"Amps Are Your Tanks and Artillery"
Pentagram Singer Bobby Liebling on Drugs and Doom
Sat, 6:15–7:30 pm, Exhibition Hall
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Take one quick glance at Pentagram vocalist Bobby Liebling and you'll know he's been through some shit. His trademark deranged stare haunts you as he stands onstage at the age of 58, road-worn but sober and alert after decades and decades of drug abusing, demon chasing, and doom-metal debauchery. Long before the Electric Wizards and YOBs of today were rattling bongs worldwide, one very crucial Virginia crew dared to tune low and play slow. Now, 40 years later, Pentagram bring their skulldozing brand of sonic heaviness to the unsuspecting and soon-to-be-deaf Bumbershoot masses. The Stranger recently spoke with the godfather of doom.
There are a lot of metal bands out there that play fast and there are a lot of metal bands that try to dazzle by playing as technical as possible. Pentagram, on the other hand, have always been known for their sheer heaviness. Why so heavy?
I think that draws from spawning off the whole Blue Cheer thing I'm still hung up on. The first time I heard Blue Cheer, I said, "That's what I want to do." I wanted to be so excruciatingly loud like the bands that I loved, like Mountain and the Groundhogs and Grand Funk. I loved the wall of amps and I loved the force behind it all. It's sort of like your amps are your tanks and artillery, the guitars are your weapons, and the people onstage are the soldiers.
You've been involved in music through the '70s, the '80s, the '90s, and onward until today. Which era of music do you prefer?
I'd actually have to say the '60s. I've been playing professionally since '64, when the Beatles came out. I just went along with it and along with it, and after a while, along came all the Marshalls and the stacks got bigger and we tuned heavier. Also, there was a lot of emphasis on keeping melody throughout songs back then. A lot of the stuff I hear today—well, I can see the positive force in the route that they're taking, in that they're not taking out their violence by hurting people. They're not actually going down the street and killing people or committing heinous crimes. Instead, it's all channeled into so much boned-out, full-on aggression live. I mean, like "GAHHHHHHHHH!" with complete Cookie Monster singing and beating the hell out of everything as it if were people. If you've got hostility for someone, beat the hell out of the guitar. Like, actually hurt it. But I don't get it. I guess I'm a throwback. I still like having a melody in a song. I love guitar harmonies.
Your latest album, Last Rites, is the first to feature both you and guitarist Victor Griffin playing together since 1994. What's it like being back together?
Well, it's like being back with my flesh-and-blood brother. It's the closest thing I've ever had to one. Victor did an interview and hit the nail on the head when he said, "It's like a marriage without the sex."
Which is actually like a lot of marriages anyways, you know.
Yeah, well, not mine. You have to remember I have a 1-year-old kid and a 25-year-old wife [laughs]. But that's where it's at with us. It's at that ground level. We both love each other like brothers, and I would die for the guy.
There are a ton of contemporary doom bands playing globally today that cite Pentagram as a major influence. What's it like to play alongside bands adopting this sound 40 years later?
Well, of course I'm flattered. I'm not too good at taking that stuff a lot, though, because I was a fuckup for so many years that my inner self says, "Why in the hell would anyone want to be like you, Bobby?" [Laughs] My entire life was immersed in sex, drugs, and rock and roll, where the sex and the drugs were a continuing saga for... well, it's like the guy says, "I screwed somebody once... for a solid 30 years." It's like, "I shot dope once, yeah. I shot dope once, for 40 years." It was a big shot.
In the end, how do you want Pentagram to be remembered?
I just want to be respected and not seen as a bunch of noise with no talent. I want us to be seen in a good light and not just dismissed as a "drug band." And that we made a lot of people happy.