Latest release: American Made (Napalm)Website: www.bpmdmusic.com
Children can often be the inspiration for their musician parents. For Mark Menghi, his 8 year old suggesting he record a version of an old Lynyrd Skynyrd classic was the spark that led to his latest project. BPMD is a union between Menghi, his Metal Allegiance compadre Mike Portnoy, Overkill’s Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth and Vio-lence guitarist Phil Demmel covering classic American 70s rockers from the likes of James Gang, Aerosmith, Van Halen, ZZ Top and more. Within days of the idea, the four of them were coming up with a list of songs, two each, that none of the others could veto and pretty soon American Made had taken shape.
Featuring ten prime slices of pure American rock, American Made is a good-time album cut on a whim by a group of friends having fun. In between slugs from an enormous can of Heineken, Blitz talked to us on Skype and gave us a rock and roll history lesson.
Today we’re catching up to chat about your latest project, which is basically covering great American rock songs, correct?
Yes, from the era of the 70s, the gateway drug to the heavy metal we loved in the 80s. It’s just the American side of it. There was a lot of stuff going on around the world, in Germany and the UK, but this is the American side of it: Aerosmith, Mountain, ZZ Top… the stuff that metalheads to this day, especially old dogs like myself, still consider to be influences.
I was interested in the choices that were made. Blue Öyster Cult’s Tattoo Vampire is a track that I dig, but it doesn’t seem like the first song of theirs that most would have expected to do as a cover.
That’s a good point. I’d never expected myself to be in a position to be able to present that song as a vocalist. We had some loose rules around this. It was Mark Menghi’s idea and he came to me a couple hours later, and a couple hours after that it went to demo and then to (Mike) Portnoy. The loose rule was, everybody gets two choices, and there’s two community picks, and to make it more fun, you can’t veto somebody else’s pick. So this was still a demo thing, and I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be singing Tattoo Vampire ala Buck D’harma and Blue Öyster Cult. It was kind of challenging the way Mike ripped into it and Phil added those guitar nuances throughout the song. It turned it into a kind of punky number and still kept the integrity of the original. It’s really one of my favourite tracks and, in my opinion, the sleeper, because I never thought much of it when we were doing it but by the time we were done, it was just a real good community effort of re-imagining it but keeping the integrity of Blue Öyster Cult.
Buck plays on the track too.
Yeah, they got Buck in the mix. We threw these tracks out to all the original songwriters and everybody but Joe Walsh replied.
Joe Walsh is an interesting guy! It would have been amazing to have him play on the James Gang track.
Oh that would have been cool! I got his contact information from someone I knew who had dealt with him and I just sent an off-the-cuff kind of a thing, just a quick explanation. Just four lines, and I’m sure he probably said, “Who is this douchebag?” (chuckles) “Get him outta here!” I’m pretty sure he would appreciate the fact that someone took the time with one of his early tracks to re-imagine it.
When most people think of Joe Walsh these days they think about his work with Eagles, so, yes, he probably would think it was cool that somebody still remembered his early songs.
It’s grassroots rock and roll. I think that’s the charm of this record: it’s pre-rock star. A lot of these cuts, the Mountain cut Never In My Life, Cactus doing Willie Dixon’s Evil, Tattoo… sure, these were very popular bands for that era, but it wasn’t KISS from that era. It wasn’t Led Zeppelin in the UK. I think it was grassroots American rock and roll and it was like, tear it up and make some noise. I get to scream like Ted Nugent! How much more grassroots can you get?
I can’t really say I grew up with these songs because they weren’t really all the over radio here in Australia. The radio tended to focus more on local rock and British bands. I didn’t really learn much about bands like Aerosmith and ZZ Top until the mid-80s in high school when they started having big hits here.
I have to tell you, I got laid to some of these when I was in my teens! (chuckles) This is the stuff I was exposed to… obviously there was the British stuff: Sabbath out of Birmingham and the Stones were still running in the 70s, and Zeppelin and Uriah Heep and Status Quo and all that happy horseshit, but you know being an American kid… We’re an American Band by Grand Funk – that was an AM radio hit! It had this kind of tonality (pinches nose). That’s what we were hearing. I was singing that song in the shower before I knew how to roll a joint or smoke my first Marlboro. So when Mark brought up this idea and said, “Hey do you want to go back to the 70s and relive your youth?”, I was like, “Fuck yeah!” (chuckles) “I’ll do that!”
What brought them to you then? Was it that you were the oldest guy they knew who knew all the songs?
(Laughs) You were very delicate with that! I appreciate it (chuckles). That why my name’s first in the band name: the B. Older, wiser, obviously the most beautiful in the band. Menghi and I have a great rapport. I have a sense of humour. I do this because I enjoy it, I enjoy BPMD even more because it reminds me of where I came from. Mark is an absolute student of the 70s, but he was born in 1980. There’s 20 years between Mark and I. I think that somewhere in there, we connect with the shit I grew up with. He’s a vinyl collector. He knew I would jump on this thing. We’d always talked about doing something, there was the chemistry we have in Metal Allegiance and me playing with Portnoy and having Phil Demmel in there is like the salt and pepper on top of the steaks. So there was chemistry. Was I old enough to know this stuff the first time around? Yes I was, but I also love the chemistry I have with Mark and so that made the whole project fun, which it would I really hope shines through when you press play and hear the final mixes.
