By The Great Sun Jester

A million miles of road have carved their experience into guitar maestro Victor Griffin. All those miles and the years that accompany them have given the man a deeply spiritual outlook that he shares through the medium of heavy rock music. A member of the legendary Pentagram (a band he still contributes to), he has somewhat ironically discovered God and speaks honestly and uniquely about that belief through his music.

Griffin is the guiding force behind the doomy band A Place of Skulls as well as a new project, In-Graved. Believe it or not, he is considering even further musical projects and explorations...this at a time of life when many are pulling back from the rock and roll life.

Here's an enlightening conversation with this very original and well-traveled artist...


WORMWOOD CHRONICLES:I was wondering how rehearsals for Place of Skulls have been going and what are the future plans for the band?

VICTOR GRIFFIN: It's going really good. We've been working on some stuff for the past three or four months and actually finally got out and played a show last weekend in Knoxville. That went really well, so we're just kind of taking baby steps to get back into it. There's the Pentagram thing I'm doing also, so yeah, I've been pretty busy lately. It's really cool to be back playing with the original guys, Lee and Tim, and we're just kind of taking it easy, but we'll be working on some new material. We don't have any immediate plans to record a new album yet, even though I'm sure that will come around. It's been really cool.

 WC:I've read in interviews over the last few years that you were uncertain about the future for Place of Skulls. What's changed in your mind about it?

 VG:Over the years, there's been a lot of personnel changes. We changed bass players a couple of times, drummers a couple of times, and after the last album we did, "As A Dog Returns", came out in early 2010, we did kind of a short European tour for that, played a couple of shows in the spring, and then it just seemed to dissolve after that. At that point, I was just getting kind of frustrated and tired of trying to piece it back together and just decided to let it go and just do the Pentagram thing. But, since then, just being in contact with the guys and talking about, everyone just wanted to give it another shot, so the pieces fell back into place.

WC:This is a two-part question here. It's been a little over a year since the In-Graved album came out and I love it and still listen to it a lot, but I was wondering what your estimation of the album is now? How's aged for you over this time?

VG: I really love the outcome of that album. When we went into that project, we were all really hoping that, the touring lineup of that band, that it would be more than just a one-off side project and we were looking at it as an actual full-on band thing. With everyone living so far apart, financially, it takes a lot to get together to even play a show, so that kind of threw a wrench into the whole thing. As far as the album itself, it's only been a year, but I think it's done really well and seems to have blurred a lot of lines, you know, stylistically between doom metal and the whole hard rock thing, which was kind of the intent, you know? I think I've been gradually heading in that direction for several years with my songwriting, so I couldn't have asked for a better outcome with that album, especially with Oly [Jeff Olson, multi-instrumentalist) coming in and doing keyboards and finishing out the album. I'd been wanting to do something with a Hammond keyboard player for a long time and I just didn't know anyone or couldn't get it together to do it. I just think that put it over the edge, over the top, as far as the sound we got out of it. It just gave it that classic rock vibe with some of the heavy doom kind of stuff that I'm known for. It seems to appeal to a lot of people overall, it covers a lot of bases, and it's a wider accepted album just because a lot of different people can get into it because it's not just specifically a doom or heavy metal album.

WC:That's one of the highlights of the album for me too - the inclusion of keyboards. Like you said, it blurred the lines and came out with outstanding results. Reading interviews with you over the last few years, it's easy to see how you've deepened as a person and as a thinker over time. This can be a misunderstood question for some, because maybe they think it's demeaning to what they do, but do you see yourself as more of an artist than an entertainer?

VG: If I had to choose between the two, I think I would choose artist. I put more into my instrument and just being a better guitar player, you know, in the last few years, I've really started to strive to be a better guitar player and a better musician overall. The entertainment aspect is always going to be there in live performance, I never want to be one of those guys who stands there and stares at his shoes while he plays. [laughs] I think it's important to get that energy out there in a live situation, but it's kind of a two way street with the audience too, you know? Because, with a band, it's kind of an exchange of energy and, when you get that back from a crowd, it's a lot easier and fun to be able to put that energy back towards them. Some shows aren't like that if it's a low energy crowd or if you've been on the road and your tired, stuff like that. It's hard sometimes to whip up that energy if you aren't getting that from the crowd. Or it could just be a bad night overall. Overall, I would like to get to a place where I feel like people respect my guitar playing other than for the heavy riff thing, or they put on a great show, something like that, to where it's the guitar playing that gets that respect. I've never been a person, just being an underground musician and with the music I've grown up with and decided to play never being a mainstream type of music anyway, where I'm trying to do something, or change my playing, or put myself in a position to appeal to the masses in any sort of way. Looking at it from a commercial aspect, I'll never be placed on any high pedestal, as far as some famous guitars players that we grew up with, but I definitely think I put more into just being an artist and a musician rather than just an entertainer.

WC: Based on your output over the last few years, I'd agree with that as well. Place of Skulls, in my opinion, does what no one else dares to in music nowadays. I think it testifies about faith and experience with a realist's eye. It isn't any kind of comfortable Sunday School version of salvation. Your music seems to me hard-won in the face of dealing with the world and the strength that requires. I was wondering how your vision for Place of Skulls has evolved over the years? Where do you think you are now with that idea?

