Scott "Wino" Weinrich is a true metal legend, having played in The Obsessed, Saint Vitus, Spirit Caravan, Place of Skulls, and The Hidden Hand. Recently I interviewed him for Decibel regarding Shrinebuilder, his supergroup with Scott Kelly (Neurosis), Al Cisneros (Om), and Dale Crover (Melvins). Our conversation wandered to other topics, captured below - motorcycles, Bullring Brummies (his one-off collaboration with Rob Halford, Bill Ward, Geezer Butler, and Fight guitarist Brian Tilse covering "The Wizard" for the 1994 Black Sabbath tribute Nativity in Black), The Obsessed's major label experience, and Wino's new solo record (which we reviewed here). He is a total gearhead; we spent a good chunk of time talking about Leslie rotating speakers. Wino is the type of guy who tells you about his music, then tells you what gear he used to make it. Despite 30 years crafting some of metal's heaviest riffs, he sounded cheery.
- Cosmo Lee
There's a YouTube video of you riding bikes with your guys. [Wino is wearing an orange long-sleeve shirt and a vest.] What was the story behind that?
We were riding to a British motorcycle swap meet/exhibit. That was me riding my '64 Panhead, which is a 1200 cc Harley-Davidson. As you can tell by the picture, I totally redid it and made it into a '60s style chopper - rigid frame, 21" front wheel, no front fender, high bars and all. My buddy's riding a '47 Knuckle [Harley-Davidson Knucklehead]. The other two guys are riding more modern bikes. I'm totally off into the choppers thing. We just did a [photo] shoot yesterday where we took both of my bikes down to the best club in town, the 9:30 Club [in Washington, DC]. They let us go in there in the morning and use the empty building to shoot. I got the cover for Iron Horse magazine, for the musician who rides. Music's number one, but bikes are number two.
What's the appeal of high bars?
Just looking cool and making it more dangerous. It's kind of a macho thing.
It seems uncomfortable.
Actually, it's not that uncomfortable. If you're into it. You gotta be into it, man, just like anything else.
So you can ride for hundreds of miles with high bars.
Those small gas tanks that we like to run only let you go about an hour or so. So you don't have to go hundreds of miles. But that's the style - the little tanks, the smaller tanks, the peanut tanks. Although the [Hells] Angels - what they do is they get the King Sportster tanks. They get the biggest ones possible. They've got a whole different style of bikes with really high-powered engines and really good braking because of the way the land is out there. I like the high bars or I like the pullbacks. I don't have any cool pullbacks yet. Recently I came into possession of the weirdest handlebars I've ever seen. They go straight up, and then they come into a McDonald's arch, and then they come back down halfway and turn straight out.
It's very bizarre. It gave me a lot of ideas. But they're a little bit less diameter than a Harley. So that means that if I wanted to run 'em, then I would have to rig up something to take up the space, like some kind of reducer. I'll tell you, those bars are cool, man. Those bars are straight out of the '60s. They call them something like "law cheaters," because there is a legal limit as to the height. I think it's like 16", 18", or 20", depending on where you are. You see some people trying to do some over-the-top stuff. Mine are 16's with 2" risers, so I'm only getting 18", so it's not too bad.
You were in another supergroup when you worked with Rob Halford and half of Black Sabbath for Nativity in Black.
Oh yeah. But I can tell you what I did. At the time, Iommi was on a different record label than Ozzy and they were still having problems. They sent out Toby Wright, the producer, with this killer harmonica player and a studio guitar player. The studio guitar player and the harmonica player wrote the way that riff is. They changed it around a little bit. And then they went around the English countryside trying to woo the boys in. They took it to Geezer first. He loved it so much, he wrote that other weird part in there. Ward loved it, Ozzy loved it. Iommi was slow to like it, but eventually everybody liked it enough to where they recorded it together as a band.
Then the politics took over. The only person that got to hear the real shit was Guy [Pinhas], my old bass player from The Obsessed. He happened to be sitting in the control room when Toby brought up all the Sabbath guys' tracks. First, [the record label] asked Henry Rollins to sing. And he said no, why don't you ask Wino. By that time, they'd already gotten Halford. So then they asked me if I would play guitar. But what they meant by play guitar was basically get Iommi's exact sound and follow his track exactly.
I'll tell you a real funny story about that session. I wanted to have a shot at doing the lead. So I was real pumped and nervous, and I'd been in there all day. Normally you'd stand there for as many hours as it took to get the lead. But [Wright] said, "I'll give you one chance." So I got one chance to do the lead. I did a half-assed lead, and at the end of it, I made this noise. He goes, "I'm going to keep the lead that I have from the Fight guy, but, you know, that noise was really cool." And later on, he comped that noise into the middle of the solo. If you go back and listen to that song, and you listen to that Fight guy's lead, somewhere in the middle [around 3:36], you'll hear this weird noise. That's what producers do, man. They're full-on tweakers.
