by David Lee Beowulf
The stoner rock phenomenon of the last couple of years has taken hold during this time of metal reorganization, after the "lean" years of the middle 1990's, when it was damned hard to find real metal the labels, both major and "indy," were willing to stand behind. (While I prefer "stoner metal," the world out there says "stoner rock," which I willingly use.) I think, after hearing from such stoner rock bands asRoadsaw (June 1999 Ink 19), Nebula, Fu Manchu, and dare I say Cathedral (?) that the genre-breaking heavy blues rock that Black Sabbath were playing so many years ago was, by gosh, what the folks who grew up listening to wanted to play now.
That is, what's the point in trying to write "pop" songs or even caring what the (chronically stupid) record marketing "experts" would recommend a band pursue concerning making it in the world of rock and roll? If what you've been playing all your life is what you love and (more importantly) it is great, those fans who loved that music way the heck back when want to hear it now! For fans of true metal, intense, heavy, pounding music appeals to the basic, primal needs of the outlaw rocker. The music has a certain "groove" that grabs you and goes great with a cold beer around a huge bonfire or the ride home with that astonishingly beautiful number who digs the music too...
Spirit Caravan, one of the best stoner rock bands, if not the best in my opinion, is the result of Scott "Wino" Weinrich's twenty-year-plus trek in the world of hard rock. Wino began way back in the late 1970's in good old Wheaton, Maryland when he formed the legendaryObsessedduring a stint in high school and played stoner metal then! He later on joinedSt. Vitusand stayed with them through the 1980's, and many SST releases. The Obsessed reformed in the 1990's and released The Church Within in 1994. In 1996, he formed Shine, releasing a single on Joe (bass player of Fugazi) Lally's label, Tolotta Records. Due to there being a band already called Shine, the band changed their name to Spirit Caravan, a good move as the new name denotes a) an ancestral line with Black Sabbath (think "Planet Caravan") and b) it's a cool "stoner" name, dude! Their new album,Jug Fulla Sun, was released earlier this year on Tolatta as well - and it's one of the best of 1999, almost no contest, really.
The intro is not over, sorry, Wino's a special character. See, Wheaton, Maryland is in Montgomery County, right next to Washington, D.C. Just where I happened to grow up at the same time as Wino, albeit in Chevy Chase, a few miles south of Wheaton. The rivalries between high schools in that area was pretty damned intense, and there was little mingling between. As a result (and if you're from the area - surprisingly, a lot of people are - you'll understand this), there were perceptible differences that would betray what part of MC, MD one was from. (I should note, too, that this is pre-Metro, i.e., before the Washington subway system was completed; the place bears no resemblance to what it was circa 1979.) Those of us who lived on the borderlands of DC (myself), unless you attended a high school like Sidwell Friends (private and fucking expensive) it was B-CC (again, me) or Walt Whitman, we hated each other and, for the most part, everyone acted just like you'd expect the child of a lawyer or Carter administration official/lobbyist would (I was neither). Musically, the cover bands that I remember coming out of my area were 95% top 40 imitators who, looking back on it, were, while talented... They sucked. Screw covering "All Right Now," OK?
By the time I reached my senior year, the serious metal heads (at the time the T-shirts that gave you away either said "Led Zeppelin" or "Pink Floyd") and a few punks and fans of rockabilly (me) were pretty hard to find (we were amongst the wealth of top-40 crap lovers and/or Springsteen and Billy Joel freaks. [Exception: the Insect Surfers came from B-CC, they were older than I by two years at least, though].) The musical tastes of my peers for the most part blew! Of course, it was rather gratifying to feel those blasts of hatred come from the Terry Jacks fans (these people went to WJ - like Wino, but it's explained below) when I threw in a Sex Pistols' tape at a party - didn't last much, though.
On the other side of town, in places like Rockville, Wheaton, Gaithersburg (there were farms out there, then), and Poolesville - OK, maybe not Poolesville, that was Deliverance country - there was, as I found out much later - after I'd gone to college - that there was some serious punk and metal being made in the "boondocks." (Another aside: in reality, most of the dads - and a few moms - in the area worked in one capacity or another for the Federal government; this is "Beltway Bandit" territory, and while there were plenty of sons of the mechanics and laborers, this was white-collar. Exclusive country club turf, not that I was a part of that, though.) What made it even more "mysterious" was that, the further out in the county one went, the more pronounced the "Maryland" accent became. Me, I'm from Washington, D.C., and have no discernible accent at all. But get in a time machine and travel out to Seneca Valley, and they start to sound like they're from, heck, where are they from? Native Marylanders, like my dad (well, he's from Baltimore and that's a world of it's own - watch a few John Waters films and listen for the accents - hear that?) and cousins, have accents that have been traced back to the 1600's (I saw this on a TV special, too!), mostly to English "serfs" imported to places around the Choptank River. For example, the word "no" is pronounced "noe."
