Summer is here at last, and if you’re looking for the perfect soundtrack to celebrate the season, look no further: BPMD is here to provide you with the ultimate collection of American party anthems, with a killer track-list modernized for younger ears. The band is of course, the amalgamation of talents such as Bobby Blitz (vocals, Overkill), Phil Demmel (guitars, ex-Machine Head, Vio-lence), Mike Portnoy (drums, Sons of Apollo, The Winery Dogs) and Mark Menghi (bass, Metal Allegiance).
BPMD set out to do a covers album of songs from the 70’s, released by American bands. Each of the members chose two songs, and two songs were chosen collectively. The tracks here, while far from obvious, present an unequivocal portrait of American hard rock in the 70’s. Versions of classics from Aerosmith, Van Halen and ZZ Top are accompanied by deep cuts from Mountain, Blue Oyster Cult and James Gang.
Covering such distinctive songs has its share of risks: you want to be innovative, but also honor the original vision the writers had for the material. Collaborator Rodrigo Altaf caught up with bassist Mark Menghi to discuss how the band approached these songs, how the idea of putting together this project came about, and much more. Read their chat below, and remember that for more interviews and other daily content, Sonic Perspectives is on Facebook, Flipboard, Twitter and YouTube, where you can be notified about new interviews and contents we publish on a daily basis.
Let’s talk about BPMD which is you, Bobby from OVERKILL, Phil Demmel from VIO-LENCE, and Mike Portnoy on drums. “American Made” was released a few weeks ago and I’ve been hearing so much great stuff about it. Tell us what the reception to it has been so far.
I’m shocked, actually, to be honest with you. When you’re doing cover records you either love it or you hate it. And it’s still the case, but I think this record came out at just the right time with everything going on .I think people needed an escape, just some good feels good tunes. Just kind of re-imagined, and again, I just think it’s timing. The reviews and the response has been absolutely positively overwhelming, which has been great.
I spoke with Mike last December. Back then and he was promoting the new SONS OF APOLLO album, which is another one of his 85 or 83 different bands. Up to that point the project was called “Made in America” and then it was changed to “American Made.” Can you tell us what motivated that change?
“American Made” is a term Bobby came up with on our first phone conversation where I kind of had that idea of covering ‘Saturday Night Special’ and he coined it. He’s like ‘it’s gotta be seventies. It’s gotta be American Made,’ just kinda off the cuff. I was like ‘oh wow. That’s a great name. That’s a great name.’ And it just stuck. I didn’t know, Made in America existed, in my mind it was always “American Made.”
I understand that your son actually suggested that you recorded a heavy version of a “Saturday Night Special” and that’s that led you guys to form the band. What was his reaction when you told him ‘hey, remember your suggestion? This is it. This is what became of why you suggested me at that day?’
He was involved every step of the way, through when I was recording my bass. He loved it, you know? And my oldest son too, they love it. They actually like it better than METAL ALLEGIANCE
From what I heard, you guys didn’t even need to think too much when it came to choosing the songs, it was almost unanimous?
It was pretty easy. We each got to pick two, where they had to be released in America in 1970s and by an all American band. And as long as you stick to those guidelines, have fun and you can’t argue the other people’s choices. So if I picked two, they had to do them just like I had to do theirs, because there was no arguing that this is what it is. And then we get two community picks and everyone loved everyone’s choices. It was pretty seamless.
I saw an interview with Bobby that used a very interesting choice of words when comparing covers versus writing new songs, presentation versus creation. What are your thoughts on these two different types of endeavors?
METAL ALLEGIANCE I could create whatever I want, and I wrote it and I could spin it any way I want. No one will ever know because it’s creativity. But when you’re covering something as classic as these, bands better present it correctly, or better present it with a good overall perspective towards it. Presentation versus the creativity is much different, and in some aspects it’s harder.
A lot of people seem to dismiss covers album thinking it’s an easy way out, but I think they take for granted how difficult it is to give an original spin just song without losing its identity. It’s a hard thing to achieve.
It definitely is. Again, it comes down to creativity. It comes down to how you’re perceiving the songs. It’s very important on how one perceives a song because they can’t stink, they just can’t.
Going a little bit more in details on the songs, the album kicks off with “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” where Bobby states the intention of the album right off the bat. You know exactly what you’re getting yourself into with that intro.
