For over forty years Scott “Wino” Weinrich has been at the absolute forefront of doom music. Through his prolific work in Saint Vitus, The Hidden Hand, Spirit Caravan, Shrinebuilder, his own solo work and collaborations with fellow doom lord Victor Griffin (of Pentagram) on the Place of Skulls album With Vision and David Grohl on the Probot album. He has been a constant in doom metal since before the genre had a name.
I leapt at the invitation from your editor in chief here at the Daily to talk about the fortieth anniversary of Incarnate, a collection of songs by legendary Maryland doom three piece The Obsessed, reissued for record store day thanks to the folks at All Noir.
Not simply because I am a huge fan of this work, but because I knew this was going to be a great chat.
Part of the reason I was really looking forward to the conversation comes with a bit of a warning in this politically polarised time. Some of the territory we go into below might lead the uninitiated into assuming Wino is a cooped-up musician stuck at home getting into Qanon crackpot stuff or some other tin foil hat stuff. You would be grossly misreading the situation if you did. So, you need some context. Wino has been researching, reading and exploring conspiracy theories for decades. He has a refreshingly open mind and it’s a part of what has made him a fiercely individual creative force for nearly half a century.
For a taste, maybe check out his band The Hidden Hand which harnessed his vast research for rich lyrical themes across political, spiritual and societal commentary. I have never found Wino to be pushing a particular political agenda, but rather an almost Taoist’s passive observation, a gnostic commentary on the modern world that leaves the listener to read and uncover truths for themselves. This conversation only served to reinforce my perception.
Indeed, this independent thought has underpinned his whole musical career, and in turn influenced part of the DNA of doom metal. Because when you think about it, the majority of lyrical themes in doom metal ultimately come down to observing the world through the lens of an unflinching eye.
To that end Wino has barely blinked in forty years of making music. Damn, if you’ve seen the man throw down on stage, he has one of the toughest stares you’ll ever see!
You also need to understand how in the early years of The Obsessed, the band were a revered band in the thriving Washington DC punk scene. After some initial tribal friction between long hair metal fans and shaved headed punks saw the bands raw honesty and power become the first metal band to earn the respect not just from the crowds but musicians such as Henry Rollins and Ian MacKaye.
These two worlds of doom metal and punk blended, mixing the occult imagery and allegorical world of heavy music with the harsh realities and anti-authoritarian energy of punk rock and served as an environment that foster Wino’s open mind and fertile fields for musical inspiration.
Also let me put this on the table straight up. The man has been able slay a guitar and sing with authority from seemingly the womb as we’ll discuss later.
So, with all this in mind, I started out our conversation framing the times The Obsessed began in versus the times we face today. Coming out of a world where punks and metal longhairs emerged in England from Thatcher’s Britain and from the tail of the Cold War and Reagan in the US and how that contrasts with the world, we find ourselves in today.
From the get-go, Wino pulled no punches.
“Well this pandemic is real, and I believe it’s a real thing unlike some people, but I also believe it’s been weaponised and targeted in a way that we just don’t see how or understand why yet. The CDC here admitted from the beginning that the testing that they were doing was flawed and it almost feels like that if you test negative you’ve done something wrong in the search for getting up the numbers. The agenda is not clear yet and it’s also unclear how the small group of elite people in power are benefitting from it.”
Dipping my toe into the line of conversation I suggested that the several of the elite have been widely reported to have made a lot of money in the last seven months. Just this week the billionaire class has been reported to have increased their wealth as much as twenty seven per cent.
“That is nothing, the real money for those elites is going to come when they start selling the vaccine. The control they are putting on us is insane, because it doesn’t seem like there is a plan. There’s no strategy to the testing or how they use the testing. Our bass player Brian (White, bass player in The Obsessed) said perfectly; he said “You don’t quarantine healthy people” so why are they doing this to us? I don’t know.”
The “I don’t know” part is interesting and uncharacteristic of the “do you research” conspiracy community. Refreshingly he does not claim to know but explores a variety of ideas he’d been discussing by following the ideas down the rabbit hole to wherever they may lead.
