the Psycho De Mayo lineup have you played with before or are familiar with? There’s a lot of different types of bands- noise rock, experimental, electronic, stoner, to doom. Anyone on the bill catch your eye?
Dave Chandler: I’m not the guy that researches a lot of bands. I’m more of a TV person. But we have played with Kadavar in Europe so we are very familiar with them. I have heard of Dead Meadow, our manager is really into them and I’ve heard people talking about them. Everybody else is pretty new to me! I’m going to see if I can get turned on to some new people that I have never heard of before- it’s pretty cool to do that. I do want to check out The Shrine, they are friends with Chuck Dukowski from Black Flag. I really want to see them. I trust him!
Rabbits Black: Talking about the bill, you are sharing the top honors with Pentagram. After all these years, did you think you would be headlining a festival like Psycho De Mayo where a lot of people are coming out to see you specifically?
Dave Chandler: It’s astonishing to us still. We did a couple single comeback shows a couple years ago and were like “Oh shit!” When we stopped in ’95 no one fucking cared at all and now all of a sudden we have people saying they’ve been waiting 20 years to see us. It’s like “What? Why?” It’s really nice actually. We played a show a few years ago in Pomona with The Casualties and a bunch of bands. The Casualties were the big band there but we played last. There were a lot of punk rock kids, Latino kids, with their Saint Vitus patches on their jackets with all of our logos on their back. It was really cool, it was all ages so there were some really young kids there.
It’s a weird thing when you get there. Because you always really, really, want to headline the whole time you are a band. But then when you finally do headline it’s weird. We are the type of band that when we are done like to go out to the crowd and hang out with people- you go back for ten minutes and wipe off the sweat and change your shirt, and then you get out there and the people from the venue are sweeping the floor and everyone is kicked out! So we would rather support a bigger band like a Lamb Of God or Mastodon. I totally love the fact that Pentagram is playing last for Psycho De Mayo. To solve that problem lately I’ve been going into the crowd at the end of “Born Too Late”. We finish the song, I hand the guitar over and I’m already there!
Rabbits Black: The cool thing about that then is you get to meet people and fans. Let’s say a fan wants to buy Dave Chandler of Saint Vitus a drink. What should the fan bring over?
Dave: Obviously we like it when people appreciate what they saw and what we have done. That is really all we ask. Everyone in the band is up to sign autographs, we will pose for pictures- whatever the fans want because they pay their money. A lot of people work jobs they fucking hate, so if they are going to take some of that money and pay to go see us, that’s cool. But you know if somebody is in the mood to give us something more like a present, especially since we are out in California… you get my drift?!
Rabbits Black: Orange Country, California! I think they can get what you are saying. You know, we actually have some tripped-out 70s style school buses that we call the Psycho School Bus coming to the show. The buses are picking up people all over LA to bring them to the festival. Those are like a little present as well.
Dave Chandler: That’s crazy! We are all for that! Really anybody who wants to put a smile on our faces, we are totally welcome to that. We also do merchandise trades at our booth, so come by!
Rabbits Black: 35 years as a band is a long time in this industry. We are sure there will be some good stories coming from Psycho De Mayo, but do you have any stories from the road in maybe Los Angeles or San Francisco that you want or can share with us?
Dave Chandler: There are a lot because the punk rock days were the really crazy ones. I could do a book on that. At one time in 1987 we were supporting The Mentors on a tour. That was a harsh tour- we were in a van and we did like 62 shows in 65 days. No road crew- nothing. We did everything ourselves . We played this place called The Barn in San Francisco- I am sure it doesn’t exist anymore. I don’t know why but for some reason the skinheads decided to riot and they were just banging on the doors screaming before the doors even opened. When the doors got open they didn’t want to pay and then they rushed in. It was crazy inside!
But most of the time when we were in San Francisco we played at On Broadway. We would always just play there and you know it was never like a super big crowd unless we were supporting Black Flag or Code Of Honor. What was really insane stuff back in those days was going on the road with Black Flag. When we started everyone hated us and it took us two years to work into it because back then the genre split between long hairs and metals with punk rockers was bad, you still got beat up. A punk rocker going to see a metal show would get his ass kicked. I could never go see the Dead Kennedys or Germs because I would get my ass kicked, even though I loved them. We got worked into it because of Redd Kross who could do those shows. Everybody knew the McDonald brothers because they all grew up together. All the punk rockers had long hair before Redd Kross did that. They were a parody really. After two years crowds got used to us because we did not take their shit, we didn’t care and we still played what we did. If the crowd spit on us, we spit back. They finally realized that we had the same kind of ethic as them and not the metal bands they hated. From then on, until we got to go to Europe, we didn’t have any heavy metal people at our shows from late ’84 on except for our friends. It was really cool because you got to do shows all over the country. There would be bands that would come from the Midwest and request for us to open because they knew that by the time we were done the audience would be so worked up and violent that they would have a really great show. We got to play with all kinds of bands because of that. We played in Vancouver with The Mentors, we played with MDC, Code Of Honor, GBH. In New York we played with Agnostic Front and that was pretty hardcore. Agnostic Front, The Mentors and us. After that we were friends with Agnostic Front!
Rabbits Black: Those are the bonding experiences on the road that you always remember. How did you decide to make Psycho De Mayo a stop on the tour this year? Was this festival something you wanted to play specifically?
Dave: Guys in the band had not heard of the festival before because it’s only the second one. So we looked into it first. We are excited about being a part of only the second one ever! The first thing I thought about the festival was that I like the name! I checked out the full lineup and stuff on Facebook and was like “Oh this is going to be fucking cool!” It was a little vague at first about what Pentagram it was going to be, so I called our manager and asked him if it was our Pentagram or the guys from Chile. He said it was our Pentagram and I was excited. I don’t have anything against the other guys, but I would rather play with our Pentagram. They can hold a crowd until late. I do also like the fact that almost every band that was announced had the words “toke”, “zig zag” and stuff like that! You know if people are going to be hanging out on those school buses partying like that, you might find one of us in there!
Rabbits Black: We’ll know where to find Saint Vitus if anyone goes missing! Can you let us in on any surprises for Psycho De Mayo you might have in store for fans on May 11th?
Dave: We want to thank everyone for supporting us over the years. If you haven’t seen us, come out. It’s going to be awhile before we hit the west coast again. Come out and check this one out. We are going to do all of Born Too Late and we are going to do it in order instead of mixing it up. But… there’s something really trippy about it, and I’m going to leave you with that.
Saint Vitus headlines the second annual Psycho De Mayo music festival on May 11th, 2014 at The Observatory in Santa Ana. Rabbits Black has partnered with festival organizer Thief Presents to provide fans with unique events and access to the artists. Tickets for Psycho De Mayo are still available from Thief Presents. Less than ten spots remain on the first ever Psycho School Bus providing round trip transportation to the festival and back.