By Andrew Bansal
Minnesota-based drummer Pete Campbell a.k.a “Minnesota Pete” joined legendary stoner doom band Pentagram in 2015, recorded the drum parts on their latest album ‘Curious Volume’, and has been holding the rhythm strong on stages worldwide since then. Coming off a US headline tour and a high-profile festival appearance, Campbell is currently home and besides his commitments to Pentagram, is plotting his next moves, one of which involves him joining Ventura, California nerd rock group Gygax, a band many readers on this site should already be familiar with. Last Monday August 29th, Pete Campbell spoke to Metal Assault about all things Pentagram and Gygax, plus his favorite band, biggest influences, other projects and more. Enjoy the chat below.
Pete, it’s great to talk to you. What have you been up to? Pentagram has been doing some big shows, from what I’ve noticed lately.
Oh yeah, we just got this weekend. I just got home actually yesterday from Las Vegas, where Pentagram did the Psycho Las Vegas festival. That thing was just unreal. It was so rad that we played with Arthur Brown who blew my mind. Then there was Candlemass, Alice Cooper, Blue Oyster Cult, Fu Manchu, Down and all these really cool bands. That was really rad, and we’ve got New York next weekend and then Europe in October and November.
That’s awesome, man. I didn’t go to Psycho Las Vegas but looked like a pretty massive lineup. One thing with festivals is, other than playing your own set you’re able to hang out and watch a lot of other bands as well, which you normally wouldn’t be able to do at your own shows.
Right, that was the best part. It was like a vacation that I got paid for, you know (laughs). So it was super rad just to watch all those bands and just take in, and plus when you’re in Las Vegas it’s just a trip anyways. So it was pretty cool.
Festivals versus shows, in terms of playing and in general, do you just prefer festivals or are there good and bad aspects in both?
Yeah, there are good and bad aspects to both. To me, with festivals it really depends what they are and where they are. If they’re too big, it’s not fun because everything is just so rushed. The little ones, I like. And I prefer club shows more, personally, because you’re playing in front of people that paid money just to see you and you can spend time with them, versus the big festivals where you can’t even get close to the fans because they’re everywhere and you can’t really get out there. So, I like festivals but I prefer playing club shows.
Makes sense. Talking of your time in Pentagram, I believe you’ve been playing in the band for a little over a year now. Tell me about how it started for you and how it came about.
I’ve known those dudes forever. I was in a band called Place Of Skulls with Victor Griffin, the Pentagram guitar player. I was in that band since 2004, off and on. So, I’ve kind of known all those dudes and one day I got a phone call from Victor asking me what I was doing the next day. He said, “You need to come out here and record this Pentagram album.” At that time the drums on this record ‘Curious Volume’ were already done, but Sean Saley the old drummer which I was replacing had quit, and it was a bad situation. So, I went and flew out to Baltimore, with just two days to listen to the songs, got there and nailed the songs in one day. And then I thought that was it and I was just going to do the record. But then they were like, “You might as well join the band.” So, that’s just kind of how it all happened. I went out there to help them finish the album, redid all the drum tracks, and before I knew it, a month later we were on the road together. So, it’s been really cool.
Yeah, man. You’re based in Minnesota, so in that sense how is it working out with members of Pentagram being in different places?
You’re right, everybody’s everywhere. The bass player Greg Turley is down in Virginia, Victor is in Knoxville and Bobby is off in Maryland. But right now we’re at a point where we don’t even need to sit together. We only rehearse for like one day and then go and do the tour and stuff like that. We chime really good together. I mean, I would like to jam more, but it works out the way it is, knock on wood (laughs). We fly out the day before, run over some shit and then just hit the road. It’s pretty laid-back and easy.
Compared to Place Of Skulls and anything else that you’ve done before as a drummer, how has this Pentagram gig been?
It’s a little different in a kind of disciplined way to me, because playing Pentagram music there’s signature stuff that you’ve got to hit. Being a fan of the band before I was in it, I could air-drum to the CD, so I know when there’s a certain lick that you have to nail. I do my homework in that sense but they really give me the freedom to do whatever I want, so where I can open up and make it my own, but at the same time keep it how it was, if that makes sense. I kind of look forward to making it my own but still keeping it traditional.
As you said, the drummer before you quit and it was a bad situation, but when you were first preparing for this gig or after you joined in the band, did you ever get to talk to any of the previous Pentagram drummers, specially guys like Joe Hasselvander?
Yeah I talked to Joe a couple of times, but that was as a fan and nothing more. I knew Sean too, the drummer that I replaced. What’s really funny about that is, right before all this happened, Ron Holzner from Trouble gave me a call and asked me if I wanted to join The Skull. They didn’t have a touring lineup at that point. So I was like, I have to go do this Pentagram record but let me see, and what’s really weird is that Sean went to The Skull (laughs). So it was strange how we both went to places where we were asked to join. But ever since then, I’ve talked to Geof O’Keefe, one of the original Pentagram dudes. Greg Mayne, the old bass player, me and him are really cool together too, and then Gary Isom from Spirit Caravan, who was also in Pentagram for a little while. It was great to get advice from all these dudes. Everybody has given me their blessing and I’m just trying to take it as far as I can.
That’s an interesting story. I’ve been a big fan of The Skull and whatever they’ve done since they started playing under that name. I’m sure under different circumstances you would have joined that band too, right?
