Cosmic Artefacts: Wino Of Spirit Caravan Interviewed

With the reunited Spirit Caravan playing at this year's Desertfest later this month, we dispatched Toby Cook to catch up with their riff-lord leader Scott 'Wino' Weinrich to talk reformation, doom and altered states

The last time the Quietus caught up with rock lifer Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich, the doom metal legend had just hit middle age, released his first solo acoustic album Adrift, and was about to release an equally acoustic-centric collaborative album, Heavy Kingdom, with Exile On Mainstream labelmate Conny Ochs. We found him relaxed, reflective, maybe even content, putting the tribulations of the past few years behind him and handing out indispensible nuggets of life advice, including when and when not to put your foot down in a band, especially when it comes to making career-changing decisions; how to live with your impetuous, youthful decisions; and how not to get bummed out when you find out the girl you’ve been dating is a prostitute.

But that was then. In the nearly two years since, Weinrich has found himself as busy and in demand as at any other point in his nearly lifelong career. The reunited Saint Vitus released their first album with him back in the fold in 22 years, he formed the doomy jam-machine Premonition 13, continued to tour his acoustic work, and found time to record Townes Van Zandt covers. He also, importantly, reactivated the often criminally overlooked psych/doom outfit Spirit Caravan – the band whose initial formation in 1996 he often credits as being the driving force behind his re-immersion in the rock scene, having all but given up on his music career some years before.

Perhaps not the best-known of Weinrich’s projects, and perhaps not commanding quite the same reverence and near-mythical status as Saint Vitus or The Obsessed, Spirit Caravan nonetheless hold a particularly special place in the hearts and minds of doom fans. While still wielding the driving, fuzz-heavy stoner riffs familiar to most of Weinrich’s musical ventures, there was – and is – something that bit more enlivening, warm and almost ethereal to the ‘Van. Tucked in among the doomy, stoner-ready riffs was an earnest appreciation of traditional southern rock, too. Sure they’re heavy, sure the same punk-like aggression that marked out Vitus especially was still there, but on releases like their debut full-length Jug Fulla Sun, that heaviness and aggression was tempered not with lyrics about drugs, death and desperation, but with something all the more positive and more, well, spiritual. Hell, at times they were even covertly political.

And live? As some attending this year’s Desertfest will be able to attest to, there was, and is, a fluidity, a connection between Wino, bassist Dave Sherman and drummer Gary Isom (now replaced with Vitus’ tub-thumper Henry Vasquez) that most power trios can only dream of. Yes, the barely restrained, almost self-abusive, controlled chaos of Vitus was something else back in their SST period – but the collective energy and almost magical cohesiveness of the ‘Van in top gear is unparalleled by almost any other stoner/doom/southern rock/call-it-what-you-like-collection-of-shit-stomping-riffs outfit your pot-addled mind can recall. It is, in short, the reason their return has been greeted with such bong-rattling rapture.

With this in mind, then, we thought it was high time we caught up with their shamanistic riff-lord leader Wino once again. This time, however, we found a man just as at peace, but also seemingly more driven, more focused and taking less shit than ever before.

Hey Scott, good to speak to you again. So tell us, why and when did you decide to reform Spirit Caravan? What’s the story there?

SW: Travelling the world, there were quite a lot of requests for a Spirit Caravan reunion, and I love this music and the songs, and we agreed among us – Gary, Sherman and I – to forgive and forget all the bullshit from the past and do a reunion. Unfortunately, Gary was unable to change his greedy, self centred and inconsiderate attitude, and had to be replaced with Henry Vasquez from Saint Vitus.

What are the chances that we might hear some new material, even a new album, after the current tour is over?

SW: The chances are more than good. We are already writing and even rehearsing new stuff, as well as talking to labels, too.

You’re of course no stranger to reformations, but given that you have often credited Dave and Henry – via Spirit Caravan – as helping bring you back into music after you had all but given up on it, how special is this particular reunion?

