INTERVIEW WITH SCOTT “WINO” WEINRICH (THE HIDDEN HAND)
Scott “Wino” Weinrich is a true cult icon whose legacy deserves much more attention and praise than it already got, but of course he shares with other cult heroes that a) his music isn’t really suitable for the masses b) he’d rather stay under the radar. Even though he’s often considered the ‘master of modern doom’ – the genre being a sort of revival of the classic, early Black Sabbath sound (mainly from Vol. 4, the album that also inspired his second band Saint Vitus to cop their name from the song “St. Vitus Dance”), which means: ultra-heavy riffs, a thundering rhythm section and often an uncanny atmosphere of pending doom – he’s too smart to ridicule himself with theatrical stage antics and comic book lyrics. Instead, his albums have always been informed by a multitude of sources, whether it is philosophy, historiography, spiritualism, or – in the case of his latest project The Hidden Hand – politics. Their debut album Divine Propaganda is not only a ferocious kick under the butt of corrupt politicians and crooked power relations, also musically, it’s one of the most relentless things he’s ever come up with: a hard-hitting, furious manifest that sounds like a brief summary of his entire career. The new album (Mother Teacher Destroyer) only comes out in a few months, but one year after their previous gig, The Hidden Hand paid a second visit to the Sojo. After the excellent show (support act: Alix), I had a talk with Chief Wino and here’s the transcription:
First of all… great show! I was really amazed by the constant level of energy throughout the show…
How has the tour been this far? You’ve been playing for a few weeks now…
It’s been good… our drummer Dave, he was over here for tow and a half weeks with his other band – Ostinato – and then Bruce and me came over, so he already had almost three weeks under his belt… and then he did double duty on a bunch of shows, too. We played with Ostinato, so he had to play twice for a few shows and that was pretty hard. And now it’s our last show on the continent and we’re over to England now. It’s been pretty great and we’ve had some good shows….
I was checking out the message board on your website today, and apparently you had some drunk freak or something harassing you yesterday?
(laughs) What did it say?
Somebody who went to the show wrote that some dude jumped on the stage, acted like a maniac and that you basically kicked him off of the stage…
Yeah, that’s basically right (laughs). It’s funny it’s already on our website. Yeah that’s what happened… this dude, he seemed really cool in the beginning of the night, he was asking me some pretty serious questions, he seemed like cool guy… a little bit lewd; but not out of his mind… and then, before we even started playing, he put his coat over my monitor, so I was like “Ok, can you move your coat, because that’s all I got here, you know…?” and he said “OK” and it still seemed like he was cool and then we were playing and this fucking dude is, like, sprawled on the stage, with a can of Red Bull, like, all over my pedals, laying there and then he gets on the stage, won’t jump off, he was up there dancing, so Bruce fuckin’ bum-rushes him off and then he still didn’t understand it and started to come again, and that’s when….. (lifts leg up)…. universal language.
The boot, that’s right.
Uh, what struck me about the gig today - and I was also here when you played here a year ago – is that the new songs seemed to have taken another direction … it’s like, I don’t know, it’s more about atmosphere and not as strict maybe… it sounded as if Dave brought in more of his background… do you agree?
You’re absolutely correct, you’re totally on the money. The new record sounds a lot different than Divine Propaganda. It’s definitely more, uh, kinda flowing and it definitely has more of a psychedelic edge, so yeah…
What always has been a recurring thing in your bands and on the albums is that your themes, or the stuff you sing about, … they’ve always been out of step with what was goin’ on in the hard rock-scene, or whatever you wanna call it… doom or stoner… There’s much more emphasis on philosophical things…
With this band, we got two more incredible minds, and when you listen to the new record – of which I get you a copy - … Bruce’s lyrics are so fucking amazing man… they’re really, like, uh… (throws hands in the air)
Does he write most of ‘em?
We split the job… but with Dave also being a guitar player and his different background, it brings all these new elements into the band, so yeah, it’s not just…. We started out with a theme… we knew that the last record was pretty hard, politically, like pretty much of a hard statement, and that’s cool, but I felt in a way that maybe people kind of dwelled on the political thing a bit too much, instead of the music. So we decided to kind of, uh, put the focus a bit more on the music, but also to keep the message, but at the same time, we wanted to… the themes that we were on are often an astrological, geological kind of trip – goddess worship, suppression of the goddess, re-emergence of the goddess, female energy and of course our political protest…
The name The Hidden Hand itself … does it refer to stuff like hidden agendas, etc?
Absolutely, that’s exactly what it is… It’s kinda like a tongue in cheek-comment a little bit, but at the same time, I tried to point out “Hey, there’s more goin’ on than meets the eye”.
Was that also why you called the first album Divine Propaganda?
Yeah, like I said, that was our first one, it was like, you know… let’s fuckin’ kick open the door and once the door’s open, we can kinda flow through…
What was the reason for that? The political system at that particular time?