This freaked me out! Outside the Beltway, Montgomery County is the deep south! And hence, without the preppy snobs who were brutal to anyone who was "different" or whose father didn't buy them a Camaro, great music was being made. I, of course, missed out on everything (I did see the Golden Bats, the Insect Surfers, and even Minor Threat in 1981, but... Ah, shit! If I had been just two years older I could've seen the Cramps at the Psychedeli on Cordell Avenue in Bethesda... Argh! The Curse of 1963!
Whew! That's a webpage-full, eh? Anyway, the story is well-documented by Henry Rollins and Ian MacKaye, I'm sure, since they're from the same general area and grew up around the same time as Wino and myself.
I spoke with Wino during a "dosage night" (Wednesdays are Stoner Rock parties, with great bands, man) at the Continental in New York City's East Village.
photo by Antonia Tricarico
You're all from Wheaton, Maryland?
Yep, all from Wheaton.
When I left Maryland in '82, WHFS had sucked for at least a year! Remember when GTB and HFS were the greatest radio stations?
I heard Budgie's In For the Kill on GTB in its entirety!
I got scared of punk rock listening to them play it on GTB! So,where'd you go to high school?
I went to Thomas Wooten and then Walter Johnson.
When did you graduate?
Me? I got kicked out of Wooten. Graduate? Well, that's a tough one...
When did you get out?
In years? ...I graduated in, um, seventy-something, I'm 38.
Those were the days, eh? Suburban Montgomery County, MD, right outside of Washington in the late seventies...
See I had a few problems in high school. Serious authority problems.
Yeah? I can't imagine that. You didn't get along with the cops?
That was one thing. Angel dust... A lot of that going around back then!
Do you remember the big busts when the cops hit every high school?
Oh, when they raided every school? In '79, right!
Right! Oh, sorry this is about the band, not drug busts in September 1978! Tell me the history of the band!
The Obsessed started out somewhere in the mid-to-late seventies, they were a strange lineup with two guitars kind of a combination of, the other guitar player in the band was kind of a jazz fanatic who turned me on to Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. He was like a real freak, too. And we tried to do heavy originals, like "Decimation," and we'd intersperse it with weird versions of [the Beatles'] "Yer Blues" and shit like that. We'd do this hybrid thing, maybe like a Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers tune, some rock and roll and then realized that we needed to do something. Right around that time is when punk rock exploded, and we had this little phase where we wanted a really high-powered singer, so we had the Obsessed phase two, where we did this the early punk mavericks, like John Stab, Iron Cross, Government Issue and then Sack Gray from Iron Cross, people like, that would come down and see us. They were pretty young then, and they'd listen to our originals, and here were these long-haired suburban guys and we were covering Dead Boys songs, which really pissed them off! But they'd still come to see us because they really dug our originals. So that's how my association with the DC hardcore scene started. We ended up doing a bunch of shows with those guys. Eventually, our singer got to be too much, he couldn't hang with us and we ended up going to a three-piece, but at that point we were still doing shows with all these hardcore bands. Like we were playing shows with Government Issue, with Iron Cross, with the Dead Boys on their first reunion tour; Bad Brains, we were pretty much into the next phase, the heavy more like Sabbath-type thing. That whole period I was listening to a lot of Mahavishnu Orchestra, End of the Eye, David Sanchez; we really started getting into Joy Division, too. Whether any of that came through in our music, I don't know, but those were our influences. Playing punk rock shows and listening to Mahavishnu Orchestra and Black Sabbath and Joy Division. That was that phase, then we went through a couple of drummers, the original drummer went to art school. And the new drummer didn't seem to have the right sound. So in 1985, I left Maryland for California to join Saint Vitus.
Do you remember touring Florida at all?
There was an underground radio station in DelRay Beach, some dude called himself "Rivethead." It was around 87 when Vitus toured with the Mentors. That was when the Mentors hadn't really toured for a while and they were drawing these enormous crowds and Vitus was pretty much unheard of except in very small pockets, so we were SST and the Mentors were on Metal Blade, that was a kind of an interesting tour. The Mentors were phenomenal. Sickie's [that's Sickie Wifebeater] a phenomenal guitar player. Duce always had to live up to his reputation, though. He never got out of it. He tried a couple of times to get his shit together and get sober, but he just couldn't get out of it. The last time I saw him before his death, we were sharing 40-ouncers together in Hollywood. He was a great guy, I'd run into him once a day. He'd always have a story.
