Q&A: Scott “Wino” Weinrich | Decommissioning the fuzz pedal and playing acoustic

For a dude who has built a revered legacy on the back of playing big biker doom riffs and wailing with Saint Vitus, Scott “Wino” Weinrich’s recent output has been super-mellow. There was 2010 acoustic solo record, Adrift, then a Latitudes session recorded in London with German singer/songwriter Conny Ochs, before the pair got together and put out last year’sHeavy Kingdom, an LP that was largely all acoustic. Sure, at first it was kinda weird seeing Wino leave his Sunn Model T on standby, but it’s pretty cool too. And shit, if anyone in doom was to break ranks and bring it down a level into folk/Americana and still make it sound dark and heavy, it’s Wino.
While he is going to be playing acoustic shows in support of Heavy Kingdom, Wino will be back breaking bad on the mic with Saint Vitus and riffing out with The Obsessed soon enough. When we caught up with him the other week, the change of pace sounded like it was doing him good.

I gather that it was a bit of an accident that you got into playing acoustically.
What happened was, when Punctuated Equilibrium was coming out, my first solo album on electric, there was a motorcycle magazine which had a record release party for me. At the time I wasn’t playing acoustic, but the guy wanted to make some kind of special draw for it so he advertised it, and at the end of the ad for the party he said that I would do a half-hour acoustic set at the end. He didn’t even ask me; he just dropped me in it, but it’s kinda funny ‘cos I agreed to do it anyways even though I wasn’t really prepared. I watched the footage of that… When I saw it back I said, “If I ever do this again I’m going to be more prepared.” What I did was, that winter, I sat down with an acoustic and wrote some more meaningful songs and that went on to become Adrift. After the bassist on Punctuating Equilibrium, John Blank died, unexpectedly, and we were due to start a tour with Clutch literally days after it—I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know whether just to get lost or somethin’. But the drummer, John-Paul [Gaster] from Clutch and Punctuated Equilibrium said, ‘Why don’t you get on the bus with us and just play acoustic, and just support the whole show on acoustic? Play a half-hour set and take a little bit of the cut of you’d get with Punctuated.’ And that sorta got me doing it, and I realised that not only was it easy but it was pretty rewarding. A lot of people had no idea I even played electric guitar, and people were coming up and trying to buy a record, which of course I didn’t have. Those songs went on to become Adrift.

So it was really John-Paul Gaster who made you do it full-time?
It was going from the fat into the fire, and I gotta thank John-Paul a lot because he had a lot of time for me; he pushed me. I mean, playing acoustic guitar to a Clutch crowd? And he said, “Well c’mon, we’ve had a lot of people do it.” And that was not a reason not to do it, just so I wouldn’t be trashed by the crowd.

Did you write on acoustic before? Has your writing process changed much?
It depends where I’m at; if I’m at my house in LA I’ll probably be fucking around with my acoustics, or I might be fucking around with my electrics—I got a really cool little Silvertone 2×12, the amp’s like a 35-watt thing, and that’s really cool to use in the house. So I’ll either be writing with my acoustics or playing through something like that when I come up with an idea. I usually get a riff and then at the same time I’ll get a few different ideas for song titles. Sometimes you’ll be dry for ideas and then BANG! The whole song will hit you in one day. It’s what I call divine inspiration, and what I’ve noticed is that seems to happen to me more often when I’m sick. I don’t get sick very often but, occasionally, if I’ve had the flu or just laying around recovering sometimes it’ll just hit you all at once. Usually I’ve got a riff flowing around, some lyrical ideas and a title and I’ll match the riff to the title and once it clicks in my brain I get the music finished first. Usually, if I am in a recording studio there’s at least one or two songs that I’ll tweak, a few words here and there. There’s usually one or two songs that need a tweak before they’re perfect. Sometimes it happens quick and sometimes it is a slow crawl, but I’m just happy I still have the ideas.

Yeah, I guess that’s what makes songwriting magical; the planets have to be aligned, and the ideas can click at any given moment, like you said, when you’re sick or something.

You’re in a different state of mind and that really matters. Like, I’m sure you’ve been given a record at some point in your life and y’know you’re thinking it’s OK but a couple of weeks later you’ll pick it up, you’re in a completely different state of mind and put it and in and think “wow, this is great”. Sometimes you don’t have the time to listen to things right, or listen to things carefully when you’re distracted. But, you might put it in a little bit later and think it’s amazing. It’s all about your state of mind.

It just shows that making music, or even appreciating music is a fragile experience.
You’re absolutely right. That’s what makes it the universal language, too. It really is the universal language; there is no doubt about it. It crosses all the barriers and is one of the most beautiful forms of expression ever. For man, as this imperfect thing, it’s really crucial. I mean I’ll go long periods of time where I don’t listen to anything then I’ll hook up my stereo in my room and…

Had you listened to a lot of folk/Americana before writing and writing on acoustic?
I must say this, I ignored the folk scene. I ignored the acoustic. I mean, there are only two Bob Dylan songs I like; I’m not a big Dylan fan. There are one or two old songs I like but… I ignored the American folk scene many years. But then I got turned on to Townes Van Zandt. I mean, the bulk of it I don’t like but the songs I do like are just so powerful. I just finished my last song and put it in for a Townes Van Zandt tribute album. It’s coming out on a german label and has Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly from Neurosis, and me, each doing three Van Zandt songs. It’s powerful. I struggled to find the songs though. I struggled to find that third song because I don’t like a lot of that sweeter sounding country stuff. The three songs I’m doing are pretty dark: I’m doing “A Song For”, “Nothin'” and “Rake”. It’s incredibly moving stuff. I’m interested in Celtic music, too. I really like traditional Irish music like the Chieftains and stuff, that just brings fuckin’ tears to my eyes because it’s dark and moody and isn’t just some light pop shit.

How did you get involved with Conny Ochs?
Basically Andreas from Exile On Mainstream—he had faith in me, mentioned it to me, he said. “Why don’t you play acoustic, man?” And I wasn’t really into it but a few things happened that pushed me in the direction of it and ever since then I’ve loved it. I met Conny after Andreas had booked him as a driver for me on the Adrift tour and I had no idea what to expect. I had absolutely no idea. When I first saw him play I was struck by how intense it was, y’know, it was pretty dark but I thought he had a great voice. There was one time I was tuning up and stringing up backstage, I think in Denmark, and we started jamming. We both knew at that minute that we had something because it just clicked. It was magical. I invited him onstage that night and I don’t think I’ve done a set since when we haven’t played with one another. It just seemed logical. We ended up in England at the end of the Adrift tour and we did the Latitudes thing, and after that we realised we should really make this a serious thing and make it a serious record. In a little time we were able to put together a full record. Y’know, Conny is really an inspiration; he’s amazing.

Wino & Conny Ochs Heavy Kingdom is out now on Exile on Mainstream. Buy it here.

Pic: Jose Carlos Santos