When I heard Victor Griffin had started a new band, I was immediately electrified by the great news. Of course, it would have been interesting to see how Pentagram would have continued with him, in particular with regard to the successor of 'Last Rites'. And it would also have been a good thing to record the fifth album with Place Of Skulls. But I personally think that it is much more exciting to open up new paths instead of playing 'All Your Sins' until the end of days, if you know what I mean. Perhaps Victor Griffin felt the same way too, but whatever the reason, fact is that he teamed up with ex-Sixty Watt Shaman/Place Of Skulls drummer Pete Campbell in order to get new inspirations and fresh ideas. Out of this came IN-GRAVED which released their self-titled debut album (review here) at the end of March 2013 via Svart Records (Europe) and Veritas Vinyl (USA). As already successfully proven with the last two Place Of Skulls albums, IN-GRAVED shake off the confining 'doom metal' label to allow free play to creativity. The result is astonishing and will once again underline the fact that Victor Griffin is on top of his game. For more details about IN-GRAVED, please continue to read the following interview I did with Victor.
Hello Victor, since the last time we spoke, a lot has happened. I think, the most important thing at the moment is your new band IN-GRAVED. How did things lead to the decision for a new outfit?
After the last Skulls album, there were member changes again and I just didn’t want to deal with again. I went back to Pentagram basically as a favor to Bobby and with a hope that things would have changed, or at least that they were in the midst of positive changes. And they were for a while… but as we went into 2012, I began to feel I’d contributed all I could and any further time spent would be futile. So I fulfilled my touring commitments through last November and split. In the meantime, Pete Campbell and I had worked up new material and laid down the basic tracks. We weren’t sure where it would lead at the time but here we are with IN-GRAVED.
Despite the fact that Pentagram is going through their most commercially successful period in the moment, you left the band. What is the reason for that? Have you been limited in your creativity?
I’m sure it seems like a strange time to leave since like you said, it’s Pentagram’s most "successful" period. But it all has to do with your perspective on success. It’s impossible for me to paint a perfectly clear picture of every nuance of life on the road and in a band. And everything that goes along with that… your time and energy invested, your accountability to one another, the chemistry or lack thereof with each other, and the inspiration you hopefully would draw from all these elements. Sometimes you just get to that place where the inspiration is lacking and no matter the size of the venue, how many people you’re playing for, or how much money you’re making…you know you’re not in the place you’re supposed to be. So it wasn’t just one or two things…it was many. Creativity, purpose, convictions, different priorities, and so on.
What is the impact of IN-GRAVED on Place Of Skulls or, to put it in different words, did you close that chapter of your musical career?
There’s really no impact on Place of Skulls. I’ve pretty much closed that chapter, or at least put it aside. I can’t foresee any circumstance where I’d put it back together. But we’ll probably be re-issuing some of the back catalog on vinyl at some point. Who knows…
Let's talk about the upcoming self-titled debut album. I was surprised to see how many well-known bassists appear in the studio line-up. Why is that?
After Pete and I had the basic tracks down, we didn’t really have a solid plan. I knew I wanted keyboards on it for sure but we needed to get some bass on it first. So we invited all these great bass players and at the same time…it gives the recordings some extra personality. We figured in the meantime we’d figure out what to do for the touring line-up.
Would it be right to say that Guy Pinhas (who is also part of the touring line-up) is an integral part of IN-GRAVED or rather a guest such as your wife Anne or Ron Holzner?
Guy’s doing the spring European tour and maybe more. But we don’t really have concrete plans. I would stress that this isn’t simply just a one-off project. I’m just so fed up with band members coming and going on a whim that I’ve just decided to embrace the whole thing and let it be. If someone can’t do this or that, or simply just isn’t into it for whatever reason… that’s fine. It might even keep things interesting down the road. Collaborating with different artist from album to album is a great way to grow and keep things from becoming stagnant. Not that I wouldn’t love to have a stable line-up all the time with like-minded musicians. But seems that can be a tall order these days.
How great is the creative input of drummer Pete Campbell?
