“I don’t wanna grow up!” bellowed Scott “Wino” Weinrich, his booming laughter rolling through the rustic second floor of Kung Fu Necktie in Philadelphia, PA. “To be like the people I fuckin’ hate, you know? I don’t wanna become the things we hated, the things we’ve always stood against.”
Ever since the silver-maned ball of fire from Rockville, MD, started The Obsessed (née War Horse) in 1976 and went on to form or join a multitude of bands that have more than lived up to his infamous quote-cum-slogan, “If it ain’t heavy, it ain’t shit,” Weinrich has been eschewing ego trips, bad attitudes, and record label buffoonery in favor of staying true to his righteous musical visions.
Which is why it really irks him when he sees his peers—or former peers, as it were—turn to the dark side where greed, power, and betrayal lurk.
“So many people that were pillars of the underground community just became as bad as or worse than everything they railed against and hated,” he continued as he leaned back into the couch, boot heels on the hardwood floor, a cold Stella Artois in his grip. “SST is a good example, you know?”
Mere minutes after The Obsessed’s sixth show on its first U.S. tour in more than 20 years, the 55-year-old Weinrich is speaking with the urgency of an excited teenager in an accent that’s a little bit southern, a little bit surfer as he pulls from all four corners of his storied career to talk about how he arrived to where he is today, passion, integrity, and positive outlook all startlingly intact.
For most of the ’80s, SST, the record label founded and managed by Black Flag’s Greg Ginn and later co-owned with the band’s bassist Chuck Dukowski, was home to St. Vitus, the band Weinrich relocated to California for in 1986 after The Obsessed’s first record deal petered out.
[“I’ll tell it like it is, I don’t give a fuck.”]
Things seemed to be going well for the band, until one day they were called down to SST headquarters to discuss a European tour to support the band’s 1988 album, Mournful Cries.
“Basically, Dukowski told us the Germans wanted to bring us over there,” Weinrich explained. “We said, ‘Well, can you give us some tour support?’ He’s like, ‘No.’ ‘Can you make some t-shirts?’ And he’s like, ‘No.’ Pretty soon, you’re all out on the street goin’ ‘What happened?’ You didn’t get nothin’! You didn’t learn nothin’!
“What I’m gettin’ at is like, we couldn’t get accounting from them, and we knew that we sold a lot of records. And they wouldn’t give a shit. They owed us so much fuckin’ money.”
No longer bound by SST, the band quietly joined German label Hellhound Records. After playing an impromptu set on Halloween night in Deutschland, Weinrich had a very awkward encounter with his ex-boss.
“I walk off the stage and I’m face to face with Greg Ginn. And he says, ‘What are you doin’ here?’ And I said, ‘Man, you know why we’re here—because you never fuckin’ come clean!’”
But that wouldn’t be the last of their awkward encounters.
[“I cannot stand arrogant people. I really believe that kindness is where it’s at.”]
More than 25 years later, St. Vitus is on their 35th anniversary tour in the States. On their way to Austin, TX, they call the SST building—the label had relocated from Long Beach, CA, to Taylor, TX—to make a stop to replenish their tour merch. Only no one answers the phone. So, throwing caution to the wind, they pull the van up to the building, and drummer Henry Vasquez hops out and walks through the doors.
“I was just kinda wonderin’ like, ‘Oh, God, what’s gonna happen?’ And I get the call: ‘Wino, come in here.’ So I go stompin’ in there, and here’s Henry, having a face-off with some strange dude. And we’re like, ‘Where’s Greg? We tried to call Greg.’ The guy’s like, ‘Oh, he’s not around, I don’t know where he’s at.’ So then Henry”—Weinrich’s voice drops—“Henry threatens the dude with a hammer.”
After quickly coming to their senses, they decide to split. But it turns out there was a watcher in the wings.
“As we’re leaving, Greg opens up the side door—he was there the whole time—and we look at him, he looks at us, and he slammed that door shut and we hauled ass,” said Weinrich. “I’ll tell it like is, I don’t give a fuck. That motherfucker is not cool.”
While Weinrich’s resume may be as long as a country mile—the man does have a lot of good things to say, by the way—one does not need to look too hard to see that taking shit from other people is not listed among his achievements or skills.
