SAINT VITUS – The punk chronicles of doom
Nothing sells better these days than reunions and old bands that tour on that all too familiar record from 86. Thank’s to downloading, record sales have gone down, but bands have one true and tested source of revenue and that’s ticket sales. Saint Vitus is a band that doesn’t lose too much sleep over the fact of where most of the money comes from. Another thing is that metal fans have a long memory and they still want a physical copy of the music.
Me, being the non local and certainly the weirdo in Bergen’s media whore music realm and doing this for free makes me realize that I’m not actually a whore. I’m a slut. I wear this title proudly on one of the club days of the Hole In The Sky festival. On this day the doom bands or the doomier bands will play hymns to old Nick, and altough you got Sweden’s Grand Magus in the backstage area of the club and the norwegian band Devil sitting there drinking beer, everyone is aware of the presence of Saint Vitus. It’s like some of them actually stop breathing or something when Wino walks out of the dressing room.
I’m all too familiar with nervousness in these situations and I usually chain smoke to keep my health on standby, but my brain occupied. The media circle jerk is still in play. What does this mean? Surely the members of the high and low end of the music press doesn’t engage in homosexual activities? No need to worry my uptight little friend, it’s just the best way to describe the way we hacks chase each others tails when we’re interviewing four bands that all are within a radius of five meters. With one journalist departing from the Vitus dressing room, my number is up and I get motioned forward by one of Hole In The Sky’s press people. I met and greeted the band, they all look pretty beat and I guess my topic for my gnarly questions are quite fitting under the circumstances.
Saint Vitus is best known for being a cult doom band, but they also have a punk connection and maybe even had a punk way of writing songs too, maybe they still do. They were signed to SST records, the famous punk and indie label that was started by Black Flag main man Greg Ginn. For those of you that are familiar with how this enterprise was run and how Black Flag did things, know that it was a labour of love and that love came with a lot of hardships. Those hardships were either endured at their SST headquarters, where they were quite frequently harrassed by cops, but also on the road, with the now infamous Chuck Dukowski booking method. Chuck Dukowski or Gary McDaniel, was the bassplayer in Black Flag and later manager. In Henry Rollins book Get In The Van, which chronicles his experiences with Black Flag, it is described like this – Sometimes I wonder if he even looks on a map when he books the band. If I saw a gig list that said Miami-Seattle-New York-London, I wouldn’t be suprised. This method was used by the famous Black Flag bassist and later manager to get the band in a lot of places in a very short time. After a few introductionary questions with Dave Chandler and Wino, I reveal that I want to talk about hardcore and punk. With the topic revealed, I immediately get thumbs up from Mark Adams, Dave Chandler and Wino. Henry Vasquez was sleeping I believe. First and foremost I wanted to now how they hooked up with the hardcore scene?
Mark Adams: Me and Dave liked punk rock and we got into punk rock and alternativ new wave stuff and all of those bands. Most of the other bands we didn’t really care for and I don’t know. Dave kinda came up with an idea.
Dave Chandler: Well, what happened was that were advertising our show and putting out flyers ‘cause there was no internet or anything and SST had a band called Overkill and they were passing out flyers at one of our gigs. We were friends with a couple of the guys in Circle Jerks cause Scotty(Scott Reagers) knew them. They were all hanging out and after the show the guys from Overkill wanted to know if we wanted to do shows with them, because SST didn’t want them doing only punk shows. They wanted Overkill to do shows with metal bands too. We said yeah, cause we were gonna play with anybody. It didn’t make any difference and I said something to the effect of – Since you’re on SST, do you think you can get anyone from Black Flag to come to the show. I’d just be curious as to what they think. Later Henry, Greg and Chuck came to the show and when we were done Chuck approached us and asked if we wanted to do a singel. We said yes and we were called up a few days later and they said that they couldn’t do a single cause our songs were too long, so they were gonna do an album and it was all handshake. Of course that’s when we started doing all the punk shows and playing with all their bands. People started calling them and asking for us to open for them, because by the time we were done the crowd would be so pissed off and agitated that the punk band would have a great radical show. That’s how we got involved in it and eventually all the people we had at our shows were punk rockers, because all the longhairs were into Poison and they didn’t like us.
(Photo: Ester Segarra)
Wino wasn’t in the band when they had these experiences. Being a DC dude, Wino recalls his first brushes with the punk and hardcore scene in DC and also how he first heard about Saint Vitus.
Wino: I was first told about Saint Vitus by Ian Mackaye. because I was from DC and he was obviously the main dude from the DC scene. He really liked my band The Obsessed and we were a sort of crossover band in a way. As a matter of fact I think Ian Mackaye was the first person I ever heard use that term, but anyway he came down one day and we started talking and he told me – I think you’ll really like this band. They’re on SST and kinda Sabbathy and they’re called Saint Vitus. I kinda stored that away. Not long after that I got the black record and I was pretty blown away and later they passed through on tour, so yeah. It was a punk rock connection all the way.
When I talk to a good number of my friends some of them complain that they haven’t lived through the iconic 60s or the 70s. Maybe I’m one of those dreamers too in my bleakest moments, but I’m not entirely sure if I would’ve wanted to live through the hustle and bustle of the eighties US hardcore scene. Sure, a hardcore show needs some action, but quite frankly I can do without a militant police force trying to beat the crowd down. I can do without hard drugs and people throwing bottles of piss at me. I tell the Saint Vitus members this and that I probably would’ve pissed my pants if I was in attendance at a Black Flag show in the eighties. That’s when Wino confronts me and asks me how old I am. After I reveal that I’m at the strapping young age of 32 he continues without a beat.
