March 2002 - PLACE OF SKULLS
If you're a fellow reader of the Cosmic Lava, then you'll have noticed the name PLACE OF SKULLS . When you take a look at the line-up you'll find two names, that are well-known to everyone who's into the history of Pentagram/Death Row. It's Lee Abney and Victor Griffin. In Tim Tomaselli, they have found an excellent skinsman and so they have formed one of the strongest US heavy underground acts of today. With the debut "Nailed", released on Southern Lord they have shown their awesome potential and it's one of the first highlights of 2002. All this and more was reason enough for a total in-depth interview with Victor Griffin about the new band, the time with Pentagram, spirituality and much more. Enjoy it!
For me as a huge Pentagram fan I'm very proud of doing an interview with you, Victor. For the very few people who aren't aware of your new band PLACE OF SKULLS, please give us a quick rundown of the band's history.
Around 1999, after moving from Wash. DC to Knoxville, my longtime friend Lee Abney and I got together and started working on some new songs I had written. We didn't really have a plan or anything, we just wanted to play around with some ideas. Eventually we decided we'd like to get a bit more serious and progressed to the point of needing a drummer. We placed an ad in a local Metro paper and that's how we hooked up with Tim. It pretty much culminated into a working band in the spring of 2000.
Since you've started with PoS, you have been quite busy. A lot of gigs and touring in the USA, the release of the brilliant demo, the live-cd, a three-track promo for your upcoming debut "Nailed" in Febuary 2002 and a 7"on the mighty Southern Lord label. Was it very important for you to get back into the heavy rock scene and how much time do you invest in PoS
Well, it really wasn't that important to me at first. But once we became a full band with our sound coming together, it became more important. The passion and desire to do it again began to increase. It now has become one of the most important things to me again. I invest a lot of time into this band in many respects to make it the best it can be. So do Lee and Tim.
I think it's impossible to make an interview with you without talking about your highly interested musical past. For me,you've got the same status like Scott Weinrich (Wino). So let's go back to the end of the 70's. In Snap Pop I've read that you lived together with Wino and Dale Flood (Unorthodox) at this period of time. When you look back to those days, how would you describe them ? Was there a moment where you three have thought about forming a band?
Yeah, we shared a house in Rockville, MD. in 1984. Joe Lally of Tolotta Records and bass player in Fugazi also lived there. It was pretty wild. Lotta partying goin on constantly. We used to work out a scheduled rehearsal time for each band to use the basement. There were always people there it seemed, like 24 hours a day. Massive drinking and drugs. It was insane. There were moments we thought about the idea of forming a band together. Wino and I used to go sit in a bar at this mall to drink. I remember us kicking around all sorts of ideas for a new band. We used to come up with names and stage props and all kinds of shit. But at the time, Pentagram, The Obsessed, and Asylum (later changed the name to Unorthodox) were all going pretty strong so the timing wasn't right. And Joe Lally had just joined up with Fugazi
At the beginning of the 80's you were part of the legendary Death Row. In 1979 Joe Hasselvander introduced you to PENTAGRAM and at a DEATH ROW rehearsel you've met Bobby Liebling. Is it right that you have been a fan of Bobby's vocals and why didn't you continue under the banner of PENTAGRAM?
That's right for the most part. I first heard Bobby's vocals on the High Voltage 7" and loved it. In my opinion, it's one of the best recordings and performances by him vocally ever. As for continuing under the name Pentagram, I'm not sure what you mean. If I were playing in a band with Bobby now with the same outlook I had several years ago, I probably would. But the fact is I don't even like that name and never really have. Aside from the negative connotations, I always thought Death Row was much better and have regretted changing it ever since. At the time of the change, I was very eager and probably a little gullible to believe certain things Bobby said.
You've played a lot of gigs together with The Obsessed in the early 80's. This gigs must be pretty legendary. Was it easy to get gigs at this time, where a lot of people were into Punk Rock, because you were more underground than underground and do you remember some funny or sad stories that were maybe happening in this period ? How were those gigs ?
It didn't really seem to be that hard to get gigs around the DC area. Trying to get shows away from there was a little harder. Back then, there were virtually no rock bands doing all original music aside from us and The Obsessed. It was mostly top 40 cover bands. There was one show that always comes to mind that we did together that's kinda funny. It was at a place called The False Alarm in Woodbridge, VA. The home of a biker club called Southern Cross. We booked ourselves in there for 2 nights with The Obsessed. They absolutely hated us! Vance Bokis was the singer for The Obsessed then and they wanted to kill him. They threatened us all night if we didn't turn it down. Once they figured out the sound man was in control, they threatened him. Things eventually came to a head with some pushing, shoving, and yelling but nothing too serious. Of course we didn't get paid or return the next night.
