|Music is such an artistic tool of statement that I don't think there are absolute elements for it to be considered one thing or another.|
Those into the heavy riffing of classic doom are familiar with the name of Victor Griffin, co-founder of early 80s doom legends Death Row and guitar player for Pentagram. After taking time off from the music scene in the mid-90s after leaving Pentagram for the last time, Victor is back with a new band, Place of Skulls. And rest assured, POS kicks formidable ass, as anyone who caught one of their shows on their recent tour will happily affirm. Formed with Death Row bassist Lee Abney and drummer Tim Tomaselli, POS combines exemplary musicianship with top-quality songwriting and extreme heaviness to create one of the most promising sounds in the classic doom tradition for the new century. Watch out for their upcoming record, "Nailed", due to be issued soon on America's Southern Lord label. Victor recently took time out to answer a few questions for Doom-metal.com:|
Pentagram was an on-again, off-again proposition while you were with them. Why did you leave for the last time, and what happened then?
"We were together for roughly 15 years. Plenty of time to develop personality conflicts and eventual burnout. Though I loved those guys like brothers and still do, the band never really seemed to get off the ground. Every time we would gain a little momentum, we either failed to capitalize on it or something happened internally to tear us apart. I became increasingly fed up with the way things were going and the way business was being handled. Something that believe it or not, had been a problem ever since we changed the name from Death Row to Pentagram. I don't mean that in a weird, spooky kind of way either. Let me just say this; Bobby was the last to join Death Row, and though he had been in another band called Pentagram, this was a completely different animal than the band of the same name from the '70's. To completely understand, you would have to be there to experience the full brunt of baggage this name change decision brought to the band. From that point on, it was never the same feeling. But I still believed in the music we were making or I couldn't have stayed involved for so many years.
Anyway, in '96 things had again taken a downturn for several reasons. Not the least being the association of drugs with the band. Not just Bobby, myself included. Musically and mentally burnt out, sick and tired of being sick and tired, and several deaths in my family including my Dad's, I had enough. It was around this time that I started to question many things about myself. Where I had been, where I was going, and what things were truly worthwhile. Having always had a belief in God and a conviction in my heart about the afterlife, what could be more important than a decision on where to spend eternity? Our lifetimes on this earth are nothing compared to forever. That's when I felt the need for a spiritual change. I had known the need since I was a kid, but becoming a true believer in Jesus Christ is a different matter. It's more than just an intellectual belief in Him. It's a belief that comes from inside a person's heart. For me, it's the only truth that's ever spoken directly to my heart. In such a way that's almost unexplainable yet without a doubt, the essence of reality.
That's not to say that I'm a good Christian, whatever that is. I know and God knows all the ways I lack. It's a day-to-day struggle a lot of times. The past destruction and corruption that was part of my life will always be there. At times tempting me enough that I fall. All I can do is pick myself up and try again. I also got married to my longtime girlfriend Anne in late '96."
How did Place of Skulls come together?
"After leaving Pentagram and taking a much-needed break from music altogether, I moved back to Tennessee. Having left there some twenty years ago, it was time for a change of scenery. I hooked up with my lifelong friend and original Death Row bass player Lee Abney and began working on some songs. He'd also gone through similar spiritual changes. We decided that if we were going to put together a new band, the elements of darkness and heaviness in the music would have to be there, but lyrically a much more positive approach. As things progressed, we realized we were creating a sound that was reminiscent of the early days in Death Row.
Once we had a few songs together and recorded them on 4-track with a drum machine, the time was right to find a drummer. We placed an ad in a Knoxville metro paper. We had several calls and auditions but no one seemed to have the background or the style for what we were doing. The ad ran for about 3 months before a guy named Tim Tomaselli called. Musically his influences and background were quite different than Lee's and mine. But his playing ability, hitting style, and spiritual outlook were what we were looking for. We jammed together a couple of times and decided to make a go of it and Tim became a member of the band. Once we were ready to play out, we decided on the name Place of Skulls. I had come across it in the Bible and thought it would work well with the sound and lyrical content of the band. It's the hillside also known as Golgotha where crucifixions took place in the early Roman days. Including that of Jesus. Lee and Tim agreed and so we became Place of Skulls."
For you, what elements must be necessary for music to be considered doom? Do you think of Place of Skulls as a doom band?
"Music is such an artistic tool of statement that I don't think there are absolute elements for it to be considered one thing or another. The doom label seems to come predominately with a specific type of chord structure in songwriting. Usually identifiable with unusually placed flats, sharps, and minors in the chord progressions. A down-tuned bass heavy guitar tone played over a slow to mid-tempo drumbeat. Lyrical content varies but often deals with the darker side of issues. There are aspects of PoS that are doomy but I don't necessarily consider us "a doom band". I now write lyrically with a more positive attitude. But there are still some emotions in me that are pretty bummed out. I guess my description of doom is fitting for our style. Sometimes it depends on the musical knowledge of the person I'm talking to as to what I call it. If someone wants to call us a doom band or a hard rock band, both are fine with me."
How do you feel your music has developed since Pentagram?
"I don't think it's changed that much other than the lyrics. I can hear lots of similarities in the songs I'm writing now with some of my older material. It's basically the only way I know how to write but it's from the heart. I guess I've just sort of accepted who and what I am. I think the words I'm writing now have developed quite a bit. I guess that mostly just comes from the experience of living and learning."
Are there any lesser-known bands with which you believe our readers should be familiar?