“People’s egos and attitudes really get in the way; I cannot stand arrogant people,” he said. “I really believe that kindness is where it’s at, that givin’ is more important than takin’.”
But does he put his money where his mouth is? You bet. In 2009, following a European tour with his solo band—featuring Jean-Paul Gaster of Clutch on drums and Jon Blank of Rezin on bass—Weinrich took a financial hit and “[paid] those dudes what I thought they should get.” (Unfortunately, Blank passed away of a heroin overdose not long after.)
[“People say to me, ‘Man, how many bands are you in?’ These days it’s just The Obsessed.”]
Beyond The Obsessed, St. Vitus, and his solo outings, Weinrich has unleashed uncompromising monolithic musical statements in a veritable feast of bands, collaborations, and guest spots, including but not limited to Spirit Caravan, The Hidden Hand, Place of Skulls, Probot, Shrinebuilder—deep breath—Premonition 13, Lost Breed, Mystick Krewe of Clearlight, and his acoustic work with Conny Ochs.
“People say to me, ‘Man, how many bands are you in? I can’t keep track,’” said Weinrich, who counts The Hidden Hand’s Mother Teacher Destroyer and Place of Skulls’ With Vision as some of his all-time favorite work. “But the reality is these days it’s just The Obsessed.” (Check out the band’s ripping new song “Be the Night,” as well as 11 other Obsessed and Wino-related tracks below.)
Reviving the band is somewhat of a past-time for Weinrich. Following his first run with St. Vitus, The Obsessed became his full-time band again, releasing three records in the ‘90s: The Obsessed (1990; more on the chronology of that one later), Lunar Womb (1991), and The Church Within (1994).
In 2012, Weinrich brought back The Church Within line-up for a smattering of European and U.S. shows. However, he eventually decided to pull the plug because he “wasn’t really feelin’ it.” So he ditched it to revisit the beloved Spirit Caravan, featuring bassist and occasional vokillist Dave Sherman. But personality issues started stinking up the room, and the drum stool became something of a revolving door, leaving Weinrich at a crossroads.
[“I always felt like the songs were pretty timeless, but I didn’t feel like playin’ them ‘til now.”]
But there was one road he wasn’t really interested in going down again: “To be honest, I didn’t really feel like doing The Obsessed.”
Then suddenly at that crossroads appeared a drum tech, former tour van driver, and long-time friend by the name of Brian Costantino.
“We did the last Spirit Caravan tour, and it seemed like the wheels were comin’ off the wagon,” explained Weinrich. “Then Brian sat down behind the kit one day, and we found out he could really play his ass off. And man, it just fuckin’ clicked.”
At the same time, pleas from friends and fans around the world for a full-on resurrection of The Obsessed were reaching peak volume. So in February, Weinrich announced that The Obsessed was reborn again, with Costantino and Sherman in tow.
“I always felt like the songs were pretty timeless, but I didn’t feel like playin’ them ‘til now,” Weinrich said. “Now, I feel like the songs are really being played right. And the chemistry’s back. So I said, ‘Fuck it,’ you know? I feel completely inspired. It’s sort of like a new lease on some things.”
As for touring? He wasn’t on board at first.
“Everybody wanted to tour,” he said. “And I didn’t think it was time to tour because we don’t have a new record out. But the enthusiasm was so great that, man, I just got swept up in the tide. It feels amazing. I’m fucking happy, man.”
The band is now in the studio working on their Relapse Records debut, tentatively titled Sacred, for a 2017 release.
Stability hasn’t always been a defining characteristic of The Obsessed. In 1985, after releasing some demos and the Sodden Jackal EP with a couple different line-ups, the band recorded their self-titled album with their own money. Soon after, the band’s manager scored them a record deal with Metal Blade, which included a spot on the Metal Massacre VI compilation with fan-favorite “Concrete Cancer.”
Just as it looked like 10 years’ worth of hard work was about to pay off, there was a musical movement afoot that would abruptly knock the wind of the band’s sails.
“Right at that minute—thrash hit. On that same record is Nasty Savage, The Possessed, Dark Angel.” And so label head Brian Slagel passed on the soulful, Sabbath-ian grooves of The Obsessed in favor of nurturing his roster of speed freaks.