A tranche of the discussion that examples the above went as follows:
“I got some information from a source, a very good source whom I trust that that there have been twenty four serious attempts on Trumps life since he came to office. How these types of things can happen and be identified is all part of the game. For example, if you’ve seen a Bourne Identity film you might be familiar with sleeper agents. Experiments of where instead of truth serums where someone is given sodium thiopental, they’re given a mix of sodium thiopental and methedrine and have their mind partitioned and activated when it’s time to do something that the people giving them the drugs want them to do. I read this killer book I bought on tour in the UK from this wild bookshop in London and the guy there put me onto Fenton Bresler’s “Who Killed John Lennon?” and I gave him a ten dollar tip which he told me was the biggest tip he said he ever got. Anyway, the whole idea is that the government are afraid of a man that can inspire the population to think for itself. So, they activate a guy like Mark Chapman or Sirhan Sirhan (Robert Kennedy’s assassin)”
It got wilder too. We discussed perceptions of hell and a base human fear of the subterranean world being based on entities that may be alien in origin that are unable to fully materialise in this plane of existence, which even he said “…was wild for some people to think about, but I have experienced personally with another friend at the tail end of a long night at dawn being able to clearly see for two full minutes another planet behind the sun”.
Did I mention this was a doozy of an interview? I don’t want the above to come across as an example of me painting an erratic or paranoid discussion. Wino was lucid, articulate, conversational and honestly, it was fascinating.
We came back around to COVID after I discussed being a child in the eighties and being absolutely terrified of US TV movie The Day After and UK made for TV special Threads being a harbinger for certain doom in a nuclear holocaust and a feeling that the eighties were geopolitically a low point until the resolution of the Cold War. So, what does Wino make of the situation now?
“It’s absolutely crazy. I hadn’t ever planned to have children, but I compromised and made a conscious choice with my ex-wife to have kids and while I’m sure glad I did, I never thought or would have wanted to bring them into a world this fucked up”
He asked me what I thought about the US politics and my assessment was that with the exception of the Civil War and the late sixties anti-war and race riots I don’t have a perception of a time in history where the gulf in the country’s political opinions are so far apart that it can’t end well and that privately owned media is only fanning the flames.
Wino said “Right on. I don’t know what the rest of the world sees but my sense is we hate Trump but also a whole bunch of people I know have never been more scared of what can happen. Another civil war is not out of the question”
As the conversation flowed it was easily thirty minutes before I even remembered that I was here to talk about the lovingly restored reissue of his first recordings of his band The Obsessed for Record Store Day. The Obsessed was the motivator for the chat, but Wino has also recently finished a second acoustic solo album through Ripple Music.
The release of the record was an interesting microcosm of how the impact of COVID has impacted the music industry and the punters that give underground music the lifeblood it needs to survive.
“I played an acoustic show here recently for my new album and the guys at Ripple Music have been great, super super supportive. They were like ‘People are going to buy this record’ and we did the album and I was just so proud how it turned out. It’s like that element of music is ok because people are at home and they have time to sit down and actually listen to the music. They are buying and listening to music for what feels like the first time in a while and that part is great. Anyways, we get to the show a few weeks back and by the time I came on there was just this fear you could feel from people in the room. The people wearing masks just made it so weird. You know in some ways it feels like the masks have stripped people of their individuality like that there’s something more about control in all of this. I’m real proud of that album and the music and the way it turned out and the support from Ripple, but the way things are going it might be the last record I ever make, that’s how uncertain I feel about the future at the moment”.
I left that thought hanging, I didn’t want to contemplate that.
The Obsessed released their most recent album through Relapse Records in 2017, the excellent Sacred. That album opens with a song first released on Incarnate by the name of Sodden Jackal. Listening to the original it was crazy; it was like at nineteen years of age Wino had fully realised the ability to sing and play almost exactly as well as he does today.
