Pentagram - Interview


If there is anything I learned about life throughout these last couple of years, it's that there is always a second chance for everything if you believe it. There will always be a redemption arc that gives an individual this one major shot to redeem, arise like a phoenix from the ashes, and spread his or her wings. Throughout these last couple of months, I have been really trying to find something or someone so inspiring, whose story will serve as an example of pure motivation and dedication that can change or save people's lives. Seeing the famous documentary "Last Days Here", which focused a lot on the personal aspect of Pentagram's founding member and singer Bobby Liebling, almost left me in tears. It's not easy to see someone battle his demons with such hardship and fatal consequences, but to see him triumphantly return onstage like a knight in shining armor on that very evening in Webster Hall on March 6th, 2009, really made you believe that not everything is always black and there is always a helping hand that reaches out to pull you back up. The moral of the story is, to believe and pursue. Some time ago, Pentagram announced on their social media that they are finally back in the studio, working on a new album that will follow the footsteps of "Curious Volumes" from 2015. On March 18th, I had the honor to speak with none other than the man himself Bobby Liebling via Zoom, where we covered a lot of subjects starting from the band's upcoming tenth full-length album and their everlasting 5-decade legacy as a band, going all the way to the importance of knowing the music business and how live music, as a form of entertainment, always requires something that will keep people on edge and leave a strong impression. I was not ready for what awaited me because this turned out to be a very in-depth talk that truly left a big mark on me just like Pentagram's music. I must say that towards the very end, as I listened closely to Bobby's wisdom, I almost cried because I was simply without words. Please join me on this journey and I hope you'll enjoy the conversation that I had with one of the godfathers of doom metal and the soul of Pentagram, Bobby Liebling!

Vladimir

First of all, Bobby, a heartwarming welcome to you on behalf of MetalBite. How are you doing man?

Well, thank you so much for having me here man, I'm hanging in there. You have to forgive me, it's been one hell of a fricking day.

Tell me about it, it's Monday, it always starts off like that. It would basically be the end of the universe if any Monday started off as a normal day of the week *laughs*.

Yeah, you got that right!

So, the reason why I invited you is because I saw the recent news that Pentagram has finally entered the studio and started working on a new album. This is a pretty big thing, considering that "Curious Volumes" was released like what, 8-9 years ago?

10 plus *laughs*!

So, it is pretty big and exciting news for the Pentagram fans. How has the overall work been going so far?

We're working really hard on the stuff, unfortunately, we're having to do a lot of stuff remotely and I'm not adapted to nowadays technology like that *laughs*. So, I've been sparsely involved, but my guitar player, drummer, and bass player are sending things up and back and audio files constantly and working on things to do like a scratched demo thing of the songs. It's not really a demo, but it's just for our purposes to iron things out and get the material properly chosen, and so forth.

You mentioned the difficulties of dealing with modern technology. I presume you are one of those guys who prefers analog over digital, am I right?

Hell yes! *laughs*

Honestly, I can't blame you, we are guilty of it because we all grew up listening to a lot of albums recorded on analog technology so pretty much understandable on your end.

Yeah, I mean, I am 70 now and I didn't grow up with this kind of stuff at all, it's really wild because everything now is done on your telephone or your laptop.

Were you guys facing any particular challenges during the work on the new album? Were there any tasks that you guys wanted to accomplish when writing the new songs?

Okay well, we actually have 19 new songs, of which 4 of them are very old ones that I wrote in the very early 1971/1972/1973 era, and we're redoing and rearranging and adding parts to it and so forth because my songs were so short back then that they weren't of a nowadays culture and it would sound like a Ramones album *laughs*. And even though I love the Ramones, I can't be doing too many songs anymore. Aside from those 4 old ones, we have 15 others and altogether out of the 19 we have to narrow it down and choose 12 that we want for our new album.

Do any of those older songs include something from the "First Daze Here" compilation?

No, they don't. There is one song from First Daze Here Too, but you know, it was all basement recordings that were never really committed to studio technology and so forth, they were just recordings of our rehearsals from way back in the 70s. One of them was in the flexi disk in Decibel magazine, and another one was on the album Human Hurricane which was again basement tapes/lo-fi and the third one was on Nothing, and they are actually pretty new for the public sake of listening. And I am not sure when we're gonna do the one on First Daze Too again anyway, but the other ones are brand new, and we've just been writing them since last October and trying to piece them together. We've only had time for a couple of rehearsals because we have people in the band logistically all over the place. We rehearse in Virginia, myself and the guitar player live right out in the Philadelphia area, and our drummer currently is in Boston, so it's not easy to rehearse either.