Those times must be quite harder than today, because there weren't any indie-labels like today. Have you tried to get a record contract with DEATH ROW at this time and have any labels shown interest?
Yeah, there were very few indie labels at the time. Especially ones that were into what we were doing. But with some help from Tom Lyle of Government Issue, we were able to work a deal with Dutch East Recordings for our first album.
In 1983 you and Bobby changed the name back into PENTAGRAM and you've released your debut was released on a very small label. Compared with bands like The Obsessed or Asylum you've got more luck, which doesn't mean that PENTAGRAM always had a lot of fortune. Like on the first three LP's you an /or Bobby were responsible for mostly all songs. What can you tell us about this time and the chemistry between you and Bobby ? It must be some kind of magic, I think.
Bobby and I stared out together with great chemistry. At times it was almost unbelieveable. But shortly after the name change to Pentagram, the chemistry began to faulter a bit and gradually decline as the years went by.
Two years after the release of the second PENTAGRAM album you left the band in 1989. What was the reason for it and how were your personal circumstances at this time? It must be a very hard living for you.
Just after the release of "Day Of Reckoning", I soon realized that again we weren't going to get any tour support. Just like the first album. I was really sick of not touring and playing the same occasional gigs around the Baltimore/DC area. At one point I remember approaching the guys about possibly going to L.A. for a while to see what we could do there. No one wanted to risk it. Wino and I had some serious ideas for a new band but again I think the timing was all wrong for some reason. He soon afterwards joined up with St. Vitus. During a trip to NYC one weekend, I hooked up with Pete Steele of then Carnivore. We kicked around some ideas and he invited me join up with him. We kept in touch and I made several trips to NY. But after listening carefully to some of the material, I decided their direction probably wouldn't work for me at the time. Of course, he later started Type O Negative. I stayed with Pentagram for a short time longer and felt with the touring situation, I was wasting my time.
Around '88 I got a call from a friend who had recently moved to LA and wanted to know if I'd be interested in coming out there to start a brand new band. At this point I was willing to try just about anything as long as it was heavy. Well, I knew this guy wasn't as heavy as I preferred but I figured it was at least an opportunity for something new even if it didn't work out. Which it didn't. So now I'm in LA with nothing and no band. Once again, Wino and I got together with some ideas for a new band and pretty much had it together until our bass player was killed in a motorcycle accident. That pretty much let the air out of it for me. I was burnt and didn't wanna do anything except ride bikes, race cars, drink, and do blow. But around that time is when I found time to make most of the 4-track demo stuff that's in circulation.
Why did you chose to join PENTAGRAM again in the early 90's and what do you think today about the "Be Forewarned" album? How would you compare this time in the band with the early days?
After a couple of years of basically nothing but partying, I was disappointed about where I had left my musical career. I really wanted to get it back on track. So when Bobby called me with the offer to join back up for a new album, my only stipulation was that it had to be with Joe on drums and Marty on bass. He made some calls to them and they were willing so we did it. At first things went pretty smoothly and we were all getting along great. But gradually old habits began to emerge and I think we realized the reasons we had broken up in the first place. As for the "Be Forewarned " album, I think it's a pretty cool album. The kick drum needs to be louder and some of the lead breaks are buried. And personally, I thinks it's a few minutes too long. I don't know, you can always look back and find things you could've done differently.
You didn't stay too long in the band and after a few months you became part of the line-up of Cathedral, because they needed a guitarist for the upcoming tour with Godspeed and Black Sabbath. Somewhere I've read that you were not in a very good state of mind. What was going on and what do you think about this time and tour today?
I was in a very bad state of mind back then. The timing for that whole tour couldn't have been worse for me. I was into some very heavy drinking and cocaine and speed abuse. Having serious relationship problems with my girlfriend of 6 years. And my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. I hated and wanted to kill everybody! I was a very violent and angry person. The Sabbath tour should have been one of the highlights of my musical career and in some ways I guess it is. Too bad I couldn't have been along to enjoy it. I was in such a bad way that the band couldn't stand me anymore. After my final violent outburst, they shipped me back home with about a week and a half to go on the tour. They finished it up with Gaz being the only guitarist, which he still is today. Anyway, I've been in contact with Lee Dorrian recently and that's all behind us. There are no hard feelings between any of us. Hey Lee, how about a Cathedral/Place of Skulls European tour?