Wino: 32..Back in those days and we were in our twenties or whatever and we had bombed out hair and wore long heels. If we went to a peg and keg party, we were just ready to fight man. If somebody fucked with us we were just ready to fight. That’s all there is to it.
Dave: When we were doing this on SST, eventhough we were known in the punk world and it was known that we did punk shows, there were certain bands that we did not go to because we would litteraly got our collective asses beaten in the parking lot. We couldn’t see The Germs or The Dead Kennedys. NO WAY! We could see people that we knew or knew us. Like, we could see the Circle Jerks or Suicidal Tendencies and that was fine, because we knew them or knew people that knew them, but man if we tried to go to a Germs show we wouldn’t have made it in the door. We would have been beaten in the parking lot. It was mainly ‘cause of long hair. If we had short hair it might have made no difference, but then SST might not have liked us either. They liked the fact that we were a huge controversy for them.
Wino: The other fact is that it was sort of known in the punk circles, California punks were not straight edge. So the shows in California were bigger and more violent. The DC shows were more a contained scene. The straight edge scene, Minor Threat or whatever, that bled over pretty good. I mean SSD is one of my favorite bands.
Dave: Springa wasn’t straight edge though.
Wino: No, but they came off with that vibe. I just think California is bigger, wilder and way more violent. I found out when I joined the band. The first show we went to put out flyers. We were playing with Celtic Frost, Corrosion of Conformity and No Mercy, which was a Suicidal Tendencies off shoot. So we were putting out flyers at this place called the Olympic in downtown LA. Dave had warned me about the Suicidal Tendencies dudes or whatever. The same night was the first time I’ve ever seen thirty dudes on one. One dude breaks from the pack and the there was like this cloud of bees following him. It was bullshit gang mentality, but that was how it was.
Dave: I would get it because I was friends with Suicidal Tendencies and I was also friends with this gang from Long Beach called the SS Skins and they were at war with each other. So at that show(Olympic) I was talking to my skinhead friends and the Suicidals were moving in, so I went over to Mike Muir to talk to him, so the Suicidals would see it and no kill me. Then they were really confused until someone told them that I was from Saint Vitus. That was the fans though it wasn’t the band. The Suicidal Boys was a gang that followed them around. The band had nothing to do with it. The band just tolerated it.
One explaination I’ve got for this behavior in the eighties with a lot of fights at the shows, is that punk was starting to decline and the core fans got more violent.
Dave: No. It was violent in the beginning and stayed violent til the end. When it first started it was more New Wave I shall say, but when bands like Black Flag and The Germs started getting people into their shows it was a mess from the beginning til the end. Black Flag would play a club once and never be allowed to play there again, same thing with The Germs.
Wino: Fucking Jello would start riots man.
Dave: Jello would start riots, oh yeah. We actually hid the Circle Jerks in our practice area once cause there was a riot going on next door at the club. It was FEAR, Dead Kennedys and the Circle Jerks. We hid Keith Morris in there.
Mark: Hide me! Hide me!
Dave Chandler: Keith was like – Call my mum, so she can pick us up!
Wino: Those were the days man! FEAR was such a great band man. The lead singer was just the epitome of hardcore.
Aside from the violence and other debauchery there were other worldly problems that faced the bands that played punk and hardcore, mainly poverty. There were no limos and learjets for these bands. In case you haven’t read Get In The Van by Henry Rollins, which is a very viceral book about the life within Black Flag. One of the stories sticks out and that deals with their charasmatic roadie Mugger. A runaway who went on to become the SST accountant. He describes being forced to live on the streets and eating dog food. Life wasn’t that hard for everybody, but there was a serious lack of money and one of the best ways to get money and move a little closer to the poverty line is touring. The Black Flag bassplayer Chuck Dukowski(Gary McDaniel) and later Black Flag manager figured out a way to tour and through their touring managed to pave the way for all the indie bands that would follow. This method has been called the Chuck Dukowski booking method, where they would litterarly criss cross every state they happened to tour in. Saint Vitus was on tour with Black Flag in the eighties and I asked them how that experience was like?
Dave: If you were to draw the tour on a piece of paper, it would end up looking like spagetti. We’d play places and drive past it again and weird stuff like that. Cause they tried to book you every single day and you couldn’t always go in a straight line and you couldn’t afford to take days off, cause you’re living in your van and you don’t have any money to live in a hotel, so you had to keep going. Sometimes things would happen and you wouldn’t know about it because there was no internet and there was no cellphones. One time we got Houston and the club had burned down the night before and we were like – Oh! What are we going to do? The promoter goes – Oh, we’re gonna be in the bookstore next door. He built this stage out of milk cartons in the bookstore. It was all done on payphones, so you had to have a lot of change with you. It was crasy, cause SST had a lot on their plate at the time and it wasn’t really Dukowski. His partner was basically handling us cause Chuck was on his way out of the corporation at the time. Some of it I would say was that guy’s neglect, but most of the time there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s like – Do you wanna have three days off with no money or do you wanna backtap?
Does this way of touring still exist today?
Dave: I don’t know, but I’ve met some newer bands and I’d go – How in hell has this band got this hugh tourbus and this and that. There’s also a lot of sponsorhips now that will pay for this for a new band and when we did it there was none. I’ve often been quoted and you’re gonna qoute me again right now, I think that bands that starts out should drive in a fucking van and do everything themselves and starve cause when something happens they appreciate it a lot more. There’s a lot of bands out there that are spoiled because they’ve had their careers handed to them.
Mark: On the metal alliance tour there were a couple of bands that reminded me of what we used to do like Red Fang and Atals Moth. They were roading and driving and doing everything themselves.
Dave: They got stuck a bunch of times and not getting paid and their van broke down, but then again you got the one band that I’m not gonna talk about who got their whole ride paid for by somebody and how did you get this, you know. What the fuck!