VG: I think we're at a pretty good place and I'm proud of what we've been able to do. I'm especially proud of the last two albums because it started to get to a place where the songwriting and everything addressed the meat of a lot of issues people have with spirituality, just living, and seeking that faith, spiritual soul-searching, and seeking God in the face of what we have to deal with daily. Which can be a pretty ugly situation, a lot of times. Like you said, it's not this pretty picture of Sunday School class or this religious thing where you have a false comfort. In this religion, just because you're saying prayers, you're going to church, and you're appearing to be this or that, it goes a lot deeper than that and, you know, there's many days... people of faith, man, we seem to put on these fake smiles like everything is okay because that's what people expect us to do and how they expect us to appear. But, you know, there's still a lot of struggles in life, we still have to live this life before we get to that next life and it's just as hard for believers as it is non-believers. The thing is we have a hope that we place our faith in that the problems and struggles we face in this life are so minute compared to the peace, joy, and glory of eternity. It's the thing that gets you through daily is knowing that's coming. It's like the saying don't sweat the small stuff, in this life especially, because when compared to eternity, it really is small stuff. I think it's important to portray these struggles for people who may not understand what it means exactly to have a faith in God and a belief in Jesus Christ. My hope is to encourage people to consider it and to people who do believe also, you're not alone in your struggles and I'd really like to make sure that comes through in our songs. I think it has, especially on "The Black Is Never Far" and "As A Dog Returns".

WC: Beautifully said. You'll be hitting the road soon with Pentagram and I've always read there was an open door for you to return, but what prompted it now?

VG: I was working on the In-Graved thing and things didn't seem to be going that smoothly. At the end of 2012, I finished the last tour I was doing with them and had been considering leaving because a lot of it was my own personal attitude, I'm not really afraid to say it. I needed to take some time off and step back from the situation and re-evaluate my own attitude and some of my tendencies as far as bottling up anger and all those kinds of things. So things weren't going that smoothly internally, so I just decided to leave and concentrate on In-Graved and I think it did a lot of good, especially in our working relationships with one another. Towards the end of summer last year, when I started talking with the guys in Pentagram about possibly coming back, even though me and Bobby have always said there was an open door, I never expected that if things were rolling along good for them that they would just disrupt everything so I could step back in. I wouldn't really expect that of anyone. But, just based on the timing, they were also interested in me coming back, so having resolved some of my own personal issues and after having some open, honest talks with the guys about our working relationships with one another, it really seemed to open up our interactions and freed us up to be ourselves. We all have struggles and problems with one another, all bands do, you spend a lot of time together and everyone has their own personalities, but it's really good since I came back. It's just been really cool, man. It's been fun out on the road, everybody's a lot more tolerant of each other's moods, so I'm having a really good time. And when I come home from doing the Pentagram stuff, I'm playing with the original guys from Place of Skulls, Lee and Tim, so music-wise, everything's pretty cool right now.

WC:This is a bit of a philosophical question, but I don't think you'll mind. How much self-discovery do you think you gain through songwriting?

VG: I'm not sure if I came to self-discovery through songwriting or if I found self-discovery and put in the songs. I'm on a daily quest for self-discovery. Spirituality is such a huge thing to me, an important thing, over our flesh and the physical world we live in. Like I said before, this is all going away. No matter who you are, what you do, we're all heading towards death. So everything we do and we're involved in, it's going away, man. So to have that hope for the other side, but at the same time, it's finding that peace and living in that peace daily when everything around us wants to absorb our attention, distract us, that we hit these rough spots every so often. I'm looking for that self-discovery every day and closeness with God and keep my faith and hope in that future that's coming after I leave this place. It helps to be able to write songs and express those kind of things. It makes it more real when I start to put words down on paper and create a song around the things I'm thinking and feeling. It's a daily thing, but it doesn't necessarily come from the songwriting, but the self-discovery absolutely goes into the songwriting.

WC:It seems like, and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, that your lyric writing has become more important to you over the last decade or so. I was wondering if that's true and how much work you put into them?

VG: That's absolutely true. I don't write many songs that, subject-wise, address immaterial things. Like driving fast in your car, or songs about chicks, or whatever it is when you turn on the radio, I guess. [laughs] You hear all of this stuff and, lyrically, it just doesn't mean a load of crap, it doesn't mean anything, it's completely irrelevant. So, lyrically, I like to think I'm writing something that's relevant to other people's lives as well as my own and, whether it's philosophical or anything like that, it's something people can grab onto and get something out of, be edified by.

WC: What unrealized musical ambitions do you still have?

VG: I'd like to do some more stuff with a keyboard player, similar to the In-Graved stuff, or maybe heading in an even more blues direction, but still keeping it pretty heavy as well. Sometimes when I finish writing an album, or writing a song, you never know where the next song is going to come from or if there's going to be another song, and I've kind of been in that position lately where I haven't really written a lot of stuff since the In-Graved album, but I'm working on a few things now, I've got a few songs. We've got a Pentagram album that we're maybe supposed to be doing by the end of this year and I've got some ideas for some new Place of Skulls songs as well. I just hope to continue writing good music, good lyrics, and grow as a guitar player and become technically better. I'd like to become a better singer. I'm working on that a lot too, especially with the Place of Skulls stuff. Just get it out there, man, and share what I've got to share. It's a gift I feel honored and very fortunate to have. It's pretty amazing on the road, especially with Pentagram, because we've grown that to perhaps the biggest thing, in terms of notoriety, that I've done. At some of the Pentagram shows, we have such a wide range of age groups that come to the shows now, anyone from fifteen years old to seventy, so to finally be in a place where people recognize what you've done over the years, to appreciate it, and things like that... it's fun to think about and know you haven't totally wasted your time.