An In-depth Conversation With Saint Vitus Guitarist Dave Chandler

By Aniruddh “Andrew” Bansal

Doom legends Saint Vitus are back with their eighth studio album “Lillie: F-65″, one of the most eagerly awaited and talked-about albums this year. While it’s yet to be officially released in the United States, the initial response to the album has been nothing but great, and it has lived up to its high expectations. The reunion of vocalist Scott “Wino” Weinrich and guitarist Dave Chandler has given it the classic Vitus touch. Today on May 11th 2012, less than two hours ago, I had the pleasure of speaking to Dave in detail about the band’s comeback, the songwriting process for the new album, guitar tone, the return of Wino, and various other topics. Enjoy the conversation, and order the album or visit the band’s social networks using the links posted at the bottom.

Your new album is your first studio release after a 17-year gap. That’s a really long time. First of all, it must be a great feeling to have this album ready for release now.

Yeah, it’s really cool. It has been a long time, but we are excited about it and we like the way it came out. We’re real happy with it, so we hope the fans like it too. It seems to be a pretty cool record.

And, just for the sake of new fans who might not know, can you briefly tell me about what you did outside of Vitus in the last few years?

Actually, the only thing I did, I was in a band called Debris Inc. with Ron Holzner from Trouble and our drummer Henry Vasquez was the last drummer that was with us in that band. I did that from about 2000 till 2004, I think. That’s all I did during the space that we were broken up. And of course, I worked a job too (laughs).

You did some shows in the last couple of years leading up to the release of this album. So, that must have made it easier for you guys to get back into the groove and write this album.

Yeah, because we actually wrote the song “Blessed Night” on the road, and when we started playing it, people started asking us if it was a song from a new album, which actually gave us the idea to try to put out a new album. It was purely because the fans were asking for it.

On this album, the guitar solos are sounding pretty amazing, man. How much time did you devote to writing those?

First of all, thanks, but actually I don’t really try to write guitar solos. I just try to improvise them when we’re rehearsing and then when we get into the studio. There are some songs for which there’s a specific thing that I want to exactly do, but on this particular album I just improvised all of them. We had rehearsals, then went to the studio, and I did the same thing. I knew when I wanted to start and when I wanted to stop, and I just kind of went from there.

That’s awesome, man. And of course, you have Wino back as the vocalist. Judging from this album, I’d say his voice has aged really well. How do you compare his voice now to when he was in the band before?

Yeah I agree with it, and a lot of people are saying that too. I think his voice is more powerful now, for one thing, and I think this is the probably the best he has sounded with us over anything. He did a really good job. So yeah, he definitely aged well (laughs).

Right, absolutely. Besides his voice, it’s your guitar tone that’s responsible for creating the Vitus vibe, and it’s similar to what you did on the old Vitus albums. In the early days, how much practice did you put in to that, to achieve that tone in the first place?

Well, basically what I did way back when Saint Vitus started, we just tuned in the basic E. We didn’t down tune or anything like that. Actually all we do now is just tune down to E flat. We don’t like to tune it down way too much. But we wanted this real heavy bass sound, so the only thing we did was to put our trebles way down and our bass way up on the amps, guitars and bass, just to try and get a particular wall of sound. Back then, people used to say that it sounded muffled, and they didn’t want to work with us because of that weird sound. But nowadays, people want to get that sound, and they’re like, ‘Ok, just turn your bass and your treble down and you’ll be fine, and you have to play real loud too!’

Talking of guitar tone, and guitar in general, there is one song called “Vertigo” on this album, an instrumental piece written by Wino. That also must be a great addition to the band, to have his songwriting in addition to his voice.

Oh yeah. And I wanted him to do something like that, because back on the ‘V album, he wrote the music to “When Emotion Dies”, and everybody really liked that song. It came out really good. So I asked him if he wanted to do that on this one, and we was like, sure! He asked me if I wanted to do vocals again, but I said no, I wanted to leave it instrumental. I really like it. It’s one of my favorite songs on the record, and it’s really cool.

It sure is! Well, this album is 33 minutes long, and honestly, leaves me hungry for more. So do you think it could have been longer, or did you want it to be as long as it is?

