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Pentagram's Bobby Liebling Stares into the Void

The Pentagram frontman talks God, death, and the darkest days.
April 1, 2015, 7:00pm

Photo: Jeff Lee

Bobby Liebling is in a bad place right now. That may not be a huge surprise if you’ve ever listened to his band, Pentagram, or happened to catch Last Days Here, the critically-acclaimed 2011 documentary that detailed Liebling’s lifelong struggle withm drug addiction and followed him as he revived Pentagram in his 50s while emerging from his parents’ basement to start afresh with a wife less than half his age and their newborn son. Fast forward to today: Liebling is 61 and may or may not be on drugs again. He and his wife are separated. His aged parents have just been rushed to the hospital. “I’m trying to hang in there,” he tells us. “I haven’t been feeling so great lately, and my separation from my wife is killing me. But we all have a lot of baggage. I’m just grateful to wake up these days, because for all intents and purposes, I’m not supposed to be here.”

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On a much, much more positive note, Pentagram have two new releases in the pipeline. The first is a double DVD collection of vintage and contemporary live footage entitled All Your Sins: Video Vault (watch a clip below). The second is a brand new studio album called Curious Volume, which Liebling and his bandmates—guitarist Victor Griffin, bassist Greg Turley, and new drummer Pete Campbell—are currently putting the finishing touches on.

Given the personal circumstances mentioned in the first paragraph, Liebling has not been speaking with the press. His faithful manager Sean “Pellet” Pelletier (you remember him from Last Days Here) made an exclusive exception for Noisey but almost cancelled at the last minute when Liebling’s parents were hospitalized. Clearly distressed as we talk, Liebling trails off on several non-sequitur tangents and his words occasionally become indecipherable. The following transcript has been edited for coherence and clarity.

Noisey: How are your folks doing?
Bobby Liebling: They’re not doing too well right now. Two days ago they were both taken in separate ambulances to the ICU. They’re both in the same hospital right now. I’m kind of on the edge about that because my dad collapsed and my mom missed taking her pills. So it’s all messed up. I’m in their house right now, and the walls are starting to creep in on me. Reality is hitting. I mean, my dad’s 95. My mom’s about 84, and they’re both really sick, and all I can do is just pray for them. If they don’t make it, they’ll both go to a better place anyway.

I’m sorry to hear it, Bobby.
We’re all gonna go. Once you come out of the hole, you’re dying. Most people don’t look at it that way, but that’s really what it is. When you’re young, there are all these things you wanna see and do—you’ve got an appetite. But then you get to be my age—I’m 61 now—and I’ve done it all. I’ve been there, and I’ve got into every damn thing you could possibly name on the planet. The years start going by fast, and it happens to all of us. It’s just part of the plan the big guy’s got for us. That’s at least how I think of it.

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You mentioned “the big guy.” I know your friend and longtime Pentagram guitarist Victor Griffin found religion in the last few years. How has that affected you?
It’s affected me totally. I’m on the same exact course now, and we’ve grown more than ever as people because we’ve turned to God as we know it and it gives us serenity. So yes, I’m really spiritual. I don’t believe in the church, but every day I talk out loud for at least a couple of hours to God. When I try to analyze it, I realize you shouldn’t try to analyze it. That’s the point. You just have to believe. And I do. It’s carried me this far. I’m a rock star, and I never thought I’d get near something like that. I’m not perfect, but I’m doing things right more and more. When I turned in the same direction as Victor—I wouldn’t call it “born again”—my spiritual awareness surfaced. It took precedence over our pagan, ritualistic living.

That means Pentagram can’t do certain things anymore.
Yeah. No baphomets, no upside-down crosses. That’s in our riders, in our contracts. People maybe didn’t get it when they heard “Review Your Choices” or “Be Forewarned.” Those songs are telling you there’s two ways to go, but I can’t tell you which to choose. You gotta figure it out for yourself. And it’s rough sometimes. It’s hard. I talked to my wife yesterday evening, and there’s a chance we might be able to give it another shot. I’m praying for it, because I really do love her. She’s done a lot of bad things, a lot of wrong things, but so have all of us. God will forgive you if you pay homage and stop fucking up. When I go, I know where I’m going. And I’m not afraid. I know I’m going to a good place, and I’ll be safe. Somewhere there’s a perfectness, and I will end up there because I believe.