You guys are really scattered across the states so you really gotta organize everything nowadays.

Yeah, and the problem is it costs a lot of money to do that. We haven't been touring at all since last August. Thank God for my bass player Greg Turley because he's had one hell of an outlay for training and playing in the meantime.

How are you generally involved when it comes to the songwriting process? Do you ever manage to suggest a couple of riff ideas or do you mostly focus on the lyrics?

Nowadays, I am more so focused on lyric content, although I do of course write music, I've been playing guitar and bass guitar for well over 60 years. I wrote all the old songs in the early days, I wrote the music and lyrics to 90% of them, so I have ideas for riffs since so forth and so on, but the problem is again, I don't have recording equipment and these other three guys have interfaces and things that they record at their home and send up and back. Vocal-wise, I write a lot of lyrics, just like I did an album a couple of years ago with the punk legend Sonny Vincent, and the album is by The Limit and it's called Caveman Logic and I wrote all the lyrics on that and he wrote music. But I still have many ideas and I do play guitar here at home, without an amp but it works *laughs*.

Yeah *laughs*. If it ain't broken, don't fix it, if it works it works.

Yeah exactly. I mean I wrote all of the original Pentagram songs from 'Forever My Queen' to 'Sign Of The Wolf'. All of those on a 12-dollar Silvertone acoustic guitar from Sears *laughs*.

It's interesting because I have recently revisited the "First Daze Here" compilation, 'one' and 'too', and following the band's entire evolution of sound, you really did expand from the early days. When it comes to the early days, is there any particular memory that holds a special place in your heart?

Well, there's a couple of them that were fuck-ups on my part *laughs*, or unfortunate circumstances that occurred that kind of held us up, but they are the things that stand out to me like, you know when Kiss came to see us which is in the Last Days Here, the movie about me. And the Blue Oyster Cult producers when they were going to take us up, those kinds of things. I wish those things wouldn't have happened along the way but yeah. Also, a lot of memories come from the re-emergence after I was really screwed up on lot of drugs for years and then got out of that and made a comeback in Webster Hall in New York City in 2009 because that was the birth of "Pentagram starting to finally tour after some 30 years".

Basically, if you can describe it that way, if you felt like a caterpillar for your entire life, at that point you became a butterfly.

Thank you *laughs*.

But that part with Kiss, when I watched the documentary, I basically said "Okay well, Kiss is not here at this point, the guys basically retired, but Pentagram is still here, putting out albums and Bobby is still alive". I don't wanna throw hate at those guys, but I really show a lot of respect for you guys for being particularly very passionate musicians and not businessmen or corporate minds as Kiss became in the following years when they became more popular.

Well, I can say the pros and cons of that. Pros are they tour as hell; they knew they were doing in business. And the con, for me is that I didn't, and never had until I met Pellet, I never had really kind of representation per se. He was just working for a small record company at the time, but he was a huge fan and I give him an awful lot of credit for bringing the band to national and international exposure, as far as people who were just getting to know who we were. That and technology of course, which even though I don't like it, you can talk to someone in Russia now on your phone, and I am in the US. But I've always loved Kiss, I was a Kiss fanatic. When they first came out, I saw their New York City debut when they were fifth bill and they had something special I will say that. Maybe if I had had the same kind of business savvy and a Neil Bogart behind me from Casablanca, things might have been different. But such is life, it goes on, and hopefully, we'll keep the crusade here.

You guys managed to gain a very cult following in the underground but you gained a lot more following in the 2000s when you became more popular. You guys managed to expand your sound, you became quite dynamic in your songwriting which has a lot of direction and ideas that go from catchy to something doomy and gloomy. What I wanted to ask is: is there a preferred style as to what kind of songs you like to make in Pentagram?

