Smack between two explosive, sold-out shows at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn, Pentagram’s singer Bobby Liebling, and bassist Greg Turley sat down with me in their tour bus for a quick interview. I’ve been a big fan of Pentagram’s old school Black Sabbath-esque metal sound for years, but seeing them live had me accepting shoves in the back from hulking oafs in exchange for a close view of Bobby’s bulging eyeballs.
Amy: How did you two meet?
Bobby: We met in 1980.
Amy: That’s the year I was born.
Greg: I was seven years old.
Amy: So Bobby you were friends with his dad?
Greg: Victor (guitarist) is my uncle.
Amy: Oh, all in the family.
Greg: Bobby would scare me as a kid. He would just lock his eyes on me and stare.
Amy: When did you start?
Greg: I was in the band in ’96 and ’97 and then started again in 2010.
Amy: What were your influences when you started this band in the ’70’s?
Bobby: They were all bands people never heard of. Bands from Ann Arbor. Bands like MC5. The Frost, Dust (out of Baltimore), and the Groundhogs were my influences.
Amy: You guys seem really nice. Is there a happy family dynamic within the band?
Greg: Yeah, well we’ve known each other for so long.
Amy: How about your influences Greg?
Greg: It’s the same but I have more modern influences than Bobby as well. Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Kiss. Pentagram was one of my biggest influences, since I grew up listening to this band. My top three are : Pentagram, Alice Cooper, and Black Sabbath.
Amy: Alice is a killer musician and a great guy. He actually remembered my name when I met him for the second time. He meets so many people, it was unbelievable.
Bobby: I like a lot of the punk stuff: the Dead Boys, the Damned, the Saints…
Amy: The Dead Boys are great when you are going through a break up. With a song like “I Need Lunch,” that trades in romantic love for carnal lust with bitterness.
Bobby: I love Stiv. I like the Dolls a lot.
Amy: Did you ever meet Stiv?
Bobby: Yeah, I did a lot of drugs with him. Yeah, I knew all the people who aren’t here anymore.
Amy: When did your latest album come out and what is the running theme?
Greg: It came out August 28th and music wise we take from all the different eras of the band and squeeze them into a modern album. Lyrically, it draws on finding yourself, anxiety and depression, and looking back to where you came from.
Amy: What time has been best for Pentagram?
Greg: Right now. The bands toured more in the last six years than combined previously. More fans have had the chance to come see us.
Bobby: We have hundreds of thousands of fans in Europe. We are really big in Western Europe..
Amy: What part of the world has the best fans?
Bobby: Sweden, Finland , Norway, Switzerland, Germany…
Greg: We just did a run of West Coast shows in the States and every one of them sold out. These two Saint Vitus shows sold out also.
Bobby: Almost every venue we’ve played in the last two years have sold out. Doesn’t matter where they are.
Greg: With the movie coming out, and more widespread exposure, and then on top of that we have a live album from Metal Blade and then the new studio album is just keeping our name out there. People are curious…
Amy: I’ve never seen Saint Vitus that packed before. I stayed up in the front but was tempted to go to the back because I was getting so sweaty and claustrophobic.
Bobby: I was like a caged cat, I just kept pacing back and forth. I was so hot, like living in a bowl of soup.
Amy: Right, there wasn’t any backstage for you to escape to. I saw the documentary, Last Days Here and it was really great but were you apprehensive about that?
Bobby: It was produced by 9.14 PICTURES,which is a small group of people I knew from Philadelphia. They were independent and did Stella, The Art Of Steal, and Rock School which were successful pictures, so I let them follow me around. I don’t have any reservations about it being out there at all. I wanted it to be shown.
Amy: So your story is being adapted to a major movie?
Bobby: Yes. They are still in casting so I can’t say who is playing me yet.
Greg: The documentary is interesting, especially on the outside where you see Bobby and that’s him. Being around him for 10 -15 years. The span of the movie was 4 years?
Bobby: The span was 6 years.
Greg: What you don’t see is what was going on behind the scenes for all that time. There were times when I would go to his house to try and write music with him and he would just nod out. It took having goals in life to see what he was capable of.
Amy: I just watched a documentary with Keith Richards that was based on his drug history where they asked him in court, “If you could have only one, would you pick drugs or music?” He replied, “Music,” and meant it but still fell off the wagon soon after.
Bobby: I understand that.
Amy: Then Keith did a show for blind kids and one blind girl who came on the tour bus gave him the inspiration to get sober. Because here are these kids that can’t help what they are going through and he can change his situation.
Bobby: My wife did that for me. She gave me a purpose and love.
Amy: Are you two still married?
Bobby: We are still married but have been separated for over two years now. I just talked to her today. We have a 5 year old son, Bobby Jr.
Amy: Is that your only child then?
Bobby: That I know of….
Amy: Haha!! What was your favorite band to share the stage with?