Yeah, we were pretty much disgusted with the whole evangelical Christian political thing that’s happening in the United States right now… George W. is obviously a fucking … a religious zealot basically… and Tom DeLay… They’re supported to a large extent by the Christian right and Pat Robertson, The 700 Club,… all these fucking TV evangelical dudes…. One of the new songs, “Travesty as Usual”, I throw a line out there at him, because… that guy owns diamond mines in Sierra Leone …. These people are talking about God, when in reality they got a lot of blood on their hands…
Do you try to keep up with what’s happening in the US, even though you’re on the road… with the presidential campaign and stuff, now Kerry has chosen Edwards to be his sidekick?
(nearly jumps up with excitement) He chose John Edwards? OOHHHHHH MAN! (To the other guys:) HEY, KERRY HAS CHOSEN JOHN EDWARDS! That’s fucking amazing! (small party goin’ on) THAT was a smart move!
I read that in the newspaper yesterday, I think.
We haven’t seen any papers for a while, but that’s great, because that’s his only chance, you know…
Don’t you think that Nader will perhaps fuck things up again?
Dave (from the background): No!
You better watch out, man! (laughs) I like ole Ralph’s ideas and he’s fantastic.
But also stealing votes from the Democrats!
But he’s also stealing from the Republicans, I don’t think he’s gonna get very far this time.
No, people realized what happened the last time, people don’t want Bush and if they vote for Nader, we’re not gonna beat Bush. What they say in the American press is really true… it doesn’t even matter… people want Bush out of the office so bad…
Let’s return to the music… when’s the next album coming out?
On Meteor City again?
No, on Southern Lord, it’s a two album-contract. In October in the States, and in September here on a German label… [Exile on Mainstream in Europe] you can probably still get a promo copy from the guy selling our merch….
That would be cool…
He won’t mind!
OK, then I’ll be friendly.
About Divine Propaganda… as I was looking at the liner notes, I saw that you recommended a few books. Why did you suggest that people should read those?
Well, Greg Palast’s book, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy – which everyone should read – is about NAFTA, a real bummer… and he’s also talking about how the Republicans stole the election, by basically hiring a company to establish the voter list, the list of people to vote and they disenfranchised a lot of people, that was pretty ugly. Greg Palast is an American journalist who can’t get anything… he has a website and basically, he has to go to England to write.
Yeah, I saw he wrote a pretty incendiary article when Reagan died - “GOOD RIDDANCE, GIPPER ... MORE PROOF ONLY THE GOOD DIE YOUNG” …
Greg Palast is a true American hero. For real… and David Icke is English and he’s a really interesting character, because he was once a sportscaster, who became kind of enlightened with spirituality, so he decided to “expose the evils of the world.” People kind of acquaint David Icke with… some of his later works. A lot of people focused on the fact that David Icke… the book that I mentioned… specifically, And the Truth Shall Set You Free,… one of his earlier books, is pretty straight… in that one he’s talking about everything… the Bush dynasty, he’s talking about how American and German bank companies were financing both sides of the war at the same time…. you know.. Standard Oil and the rubber companies making fucking tires for Hitler and others making bullets for the US, so basically playing both sides of the coin… that classic Machiavelli-type of shit and he goes on and on about, you know, goin’ to the Vietnam War under false pretenses, but there are a lot of facts. It’s a loooooong read, it’s very deep and heavy, but nobody was focusing on that book, everybody was focusing on his later books, where he has theories that all the powers that are in control come from an alien bloodline… so people think “God, why would I believe this shit?”, but I’m only talking about the one book.
Do you read a lot? Ok, this may be far-fetched, but it seems to me that you have some things in common with people like, for instance, Henry Rollins, people that have survived a few generations of musicians, have been around for 20-25 years, but still keep up the energy while not doing your basic rock thing, performing, lead the ‘rock life’ and talk nonsense… instead telling people to think for themselves maybe and read more…
Yeah, that’s important. I’m really proud that we can have a deeper message with this band. I mean, it’s not just sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll… that’s what sets this band apart from, you know, Spirit Caravan for example. I’m not tryin’ to slam anybody, but this is a whole new ballgame intellectually. Just the way we talk in the van… we have really deep conversations about politics, about religion, about fucking why we’re here, why we exist, how we love the music but at the same time we are curious about life… So, for me, it’s just the next level, and Bruce is a pretty smart guy, you know, and he looks real smart, too. (laughs)
He looked pretty funny today and he also looked like a maniac. There’s so much energy in that guy…
Yeah, he’s a fucking maniac, there’s no doubt about it.
About the guitar playing… it’s probably been asked before, but what made you decide that the guitar should be your “thing”?
