I guess that there’s no special need to introduce this band in great details: Pentagram are one of the longest running bands in hard music, existing over 40 years and influencing countless bands along the way, and for the occasion of their new album entitled Curious Volume we got none other than legendary Bobby Liebling to give us the answers! No further comments needed – read on and enjoy!
Greetings Bobby and welcome to the pages of Metal Sound, I must say that it is our absolute honor to guest the legend such as yourself! How are you doing these days, my friend!
I’m in a dark place personally. I’m in a very positive place musically however. I love our new album “Curious Volume”. How are you? Are you writing me from Serbia? (yes Serbia, very good thanx for asking – ed.)
First off, I have to congratulate you on your new album Curious Volume – it sounds very fresh and energetic so it’s hard to believe that Pentagram exists for more than 40 years! What do you think is the main source of that energy and life stemming from Curious Volume?
Thanks very much for listening and it’s nice to hear the news that you are also a fan of it. It means a lot to me. I can’t believe that my music is being heard all the way to Serbia! I wish you all the best at all times. Thanks for loving music enough to support Metal Sound. As far as your question, the “main source and life” of Curious Volume, well,” It’s the Pentagram!” (Sign of the Wolf). The band right now is stellar. Victor Griffin is my brother and has been since we first started playing in the early 80s. Greg Turley has been in the band in the 90s and before that, he was a huge fan as a kid. Afterall, his uncle Victor was in the band! This is a family we have here, we all feel and understand the blues and the roots of doom. We recorded five older numbers plus Victor and Greg wrote some stellar new songs. Aside from all that positive energy, there were real problem with the studio. It closed before we got to record there. We had to scramble and record in different places around Philadelphia, Baltimore, DC and Knoxville. It took months to accomplish due to the producer and the band’s schedules. I think this nervous energy of not knowing if and when we’d finish recording mixed with the drain of the extra traveling gave this album an edge. It was the ying to the yang. On the other hand, as a band, we all really love each other, we were getting along great, the songs were turning out awesome….then the clouds come in. It puts an edge on things. Oh, I forgot to mention that Sean Saley, our drummer of the past 3 yrs, quit in the studio. ha…there was a lot of energy, good and bad, swirling around us. I feel that we harnessed that energy someone and put it into the songs.
Curious Volume is released through Peaceville and I am interested to know why you have quit your relationship with huge Metal Blade as it seemed to me that you are one of their biggest bands…
The deal with Metal Blade was a license deal. They weren’t interested in picking up “Curious Volume”. Peaceville made us a nice offer as soon as we told them that we were free. I think this is the basic situation with the great Metal Blade. When a legacy act put out a new album on a new label, the new label spends all sorts of money on marketing and promotion. In the end, almost always, the back catalog on the old label sells better than the new album. I think this happened to Metal Blade. A label like Peaceville can invest more in us since they own a handful of older albums. Pentagram has been making Peaceville money since we’ve been touring again and since Metal Blade’s fantastic promotion team spent time on us. Relapse has the 1970s stuff but Peaceville has the 80s albums and a few others. It was smart for them to try and bring Pentagram back to their label. They will also release my documentary film called “Last Days Here” in the UK and parts of Europe.
Let’s stay on the topic of labels just a bit more: it is obvious that Peaceville is not just a label for you as they have immensely helped to put the band on the map back in the day. How did you signed for them once again and did it feel like coming home?
Maybe I answered some of this in my last answer? We are fortunate for Peaceville’s interest in re-issuing our self title album as “Relentless” and “Day of Reckoning” and then putting out a new album at the time, “Be Forewarned”. They put us in front of rivet heads around the world. With that said, not to sound ungrateful but it was still a very small thing back then. It wasn’t like they put us out and then we sold thousands of albums. It took a while to wind up. Years and years. At the time they put us back out, death metal and black metal and all this fast and extreme music was hip, it wasn’t a time for doom metal really. In fact, it really wasn’t until the documentary “Last Days Here” and all our international touring that our albums starting selling well.
