PENTAGRAM “A Beautiful Curse” 

By The Great Sun Jester

It may still be difficult for some to believe that the young Victor Griffin has transformed into the man he is today. The darkness and decadence the younger Griffin pursued with such hellish yearning helped make the man Wormwood Chronicles spoke to recently – confident without ever skirting arrogance, convicted, articulate, and strikingly intelligent. When histories are finally written about this man and the mighty Pentagram, Griffin will undoubtedly rank among the premier guitarists and songwriters of his generation. The Sun Jester was honored to speak with him once again.

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: So why do another Pentagram album? Is it a sense of unfinished business, an act of friendship, all of those things?

VICTOR GRIFFIN:I chose this path when I was as young as fourteen or fifteen years old to be a career musician. [laughs] I kind of use the word “career” loosely. Making money is usually connected with the word “career”, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s been hard to keep going all these years and, recently, it’s been even more of a struggle to rely on music for any kind of financial security. That’s not what I got into music for to begin with; I just loved music. When I got into bands as a little kid like the Alice Cooper Band, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, all of these bands I grew up with in the 70’s… when I saw the Alice Cooper Band on tv in 1973, little did I know that I walked away kind of changed. I saw Kiss in 1976 on the Destroyer tour and just left there completely blown away. I just figured, at the time, you pay your dues for a couple of years, put out a couple of albums, and then you make it. [laughs] It just doesn’t happen that way. The other thing is that the style of music that appealed to me was always the heavier stuff and what was this underground sort of music then in the 1980’s. It’s sort of a curse, in a way, wanting to be a career musician but playing a kind of music so underground that no one gets it. When Bobby and I met in ’81, we kind of hit it off, our chemistry clicked right away, and so we’ve been together ever since to some extent. We’ve never had a real falling out and we always seem to come back together. Bobby’s the same way too, he put all his eggs in one basket. It’s natural for me to do another Pentagram album and I think Bobby, plus the other guys in the band, would probably agree. As well, with the recognition we’ve received over the last five years and the praise Last Rites earned, it just felt like time to do another album. We’ve got momentum and part of the way you keep that going is putting out new albums. 

WC: I wrote in my review for “Curious Volume” that the reason bands keep going sometimes reminds me of my father. He was a professional carpenter and, even after he retired, he never stopped building and working in his shop. It was part of him. He didn’t know how to do anything else.

VG: That’s a great analogy about your father. In the past few years, I’ve been thinking about my age, what’s going to happen getting older, the whole thing. I’m fifty three now. It would’ve been cool riding this wave twenty years ago. It’s kind of cool now though too because bands that were riding those sorts of wave s twenty years ago dissolved when that wave finally crashed. You never hear from them again. We have, to our advantage, satisfaction, and comfort, the fact that we’ve been able to keep doing this despite how hard it has been, regardless of the lack of money or if we’ve even been able to provide ourselves with a living. We’re getting to the place now where we can afford a few luxuries on the road. We’re able to afford nicer accommodations, nice food, and so on.  Of course you get the people claiming you aren’t as good because you get better money and play bigger shows [snicker], but we’re basically the same band we always were. The accommodations don’t make any difference after the band arrives. But what you said about your father’s retirement… I just don’t ever see myself retiring. I think a lot of people start to decline when they retire, you’ve got to keep some sort of activity going, you know?

WC: Hey man, BB King played live far, far into old age. There isn’t as much to stop people these days if they can still cut it and keep going. Of course, being on the road a lot later in life [laughs] might not be something you’re as crazy about as you were at twenty five.

VG: That’s true. A big factor with that is if you can be on the road and have enough money to make things a little more comfortable. If you’re traveling around in a station wagon or a cargo van [laughs], obviously, that can get really, really tough the older you get. It makes a huge difference.

WC: Another question I have, and it’s something we’ve talked about before, but is there any continuing struggle for you reconciling playing in this band with your religious beliefs? Or have those things been conclusively dealt with?

VG: I’ll tell you, man, it’s been a struggle honestly. I think over the last few years I’ve gotten to a place of resolution with it – or God has gotten me to that place. I think, and I just recently had this discussion with Bobby and Greg, but we were talking about which songs… there’s songs from the past, and even ones I wrote, that don’t necessarily fall in line with my worldview now. I’ll hear comments and they’ll always get back to me about people asking how I can be in a band called Pentagram. You’re always going to get that. There’s always someone looking for a reason to call you a hypocrite, but I don’t have time to worry about those people too much. Each of us has our own convictions about what’s right and wrong for ourselves. That’s not to say that whatever we think is right is right. Regarding the discussion, it kind of goes for anything, if you’re a Christian believer like I am, you can’t go out into the world and get a job like, let’s say, at a factory but tell them, hey I can only work here if everyone else are Christians. As a believer, I don’t think you can isolate yourself. There’s people who will hardly step out from behind the four walls of their church. However, by keeping it in there, you aren’t really putting it out there where God intended for it to be. If you are expecting to only hang around people who believe the same things you do and never be rubbed the wrong way, or be confronted with the world’s darkness in some way, then you aren’t doing much good. It’s amazing the emails and letters I get when I’m at home or on the road from people struggling often in the same ways I did and do. It’s a tremendous honor to know that something I’ve written or performed has been any kind of comfort to someone undergoing their own trials. 