In 1994 you've returned to PENTAGRAM, but it didn't last for too long. The band split-up for a short time. What were the reasons for this desicion ? Do you were sick and tired of all the misfortune the band's got in their last 15 years?
After the Cathedral thing and cooling out for awhile, we tried to resume the Pentagram schedule. Joe and I had been at odds several times on the Cathedral tour and things just weren't working now at all. We were all at each others throats. We had a couple of gigs to do and I remember Marty and Joe saying after that, they were finished. Which was fine with me cause I was sick of it all too.
After a short break, Gary Isom ex-Heavy Soul / ex- Iron Man / now Spirit Caravan) and Greg Turley joined PENTAGRAM and I've read that you remember this line-up as a good one. Why haven't you never written new material together and what was your reason to leave the band again in 1995?
Bobby and I got Greg and Gary to join so we could do our best to carry on. Things were great for a while. We did some shows that I thought were some of our best ever. But my personal problems refused me any peace at all and I decided that I just couldn't do it anymore, at least for a while.
What happened with you after this break? Had you lost your interest in playing guitar and writing songs? I remember Wino's personal situation after he decided to break up The Obsessed? He was burned out and heavily drug-addicted. Can I compare it with your circumstances after you left PENTAGRAM forever?
Yeah, it was probably the same type of thing. Except I completely lost interest in music altogether. Again my attention was being drained with drugs, alcohol, bikes, and the occasional violent outburst.
How did you find the strength to carry on with music after all this troubled time? Was the discover of your own spiritual power one of the main reasons for it and what have you learned for yourself after all this struggle, Victor? How do you live today? Are you married etc.?
The strength to carry on for me was something very spiritual. My belief in God pulled me back on track and helped me to live a much cleaner life style. Not perfect of course, but better. I know a lot of people snub there noses at that and that's ok. But sometimes when you get a little older, you begin to realize that there are more important things going on around you. Today I try to live the best I can in general and for my spiritual beliefs. I've been married to my best friend Anne for the past five years. She's been a part of my life for the past 15 years and put up with a ton of shit. We get closer all the time.
After this long time-ride we have reached 2002 so let's continue with your new band PLACE OF SKULLS. One thing, that I really like is the positive uplifting power of the music and the lyrics. I think, it's very easy to give up in life and stay in the dark shadow of life but it's sometimes very very hard to don't give up and follow your dreams and plans. So, although I don't practise any form of religion I can find in every so-called holy book from the bible to the koran very interesting aspects and philosophies that are fitting for mostly humans. What is your very personal point of view about it and how important is a clear consciousness for you nowadays?
You ask for it! My point of view is if there's no life after this, what's it all for? Why bother to attempt or achieve anything at all? If there's nothing afterwards then death will make it all a joke anyway. Who remembers or really cares what was accomplished a hundred years ago by a certain individual? Most legacies live for a while and then they die. If you accomplish a great deal in life for yourself, but were an asshole, what's going to be remembered? The Bible teaches that what we sow on this earth we reap in the afterlife.
That we've been given a gift of eternity in paradise if we choose to accept it. It's so simple that people reject it. The Bible also states that there's one way to the Father in heaven...that's through the Son, Yahweh (Jesus Christ). Through our belief in Him, we accept the free gift of eternity in peace. I'm not a preacher or teacher or anything else like that so my explainations are probably lacking a lot of times. But I know this is the only thing that's ever truly spoken to my heart and I choose to believe it. We all will have to account someday for what we believe. We should try to be sure it's the truth.
To go back to the music I really love your three-track promo. The songs, the production... just everything. Where have you recorded it and can we expect the same sound on the upcoming full-length "Nailed" ?
Thanks man! We recorded it at Lakeside Studios and mastered it at Soundcurrent mastering, both here in Knoxville. Travis Wyrick and Seva are great at what they do and I'm looking forward to our next at the same facilities. Yeah, you can expect the same sound from the full length. The promo cuts were taken directly from it.
At first, "Nailed" should be released on Mans Ruin, but everybody knows that this label doesn't exist anymore. Due to this facts, I think that the PLACE OF SKULLS debut is absolutley ready for a release or do you still work on it?
There's no work left to be done. It's complete and ready to go.
How did you get together with Greg Anderson (Goatsnake,Sunn O)) ) the main-man behind Southern Lord) and is "Nailed" the only album you will release on SL?
