For most people the name Saint Vitus strikes up the image of a historic, Gothic structure located in the heart of Prague.
With its foreboding structure, haunting spires and myriad of gargoyles, this visual is akin with the sounds of a legendary four-piece doom band from Los Angeles that shares the same name (albeit they adopted the name from a song by Black Sabbath).
If you were to ask members of the doom metal community about Saint Vitus, you’re likely to hear phrases such as “forefathers”, “pioneers”, “founders” and so on. The only person you’re not so likely to hear this opinion from is guitarist Dave Chandler, who only recently discovered the term Doom Metal.
‘When we first started, we were just heavy metal’ says Chandler ‘The first time I ever heard that term was when we went to Europe for a second time and they called us “The Godfathers of Doom” on the poster. I went to Hellhound (Saint Vitus’ previous label) and asked, “What does that mean?” and they said “You play Doom Metal” and I’m like “What’s Doom Metal?” and they go, “What you play”, and I’m like “Alright”. I went to Mark Adams (bassist) and said “Hey dude, we play Doom Metal” and he’s like “Okay” so we went along with it.’
The recognition that has been bestowed upon them today has left them just as perplexed as they are grateful and flattered. As the Internet opened up opportunities for smaller bands to get their music out, it also gave previously less successful niche bands a chance to be rediscovered. Chandler went on to discuss his feelings about Saint Vitus’ place in the new millennium.
‘The amount of press has definitely been an adjustment period. It’s kind of like a twilight zone thing. “Why?” was my question. Why? Everyone hated us. That was my confusion when it first started happening. Then we started talking to fans and they’re like “Here’s my kid”. Fans our age had kids who were like 20 and are into us. Then I understood what had happened. We couldn’t buy a spot in a magazine before, there was zero press.’
Despite Chandler’s modesty, Saint Vitus’ initial existence as a band wouldn’t be considered unsuccessful by any standard. After many highly praised releases and extensive touring throughout America and Europe, Saint Vitus decided to retire in 1995 after 18 years as a band. Chandler went on to talk about what occurred during his downtime.
‘I was a DJ in a strip bar. I listened to all kinds of f**ked up shit, it’s not embarrassing. I listen to Ace of Base, Britney spears and all that bullshit. This was my job from 1995 until 2000. Some pop music I really enjoy and that’s how I got turned onto it. I just listen to it when I want to be goofy and get drunk.’
However, you can’t keep a good rocker down. Rather than leave his passion for music behind like many a jaded musician, when the riff came calling, he accepted the charges.
‘When we retired in 1995 I disassociated myself from music and the whole scene until 2000 when I did Debris Inc.’ tells Chandler ‘In 2000 Ron (Holzner, bassist) was asking me if I wanted to do something and I was like “F**k no. I don’t want to do anything.” Over a couple of years I wrote a couple of punk rock songs and it expanded because we were having fun with it. Then it became total shit. Once we had a chance to do Vitus again I said “Okay well let’s do this because this is what we were born to do.”’
In 2012 Saint Vitus released their first album in 17 years, Lille: F-65. The timing couldn’t have been better. Between the prospering of the doom genre with bands such as Electric Wizard, Bongzilla and Sleep, coupled with tour promoters such as Heathen Skulls bringing niche acts to our shores, the return of Saint Vitus has been welcomed by swathes of lovers of all things down tempo and down tuned.
‘People seem to really like this record, they really dig the song “Let them fall” because of the video. People are very responsive and have asked if we’re doing another one. We’re not sure right now. We don’t want to rush something, because it’ll sound that way. If we do, it’ll come at its own time. But we’re all feeling it.’
With Saint Vitus gracing us with their presence for the first time in July (courtesy of Heathen Skulls), Chandler left us with some simple words for the fans, delivered with an eloquence that could only come from the godfather of Doom.
‘Be prepared. Don’t bring earplugs, that’s bullshit.’
Photo by Ester Segarra