Bobby: Ozzy. We’ve played with all the major acts. We’ve played a lot of festivals. I don’t think we will ever be a stadium headliner act. We are about a second bill type of act for a stadium night. Playing in a band is a hard job.
Amy: What is so hard about it?
Bobby: You never get to sleep or rest.
Amy: Right touring seems tough.
Bobby: Sleeping in a coffin every night.
Amy: You guys put out so much on stage, I bet you are just exhausted by the end of it.
Greg: Well you get the adrenaline bump before the crash.
Bobby: It takes everything in me to get through the last few songs because it’s intense.
Amy: Does someone make your clothes for you? I really loved what you wore on stage.
Bobby: That was made for me. She made three tops for me already.
Amy: It looks so expensive, just beautiful. Haha! My friend and I were in awe. The collar and everything is just awesome.
Bobby: Thank you. Haha!
Amy: How long have people been making clothes for you? Or is this a new thing?
Greg: Well Bobby can wear a simple ladies’ blouse…
Bobby: I wear all chick’s clothes on stage. Guys clothes don’t have any style. I wear a junior miss size zero.
Bobby: I’m 5’5 and 110lbs. There is not a lot of me. I don’t feed into the machismo trends, let’s put it that way.
Amy: I love the 70’s when men wore platform shoes and scarves so I get it. Where do you guys live now?
Greg: Bobby and I are near D.C. Victor is in Tennessee. I’m in Northern Virginia and Bobby is in Maryland. Pete’s in Minnesota. So we are all over.
Photo: Pentagram in the 80’s
Bobby Liebling – Vocals
Victor Griffin – Guitar
Martin Swaney – Bass
Joe Hasselvander – Drums
Amy: Where did you guys play in California?
Greg: The Observatory.
Bobby: House of Blues was the first place we ever played in Los Angeles. I don’t remember any of this stuff any more. One night your in an airplane, then you’re in a bus or limousine, then you’re in a hotel, then you’re on stage and that’s it. You don’t get to see anything.
Amy: Fans think that it’s all a big party but it isn’t.
Bobby: Glitz and glam!
Greg: We see places that we would like to come back to and we see places that we don’t ever want to see again.
Bobby: I don’t like Las Vegas. There’s nothing there. It’s all transient. Think about it. People just come by, throw their money in the hole and leave.
Amy: I was there for my 21st birthday and didn’t have fun. I don’t get it.
Bobby: I have a bad gambling problem, just like with drugs. So I don’t go near it. I’ve blown a lot of money there. Very high amounts.
Amy: What’s next for Pentagram.
Greg: We will be supporting the album by touring through 2016. People seem to really love the new album. You couldn’t tell the difference from the crowd reaction while playing the new songs as from playing the old songs. So that’s great. Probably record a new album in two years. Bobby is sixty-one and you never know something could happen to any of us tomorrow.
Amy: What are your favorite songs to play live?
Greg: “Starlady” and “Last Days Here.”
Bobby: I like playing “Last Days Here” a lot. It’s the most fun for me. It’s a real tearjerker. It’s about being hopeless and in despair which has been a lot of my life.
Greg: My favorites from the new album are: “Close The Casket,” and “Devil’s Playground.” We’ve played about eight out of the eleven songs from the new album live to a great reaction.
Amy: What song would you have played at your funeral? It’s kind of a hard question.
Greg: Probably a Frank Sinatra song or something. Haha!
Bobby: For me it would be “Last Days Here,” because it would be appropriate.
Amy: Is their anyone that you would love to play with that you haven’t played with before?
Greg: I’m reserved about that because I don’t like to look starstruck. But I would like to say, “Hey thanks,” to Paul Stanley.
Bobby: I do.
Amy: You get starstruck?
Greg: Oh yeah, Bobby gets his picture taken with everyone. Haha!
Bobby: Yeah, I get starstruck when I meet my idols.
Amy: Tell me about the time you went to Lou Reed’s house when you were nineteen?
Bobby: My friend was and always has been one of the foremost authorities on the Velvet Underground and he knew Lou.
Photo: The Pentagram Archives – Nineteen year old Bobby Liebling and Lou Reed.
Amy: You liked Lou?
Bobby: Yeah. I loved the Velvet Underground. It was cool music. It was way ahead. It was doper music too so I could relate. There’s another junkie. Haha!
Amy: Did you sleep in the living room?
Bobby: It was at his folk’s house in 1973. A long time ago.
Amy: You were friends with Stiv Bators too?
Bobby: Yeah, I knew Stiv real well.
Amy: Seems like a cool guy. My friend Jimmy was good pals with Stiv and said he was cool except when it came to girls. He would turn his back for a minute and Stiv would be hitting on his model girlfriend. Haha!
Bobby: I understand. I like pretty girls. I have a thing for blondes. I knew Johnny Thunders real well. He was a funny motherfucker. He was a good dude. I grew up in Brooklyn so I really love New York types. I was in the Factory with Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Bianca Jagger, and Bowie. We all would hang out at the back table at Max’s too.