After Man's Ruin folded, Guy Pinhas suggested I contact Greg about releasing the cd. In the meantime he had already given Greg a copy. The masters were done, all we needed was some art work and a label. Greg loved the finished product and after some negotiations we agreed on a contract. We're scheduled for another release with Southerlord with an option for a third.
What can we expect from the album? How much songs will it contain and are there any of the songs, that you've written for Pentagram?
The cd contains 9 songs. Only one was written and played in Pentagram; "Feeling Of Dread". It was never recorded in a studio setting.
I can really imagine, that you have written a lot of new songs. Are you the only composer of the songs and how often does PLACE OF SKULLS rehearse? Where do you rehearse?
Right now I'm doing all the writing. Eventually Lee and Tim will probably contribute more to the songwriting aspect. We'll just take it as it comes. We usually try to rehearse at least twice a week, sometimes .
Is there any chance to see PoS in 2002 here in Germany, maybe together with one of the other outstanding MD/DC bands like Internal Void, Life Beyond,Earthride etc.? You must know Victor, that this tour is something like a wet dream for most of the real fans of this kind of doom-laden heavy Rock 'n' Roll. So, what are your plans for this year?
Greg Anderson and I have talked about a European tour in late summer/early fall. It's something we really want to do if we can set it up with the right bands. Right now our plans are The Caravan Of Skulls Tour in April with Spirit Caravan and a west coast tour later in the year along with Europe hopefully. We're also planning on being back in the studio in September for our second PoS release.
When I compare the situation of the mid-80's with today, I would say that there's a huge explosion of all kinds of heavy music and there are a lot of labels, zines, bands and so on. One one hand it's very good I think, but on the other a lot of crap crawls out of it's holes and pretends to be honest and authentic. You have seen it all, so I'm really interested in what you think about this. Can you agree with me?
I do agree with you. It's great that there are more labels interested in putting out heavy music. At the same time they have to be careful not to release everything that comes along because they have loud, distorted, Sabbathy guitars. I'm afraid this is already happening to a certain extent. In my opinion, this whole scene is not truly as big as it may appear on the internet. I think there's alot of people who have this idea that this is the next big thing. Who knows, it may be some day. But right now it's still very underground. Go to just about any show and you'll see what I mean. Most of the bands are still playing for a handful of people live. Yet on the net, a couple thousand people worldwide can give the illusion that it's a huge scene.
It doesn't appear to me that the shows are much bigger now then they were in the '80's. I've seen alot of bands over the past years and I can tell you first hand, we've got a long way to go before I would plan on supporting myself solely from Place of Skulls. Some people would ask... "who wants to be big anyway? That's a bunch of commercial bullshit". If your not a musician who would love to be making a decent living playing his music, that's understandable. I have no desire to be a commercial rock star either. But I would be happy if I could scrape out a living playing my songs without some sort of regular job to compliment my finances. The bottom line is that this type of music doesn't lend itself very well to a wide audience which in turn doesn't sell many records. But on the other hand, I'm glad of that because I've always hated mass appeal anyway. That is until I go to work.
What are your other interests in life and what are you doing when you don't rock with PLACE OF SKULLS?
Well, I still ride my bike when I have a chance. It's a '76 Harley chopper I built years ago. Right now it's down with a broken transmission. I've also gotten into website building and always trying to learn more about that. Anybody needing a site should contact me. The guy I work for has plans to expand his restaurant business and I'd like to get in on the ground floor of that. He's talking about a rock 'n roll pizza kitchen with bands on weekends. I'm also working on a huge human skull collection and I build a piece of medieval furniture every now and then for our home. Other then that, I spend time with my wife Anne and our pets; Eightball, Rodney, & Rufus.
Although you haven't earned a lot of money in the last 25 years with your music you're a huge influence for this kind of music. Only a few other musicians like Wino and Bobby Liebling were and still having this huge influence in not only heavy sounds. What do you think about it and are you happy with it?
I'm very flattered by it and very happy with it. All I ever really set out to do musically was to write and play songs that were from my heart; not contrived or forced. Hopefully along the way, touch a few people that dig the same style of music and would appreciate the songs I write. So to all of you who have bought, listened to, and enjoyed any of my songs or performances, thanks.
Victor, I really like to thank you for this interview and I wish you and Lee and Tim all the best for PLACE OF SKULLS. Hope to see ya' soon here in Germany!
Thank you Klaus and best wishes to you brother.