Myself, I am not a doom metal fan at all. I can't stand the stuff because it is pretentious, it's mostly growling and screaming for vocals. It doesn't have dynamics, and I was always into the dynamics. My biggest writing influence in history is The Bonniwell Music Machine from the 60s, because it's downer, desperate, and the "futility of things" feeling but it is not doom, because I looked it up in the dictionary and doom means dead *laughs*. And I am not dead and I don't like that terminology and I always called us heavy/hard rock as you probably know. But the late 60s bands were great influences on me: The Frost, Stray, Wishbone Ash were my favorite bands in history and I also have a punky side to me because my favorite album ever made was Raw Power by Iggy Pop. I like high-energy stuff but I like a lot of changes and ups and downs in the stuff, but the doom metal bands don't seem to have that dynamic about them. Not that it's good or bad, but it's not my cup of tea, let's put it that way.

Yes, even I avoid a lot of doom metal bands because most of them really don't convey anything, they just exist and that's it.

Their songs go on and on and it's pretentious and it's for getting stoned and to me it sounds half-ass braindead a lot of the time.

This is one of the reasons why I much prefer bands like Pentagram because songs actually have a meaning, they can tell a story and each album is very different in the sense of there being different emotions that each album conveys like you can't say that "Sub-basement" is similar to let's say "Day Of Reckoning" or "Be Forewarned", each of those albums is like its own story, it really kind of makes a bit personal connection. That's one of those things that I always adored about you guys, apart from most of those bands that they call doom metal whereas they're just like "yeah we're gonna be very lazy songwriters and that's it" *laughs*.

Yeah, you can be a complete idea in despair, but not just telling you "You're going to the graveyard, baa bababa" on and on, to me that is not particularly deeply expressive, perhaps a lot of these groups do feel like it is. I was with a really dear buddy the other night, Wino from The Obsessed and we talked about this kind of stuff many times also, I did a little excerpt in the Wino documentary and it's dubbed as "heavy" and "heavy" means it's intense and desperate to me. I mean, I am into downer rock, let's face it and I like also to make sure there is a little bit of "street attitude" in there, our albums have like a metamorphosis of movies.

Yeah, I mean take for example the song "City Romance" from Show 'Em How, that is basically that "street attitude" in there.

And that's from my heart all the way, I didn't write the music to that but I definitely wrote the words and they are really neat. City Romance is probably my favorite song from Show 'Em How, which was overlooked as an album very much.

I am really sorry that I was overlooked because nowadays people adore all the albums, basically those hardcore Pentagram fans, they all find a very big personal connection, myself included.

Thank you, thank you so much, I appreciate that. When I went to see The Obsessed the other night, Wino and I were talking about these kinds of things and I happen to think their brand-new album Gilded Sorrow, I think it's the best product they've ever done. It's kick ass and it keeps an even flow of heavy almost all the way through, but they also have changes in their stuff that are oddities and not the same old run-of-the-mill stuff. I feel like, for some reason, I wanna pound my fist on the desk and go "Can't you guys think of something that makes it a little different?". You know, there are only twelve frets until you repeat on the guitar, and there are only eight notes in an octave, but you can kind of mix it up a bit, you know *laughs*.

Indeed, it doesn't have to be like one note per minute.

And plauding and on, and it gets a little quieter and then some growly vocals come in, or whatever, about dying, and then it gets loud again and it's the same lick, and it doesn't change, and then comes the guitar break which is even louder over the same lick and it just goes on and on and on for eight or nine minutes, and I am just not into that, I like changes and I like dynamics. The bands of the late 60's, it was a different time though, I realized that. I am also aware when people say that Scott (Wino) and I are like the "godfathers of doom", I know that's meant like a compliment all the way and I appreciate the hell out of that, and I am humble about it because I know people mean it with love and care. But I just like the late 60's. It was an exploratory period because it hadn't all been said and done, you know. And it has now, for the most part, it's hard to come up with something new. Our new upcoming album, I don't know if I should say it, doesn't have the originality of the older stuff, but there is not as much variation because a hundred bands have ripped it off of the early stuff we did or the early stuff of The Obsessed, Trouble and other bands from back then, and warped it into the ground, so it's hard to be original now.

Yeah, basically I don't know what else can I say about that other than…

It's a rehash!

Yeah! And it's reduced to ash! People these days basically need to look for a needle in a haystack if you wanna find anything original or attractive nowadays, so it's hard.

Yeah!

But the one thing I wanted to ask you is because you mentioned the 60's, I also noticed that your favorite color is pink and you have a unique choice of wardrobe that you wear onstage, it's a very 60s vibe to it.

