PENTAGRAM’S BOBBY LIEBLING: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
photo by Nathaniel Shannon
Pentagram has long since been regarded as one of the foremost pioneers of doom metal, but its history has been less clear-cut. Founder and lead singer Bobby Liebling took the time to answer some questions and discuss everything from the upcoming record Last Rites to his newborn son. I just sat back and let one of the most frank and personable musicians I’ve ever talked to tell his story..
I leave Wednesday morning and we start recording the album this coming Sunday night [November 21].
I’m sure you’re pretty excited about it. Can you tell me a bit about the new record?
Actually, the songs on Last Rites are predominantly, I’d say two-thirds [of them are] songs I wrote in 1970, and if you’re familiar with any Pentagram stuff at all…
Yes, I am.
Okay, so you know each album is usually a sixty-forty split. Sixty percent is stuff that I did in the early ‘70s, and forty percent is collaborations and new stuff. The upcoming album is slated to have thirteen songs, but we don’t know if we’re going to be able to record all of them. We’re going to try to get it all in. It’s going to be a shorter album, but it’ll be part of a double-disc set with an hour-long live DVD from last year’s Maryland Deathfest.
Is there a definite release date for it?
No, not a definite date, but it’s scheduled to be released in early April. I was told by my superiors [laughs], as it were, that I shouldn’t talk about the record label, but I will say that we’ve got a multi-album deal and it’s with a significant, well, let’s say the largest label I’ve ever been on.
That’s great, congratulations!
Thank you, it’s been long enough coming. 2011 marks Pentagram’s fortieth anniversary.
Wow, that’s a good, long run. Hopefully with many more years to come.
We’ll see! That’s why I’m calling it Last Rites, just in case! But there are four songs that are brand-new, and the other nine consist of several I wrote on my own, and a few I wrote with my original drummer, Geof O’Keefe. Those are the ones scheduled to be on there. But one of the old ones might go, as well as a new one. We’re doing a cram course, you might call it. All the other Pentagram albums that have been done were recorded over a three-month period. This album is going to be done in three weeks. We’re rehearsing it five days, that’s it, and these songs have never been played by anyone in the band [currently].
That’s a tight schedule.
Yeah, it’s a very tight schedule, but my biggest concern right now is, I have a newborn baby son.
I heard about that! I actually follow Hal’s [Liebling] blog, and she really helped out getting this interview set up. Congratulation again!
Thank you! Yeah, Hallie did hook us up, that’s neat that you follow the blog. But yeah, we’re kind of bummed out, because we’re going to have to spend a month apart, which includes our first anniversary and Thanksgiving, because I’ll be recording this whole album down in Knoxville, Tennessee. We haven’t been apart that long since we’ve been married. She even came on the whole January and March tours with me [while pregnant].
We’ll be going out in the middle of April, off to Europe first. So far, let’s see, we’re playing a lot of places, a lot of countries, we haven’t played before. In 2009 we played twelve or thirteen countries in Europe and this time we’re going to Athens, Greec eand Helsinki, Finland and we’re playing Sweden, Germany, I believe Denmark, London, Spain, Italy, we’re going to be all over the place! We’re hitting a lot of countries we’ve never been to before.
No Turkey then? You know, they have their own Pentagram there…
Haha! No, well the thing about that is, trademark law only applies in the U.S.
Yeah, they’re actually known by a different name everywhere else. They’re just Pentagram in Turkey.
There’s one in Chile, too. And I heard there might be another Pentagram in the States. Now, if that happens, that’s going to be nixed real fast. I’ve owned the name since 1970, and I do have a legal trademark on it, and, well, it’s my baby.
Oh, no, I understand that completely.
I think most of the world knows by now… I mean in the last eighteen months, I’ve been to fourteen countries and forty-six states. That’s a lot of traveling.
Do you think your family will be up to joining you?
Probably not the baby, but my wife, yes. I’d like her to see the world with me, too. It didn’t work out on the last European tour… I mean, if I bring her, it comes out of my pocket and, well, the economy being the way it is… You can’t make shit doing rock’n’roll and that’s all I do, you know? It’s all I’ve done professionally since I was ten years old.