SW: It’s real special, despite us having to fire our original drummer. But, Henry is the drummer now, and as I said, I really do love this stuff.

Speaking of reunions, Saint Vitus are celebrating their thirty-fifth anniversary, if you like, this year – how do you feel about that? How hard is it to believe that people are talking about Vitus with such reverence after all these years?

SW: I really never thought in a million years that Vitus would be my biggest band, never. But they are, and I’m happy about that.

It’s interesting too, I think, that back in the 80s and early 90s – in the UK at least – doom wasn’t just unpopular, it was almost totally ignored, despite there being some amazing bands around. Now, though, there are whole festivals centred around it, such as Desertfest. What do you attribute to its steady rise in popularity – why has doom endured?

SW: Well, we are deep in a serious hard rock revival, started mainly by Frank Kozik and Mans Ruin in the 90s. Dig, it’s not just doom! I mean, Spirit Caravan is not really a doom band, lyrically.

Drugs are pretty often seen as a big part of rock and metal in general, and doom and its variants especially, but just how essential are drugs to your music, and music in general, if at all?

SW: Drugs are and will be important not just to me or my music, but to our culture in general, as they are in all cultures. I just ended (eight months ago) a seven year methamphetamine bender which was fucking great, and fucking fun, but I wanted to live and stay out of jail for me, my loved ones, my fans and my spirit. We all know that drug is hard as hell, but I loved it.

I don’t use anything now except all natural drugs like marijuana and buttons [peyote] or ‘shrooms. I don’t do coke (it sucks now, and is different anyway), meth or heroin. I do like the occasional Norco or some codeine, but I have a healthy respect for all drugs. I don’t and never have smoked tobacco, but I burn and inhale several homemade herbal concoctions to induce visions, sleep or mental clarity. The natural shit’s the best anyway, in my opinion. I have tripped at least a hundred times on LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, and I do still love 2CB (so if you’re coming to one of our shows: bring me some! I will trade merch or art I do for that!)

I have completely revamped my booze intake now, too, rarely drinking anything at all except a dark weihenstephaner or a glass of wine with my lady, who is German. I will have an occasional sip of real fucking moonshine, which we get occasionally in Virginia or North Carolina. That’s a weakness I have somehow managed to master.

You once said of your time before moving back to the East Coast and forming Spirit Caravan that, before getting clean, you “took a huge mushroom trip, and let nature sort it out”. Can you elaborate on what you meant by that a little? Presumably, that’s not a method of sorting things out that you’d recommend that other people try?

SW: Yeah, I quit drinking and drugs around the time of the original Spirit Caravan formation by doing ‘shrooms. None of this is for the squeamish, by the way, especially meth. If you’ve got any pre-existing mental issues and use that stuff you’re headed for a bad time I think. I would advise people to stick to the natural stuff. Be extremely careful with any of the datura and nightshade family.

It’s fair to say that you’ve had a lot of ups and downs throughout your career; how happy is Wino right now?

SW: I think I’m the happiest now that I have been in as long as I can remember. But the last three years have been the hardest of my life: I had my children who I raised torn from me; I have been cuffed up hard by the pigs in bitter cold suffering for fucking nothing; I have been demonised in the press by lying punk losers who are just plain jealous; and I have been ripped off by former bandmates who claim to be spiritual and pure.

But I never, ever threw in the towel, sold out or narced on anyone. All I want to do is use the gift I have been given to play music to enrich others’ lives as well as my own. My relationship with my family is fixed, my children are solid talented people, and we share deep love and respect. I’m feeling creative, driven and I feel stronger every day, thanks to all who believed and to over the years, so many fans and friends who make my musical existence possible. I look forward to seeing every one of them at these shows.

Spirit Caravan headline the Electric Ballroom on the Friday night of Desertfest, which takes place in Camden from 25th-27th April. For more information and tickets, as well as the full line-up details, click here to visit the Desertfest site.

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