WC: “Curious Volume” is the result of work in multiple studios. I was wondering if you were able to work hands on with Bobby a lot on this album or if that wasn’t possible.

VG:  We did get a chance to work hands on with Bobby. Like you said, we did the album in two different places and started, initially, at Magpie Studios in Baltimore. We got the drum tracks laid down, but only did scratch guitars, bass, and vocals while we were there. I ended up coming back to Knoxville by myself and went to Lakeside Studios, laid down all the final rhythm guitar tracks, and Greg finished the bass parts after that. Then we went back to Magpie and Bobby laid down all the final vocal tracks. Greg and I wanted to be there and encourage him. Most of the material on Curious Volume is all brand new material. Other than the four older songs of Bobby’s that we picked, pulled from demos and other sources, we had very little time to rehearse this material. Greg and I wanted to be there to help guide Bobby through the songs we’d written, showing him where the verses and choruses needed to come, and so on. He had a good idea anyway, but as far as working through particular harmonies and melodies, we wanted to be there to help him kick around those kinds of ideas. 

WC: What are some of the album’s most satisfying moments for you personally?

VG:  I really dig the second half of “Close the Casket” when it gets upbeat and there’s a kind of strange solo in there that I like. I enjoyed recording “Because I Made It”, playing on that was a lot of fun. It had a real old Alice Cooper kind of vibe to me.

WC:  I’d agree with that.

VG:That’s probably my favorite tracks off the album, but I haven’t listened to it too much since the release. You know, by the time you’ve finished recording an album, you’ve already heard things over and over again so many times, it’s pretty anti-climatic. [laughs] 

WC:  Compare “Curious Volume” and “Last Rites”. Do you think the new album is, in some ways, more representative of Pentagram somehow?

VG:  I think it’s more representative of Pentagram in a live situation. The thing I like about “ Last Rites”, and still do, is the album’s dynamics. I don’t think Pentagram had ever recorded an album as dynamic as that, with the ups and downs, things like that – it showed another side of the band. It showed we could be a bit more musical. Overall though, after listening to the album later, I’m sure we might have overdone that just a bit. At least according to some fans. I think some people assume everything we do is going to be some sort of straight up heavy rock. Like I said, I think “Curious Volume” better represents what people can expect if they come out to a live show. It’s just straight, in your face hard rock. I think that’s what you get with this album.

WC:I like what Minnesota Pete Campbell brings to this album. There’s some really impressive swing in some of these songs and they move, they aren’t just track after track of hard plodding along. 

VG:I liked it too. I’ve been working with Pete for a long time now, he came out for a couple of Place of Skulls tours, we did the In-Graved album together, and I’ve always gotten into playing with him. He does bring a swing to it that’s really fun to play with especially since I feel like, as a musician that I’ve started moving back to a much more rootsy style with blues influences and even some jazz, so Pete really helps to bring that out in a big way. We’ve always gotten along really well, so when we needed a new drummer, he seemed like the natural choice to me.

WC: I know we’re talking about a relatively new album now, but can you see Pentagram doing this again in another few years?

VG: I hope so, man. I can envision that, I really can. I guess one of the factors is Bobby’s health which, it’s no secret, he has some health issues. It’s one of those situations where when you have someone who’s abused themselves like he has for the past forty years, you’re going to have consequences, but he’s doing really well with handling that. He has doctors he sees regularly and prescription meds to help his body deal with the abuse its taken. He’s doing pretty good. As for the band, you know, we’re kind of looking forward just a day at a time because anything can happen. We’re working on touring for the spring and will hit the European festival season, of course. We’ve planned a lot of serious touring for this new album and to just see how things go… personally, I have no intention letting up. If something happens to Pentagram, I’m just going to have keep moving on to whatever the next thing is. I’m still jamming with the Place of Skulls guys and, even though we’re kind of keeping it low key lately, we’re still a working band rehearsing together and working to keep our chops up too. I don’t know what the next thing will be, but I know it’ll be awesome to end up recording another Pentagram album in the future.

WC:  Do you reflect much anymore on those early days with Bobby?

VG: Occasionally. [laughs] I do. When I first met him in 1981 through Joe Hasselvander, our songs seemed to be seamless. Put my song together with his, rehearse it, record it, it just all seemed so seamless. We were really tight through the 1980’s and early nineties, but I guess one of the things we had in common too is we were both self-destructive.  He hasn’t understood why I’ve had to go away a few times to do other things, but it was because Pentagram was just grounded. We had no support and couldn’t get any out of town shows. I do reflect on that stuff – and so does he. We laugh about a lot of stuff. We both agree too, how has this happened? [laughs] We’re in our fifties and sixties and now we’re on the road after all that trying? Who can account for timing?