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Victor Griffin: “Life Just Happens and You Have to Roll With the Changes.”

September 28, 2015

Pentagram02Pentagram is a band whose history stretches back to the early 70s metal underground. They toiled in obscurity with little success or notoriety. By the early 80s, the only original member of the band was lead singer Bobby Liebling, and a new incarnation of the band was formed with Victor Griffin on guitar. The band put out two albums (Pentagram/Relentless and Day of Reckoning), neither of which garnered much acclaim, and they broke up again in the late 80s.

Liebling reformed the band with various new members throughout the 90s but still never gained much attention. This all changed when Relapse Records rereleased some of the band’s early material and fans took an interest in this great lost band.

Pentagram’s sound is in the doom metal vein of Black Sabbath but with their own foreboding twist. Part of their unique sound stems from Liebling’s vocals that betrays a reality behind the gloomy lyrics.

Liebling was the subject of the 2011 film “Last Days Here,” which documented his struggles with drug addiction and his attempts to keep Pentagram afloat. The film exposed even more people to the music of Pentagram, and set the stage for one the greatest comeback stories in the history of rock-n-roll.

They are gearing up for their latest tour, which starts in Philly on Wednesday at Underground Arts. Our Chad Sims spoke with long-time member Victor Griffin about the band’s strange history, their new album and more.

Curious Volume has been out for a few weeks. What can you tell us about the album?

It seems to be getting really good reviews. We are happy about that. It is mostly brand new but we tend to record some old demos that were never released. The band has been around for a long time and we have a bunch of those types of things. The album is probably a little more on the hard rock side of things than the doom metal thing side we are known for. Of course it has all the flavors of those things but it isn’t as slow as some of our older stuff.

Who were some of bands that influenced you to start playing guitar?

Well, I have been playing for, wow, 42 or 43 years. So Steppenwolf was my favorite band when I was 9-years old. And the original Alice Cooper band with the original lineup. But I was also influenced by a lot of classic country stuff. My dad had that going on in jam sessions with his friends on the weekends. You know stuff like Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Sr., Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, so that had a big influence. Then I discovered Black Sabbath and that was huge influence. Then ZZ Top and Hendrix, but all pretty much heavy blues based stuff.

How would you say that country music has influenced you as a musician?

It comes out more lately than it did early on. I was so set on playing hard rock that I probably shunned that country stuff in my playing. As I have gotten older and my songwriting has progressed, I start to discover some of those earlier influences.

Pentagram has been a rollercoaster of a band across the years. What has it been like as a member?

I have been in the band over a span of 35 years, though I have been in and out of the band several times. Sometimes we would just lose momentum. Back in the 80s and 90s, we didn’t have tour support and it was really hard. At times it was pretty depressing. We would do albums and we couldn’t get picked up on tours. When other opportunities came along, I would decide to check out other things just to get out there.

You can see through the history of the band there have been lots of members in and out of the band. Even in the last five years, that is true since I have been back in the band. Sometimes I think it is just drama. Sometimes it is just personality issues, myself included. Life just happens and you have to roll with the changes. We made it this far and we have a lot of momentum. We have been able to keep things going on the road.

You touched on it there a little but what was the reaction to band when you played back in the 80s? It seems there were a lot of bands doing similar things to Pentagram but it wasn’t what was going on in metal at the time.

Well, first it was hard to make it as an original band playing heavy music to begin with if you weren’t playing covers. It was hard to get gigs unless you played three sets of cover tunes. Also, hair metal was going on and what we were doing wasn’t trendy. It still isn’t trendy now but things have opened up. Luckily, there were a few clubs around the Northern Virginia, Southern Maryland and DC areas where we could play. There were people who wanted to see heavy, live bands.

There were other bands that were doing the doom metal thing bands like Trouble, coming out of Chicago, The Obsessed from Maryland and European bands like Witchfinder General. People just learned about them from tape trading and word-of-mouth. We just wanted to play the music that we wanted to play. Even in the 90s it was hard. Only in the last ten years has the doom metal label become a legitimate form of rock. It was always legitimate to us, but as far as large amounts of people getting it. Then the movie came out (“Last Days Here”) and that was huge.

The Pentagram self-title album (aka Relentless) was not popular when it was first released. Did you ever imagine that it might be this sort of lost classic album?

No, not at all. When we recorded that album, we recorded it as a demo for the band, Death Row, that we were at the time. We used to just pass out the tape as a demo and it made it around the world. Later, we changed the name to Pentagram and the tape made its way into the hands of a couple indie labels. We did some remixing on it and it became the first Pentagram album.

It sounds somewhat like a demo but that album has a magic about it.

We recorded that album at two different sessions, so you can hear that some of the songs have two different sounds. We had to try to match them up. The other thing was it was a pretty primitive studio. It was just an 8-track studio and the guy who produced it was just starting out. We kind of went into together and we didn’t know what we had. With just an 8-track to work with you have to bounce a lot of tracks and sometimes the levels aren’t right.

I read you are really into motorsports and motorcycles. How did you get into that?

As far as auto racing, I had four uncles who raced stock car, circle track stuff. So I caught that bug as a kid and it stuck with me. I love all kinds of motorsports. I even raced out in California on circle tracks. I just love the sights, the sounds, the smells.

I started getting into motorcycles in the 80s, specifically Harleys. I got a sportster in the mid-80s and road that a little while. Then I wound up building my own bike, which was a 76 Shovelhead. I still have that bike and I still ride it. Then I had my own shop as well for about eight years building custom bikes. When the economy fell through, a lot of business like that went under because people just stopped spending money on that kind of thing.

Pentagram01What’s it like being in a band with Bobby (Liebling)? He obviously has his demons.

Well, you just start to get used to it. I have demons of my own. Bobby and I have always seen eye-to-eye. We hit it off right away when we first met back in ’81. We never had a serious falling out even when we went our separate ways.

It isn’t a big secret that Bobby has been a drug addict for 40-something years. He pushed the envelope a lot more than most people, a lot more than most people would be alive to testify about. We are just good friends and you have to give people leeway. He is doing good these days. His health is as good as it can be. If you are a drug addict for 40 years, there are consequences. He is on a couple of meds that help him maintain certain health issues. He is mostly happy when we are on the road. We have just grown together over all these years.

What do you want to tell us about the tour?

We start off in Philly. It is mostly northeast. We are playing New York, Detroit, Chicago, DC and a few other stops. Then we are going to Europe. Next year, we will get busy again in the spring time. We are going to be playing a bunch of stuff off Curious Volume and then at least one song off of each of the older albums.

Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

Thank you.

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