It's glam. It's into the glam thing a lot. A lot of the tops I wear were worn by my mother in the late 40s, the same exact ones, when she was a cocktail lounge singer and toured with Bob Hope with the USO during the Korean War. And they are glammed out, and they are dollsy, and I like that, I like to keep people guessing, you know *laughs*. Whatever your preferences may be, it's not for me to choose or criticize, but I like giving people something to look at when they see a band. You go to see a band, the keyword is "seeing". It's not just to go and hear them when you can just listen to a record or listen to a live album or a tape or something, but when you go see something you go to see it. I want to make a spectacle up there, something you'll remember.

Speaking of things that I did actually remember is when I watched some of Pentagram's live footage that's posted on YouTube, particularly from the 80's and the 90's, I noticed that you used the main theme of Halloween 2 as the opening track before the show begins. Can you tell me a little about why you chose the Halloween 2 theme in particular, because I love the main theme and I love the movie so much, so where did the decision come from?

We liked it because it was really scary sounding and it sounded like impending doom, but not dead again like the boring and the caution flag, you know. And Halloween had like the "tin tin tin, tin tin tin, tin tin" and you were really like on edge. I like to put people on edge, I do. I always want to flip people out there, I want them to remember what they saw, it's entertainment man, and I am an entertainer, not just a singer and not just a performer, and not just a certain clothing type or certain music type, I try to consider myself as an entertainer, you know.

Yeah, you also have to leave a really big impression, because you can't just climb the stage, do the show, and then you're like "I'm off the stage" as if nothing happened.

Right, and then they forget about you in minutes. Everybody gets up now with shorts, a football jersey, a cut-off, in tennis shoes, and to me, it's like: what is there to see up there? It looks like the guy walking down the street on his off day or something, it doesn't have that flare, and music has lost a lot of its flare.

It has, but I always adore it when I see bands that really manage to surprise me. Bands that you wouldn't expect to come to happen in the 21st century, I mean here's the thing: There are many bands that influenced Pentagram, and you guys have influenced countless other bands, and the band that I am referring to right now is Lucifer from Sweden, that band really amazed me because I was like "Oh my god, this band has everything from 70's hard rock to like early heavy metal, like heavy rock basically".

Johanna is a very dear friend of mine, and I know the people in the band, I don't know if you saw but there on YouTube, I got up and did "Forever My Queen" in Omaha and in Philly, just the one song, and they were giving a tribute, and inviting me up onstage. I mean, you know, it was exciting, I had fun up there. You gotta have fun too man, as downer as the sound may be, you still gotta have fun doing it. And I really like Lucifer a lot, I think Johanna is an excellent singer and she's got amazing musicians. On the last tour, my buddy Henry Vasquez, from Saint Vitus and The Skull and so forth, he played drums for them (Lucifer) and he's a really good guy and a killer drummer. They are really good live, they are really fantastic live, if you've ever seen them.

Unfortunately, I haven't, but I would really love to see both bands, both Pentagram and Lucifer tour Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, so it would be like a "Yeah double score baby!", because both bands go hand in hand with each other because they are in the similar style, plus they are both refer to something that is occult.

Yeah, it's dark, definitely dark. I just spoke to Johanna about a month ago when they finished the satanic panic tour with Coven. I was really excited, I always wanted to meet Jinx Dawson, and I finally met up and took some pictures with  Jinx, I was really happy to meet her. They go all the way back to longer than I do, their very first album was '69 and they're still doing it, she's still doing it, whether you got the original members or not, I think people always forget like back when Last Days Here came out, the guys were talking about the fact that you never know when Bobby's gonna show up, or this or that or the other. They mentioned all the million/zillion members that have been through Pentagram through the years. What in the hell does someone expect after half a century? Do they think that the same lineup, that we'll all be together for like 6 or so years? *laughs*

That's actually the next thing I wanted to talk about. You guys have been around since the early 70s when the heavier sound was still being discovered and still on the rise, and you are one of the original heavier bands that came after Black Sabbath because it was like 1971/1972.

Well, Pentagram was formed in '71, but I mean we were playing before that together, really with a different name, so around the same time the Black Sabbath was. They used to say that "Well Pentagram are the American answer to Black Sabbath". I mean, just look at it, Ozzy's getting older, my generation's all dying often, they are not around, but we are still doing it, I can't believe it!

It's insane to think that the band is still active 5 decades later and still putting out fresh material.

Yeah, and you're gonna go through members in that kind of time period. My god, people have lives and people don't seem to realize a lot of times that folks go their separate ways.