It actually worked itself out to that time, because it’s sort of like a weird concept thing. I thought about may be trying to rush a song, but then I was like, no, because it’s going to sound rushed and it’s not going to sound the way the rest of the songs did, as they were all written at the same time and they all flowed together. So when I started checking time, I saw that it’s actually the same length as all of our albums. I think there are only two releases we have, “C.O.D.” and “Die Healing”, that are longer. All the other ones are right around the same length of time. So for this new album I was like, ‘That’s a regular Vitus album!’

In your new press photos, you are seen posing with two different guitars, the black one and the white one. Are those new instruments, or have you been using those from the beginning itself?

I’ve had the black one since ’94 or 95′ I think, but the white one, the Schecter Flying V, is new. I bought that early last year I think, because I needed to have a whammy bar that could stay in tune so that I could do the solos in between the songs. The black guitar is like a custom thing, so it doesn’t really want to stay in tune very well sometimes. So I just saved it for the end of the shows. I mainly use the white one now.

I was also looking at your upcoming tour dates, and you have the Maryland Deathfest later this month, along with some dates in June and July. But you must be gearing up for a full touring cycle after that, isn’t it?

Yeah, when we finish with the summer shows at the end of July, we’re going to do a full US tour and a full European tour around the fall and the winter, you know, the regular circuit thing. So these few shows coming up are just like a warm-up for the actual tour.

Right, and early last year you did the Metal Alliance Tour with some other really good bands, and I thought it was an excellent package. What was that experience like for you guys, touring like that, playing every night, doing something you hadn’t done in a while?

It was really cool, but it was rough because it’s hard when you’re older, but we had done a couple of European ones. So we were kind of used to riding on the bus every night and stuff like that. But it was fun, because we shared the bus with Crowbar, and they are friends anyway. So that was a blast, specially for us, because we hadn’t toured America extensively for a long time. And that was because America, way back when we started, didn’t like us. So that’s why we just played Europe all the time, you know. So it was fun to go back across our own country, have people come out to the shows and like us. It was a good package and all the bands got along good and everything.

One of the upcoming shows that I should also mention is the Scion Rock Fest in Tampa FL on June 2nd. You’ll be playing with a bunch of amazing bands like Down, Sleep, Repulsion and so many others. You must be looking forward to that show as well. I cannot believe how good that lineup is.

Yeah, that’s going to be cool too, but again it’s going to be really rough on us because we’re playing a big festival in Austin TX the night before. We have to play there till 2 in the morning, and then I think we have to go straight to the airport to fly out to Florida. We’re going to be a little tired. We may be playing extra slow that night (laughs).

I think that’d be even better for the people attending the Florida show.

(Laughs) Yeah!

I think Scion were also involved in the music video that you did for “Let Them Fall”.

Basically what they did with the video is, they financed it. I worked with the director. He would send me scripts and I would okay them, and then he would send it to Scion and they would say what they liked and what they didn’t. But their main function in that was the financing. That was cool, and that video has been on YouTube for a while now, so that’s good.

I was checking out another interview that you did a short while ago and you said, whether or not you make the next album will depend on how this one is received. It has been received really well so far. Will that inspire you to write more material now?

Well, you know, once we get going out on the road and start doing the shows and stuff, it’ll get our creative juices flowing, so to speak. We’ll see. We want to take things one step at a time, and we don’t want to jump the gun and say we’re doing to this and do that, and then not do it for some reason. The record’s still on a tentative release date over here in the US, which is going to be in a couple of weeks. So we want to see how the people take it and see how they react to the new songs when we play them live, and we’ll see what happens. If everybody’s into it, we’ll probably do something because we’ll be thinking of it.

I have just one more question for you. Obviously, Saint Vitus has had an influence on so many bands over the years. I’m currently living in India, and there’s a band over here called Bevar Sea who list you as one of their biggest influences. Actually, they were more excited than me when they heard that I was going to interview you today.

(Laughs)

So, what’s your reaction to that, when you find out that bands in countries like India have been inspired by your music?

It’s really cool. We’re very flattered and very proud to have done something that people are interested in. I think it’s really great that the young people are picking up on the doom metal and stuff. It’s very good, and more power to them. More bands should look up to obscure bands instead of the super-uber popular ones.

Related: “Lillie: F-65″ Album Review 
[Click here to order the album via Amazon]

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