It really shows Phil’s scope as a player too. People are familiar with you getting a bit punkish with Overkill and Mike and Mark do a lot of different things, but a lot of fans are really only familiar with Phil as a thrash metal guitarist, so this really shows his versatility.
Phil has a really wide scope and love of music, and you can really hear that in the Metal Allegiance stuff. He was ripping into riffs while he was getting his guitar ready for soundcheck that were songs from the 70s – maybe a Scorpions number from Lonesome Crow, or something. He’s got a wide scope. If you follow Phi’s YouTube channel, he’s doing a lot of these pandemic concerts and it’s not metal. It goes everywhere. He does Alice in Chains, he did stuff with Graham Bonnet the other day. He jumped on this with drool on his chin, and I think to show that he is that much more of a complete guitar player than a guy in a box. He’s schooled. He showed me a picture of him holding a guitar in the 70s in his first gig in elementary school, or something, and he said he was probably playing Tattoo Vampire! And I thought, “How cool is this?” I don’t normally get to go full circle, but Phil has.
Have the comparisons to Metal Allegiance come out, because it’s basically the same guys even if it’s not the same direction?
Metal Allegiance, as a business, didn’t really want this attached to it. I don’t think they wanted it attached to their thing. Obviously, it’s affiliated, but this an absolute separate project. The spark of the idea was started by Mark’s son. Eight years old, “Hey dad, you should cover this Lynyrd Skynyrd song,” while eating a hot dog on the 4th of July. Mark rings me and I’m like, “Don’t call me when you’re drunk, you fuck!” but the next thing you know, we’re on the phone with Phil and Mike. So the momentum, the spark, came from his young son and 24 hours later it’s all burning and we’re making choices. If you’d stopped the momentum and over-thought it, you would have ruined it. And the timing! It’s a fun record, it’s not serious, it’s not dark, it’s as light as you can get, it’s goofy, but well played, and at this time it’s a nice go-to.
Yes, that’s true. There’s always a lot of dark records that come out, and anything that comes out now like that everyone has a tendency to say, ‘Well, this is a record for the times’. Conversely, the perfect record for the time can be something that’s going to take your mind off that sort of shit is Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers. How can you not party with a song like that?
Yeah, and it’s also good to remember not just why musicians do this, but why people listen to it. Love it or hate it, that’s up to the listener. If somebody says, “This ain’t metal”, well, that’s your choice. But me, I started 2020 out with the Overkill boys, I looked both ways while I was crossing the street and I got hit with a jet airplane! (laughs) I needed fun!
That vibe is definitely there. Were there any choices that were made that you decided not to do?
No, that was the idea. No one could veto anyone’s choices. That was the challenge, that’s what kept the momentum going. There was also two community choices. We knew American Band had to be on there, and the other community choice was the James Gang song. Mike Portnoy brought it up, I knew the song cold. I think I had the record when I was 13, Thirds or Funk #49, but I realised a long time ago, when I first started cutting my teeth around a microphone, that I couldn’t be Steven Tyler, I couldn’t be Joe Walsh… I had to be me. That was the only way I could get anything done. So I was way ahead of the game not trying to mimic the originals. But I wanted to keep the integrity of the Walsh tune, and the Aerosmith tune. I wanted to get the phrasing correct. The tonality’s going to be different, but the integrity was important. So it was good to have the no veto rule in there. The David Lee Roth one (Van Halen’s D.O.A.) – that was harder for me. I can do the bluesy stuff, but what Roth does is a whole different animal, and there’s only one David Lee Roth, and it became a challenge and I had to really dig into that one and find a way to make it happen without losing, let’s say, Roth’s original intent for the song.
It’s hard to get more party than David Lee Roth. That’s pretty much all he did.
It’s beyond rock and roll. It’s iconic to stars of self-serving pleasure! (laughs).
For people who aren’t well versed in classic American rock, this could be something of a beginner’s course that might lead to them discovering some of these bands and their work.
That was brought up to me early on during this promotional period. Just the metal community is pretty spread out with regards to generations. Probably the thickest part of the generation is 25 to 40. There’s teenagers in there and there’s guys my age too who followed it all the way through. And there’s a lot of people, even in the States, 25-year olds who’ve never heard Never in My Life by Mountain. Most of the other hits, Saturday Night, Beer Drinkers… maybe not Walk Away, maybe not Evil, but I think around the world there’s going to be people looking back and hear these original cuts and kind of understanding what came from rock and roll, that started in Chicago, or started in the Delta, or started in Memphis when the black blues guys where creating rock and roll, and that chain became thicker and stronger right through until 2020. I don’t care if you’re a black metal fan and everything else sucks, you will still find something in a Willie Dixon song that is used!