When their 1986 album Born Too Late was released, it's fair to say not many had picked up on the genius of Saint Vitus. Check this YouTube clip of a performance at the Palm Springs Community Center that year, for example. It appears to have been attended by fewer than a dozen people.
Today, Born Too Late is considered an all-time genre classic. At a time when hair metal and speed metal reigned supreme in Los Angeles, the band took the classic Black Sabbath blueprint, slowed the riffs down even more and added a layer of punk rock grime, all while telling hopeless tales of fights against addiction and other internal demons. Earlier this year, metal fans embraced the release of the band's new album, Lillie: F-65, their first in 17 years. And tonight at the Bootleg Theater, the band will play to a crowd that will be much larger than the one in Palm Springs. The growth in their popularity is astonishing to Saint Vitus guitarist-founder Dave Chandler.
“It's very surreal. When we broke up in 1995, it was insignificant. In the time we were gone, doom metal became an accepted genre of music. Now we're considered one of the forefathers of the movement, so yeah, it's very…pleasant. Parents that were fans of us 20 years ago are bringing their kids now. I never thought that people would play our songs for their children.”
In the 1980's, the band was a member of the SST Records roster. Home to legendary punk acts such Black Flag and The Meat Puppets, the Long Beach-based label took a liking to the outsider status that Saint Vitus carved out for themselves in the metal scene.
“In L.A. and Hollywood in general, we were the 'oddball' metal band,” explains Chandler. “SST told us the reason they signed us was because we weren't playing the metal that was going on at the time. Before they got into punk, a lot of those guys were fans of Black Sabbath. We were definitely the oddballs on the label, but I think it worked out in our favor in the long-run, because eventually we were only doing punk rock shows and we became this weird underground band. We became this metal band that didn't do metal shows.”
Fast-forward to 2012. The group's new album Lillie: F-65 has all of the hallmarks of what had made Saint Vitus influential. The downtuned guitar wails of Chandler and the world-weary vocals of Scott “Wino” Weinrich remain very powerful. According to Chandler, the running theme of addiction still fuels the fire for the band as much as it did 30 years ago.
“Everybody who has some form of addiction…it usually progresses. A lot of the stuff I was doing as a kid, I definitely don't do anymore. I do drink more than I did then, and I smoke weed all the time. We're not the type of band to deny what we've done or dance around it. We tell people, this is what we have done and this is what happens when you do it this long.”
Follow Jason Roche on Twitter @JasonRocheLAW
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