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You’ve been through a lot of shit since you started Pentagram in 1971—failed record deals, drug addiction, and nearly three dozen ex-band members. When you look back, do the good times outweigh the bad?
The good times outweigh the bad times when I’m functionally doing the band thing. But it’s not always like that. Nowadays, I’m a total recluse. I’m extremely antisocial. I don’t go out of the apartment. I see one or two people a week, if that. I stay at home and watch movies on Netflix. I never go out anywhere. I’m afraid to go out after dark.

Why?
It’s dangerous out there, man. It’s a rotten fucking world. I didn’t grow up with guns. I mean, fuck guns! We always fought with our hands—maybe somebody had brass knuckles. But now you can get catch a stray bullet in a drive-by. It’s real. People think, “Oh, not me.” Bullshit! You gotta watch it, man. You gotta try to live right, because it’s much easier to fuck up. Much easier.

What can you tell us about the new album you’re working on?
We took a real chance with this album. It’s called Curious Volume, which is very self-explanatory because this album is not your typical Pentagram album. We’ve got about 13 songs, and I’d say half a dozen are the traditional stuff that the diehards wanna hear. But we’ve also got a couple of punk songs, and there’s a ballad on there. We took a chance and stepped out to see if we could cut the mustard or not. It’s really a do or die thing, but why not discover that part of yourself?

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How did you decide on the album title?
Well, originally the album was gonna have a lot more older stuff. It still has some very old stuff—it has a song I wrote in 1965, and another one I wrote in ’69, which is the ballad. So I wanted to call it Over Many A Quaint and Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore [a line from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”], because it has the old and the new. But we whittled it down to Curious Volume, because I got to thinking about why we have this obsession with playing such dark stuff and stare so much into the void. It hooks you, like a drug. It becomes an outlet for depression. That’s our calling, basically.

Pentagram bass player Greg Turley recently told Decibel that about half the songs on the new record are from your famously never-ending stash from the late 60s and 70s, and half are new songs.
Every single Pentagram album is that—every one, ever. The stuff that I’ve written is all from ’68 to ’73. I’ll never run out. But out of the 13 songs on the new album, I only participated in writing five and only wrote two alone. Up until this album, my favorite Pentagram album was [2001’s] Sub-Basement. That album is one of the most demented, sick, depraved, god-awful annoying things I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s hard as shit to listen to Sub-Basement and not come away feeling like your head has turned to mud. It’s assaulting. It’s imposing. It’s past the realm of uncomfortable. But I love that because hundreds—maybe thousands—of kids all over the world have told me, “I was gonna kill myself, and then I listened to Sub-Basement and for some reason I didn’t feel so alone.” And that does my heart good. They didn’t check out because they realized they weren’t the only one with problems. We’re all part of the malcontent club at times in our lives, aren’t we? But after Sub-Basement, I’d say the new record is the darkest Pentagram album. It’s really creepy.

Did you ever come close to suicide yourself, during your darkest days?
I tried it more than once. It’s not the right thing to do. You gotta try to hold on. And I’m holding on by a thread right now, I’ll be honest. I’m barely, barely holding by a thread. It’s getting the best of me this time because I’m older and wiser and I can’t escape it as easily. But playing music gives me an accomplished feeling. I didn’t get that before, when I was younger. It was all about the altered state. But now it’s uncomfortable for me to be altered, and I want a comfort zone of some sort.

What else has changed?
The band feels really in tune with the higher up. We’ve become much more of a family than we ever were because we know our limitations. I can’t jump all over the stage or do these three songs in a row because I’ll run out of air. Victor has to wear glasses onstage because he can’t see the frets. These things are all reality, man. We’re not gonna be here forever, but we can make the best of what we’ve got and just make every day count. It’s hard, but you gotta do it. Because we’re still here.

I hope it stays that way for a while.
Me too. In 2013, something like 126 heavy rock ‘n’ rollers died. That’s a hell of a number, man. And everyone except two people were between 55 and 65. So we don’t live that long, people in “the life.” We live fast. You know the old adage, and it holds true. I’m just trying to hang on as much as I can. But you can’t dwell on it. [Rolling Stones founder] Brian Jones was my idol, and he died before any of them did. He did all the drugging and had the naked chicks all over the house, and that’s exactly what I did. I did all the drugs and had a house full of naked blondes. But now I’m 61. So when all those people went in 2013, I thought, “Oh boy.” Because I’m a fuck-up—let’s face it. I’m a big fuck-up. A major, professional fuck-up. But what’s frightening is that they’re all gone now and I’m still here. So I know I’m here for a reason.

J. Bennett plays guitar in Ides Of Gemini. He is not on Twitter.