I would have! Me and Ron were actually talking about me coming down and fill in on a couple of shows, but then all this other stuff happened and when I joined Pentagram, he totally understood. He even told me to go do it. But like I said, Sean went to The Skull, so I guess we still kind of kept it in the family.
As you said, for you the main focus is to hit those signature parts that you’d been listening to as a fan. Do you think that’s the most important thing in stoner/doom metal drumming? The focus of the listener is on the riff but you kind of have to be precise with what you’re doing as a drummer.
Yes, for sure, I think it is. That kind of goes for any kind of music when it comes to drums, I feel. Less is more to a certain point, but there’s room to do your own thing too. Like, we’ve been getting into some really serious jams where Victor just goes off and does his thing and me and Greg can kind of do whatever we want, and as long as we all land together, it doesn’t matter what happens in the middle. We’ve been playing with each other so much that we’re at a point now where it’s just second nature to just go off but still land right. As a fan, if I was watching it, I’d be like, “Man, that’s rad.” But at the same time, I have to come in where the signature part comes with the riff. In Pentagram, it is all about the riff. Victor is a fucking monster (laughs) and you’ve just got to give into his shit, but we get to walk wherever we want to walk and run wherever we want to run. So it’s super fun.
From what I hear and based on all the pictures I’ve seen on your facebook, you’re a big Kiss fan …
Oh, I love ’em, man! If it wasn’t for Kiss, I wouldn’t be playing music. I play in a Kiss tribute band here in Minnesota called KISSin Time, so I get to dress up like Peter Criss three times a year and it’s pretty fun.
That’s awesome. Kiss is more than just a band. Do you think the drumming itself had any direct influence on your playing, or to you are they more of just a band you’re a big fan of?
When I was growing up, I didn’t even know they played music! I had no idea that they were a band. My older brother’s whole room was plastered with Kiss posters, and I thought they were comic book characters or something. And then I remember opening up the Kiss Alive II vinyl and listening to it, and I was like, that’s what I want to do with my life. I got into it a lot more after that. I’ve got to say, Peter Criss is not a good drummer but he worked for the band. They couldn’t have been Kiss if he they had a different drummer for that band, because everything had a point. It’s super cool that they’re a band that let that happen where everything has its place. There’s nothing fancy or special about it, it’s just the right dudes at the right time. I think that’s key for music.
I would agree with that. In the genre of stoner/doom, what drummers do you look up to?
In our thing, I love Scott Reeder from Fu Manchu. Henry Vasquez from Saint Vitus and Blood Of The Sun is just a beast. And then there’s just so many because it’s all about the groove and everybody in this scene has got super-crazy groove. Jimmy Bower is another one. Tommy Buckley from Crowbar too. Itamar Rudinger from Uncle Acid is one of my favorite drummers. I could go on forever. There are so many super awesome drummers. It’s all about the playing, man. I personally do think we have the best drummers in any genre. I mean, I love some death metal guys but that’s just insane and I look at that more like, “How the fuck do you do that?” (laughs) But at the same time they’re so mechanical that it doesn’t catch me. They’re great too, but I would say the greatest drummers are the rock n’ roll, stoner rock guys. They just let their drums do the work. It all goes back to John Bonham, Ian Paice and all those old rock drummers from the ’70s. All of us are nowadays are taking up that style again, and I think that’s super cool.
Exactly. So, I wanted to ask you about Gygax. Their bassist/vocalist Eric Harris told me that you’re supposedly going to be jamming with the band. Is that official, and something we can talk about?
I’ve known Eric for many years. When he was in Gypsyhawk, they played down here in Minneapolis, and a band I was playing in at the time opened up for them. I’ve known him and been talking to him on and off, and recently he sent me a link to their debut record (‘Critical Hits’). Still to this day, everybody I show the songs to, they just can’t get it out of their heads. I think it’s the greatest record of this year, personally, and the greatest rock record I’ve heard in forever. So, he asked if I would just play on some demos and I was like, sure, what the hell. So I sent him the demos back with my parts, and he said, “You might as well join the band!” So I’m going to do down there, record albums, jam up and do whatever they want me to. I’m totally stoked for it. Killer band, and everything about that band is just amazing to me.
That’s great to hear, man. So it’s going to be exactly the same way you work with Pentagram then, right? Just fly in, do some recordings, shows and short tours?
Right! That’s what me and Eric were talking about, just come down and jam and do some stuff. They send me some demo stuff, I take it to my studio and put together some ideas and send it back. We’re talking about me going down there in December for a week to jam and record, and it would be cool. I’m totally psyched for it.
Looking forward to that! So, other than Pentagram and Gygax, what else do you have going on musically in your world?
I’ve got my other band called Buzzard and we just put out a record on a label called Cosmic Artifacts based out of Germany. I play guitar and sing in that, I don’t play drums, but it’s pretty cool. So I’ll be doing some stuff with that. And then I was in a band 16 years ago called The Might Nimbus. We haven’t done a record in a long time but we’re going to get together again and do that just for shits and giggles. And then I’ve got to go to Sweden, because Mike Wead the guitar player from Mercyful Fate, me and him and a couple of his Swedish buddies started another band called Demonicus. We’re going to do a one-off album and may be just a festival here and there in Europe. Looking forward to that as well. That’s about it. Other than that, I’m trying to mellow out for a minute and catch my breath (laughs).
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