Pete was a great inspiration in getting this whole thing tracked. Some of the songs weren’t finished so we’d jam along to where we needed a part. Then I’d throw out a riff idea as he played along. If Pete wouldn’t have been there to bounce ideas off of, we’d probably not finished the songs as quickly. I tend to play through stuff a few times and then decide it sucks and throw it out. I’ve probably thrown away some pretty good songs. But Pete was very encouraging and say like “no man, that’s killer…let’s use it!” It’s really cool to get that kind of inspiration and energy from a band mate. So Pete’s input was very important and integral to how the album came out.
IN-GRAVED is your first band with a Hammond organ player, and it's no one less than Trouble's original drummer Jeff "Oly" Olson. How did you get together?
We started out with Mike Puleo on keys but he had to pull out after laying down tracks for three songs. His schedule was really tight and rather than hold things up, he respectfully told us he wouldn’t be able to finish the album. But the stuff he contributed is excellent and we’re glad to have worked with him. Then I heard Oly played keys. Ironically about the same time he contacted me about doing the rest of the album. So we discussed the tracks and he went to work. Oly’s great… I believe we have a solid relationship for the future of IN-GRAVED and collaborating on new material.
As in previous years, you have worked together with producer Travis Wyrick and recorded the album at Lakeside Studios in Knoxville, Tennessee. What do you like about the studio and Travis' work?
It’s a comfortable place to record. Travis knows all my skeletons and by now he’s used to my songwriting, and generally knows what we’re looking for. He’s also a great coach when it comes to pulling the best performance out of any musician. He’s a good friend and brother.
I would say that IN-GRAVED is more influenced by 1970s hardrock than Place Of Skulls, without being a backward-looking band. In addition, the lyrics are based less on your spiritual experiences but will instead be oriented to the affairs of the world, so to speak. Well, these are some of my early impressions. In your opinion what are the biggest differences between both bands?
I don’t really know how to judge that aspect of either band. Since 2006 and 'The Black Is Never Far' album, I feel like I’ve been on a natural progression away from the stereotypical doom metal label. You hear certain criticisms like this album sounds like this or that, or whatever…but I’m just playing and writing the way I do it. I’ve become comfortable enough in my own skin and convictions to not really pay too much mind to all that. Of course you want your music accepted, but I just want to put out the most honest music I can. If it happens to sound more doom or 70’s hard rock then other times…that’s just the way it is. I’ve grown pretty far from just listening to metal, and really enjoy blues and lot of other styles. So I think the progression or maybe digression in some terms would be accountable for that. Some of my earlier influences aside from Sabbath have also resurfaced in my songwriting…like Steppenwolf, the original Alice Cooper group, early Queen, stuff like that.
But as for the spirituality… I haven’t changed on any of it. I’m just addressing different subjects on this album than on others maybe. But the underlying spirituality of the issues remains. I’ve never expected or assumed people will necessarily agree with me. I know it could very well be a minority of people who do. But that’s ok too. There’s an obligation to put it out there for all to consider…what they do with it is up to them. I’m not smart enough or righteous enough to judge anyone. But God is…and so men should be fully convinced in his own mind regarding his convictions. But simply having a clear conscience doesn’t prove innocence…just as sincerity doesn’t prove one right. It’s still God who judges, and one day it’s Him who will expose the darkness and motives of all our hearts.
Where did the idea of a doing a cover version of Jethro Tull's 'Teacher' come from and Why did you chose that song?
Pete! The album was only about 35 minutes long and we didn’t have any more new stuff ready to record, so Pete suggested 'Teacher'. After noodling around with it and putting our on twist on it, it came out great. Good call on Pete’s part.
Am I right in assuming that IN-GRAVED will release more albums in the future?
Yes sir…you would be right. Of course that depends on the time we live in and other great mysteries.
Victor, we have reached the end of Question Time. I would like to thank you for your time and interest! See you in a couple of weeks.
Great to talk to you again Klaus. I hope things are going well and your life is being blessed.