I didn’t know this story was about to blow my guitar mind, but that might have been because it was already in pieces from the first half hour.
“Yeah, that song is interesting. It kinda does just sound like the same song just with a better production. This was one of the first times I experimented with tuning down the guitar. Now the first person to do this was Victor Griffin in Pentagram and I checked out what he was doing when he first came up from Tennessee and he was tuning a couple of the strings down to B, so I tried tuning down just the low E to B”.
What year was this?
“I’m gonna say in about 1981”.
So, hang on I thought he was tuning the whole guitar down to B standard as the songs appear on Pentagram’s 1985 self-titled (also reissued as Relentless) album.
“No it was only a couple of the strings, but that was a bit much for me so I just experimented with tuning that one string down and that’s the song that became The Obsessed’s first 7” in 1983 after a few demos”
This almost a decade before death metal started covering this ”lower” ground and further demonstrates Wino’s unapologetic writing and walking his own musical path since the band formed in the late seventies under the short-lived name Warhorse.
I wanted to know how guitar came into his life, at about fourteen Wino had been dabbling but summers mowing lawns lead him to a fateful decision.
“Well after cutting lawns and saving all my money in about 75 I got an SG. I went into the music store and the guy in there had an SG and a Stratocaster and he must have had a commission thing with Fender and he was really trying to push the strat on me. My whole life at that point was being influenced by Sabbath and Hendrix. So, I had the sabbath SG and the Hendrix strat to choose from but the guy in the store were so pushy for the strat that I think that almost made me choose the SG. It was red and had a Bigsby on it. (like a kind of primitive whammy bar for the uninitiated). After not so long I worked out that if I got in there and removed the spring, I could get rid of the rest of the parts (of the Bigsby) because I hated it. Once I had it set up, I realised how much I loved these kinds of guitars.”
The SG is a classic, but Wino is for me as synonymous with the Gibson Les Paul as Angus Young, Blackie or Tony Iommi is with the SG. I asked him when he got his first and how the love affair came about.
“Oh, I always loved them but even in those days they were very expensive. So, there was this local cover band who I used to go and see and they played these thousand people field shows and I used to follow them around a lot and watch them. They had a killer guitar player. Anyways I saw an ad in the paper after saving up more money and I answered the ad and went around to the guys house to have a look and the guitar player of this band answers the door and I was like already going to buy this black Les Paul with the P-90 pickups because I liked this guy’s band so much. So, I didn’t quite have enough money, but I gave him what I had and agreed to come back the next day and pay the rest. So the next day I call him to come give him the rest of the money and he was like “ahhh-uhhh” and it turned out Paul Reed Smith (high end guitar luthier) himself had been to his house, looked at the guitar and told him how special was and the mother fucker put the price up on me, I still got the money together though and it gave me the Les Paul I made all our early records on and a friend for life with the guy even though he fucked me over with the price. Anyway, I had to sell that one because you know, life moves and sometimes you gotta make some room, if I still had every guitar I ever owned I would need a museum”.
The world has changed, music and the context in which it is made has changed with it, but there are still those making music in it that are imbued with an almost innate combination of passions that make them a part of the music they make so fully that you can’t separate the artist from the music. Wino is one of these artists.
The future for The Obsessed is uncertain, there is an album written but no label at present to support it with Relapse withdrawing from the picture. “I can only assume we didn’t sell enough records but we’re ready and willing but the future is so fucked up right now I don’t even know when we could do it”.
This is more about the now, maybe the summation of the above is best stated with how this all began after the band decided Warhorse wasn’t the name for them.
“I don’t remember who came up with the name “The Obsessed”, I remember the original bass player (Mark Laue) and me were walking along one day and either he said it or I said it, I honestly don’t remember which one of us it was, but we like that it was a name that made people think but was open ended. You can be The Obsessed, but what are you obsessed about? The open-ended meaning of the name was left up to people to make up their own minds”
If one person can be relied upon to make up their own mind, Wino is the guy.
Incarnate releases on October 24th through Blues Funeral Recordings.