Yeah, it's natural progression basically.

Yeah, it's life man! After 5 decades, what do they expect? We're not sown together at the hip; I mean we're family but we're not sown together *laughs*.

The last thing I wanted to ask you is that many bands nowadays can't even last longer than 5 years, let alone a single decade. What advice would you, as an experienced musician, give to all the new coming bands out there who are still searching for their sound and their place in the world of music?

I would say, first and foremost, don't ever abandon your dream, because I've never done that and I've never been able to do that, because your dream and your aspirations can come true. Now having played before crowds of a hundred thousand people, you know I played at Hellfest, Wacken and Swede Fest and all these big places, I've been to Rockpalast and all, I never imagined this would happen for me. First of all, never abandon your dream. Second of all, you have to learn to separate business and pleasure, because you need to have fun in what you're doing and you need to always enjoy it and there's still always gotta be that spark of fire in your belly that motivates you, but you also nowadays have to be really acute, which I wasn't, to the business side, and that goes back to Kiss. They knew how to conduct business in a legal/proper fashion which is so much at a conscious level in nowadays world. So, make sure you love what you're doing, you follow your dream, you pursue what you want, and you never give up, but make sure you're careful, because everybody in the music business from back then, let's say 99% of the bands got screwed and fucked over and subsequently fell apart because of bad management, bad representation or misrepresentation, and crookery. It takes money to make money, of course, so I understand when members have another job on the side, the members and stuff like that, of course, I always just did music and unfortunately didn't have that cloud behind me from a company and companies don't give you record company support anymore these days. So, you have to know what you are doing, really be sharp and kindred to know what's going on around you in the business. And I wasn't aware of that, so I am sitting here nowadays, you know, I don't have a bonny. People google me and say "Oh Bobby Liebling's worth 300 thousand!". What? *laughs* I have a net worth of 300 thousand dollars, I feel like a rich man. But still, you gotta strive on, you gotta pursue the dream, but you gotta know what you're doing man. If somebody is in the band and they are not cutting it and they are not pulling weight in their department, sometimes people have to go and just know who's around you and know who your real friends are. Your real friends are gonna be there in the end, the few real ones you can count on one hand, so that's what I would advise. And practice! You gotta keep practicing! It takes a lot of practice man, a lot of hours, and a lot of your life, so sometimes when the groups say "I can't do this, I have to work". Well, wait a minute, what is the band? The band is a lot of work, and if you wanna have the band you gotta put in the work. So, it's like that. That's basically my two things, you gotta know what you're doing and the people you surround yourself with. Keep your head clear, because I wasn't lucid many of the times and you gotta keep sharp and pursue your dream man, never give up your dream because it can come true.  I don't have money, I don't care. I am happy for having my soul, that when I leave this world hopefully generations later, five or ten generations know that I left a mark that was enjoyable and made people happy, and I did it with pride and conscious effort, determination, and so on. That's what it is really.

Thank you so much for this interview, Bobby. Your words are very inspiring and I am very glad to have you hear I am really looking forward to hearing the new album. On the last note, I just want to say that a friend of mine from Croatia said a big "Hi!" to you and said he's been a big fan of yours ever since he discovered Relentless and both of us are hoping that we'll see Pentagram touring somewhere in the region of Eastern Europe.

I hope so, I mean all we've got this year is three American gigs in late April, and in May we're gonna play two major festivals, we're doing Desertfest and it's either Up in Smoke Festival or something like that, all I know it's in Switzerland, and then in October we have two more big festivals and there's not a whole lot plan for this year. We wanna try to get out to the West Coast in the US, we've got a hell of a fanbase out there. I love playing in Europe, and I BAD BAD most of all want to go back to all of the fans in South America. My god, it gave me the first taste of what I felt like "Gee, I feel like I am actually experiencing being a rockstar, for the first time in my life". They are great, you know. I love to travel; I love to see the world. I'll keep doing this till I drop, these festivals that are listing for this year saying "Last Performance Ever" or "Farewell Tour", I don't know why they say that because if I am standing upright then I can croak a note and shake my ass a little onstage, I'll be there. I am in for the ride; this is what I do, my profession, and my passion. So, I hope you get to see us too. Thanks for giving me the chance to do this interview. Without you guys, I am nothing, so I never forget that, not these days. Without the fans, you're zero.

Entered: 4/3/2024 7:02:16 AM

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