"Lately I've been listening to the Abdullah cd that I got from those guys while we were on tour. Jeff Shirilla and Alan Seibert are excellent songwriters. I haven't heard that much melody in heavy material in a long time. I wish more bands were into real vocals and quality songwriting. Life Beyond, Countershaft, and a band called Rise from Raleigh, N.C. should also be checked out."
Is there a single musician or group that has been most influential for you?
"Well, I almost hate to say since it's become such a cliché since the early 90's. But if I had to choose only one it would have to be Black Sabbath. After discovering them around 1975, I went out and bought every album they had up until then in about a month's time. I think "Sabotage" had just come out. My musical direction became overwhelmingly influenced by what they were doing. At the time, there didn't seem to be many who were into them. Lee, Cary Phillips (a drummer we used to know), and I used to go to parties where some guys would be playing, sit in on their gear, and jam on nothing but Sabbath tunes. It wasn't all we knew but it was all we cared to play. People used toget pissed. "Don't you guys know anything but Sabbath?". Other influences include Steppenwolf, the original Alice Cooper group, Sir lord Baltimore, Blue Cheer, & Grand Funk Railroad."
Were all the tunes on your new CD recorded together or over a longer period of time?
"If you're talking about the upcoming Southern Lord release "Nailed", it was recorded in two different sessions. We initially recorded 10 songs and then decided to pull four of those for an EP release later on. We then went back to record three new songs to take their place."
Do you do all the songwriting, or do all of you collaborate?
"I basically do all the songwriting right now. We did collaborate a bit on one of the songs we just recorded called "Love She Gave". I thought it was ready but parts of it didn't seem to work after we rehearsed it. We ended up throwing those parts out and working up new ones on the spot to get it where it is now. It'll be on the new cd."
Does the song "Pistonhead" on the promotional sampler date from the project you had with Wino in the early 90s?
"No. It appeared on a later compilation version of one of the project tapes we did. But I hadn't written or recorded it until around '95. The new version will be on the "Nailed" cd."
In your opinion, what are the most essential records in your collection?
"Black Sabbath 1st album thru Sabatage. Technical Ecstasy for the song "You Won't Change Me". One of my all time favorite songs.
Blue Cheer collection
Alice Cooper Love It To Death
Sir Lord Baltimore s/t & Kingdom Come
Steppenwolf s/t, Live, Seven
Nazareth Hair of the Dog
Robin Trower Bridge of Sighs
Thin Lizzy Jailbreak
Motorhead Bomber or Ace Of Spades
Queen Sheer Heart Attack
Various selections by Johnny Cash, Hendrix, Waylon, Jennings, Jerry Lee Lewis, Merle Haggard, Cactus, Stray, Trapeze, The Dead Boys. That's a hard question. The more you think about it, the more essential some albums become for a variety of reasons "
I've read that you would like to have a reunion with Death Row. Is that still a possibility?
"We did a reunion back in Feb. and had talked about another one for late October. Of course it's too late for that now. But it would have been the official 20-year Death Row anniversary/reunion. It probably would have happened if not for the recent PoS tour. I wouldn't mind doing another Death Row reunion at some point. But it would have to be at a time that didn't conflict with anything going on with Place of Skulls. This band is my priority over anything else musically."
Have you had a strong reaction to the Christian slant, which is now present in your lyrics? Has it been positive or negative?
"I wouldn't say we've had a strong reaction to the Christian aspect of some of the lyrics. But for the most part, the reaction has been positive. Of course there's a few that enjoy voicing their opinions of being appalled and of disbelief. But that's ok. We're all entitled and I can handle it. I believe people question there own mortality sometimes more than they would care to admit. But why shouldn't we? When we're alone with our selves, a voice inside tells most of us that this can't be all there is. If it is, then death is making a mockery of everything we're living for, everything we're trying to achieve in this life. All I can say is this; if I'm wrong about what I believe will happen to me when I die, I've missed out on nothing. If a non-believer is wrong about what happens when he dies, he'll be missing out on everything. I choose to believe but respect the right of others who choose not to."
What are your favorite songs from the Pentagram days, and will Place of Skulls be playing any of them on the upcoming tour?
"Some of my favorites that I wrote are All Your Sins (co-write w/Bobby), Sinister, Broken Vows, Burning Savior (although not anymore lyrically), Evil Seed, Too Late, Wolf's Blood, & Relentless. We'll definitely be doing a few of these on the tour. Other favorites that were written by Bobby or Joe are You're Lost, I'm Free, When The Screams Come, Review Your Choices, Ask No More, Frustration, & Petrified."
And last but not least, do you have any best (or worst) gig stories?
"Probably one of the worst gigs I ever did was with Death Row in 1983. We were playing a biker bar in Woodbridge, VA. with The Obsessed. Vance Bokus was still their singer. It was a hang out for a bike club called Southern Cross. As soon as we started they were yellin at us to turn it down. Threatening us with chains and knives if we didn't. They really hated Vance cause he was kinda like Iggy and Johnny Rotten rolled into one. Once they figured out the volume was partially being controlled by the soundman, Robin Webb (R.I.P.), they started threatening him. There were a couple of scuffles but nothing really significant and no one was hurt. We were supposed to play two nights in a row. Needless to say we didn't return the next night.
There have been many that could fall in the category of best gigs. I'm not sure what makes it so good on a given night but everything just clicks. Anybody in a band knows what I mean. It's like the band is feeding off the energy of the crowd, one another, and the music. Everything is just on. The lights, sound, and volume are pumpin and it's total high-energy, heavy, doom rock n roll. We just had one of those nights in Little Rock, AR. on Oct. 8. Man, those people are killer! Can't wait to go back!"
Visit the Place of Skulls bandpage.