One more thing that strikes me as odd is that Victor Griffin has left and rejoined the band since the time of Last Rites. Your working relationship is obviously great but very strangely functioning so could you please try to shed some light upon your relationship nowadays. Would you say that Victor is the heart of Pentagram along with you?
At this point, Pentagram is bigger than all or any of us. Victor is a brother to me. I was the guy from the local 70s hard rock, early metal legends, note: LOCAL, Pentagram. He was a kid from Knoxville, TN who worshipped Sabbath and Alice Cooper and Steppenwolf. He had formed Death Row with my buddy Joe Hasselvander. I joined up and we morphed the name into Pentagram. We all had this energy together. Just like how I had energy with the late, great Vincent McAllister, Geof O’Keefe and Greg Mayne from the original Pentagram, I had a special energy with Victor, always. We get together and the music flows. Now, on top of that, we’ve got blood, Greg Turley, the son of Victor’s sister. He is a great heavy rock and doom songwriter on his own. He fits in perfectly with Victor and I. Greg is a huge Pentagram fan. He loves playing the old stuff maybe a bit more than Victor does but we all fit together really well. I think “Curious Volume” is perfect proof of that statement. Victor will always be a member of the band. Some personal hurdles came up for him recently and he wasn’t able to commit to our committed touring schedule. Luckily, we have Philadelphia native Matt Goldsborough always ready to step in to tour if we need him. Matt is a join to be around and fun to tour with. He’s more of a rock n roll player than Victor but he fits in well and plays Victor’s riffs as good as anyone. We love the guy and he toured with us for a few shorts run in Europe as well as an American festival over the summer of 2015. We love him and miss him when he’s not around. At the same time, Victor is a legend and Victor is the true guitar player for Pentagram. If Vincent McAlister was alive, there would be another but Victor is it. Nobody plays like him. Iommi may be God but Griffin is the king. Victor has the most unique tone, its heavier than anything but still beautiful. We are all blessed to be playing together again after 35 yrs of first stepping on stage together. I think we are better live now than ever. For one, we are all sober on stage but we’ve matured a people, players and performers.
You also had some other line up changes since the last album so could you please tell us something more about the members and the chemistry in Pentagram camp nowadays?
Aside from what I just said, “Minnesota Pete” Campbell stepped into the studio after Sean Saley quit. We scrapped Saley’s drum tracks and Pete knocked them out one after another. He came in with fire in his eyes and put a real groove on the album. Victor suggested him, in fact, he plays in Victor’s solo band so we knew we could count on him.
Curious Volume, as always, features some unreleased old stuff. How much of that old material do you actually have in your base? Are those old songs written back in the day or just have old ideas that you use nowadays?
Well, we sometimes add to the old songs, as we did on “Last Rites” but mainly, we try and keep them basically the same. Sometimes I wanted a song a certain way but wasn’t able to record it in 1971. Its great to have a recording budget to bring some of those old dreams to life. You can hear it on the new album with the song “Earth Flight” for example. Listen to the version on “Curious Volume” against how is sounds on First Days Here. I love them both but the new version is how I’ve always heard it in my head. I’ve got hundreds of songs, some on paper, some on cassettes, reel-to-reels, or even just in my head. I NEVER forget a song. I wrote maybe 800 songs from 1968 to 1976. I’ve got more of them coming out on Relapse in the “First Days Here Three” volume due out in winter 2016
I would also say that Curious Volume is considerably fast for Pentagram standards, perhaps the fastest album in your catalog even bordering on old punk from time to time. What would you say about this observation and how do you see the musical direction of Curious Volume?