Why did Rollins refuse?
I have no idea. I can't speculate at all.
How did Halford come into the picture?
I really don't know. What better name could be there, you know? Rollins would have been great with me, but I think that he would have been a little strange [on the song].
You were on a major label for one record with The Obsessed. What was that experience like?
Let me tell you something. Columbia Records at the time - what I'm telling you is no shit - it was 666 5th Ave. and the building was black. I kid you not.
I told the guys in my band, "I think we should make the single 'Streamlined' because it's [short] and it's a bike-riding anthem." They were, like, "No, no, that's not indicative of our sound at all." We get up there, and [the Columbia Records representatives] talk and they're kind of hemming and hawing. So I just stand up and say, "I figure I can speak for the band. We'd be proud to be on your label." And [the representative] is, like, "We'd be proud to have you." And we shook hands. Right at that minute, when we shook hands, I really thought that was it - that I'd achieved my lifetime goal of getting signed to a major label.
So many people warned me, man. So many people already knew what was going to happen. But at the time I thought it was cool. You know how we fucked up? I listened to my guys, and instead of following through with m
y idea of having "Streamlined" be the single, I let them have a big dirge for the single. [The label] liked the song I wanted. It was the perfect song, you know? And those guys just totally fucked up, man. I didn't have the wherewithal to put my foot down. I was too young. So many things you can really chalk up to being too young. Some dudes in rehab at 16 years old - you look across the table, and you can just tell. He's too young. He's going to be back.
The record company would never pay us on time. Never. My landlady was, like, "You're signed to a major label - yeah, right. Well, why are you always two weeks late?" The record company would always pay us our salaries two weeks late. Always. We had to get our lawyer, who charged us $100 an hour, to write the record company a letter saying, "If you don't pay them on time, you're going to breach your contract." That's the kind of shit that I went through on that label. You couldn't work because they just ran you around all day doing press.
Right around that time, [Kurt] Cobain died. When Cobain died, it was kind of a turning point in the industry. There wasn't the grunge figurehead anymore. That's about the time when they were trying to figure out how they were going to market us. I think they had a hard time and didn't end up succeeding, and they just kind of gave up on us. The mistake they made is they decided that they were going to let us go. But the right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing. The left hand had already exercised its option to our lawyer on paper for our second record. So we were, like, "Yeah, cool, we're ready for our next advance." Instead of paying us our advance, they said we could get either get kicked off the label, or we could be demoed to be a little bit poppier. So that was that.
You've been in bands all your life. This is your first solo record. Why now?
Every band I'm in, I think it's going to be the one. But so far, it ends up not being that way. It's usually because something happens. Someone's personality - there's something going on somewhere that ends in the [band's] demise. I don't want to get into the details about the breakup of The Hidden Hand, but we did a European tour that wasn't that good. There were some weird feelings. There was always a lot of tension. The other singer/songwriter was the bass player in The Hidden Hand. I've always had three pieces [in bands]. So the bass is really, really important to me, because there are only three people. He was a great lyricist and also a great songwriter. But he couldn't get over the fact that I got a lot of attention because I have a fucking 30-year career. As ridiculous as that sounds, it really was a bone of contention with him. I think it affected him mentally, and not in that good of a way. Eventually, it ended up with him making comments and copping a strange attitude.
The bass player we've got now - he's like, "I'm going to Europe? You're taking me to Europe? Goddamn!" He's just happy to be there. It's so different. And that's why this record is so good. I never toot my own horn, but I personally think this is the best thing I've ever done. I'm proud of it, because I finally got the drum sound I wanted, and I finally got a bass player who nailed a good, fat, low sound without so much drama. I'm just happy with it all the way around. The fact is, me and Jean-Paul [Gaster, Clutch drummer] have always admired each other's playing. Clutch has taken Spirit Caravan out quite a bit on tour. We know each other pretty good. A long time ago, we made a pact that we would do an album together. I just thought that the time was right. I've got all this great gear. I'm playing at my peak right now. Why stop, you know? As soon as I got that Electro-Harmonix HOG [guitar synthesizer], man, holy shit. You just dial out all the lows and you've got these birdlike thirds and shit, man. There's so much to be done with sound.
You sound pretty happy - have you always been this way?
I'm excited now because of the stuff that's going on. My solo record sold out its first pressing in two weeks. That was mindblowing for us. We have a record release party tomorrow, and we have some gift packages, but no records to sell because they're sold out. It's just exciting when the timing is right. It's always about the timing. To be honest, I don't think the timing's ever been right for me except for now.