It’s kind of strange, but as soon as I can remember, I remembered that I wanted to play rock music. I don’t know why that was, I was really into The Monkees first, when I was little. Then I got into The Beatles and once I discovered The Beatles, I was really, really… I wanted to learn the guitar really bad. I saw a band, a garage band play in Texas, when I was little and they threw the garage door open and it just made a big impression on me. I remember we couldn’t stay, but I really wanted to, and I would notice the older kids that had longer hair and they were in bands and stuff… It seemed like they were a whole different kind of people, you know. So I got an electric guitar and never really looked back. I had some lessons for a little while and he was a very cool guy who said “OK, for 15 minutes we’re gonna do the book, and for 15 minutes we’re gonna jam” and I think that really helped me. He was a big Roy Buchanan fan, the teacher, so he always told me, you know, use your other hand, use your fingers, and that was all good advice, really… The lessons didn’t last that long, maybe half a year, and then I was pretty frustrated with it for a long time, but then, on one day, it really clicked… I kinda just turned on, you know, I was determined, that’s when I was nine or ten. I’m forty-four now, so it’s been a little while.
Yeah, that means you’ve been playing since 1970 or so… When you started playing in bands in the late ‘70’s, I think I read you were living in D.C. at the time…
Uh, as far as I know, D.C. was a kind of hotbed for punk bands at the time – does that also explain that, throughout your career, there has always been this punk ingredient?
Dude, I was always influenced by the punk energy, but before the punk thing hit, we were already totally into The Stooges, we totally loved Raw Power, we listened to The Saints, The Dictators, we know all their songs when Bloodbrothers came out, right there, so when the punk thing happened we were already there. I was like… I would go downtown and watch bands like The Faith and The Void, and the energy was really infectious… but I really felt that we could stand our own with the punks, so we tried to prove that at every term.
At the time, bands like Bad Brains and Minor Threat became crucial… did you fit in the same scene?
I saw Bad Brains a couple of times, they were really fucking amazing. I remember, like, before they went reggae, right around the ROIR-tape days, I remember going to the club for a sound check, we were gonna support them and being like, literally, pinned to the fucking wall by the sheer power of that band. But it didn’t last, the power didn’t last, within two or three years, they were already doing 90% reggae, inviting other people on the stage and if they got money, they played three songs and that was it, the rest was reggae. They were also violent, they ripped off MDC and the Big Boys [because the singer was gay], they got such a bad reputation for themselves…
Really? I didn’t know what happened…
You should read American Hardcore by Steve Blush. It’s really, really great.
I’m familiar with a bunch of their albums and I do prefer the ROIR-tapes and the Rock for Light album…
Yeah, of course it didn’t take anything away for the fact that they were a great band. I’m just saying that they were really, really very arrogant and they kind of like intimidated… it just wasn’t a good vibe. Read that Steve Blush book, he’s the editor of Seconds… he’s making a movie too, but the book is phenomenal. I read it for the first time, like, three months ago and I was blown away by how much I didn’t know. But I talk a little bit in there too, that’s pretty funny.
When you were in Spirit Caravan, Joe Lally of Fugazi released some of your stuff on his label, Tolotta Records. Was that also the result of being from the same scene?
Yeah, me and Joe’s story is pretty interesting, actually, because, uh, Joe wanted to play bass, but Joe was new to the kind of rock thing and when I met Joe, he was listening to Joy Division and basically… I gave Joe a copy of Raw Power and he gave me a copy of Closer or Still and that was our exchange, and then later he said “I wanna learn how to play bass”, so he rented a room in my house and then he would ask for a little advice and he got a bass and stuff and my bass player and me gave him a few lessons and then I left to join Saint Vitus and next thing I heard was that he was in Fugazi…
And he’s a pretty great bass player now! Do you know if he’s still making music for the moment?
He’s playing with John Frusciante right now.
Something more recent, the Probot-album. When did Dave Grohl contact you for that?
That must’ve been about two and a half years ago. His manager basically asked me if I was interested in doing it and when I listened to the disc, I though the song was phenomenal. So, I took the song and took it with me on tour and pretty soon I came up with something…
Did you record your parts on the road?
The music was already done and Dave met me in the Fugazi recording studio actually and we got together and I sang and played a little bit of guitar and then after the record came out, they… I got a call and they asked me “Hey, we’re gonna do a video for “Shake Your Blood” with Lemmy” – but everything was already recorded. They just asked me if I’d play lip-sync, and I said “What’s it gonna be?” and they said “It’s gonna be you and Lemmy and Dave Grohl and 75 half-naked chicks in bondage equipment” and I was like… “Okay, what can I say?” (laughs). We didn’t even have to play, just beat that guitar…
The end of the tour is near now, finished in three days… What’s gonna happen when you get back home?
I’m gonna take care of my two little boys and then we got a bunch of stuff coming out: there’s the High Times-compilation and then we got the split out there (with Woolly Mammoth), we got another song out on The Maryland Doom Comp and then our new record comes out, so we’re probably gonna lay low for a while, work on a few new songs and start rehearsing again and probably play some shows at the end of the fall.
Nothing planned yet?
To come back over here?
Here, or in the US?
I think we’ll be back, not this fall, but next.
Cool! Thanks for the interview!
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