Dave Chandler of St. Vitus on the band's early days at SST and what inspired the reunion
St. Vitus (due tonight at Summit Music Hall) were one of the pioneers of a style of music that took its direct inspiration from the first four, maybe even the first six, Black Sabbath albums. The band's aggressive guitar work flirted with psychedelia but was too heavy to ever be considered a psychedelic rock band.
Needless to say, St. Vitus never fit in with the metal scene at the time, which was rife with acts with sartorial affectations from Aerosmith and bands like Slade and The New York Dolls. And so the group instead became involved with the then hardcore scene sharing tours with Black Flag and SST putting out its first handful of releases.
Today, terms like "doom" and "stoner rock" are used synonymously with the guitar-driven sound and rhythmic dynamics that St. Vitus perfected early in its career. We spoke with guitarist Dave Chandler about the band's involvement with SST and the Wacken Open Air show that instigated the Vitus reunion.
Westword: How did your band get to know the guys in Black Flag and ultimately release records on SST?
Dave Chandler: They had a band called Overkill on their label. They were trying to get them to be their crossover metal thing. They went to a show we were doing just to flyer the parking lot and we got to talking. They were having trouble getting bands to play with them because they were doing this crossover thing. Then they asked us and we said, "Sure, we'll play with anybody." When we found out they were on SST, I asked if anyone from Black Flag had come to the show, I just wanted to meet them because I was a fan. Greg, Henry and Chuck showed up and they asked us that night if we wanted to record and we said, "Hell yeah!"
Westword: A lot of people these days refer to St. Vitus as a "doom metal" band, but when you started, there wasn't really a genre title like that. What were you going for back then, if anything specific at all?
Dave: Back then, there were no names like "doom metal" and "stoner rock" -- "punk rock" and "heavy metal" were about it. We just wanted to keep the old Black Sabbath thing alive because that was when Ozzy had left and Sabbath had changed their style of music and sped it up some. Nobody else was playing stuff like off the first four Sabbath albums, so that's what we wanted to do. We were also into Judas Priest, and that's why we had the faster songs too. The singer we had in Tyrant could sing like Rob Halford.
Westword: You went on tour with Black Flag a couple of times. What was that like, and how did audiences greet you at the shows?
The first time we went across America, it was down south and up, then across Canada, and then back down to L.A.. That was the first time those audiences were exposed to us. Pretty much ninety percent of them hated us with a passion. They were throwing whatever wasn't nailed down and generally fucking with us.
That was in December '84, and we went back with Black Flag in August in '85 and the same people that had given us shit were up front cheering us on because we didn't back down from them, we didn't stop playing when they gave us shit and we didn't cry about it. They spit at us; we spit back. Then they were like, "Hey, these guys are fuckin' cool."
They didn't necessarily really like our music any more than they did before, but they just accepted the fact that we were pretty much like them, except our hair was longer and our music was slower. We got a little shit about, "You guys are the ones that made Black Flag grow their hair." We didn't -- you just get tired of cutting your hair on tour.
Was there a guitar you favored then and even now?
I always used a Gibson SG. It's my favorite one. I just bought a Schecter Flying V, because it has a Floyd Rose whammy bar on it, so that it stays in tune. You have to have custom ones put on a Gibson, and they don't stay in tune very well. My guitar of choice, though, is the SG. It looks like what Sabbath played -- that was the first thing. I like the double cut-away because I can grip the neck better.
With a Les Paul, you have to bend your hand. I don't have to do that with an SG, which is what I also like about the Flying Vs. Also, the SGs have a bevel on them where your right hand goes when you're strumming so you're not against a hard edge, but a smooth edge, and you can slide along it easily.
What kind of amps do you use?
Marshalls. When I started, there was only fifty watts and a hundred watts. Now, when I have my choice, I get the JCM 800. Cabinets, to me, are not that big a deal because I don't have to have my cabinet match my heads. I prefer to have a full Marshall stack because it looks nice, but as long as I have a JCM 800 head, I can get whatever sound I want out of the cabinet.