As the deal fizzled, so did Weinrich’s interest in keeping the band together. So he stashed the tapes in a vault and went on to join St. Vitus. It wasn’t until 1989, when the band returned to Europe to tour and record V for Hellhound, that Weinrich had an idea.
“I brought the tape set with me. And what a nightmare that was. Every time we hit security, I’d have to tell the dudes, ‘These can’t go through the X-ray,’” he said, acknowledging that the band’s appearance—“long hair, probably half drunk”—likely raised suspicion among airport security as to what was actually in the case. “But I managed to get ‘em through.”
[“To get into that music, man, I needed to be real loaded: 20 beers a night, a half a bottle of whiskey, copious amounts of amphetamines.”]
His target? The head honchos at Hellhound, for whom he had a blunt proposal.
“Basically, I put a gun to their head, I must say. I said, ‘Well, look, I’ll do the next Vitus record if you put out this record. And, uh, they liked it!”
Striving to be as diplomatic as possible—within his own band, anyway—Weinrich secured the permission of St. Vitus leader and guitarist Dave Chandler to release The Obsessed’s long overdue debut following the recording of V in West Berlin, Germany.
But as they watched the Berlin Wall fall those very days, a new wall was about to go up between the two men. As Weinrich puts it, Chandler “copped an attitude” soon after giving him the go-ahead.
“It was sort of like there was this jealousy thing going on, because I played guitar in Vitus at first,” Weinrich said. “It was stupid, man. One night, we played somewhere, and we were just out there talkin’ to people. And some drunk dude comes up to me with Chandler standin’ right here, and he goes” (assumes “drunk dude” tone), “’Man, you smoke Chandler on guitar.’ I mean, what the fuck? What the fuck is that shit, you know? After that, things were never the same with David. And I didn’t wanna play guitar in the band anymore, I just didn’t want to.” So he took the opportunity to hone his instantly recognizable pipes in North America’s premier doom band.
[“There’s something to be said for being fast-tracked to the airport. It doesn’t look good on your resume!”]
It wasn’t until Weinrich’s last tour with the band, in 2014, that he and Chandler finally got around to settling their differences.
“It started with a fist fight,” Weinrich said. “We had a serious talk that went all the way back. I felt like we got the closest, like we really bonded. I felt like we could really talk to each other, you know?”
He took a sip of beer.
“Violence, in my world, is sometimes necessary. It’s never off the table,” he said, laughing.
But nobody was laughing when Weinrich, during that same tour, was arrested near the Norwegian border for carrying 11 grams of amphetamines. It effectively ended his career with St. Vitus, and brought his struggles with substance abuse to the forefront once again.
“To get into that music, man, I needed to be real loaded: 20 beers a night, a half a bottle of whiskey, copious amounts of amphetamines. It’s primitive, it’s bleak, all those personalities floatin’ around.
“But it was my bad,” he ruefully admits.
Dragged off the bus in that state of mind, Weinrich was “slammed in a cell on bread and fuckin’ water.” At first, he was prepared to serve the two-month sentence so he could travel freely again. Then he sobered up.
“After three days of solitary confinement, I heard them say something about being deported. I was like, ‘Bring it, man. I wanna get the fuck outta here,’” he said in a low tone. “That was pretty weird, man. There’s something to be said for being fast-tracked to the airport. It doesn’t look good on your resume!”
Nearly two years into his 5-year ban from Europe, Weinrich has a couple of options: wait until 2019 to fly the skies again, or “pay out the wazoo” and buy back his European freedom before the ban is officially lifted.
“I probably will end up doin’ [that]. The promoters won’t wanna pay to bring us over.”
The good, the bad, and the ugly: Weinrich’s 40-year career is packed with all three. So how does one of the most influential, least-corrupted pillars of the underground community define his success in 2016?
“Playing to a full room with people callin’ out for old tunes, and everybody being as enthusiastic as they are, that’s success for me,” he said. “Success for me, I can’t really gauge it by money. But, you know, when somebody comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, your music kept me from committin’ suicide’—which I’ve heard—or, ‘Your music gets me through my days,’ that’s success. I mean, that’s gotta be success for me. You’re not gonna be as big as The Beatles, you know? It’s just reality.”
Header photo by Jay Bird. Brian Rambo also asked a few questions during the interview.