I hope that Pentagram will keep going, though I don’t know what’s going to happen after this. I know we’re playing two gigs in January. We’re playing New York and Providence, Rhode Island, and then I don’t think there’s anything planned. We’ll probably end up doing like a week in March out on the West Coast; we have a big fan base out in California and in Seattle and Portland.
We have had a very long odyssey and we’re no longer affiliated with ex-drummer Gary Isom… he was, let’s say, “removed from the situation” on short notice. For the album and the two January dates, we’ll have my guitar player Victor’s [Griffin] drummer from Place of Skulls, but that’s it. Victor is very involved with Place of Skulls, and that’s his priority band, and they’ve been together for a good long while now and are a great group. Victor and I know each other so well, I mean, we’ve been on and off since 1980, so we’ve got a long history, and kind of a Jagger/Richards connection. After we did the May tour, it was Greg Turley and Gary and Victor and I back together again, finally, since after ’97 it was totally a different story to the tours previous to that.
Pentagram’s had so many members in the past that people think it’s unstable, but it’s really not. All the members listed on the Internet… it’s usually been the addition or the subtraction of a second guitar player. The band itself, I really see it as having four stages: the origina,l which was Geof O’Keefe, Vincent McAllister, Greg Mayne and myself. Then there was the next era, so to speak, the High Voltage era, with Richard Keuht and Paul Trowbridge, both on guitars, and Martin Swaney, Joe Hasselvander and myself. And then there was the Death Row Pentagram years, which is when Victor and I hooked up, and it was also with Marty and Joe. The ‘90s Pentagram came next which was Gary and Greg along with Victor and myself. The last couple years have had some other [musicians], Russ Strahan on guitar and Mark Hammond on bass, and Gary on drums… but he has since departed the band for various reasons. Sometimes things get, well as they say, “shit happens,” you know? I’m just one of those guys that doesn’t want to get knocked down, and I don’t fall over easy, and for some reason someone upstairs really wants me to stick around, really looks out for me.
My life has changed in a great deal of ways. I met my wife, and the last three years I’ve had a very, very different life. I’ve been clean for the first time after forty years of drug addiction — that’s a long, long time. Now I have a baby, and a house, and a dog, and a picket fence and backyard and all that stuff! Being straight is a really new awakening for me, and it’s really fantastic. And some people might think it’s corny, but I just tribute it to the guy upstairs nowadays. Pentagram was never a “Satan” band like people think it was, it was always just giving you the layout, like the album says, of your choices, because you have to make a choice, and there are two ways you can go. The songs were sort of like warning,s and people mistook those for us being black metal and all that kind of stuff. Then came the eras of the death metal and black metal bands, a lot of them were influenced [by us] supposedly, and they tell me on tours and stuff, but, you know…
I feel better doing this now, the right way. I’m not used to being “normal.” It’s a challenge, and it’s more interesting that way. It’s nice to wake up and smell the coffee for real.
There was a documentary film in the works about all this; your life, the band, everything. And I’ve checked their site but there isn’t a release date. Is that coming out soon?
It still hasn’t come out, it’s been in the making for about four years. And when it started out, I was still real effed up, I mean I’m using drugs in the movie in the beginning, and I weighed 105 pounds and was practically on my deathbed. And then I met my wife and things started to change, and I started realizing that, hey, doing all this stuff and believing in the wrong, dark instead of light, ways just bring more darkness on you. I don’t like rainy days [laughs] and I don’t like the rain. I’d rather look up to the sun. It’s a spiritual thing to me, a spiritual awakening, I guess you could call it.
I just want people to stay listening. If they keep on listening, I’ll keep on playing. Because that’s my drug of choice! That’s really all I can say. God bless all the fans out there for sticking with us all these years, and just keep on listening.
Thank you again, this was actually one of the most pleasant interviews I’ve ever done, so I appreciate that.
Aw, thank you, too! God bless you, I really mean that from the heart. You can quote that, say, “That what he said at the end.”