I think its a common misconception that doom is slow. For example, our album “Relentless” is a doom classic. Put it on again, a lot of those songs are pretty fast! At least to today’s perceived doom definition. The Pentagram legacy is 45 yrs old. Geof O’Keefe (ex-Pentagram, Bedemon) and I started Pentagram in 1971. We wanted to play music we wanted to hear. A very dark, heavy blues delivered with what knew in loved in our daily life. Horror, the smell of the dirty concrete, the need to rebell against the White House that was basically based in our front yard. We were “punk rock” before that term was popular. We worshipped bands like The Stooges, Dead Boys, MC5. We loved Sabbath but we took it to the streets. Victor Griffin feels this way as well and he wrote the song “Misunderstood. We played it at CBGBs when we played with Cro-Mags and Government Issue in the early 1980s.. Its on our video “All Your Sins”, I think.. I don’t remember but we played it. It is our punk song and we wanted to finally record it. “Curious Volume” can mean a few different things. One meaning of it is the sound we’ve have during our entire career. A heavy rock band from the streets who got doomed. The new album is a volume, a collection of all those sounds and elements that pulse being the Pentagram logo.
What could you say to us about the lyrical content and the cover art for Curious Volume, is there some thin red line that connect all of these or the themes are scattered?
The title comes from a poem called “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe. “Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore” There is that element mixed in with other ideas that this album represents the band’s volume of music created over our near-half century of existence. The lyrics come from a few of us and are all very personal. Of course everyone has their own demons and this band certainly has their share. Some of the songs speak of that, of battling them and moving on. “Close the Casket” is one such song as are “The Tempter Push” and “Dead Bury Dead” and a few others. A few songs are about bad love and broken dreams, and the yearning for something warm at night. After all, we are a rock n roll band, we may not have as many drugs but we’ve still plenty of sex and rock n roll.
Bobby please take no offense but it is no secret that you are older man. How do you plan the future of Pentagram, do you have some grand schemes or you just take the opportunities as they come your way?
I am getting older, it’s been a few hard years, some dark times that have taken their toll on my health. I love to perform in front of the all that volume and share music with my fans but it’s hard and getting harder. Touring is a place of low sleep to boot. I’m not rich though so I have to tour to try and pay the bills for me and my family. Granted, I am doing ok, making more money than ever but that doesn’t mean I’ve made it. I want to do this for as long as I can, I really do. I just don’t know if that is for one more year or two or if I’ll drop dead at midnight. I have to trust my manager and Greg Turley who put the plans together with our booking agents. There is talk of a narrative movie in the works, with actors and a script, that is based on “Last Days Here” Kim Coates of Sons of Anarchy, a popular U.S. tv show, is going to play me if things in Hollywood come together.
In connection to my previous question – would you say that Pentagram is unbreakable part of your life, could you go on without Pentagram in your life?
Pentagram is carved into each and everyone of my bones. This isn’t a choice and it’s all I know how to do. Well, that and breakfast, I can make a pretty good breakfast.
Please give us your comment about one of the most unique movies in the history of rock / metal – Last Days Here! It seems to me that the movie has rejuvenated both your private life and Pentagram career with its painful honesty.
It hurts me to watch the movie. I looked like death in the beginning. I realize how close to death I was at that point. I’ve always walked the line, literally but my appearance was shocking to me. It is hard to tell but the film is a result of four years of filming. It covers a painful part of my life, a time of growth and of death. Death of bad things. I wished that it was more about the band but I think part of the reason for its success is that it’s a human interest story. You don’t have to be a fan of heavy metal to relate to the film. It seems to connect most with music lovers but also those who either have substance abuse problems or are close to someone who is an addict. Its nice to know that your personal suffering and growth may be helping others. It’s a gift, it really is. To hear people like Ozzy, Eddie Vedder, Jack Black, and famous actors and the like have really connected to the film is unreal to me. My manager had a vision and I’m glad we stuck in there. We made no money on the film but it got our name out there. I hope that your readers have the chance to see the film.
What lies in the near future for Pentagram, are some promotional tours for Curious Volume already planned? Where can we expect to see you in the next period?
US and European tours this October and November. We hope to be back in Europe and March April of 2016 and then back for festivals. Possible Australia / New Zealand tour which would be cool since I’ve never been there.
Bobby that would be all for this occasion! I would like to thank you for this chat and wish you all the best in the future, now please close off the interview as you wish…
Review Your Choices! Open your eyes to which path to take in life. I’d be overjoyed if you pick up a copy of “Curious Volume”! Live loud! Love, Bobby
Questions by Slobodan Trifunovic
Answers by Bobby Liebling