Anyway, that was our first tour, and I got really disillusioned with SST. It was before everyone realized... Well, we didn't see any of the hardcore shit, like the unauthorized Meat Puppets greatest hits record with the cover painting that was a personal gift to Greg; we never saw any of that real ugliness. We just got tired of them not doing anything for us. Right about that time, close to 1990, we had an offer from this German label, and they also had a promotion company and they wanted to get us over there to tour. SST didn't help us at all, they didn't open their flags, they didn't put merchandise out. But the Germans did it all, they brought us over there, they gave us this phenomenal tour, because as it turns out, Vitus had this pretty big underground following over there. The punk rock thing hit big in Europe, but for some reason the Europeans were still into heavy music, they weren't shedding heavy music. Before when I was in Vitus, they toured with Black Flag and they were right when Henry [Rollins, of course] first joined the band. Basically the kids thought it was a joke, when they saw Vitus, it was after the first album, and they saw Vitus at a Black Flag show and they're like "this is a joke, right?" It was total, full-on Spinal Tap .
For the last 25 years this has been your gig.
This is my gig, yeah!
So what kind of sound were you looking for in Spirit Caravan? With the whole Stoner Rock thing, it sounds like you've been playing this kind of music all your life.
We have. We're not doing anything different except for a couple guys who are the best band I've been in. It's got a different flavor because it's got only three people. We share duties.
The stoner rock thing is all of a sudden with dosage nights here at the Continental, etc. Where did this stuff come from?
It's always been here it's just that people are paying attention to this style of music again. Why? Probably because everybody's fucking sick of the really terrible pop shit, there's a lot of bands that are good and there's a lot that are sort of jumping on the bandwagon.
But in the past it was this sludgecore music that didn't have guitars, it was just noise. Now there's guitars.
Bands on the bandwagon like the style of Korn, for example; what is that? A hybrid of rap/funk, but didn't Rage Against the Machine do that already? Sevendust is another good example of a band that to me doesn't have that much substance. Limp Bizkit? That's probably one of the worst bands I've ever seen! What I'm saying is that the bastardization of music is the stoner rock bands aren't worried about making it huge, so you're starting to see real personality come out. If you listen to bands like Fatso Jetson or Roadsaw, you see real personality.
I didn't like the first Fatso Jetson album so much, but this latest one is like WOW.
See? They're showing personality and that's the thing. It's coming out since they aren't trying to do anything except play and that's the most important thing. Nobody's standing over them with a legal contract saying "you guys got to sell records," it's the music that's speaking.
According to your liner notes, the album was recorded in a basement and a garage.
Did that influence the sound?
What's that all about is that we didn't have very much money! We just found a really nice house. We had a long time to listen to it. We decided we're gong to have to redo tracks and we did these in the garage so he was waiting to move into his house and that's where we mixed. Basically it took us a year to do the album, a full year.
It sounds so polished...
We mastered it five times! We learned how to master on this album.
Some of your songs are like, complete power, and others are heavy and loaded with supernatural-tinged lyrics. "http://www.southern.com/southern/band/SPCAR/lyrics_sealegs.html">Sea Legs" is almost erotic.
"Sea Legs." Erotic? I like that! You got it right, see it's about underwater motorcycle tooling somewhere around Atlantis.
How do you prepare to write the songs the music and the words?
The way that it works with me I that usually I'm working on a musical idea, [bassist Dave] Sherman came up with the music to "Sea Legs," and I had the title and the concept; "Fang" worked like that. I just get the idea then you know, the concept, you put a personality on the song, like the "Sea Legs" riff. Looking at the remnants of Meso-American culture gave me the idea for "Cosmic Artifact," that was the concept and slowly I realized that's what we wanted to do. And you start filling in the blanks. The lyrics are always the hardest to write because you might get to a certain point where you have to stop. Then you come back and fill in the blanks, fine-tune the song - like every word. And I've got so much shit flying around my head...like sometimes I'll be playing live and I'll just add a word or two and sing a new line, concentration is so high on all my different ideas that I get, I don't know, "Ozzy-itis" for a minute of two!
What you need then is a teleprompter!
I'm not that old...
I like lyrics that match the music, which is heavy and pounding and driving and telling stories.
I read a lot about old Meso-American cultures, the Aztecs, Olmecs, Maya, and all the plants the Atzecs used to have...
"Plants?" You don't say! What about wearing the skin of your enemies?
Oh, Xipe Totec, well that's a little fucking extreme, don't you think?
During a performance? Maybe...
Well, they were pretty warlike and hated by everyone around then. The Tolecs, the Quetzocuotel myths. I read a lot about metaphysical shit, like Barbara Ann Cloud, anything that's put out by Bear Publishing is good. I had a bunch of books on the conquest of Mexico which I thought was really disturbing. I read about Pizarro and Peru, but lately I've been reading modern books on the remnants of Mayan society and it's still brutal, the political climate in South America and Mexico.
After all these centuries, it has not changed.