As an impressionable young boy living in New Mexico, Sonny Reinhardt had a rather auspicious dream. He was standing atop a mountain peak shrouded in fog; lightning bolts rained down around him. Suddenly, the sound of a huge guitar rang out, and a white Steinberger — a headless guitar popular in the 1980s — glided down from the heavens and into young Sonny's nimble hands. When he woke up, he decided he wanted to play guitar in a heavy metal band.
Some twenty-plus years later, Reinhardt's dream — which he now describes as a "really retarded, Bill & Ted kind of moment" — has pretty much come true. Last year, he became the new lead guitarist of Saviours, Oakland's fast-rising metal band, whose just-released third album, Accelerated Living, harks back to a classic, heavy metal sound. Since the departure of guitarist Tyler Morris, Saviours, with the help of Reinhardt, has gotten faster, harder, and rawer. The album sounds like something you'd find in a hesher's record collection circa 1970s/1980s: potent, lightning-fast riffs; wailing solos; and an unpolished, analog feel that belies the existence of the 21st century. It's fifty minutes of unrelenting, heavy metal thunder.
"A lot of bands, they tend to get weaker as they progress," lamented drummer Scott Batiste, cigarette and Modelo beer in hand, on the back patio of Eli's Mile High Club on a sunny Friday afternoon. "I've always disliked that." Batiste, who's been Saviours' principal songwriter since the band formed in 2004, said the progression was a natural one. He was the traditional rock guy who always wanted to play faster, while Reinhardt had been the fast guy who always wanted to play rock. (Prior to joining Saviours, Reinhardt played in notable punk bands such as Watch Them Die and Word Salad.) They met somewhere in the middle.
The addition of Reinhardt seemed to inject the band with renewed vigor (and more chops): the band came up with way more riffs than it could use, and the album ended up being twenty minutes longer than any of its previous efforts. That, coupled with the band's nonstop touring, explosive live show, and hands-on business approach has helped them rise to national and international prominence: they're signed to reputable Kemado Records, have appeared on Fuel TV, toured with the likes of the Sword and Mastodon, and next year will join metal legends Saint Vitus for a string of dates (they stop by San Francisco on January 29).
Unlike many metal bands, Saviours have found success by adhering to an old-school aesthetic. Batiste doesn't watch TV or movies, but spends his time exposing himself to all kinds of underground metal: "German thrash, Italian Venom-worship bands, ... Seventies obscure hard rock, European Eighties metal of various ilk." When he's not on tour, he goes to metal and punk shows three or four nights a week.
Compared to 2008's Into Abbadon and 2006's Crucifire, Accelerated Living isn't quite as heavy on the low-end riffage — which can be positive or negative, depending on your perspective. Part of that was due to the fact that Batiste changed his songwriting process. He used to write riffs on a heavily distorted bass; this time around, "I got this crappy Flying V copy, and then I started playing guitar a bunch and shit, and then it just kinda changed the stuff I was playing," he explained. "I was able to play faster and more intricately and stuff."
The album was recorded by friend Phil Manley of the Fucking Champs and Trans Am at San Francisco's Lucky Cat Recording, which, Batiste says "has all the accoutrements of the modern studio in 1970. It's awesome." Reinhardt says that, unlike many producers and engineers, Manley was patient and open to experimentation. Batiste brought in the first two Mercyful Fate records as examples of what he wanted the drums to sound like. They were recorded to two-inch tape, while the guitars and vocals were recorded on ProTools. Then everything was mixed back down onto tape.
The result is the antithesis to modern metal's compressed guitar tones, slick production, and cookie-monster vocals. "The record doesn't sound like a modern metal record at all," said Batiste, proudly. "It sounds like a Seventies record. There's not a shitload of low end. There is, but it's not the modern low end — it's not all like crisp and subby and shit."
As befits their music, Batiste and Reinhardt physically embody the heavy metal spirit, too. Channeling Lemmy, both sported handlebar mustaches, long hair, vintage metal tees, and lots of ink. Batiste, who's originally from Santa Cruz, punctuates his sentences with "like" and "fuckin'" (at least 54 references in an hour-long interview) and made several casual references to being stoned a good deal of the time (he says it's a pre-show ritual).
Yet living the heavy metal dream isn't all it's chocked up to be. Even with its busy schedule, the band doesn't make much money. Batiste says its current income (about $200 to $300 a night) allows members to pay studio rent and maybe have a couple hundred bucks left over if they're lucky. As a result, most of them are homeless. Batiste has been couch surfing since June, singer-guitarist Austin Barber was spending the day moving out of his place (to become homeless), and Reinhardt said he was probably on the verge of becoming homeless, too. None except bassist Cyrus Comiskey has a regular, steady job, though the other guys pick up occasional work (Barber at Temple Tattoo, Batiste at a friend's screen-printing business by the Coliseum, and Reinhardt as a sound engineer at the Uptown).
Granted, it's nearly impossible for the guys to commit to anything (girlfriends included) considering the demands of their hectic lifestyle. They've been on the road nearly constantly for the past two years, and are currently on a tour that won't end until March. (Such a grueling schedule was responsible for Morris' departure, Batiste said.) When Barber fractured his wrist skateboarding and required surgery, the band did a European tour without him, and Comiskey picked up vocal duties. (Batiste said the experience required intoxication, led to public exposure, and often included made-up lyrics about Eighties TV shows.)
"It's kind of fucking brutal," Batiste said. He added that changes in the record industry have added to that brutality. Since bands make less and less on record sales, more of them are forced to tour. Thus, Batiste said he has to book shows at least six months in advance. He was currently booking gigs for August 2010.
The rigors of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, while challenging, have helped them rack up enough stories for their own Spinal Tap documentary. There's the time they played a pro-Israel squat in Germany, where fans implored them to remix their songs with dance music; they recently partied with porno ravers in LA (producer Johnny Darko is a big fan); and once their plane's hydraulic system failed over the Atlantic and had to make an emergency landing in Ireland, where they ran into George Bush's Air Force One.
But living the heavy metal dream isn't so bad. "This is what I wanna do, you know," said Batiste. "I didn't go to college. I've toured in bands, touring in basements, fucking whatever the fuck since I was 17, 18. I'm fucking old and I just wanna do it, you know?" Fuck yeah.
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