Scott "Wino" Weinrich's Year of Total Exhaustion

An underground metal titan juggles, like, 500 different projects

Scott "Wino" Weinrich is a lifer—an American Lemmy. (Sure, Lemmy's been living in L.A. for years, but you know what I mean.) An underrated lyricist with an instantly recognizable voice and guitar sound, he's been the driving force behind a fistful of bands that have reshaped stoner/biker/doom metal in his image: the Obsessed, Saint Vitus, Spirit Caravan, the Hidden Hand, and now Shrinebuilder. In January, after nearly 30 years in the game, he finally released his first true solo album, Punctuated Equilibrium. While his thick, fuzzy tone is as individual as ever (Wino's a major gearhead, devoted to tube amps and classic Gibson guitars), the record finds him expanding his stylistic parameters considerably, from ultra-heavy riff-fests to psychedelic instrumentals. It's also a journey through his entire life as a musician, with some songs and riffs dating back as far as 1979.

Supporting that release is just one of the reasons that Wino is making a string of local appearances this fall. Backed by former Dog Fashion Disco bassist Brian White and Clutch drummer Jean-Paul Gaster, he'll be opening for Clutch for two nights at Irving Plaza. ("I asked him, 'Are you sure about doing double-duty?' And he said, 'I love double-duty,' " Wino laughs, saluting the indefatigable drummer.) He's planning to give fans a wide-ranging journey through his catalog and sound, too: "In the Wino band, we play our originals, both those released on Punctuated Equilibrium and some new ones that we're working on, and we also play some of people's favorite Obsessed songs, and one Spirit Caravan song. People love that—they really wanna hear that."

Once the Clutch tour winds down, Wino will reappear in Brooklyn for a gig at Europa with the reunited Saint Vitus. He originally fronted the group between 1986 and 1991, appearing on their three best albums—Born Too Late, Mournful Cries and V. Legends today, Vitus were odd men out in the '80s, not just at their first label, SST (home to Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, and the Minutemen), but in the '80s underground as a whole. Punks didn't know what to make of their Sabbathy riffs, even if the alienation and despair of their lyrics came through loud and clear.

Wino thinks the current economic climate has brought doom metal back around. "The time is right," he says. "Basically, I think right now, the world's in shit. There's a lot of despair, a lot of economic problems. People have had a lot of misfortune, and the kind of music we play is music for the times. It's not happy fucking poppy-type shit where everything's groovy. It's more introspective, and I think it fills a void."

He's even hoping Vitus—featuring founding members Dave Chandler (guitar) and Mark Adams (bass) alongside new drummer Henry Vasquez—will get back into the studio. "We're working on some new stuff now," Wino says. "The band is coming my way to the East Coast on the 14th; we're gonna rehearse on the 15th and do some shows up the East Coast. Those guys are all convinced that Europe is the bread and butter, but I was like, 'If you can't crack your own country, then you ain't shit,' you know? So they agreed with me that we would do some American shows, and we got huge offers."

Wino's third and probably final project for '09 is an album whose mere announcement sent underground metal fans into paroxysms of joy. The self-titled debut by Shrinebuilder, to be released in late October on Neurot Recordings, is a summit conference of slow-and-low kings. Wino shares guitar and vocal duties with Scott Kelly of Neurosis. Al Cisneros of Om and Sleep handles bass. On drums: Dale Crover of the Melvins. The basic tracks were recorded in three days in Northern California, with Wino tweaking the results a little after the fact. "I felt it needed me to put down a couple more really heavy rhythm guitars on some shit, and do some more e-bow," he recalls. "So I had the files sent to Baltimore—I fattened 'em up, sent 'em back."

Shrinebuilder starts out sounding like a typical Wino project, but when Kelly's vocals come in midway through opening track "The Architect," it turns into something unexpectedly ferocious, even ritualistic. "We weren't sure if it was gonna work or not, but it really does," Wino says, laughing with pride. "It's like the first guy comes in and kneecaps everybody, then the second guy comes in and bludgeons everybody to death with a baseball bat." Cisneros adds deep, almost dubby basslines (along with some of the same quasi-mystical chanting he does in Om), while Crover's rhythms are as intricately concussive as ever. And while, at times, the music is as heavy as anything Wino's ever done, it's got a less bombastic and more meditative, even introspective side, too.

For a guy who was pondering retirement only last year ("I was thinking, well, you know, I've kinda made my mark—maybe it's time to hang it up"), Wino is exploding all over the place in 2009. But it's been a long journey, and not necessarily one he'd recommend to the faint-hearted. "I'll never, ever compromise my art," he says. "And when you have that kind of ideal, you can bet your ass you're never gonna be able to learn a trade, because you're gonna be out struggling on the road. You're gonna miss your kids' and your wife's birthdays—you can bet that the most important show you can get is gonna fall on someone's birthday, one of your kids or your wife. That's the kind of thing you've gotta do. If you're not willing to do that, don't do it."

Wino opens for Clutch October 9 and 10. Saint Vitus play Europa October 16. Shrinebuilder play (le) poisson rouge November 15.

 
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