It’s a live intro that Nugent cut on the “Double Live Gonzo!” album. We were listening to that in the studio when we all got together to arrange and Portnoy’s like ‘God, we’ve got to do something like this just for fun.’ And we didn’t know, we had no idea what Bobby was going to do when he went to cut his vocals. And when he delivered that we were like, yeah, done. Leave it.
That’s a nice stage for sure, makes it your own. And one of the expected effects of this album is to present these songs to a younger audience. As someone who wasn’t born and raised in North America, there’s also something new for me as well. I’ve been a metal-head since at least 1984. I didn’t know “Tattoo Vampire” or “Never in my Life,” for example.
We’ve been finding a lot of people don’t know Cactus. I myself never heard the song “Tattoo Vampire” before in my life until Phil suggested it. So that was one of the songs where I kind of had to scratch my head and go ‘oh, I got it. This is going to be interesting.’
There are bands, for example Cactus like you said, we heard the names of but we never stopped to listen to the songs on their album. They were not accessible to me in South America. It’s great that I get to experience them now and discovered them through BPMD. So thank you for that.
It’s amazing how much press we’ve done where a lot of these bands people never heard of – James Gang, they never heard of “Walk Away.”
One of the most familiar songs is “Toys in the Attic,” which you chose to release as a single – Phil goes to town on the solo. I like how on the videos for this album you guys use that animation, which is kind of like the Thunderbirds a little bit. Who was behind that concept?
It was basically South Park meets Tim Burton. We were supposed to film a video together for that live altogether in the first weekend in April, I think it was. And then that’s when everything just started getting crazy with corona. Everything started getting shut down, etcetera. So we had to alter everything, and hence the video you see for “Toys.” The director we hired to do the “Toys” video came up with that concept: it’s a great concept and we just let them go. I was like, ‘do your thing, man. You have the vision for it and have fun.’ And that’s what he delivered.
I also really liked the spoof you guys did on the Van Halen album cover, the “Women and Children First” one. Not a seventies album, but a very cool idea nonetheless.
Well, if you look at my Portnoy‘s shirt and the photo, that’s what we’re wearing. He’s wearing that shirt.
Whose idea was it?
It was the photographer, he saw Portnoy‘s shirt. And he said, ‘why don’t you guys do that?’ And we said ‘sure, why not.’
Tell me about the approach with “D.O.A,” which is a second that song that Phil chose, and where Bobby goes crazy with those screams.
That particular song was ‘you sure you want to cover Van Halen on record? Not a lot of people do that.’ And Phil, was like ‘I’m doing it.’ I respect it, we all obviously respect his decision. And it’s how we would do it. That’s what you’re hearing.
I like how Bobby goes crazy with those screams, but he doesn’t try to imitate Dave because there’s only one Dave. He makes it his own.
Definitely there’s only one Dave for sure.
I understand that Phil was kind of in need of a boost after the whole situation he went through with Machine Head and reforming Vio-lence. So that’s kind of an energy boost for him making this project.
He was very quiet about those facts when we were tracking and recording and getting everything together. I didn’t know that until later on. And I talked to him about it. I was like, ‘dude, you don’t need a booster, you’re killer. What you do is amazing.’ When we were getting all this together we never thought we can’t not have Phil, he’s an awesome dude, awesome player. And I’m glad he was able to fulfill something from this record.
When it came to putting together the band, those are the the three guys you thought about first, right? There was no other choice or nobody that said no.
Yeah, it was me and Bobby on the phone just kind of spit balling and Mike‘s name and Phil‘s name came up and I said ‘I’m sure they’ll do it.’ We all have a chemistry with Metal Allegiance, and we asked them, they said yes. And here we are.
By any chance, have you heard any feedback from the authors of the original versions yet?
Yeah, of course. Nugent, Billy Gibbons, Corky from Mountain, a bunch of Michael Anthony. They all love it, which is pretty crazy. That was unexpected to hear some, to read what they had to say about it. Because again, it’s their work, it’s something they had written and it’s ingrained in people’s minds. So for them to even acknowledge it and then write something about it, it was pretty humbling.
Tell me about your second choice, “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers,” which is a great song to jam too as well. You can’t go wrong with ZZ Top!
Well, that’s why I picked it, because it’s a great song to jam too. It was ‘what can we do, how can we jam on record and how could we transform this into almost like a jam band, if you will – what, what song would lead us to do that?’ And I knew I wanted to do a ZZ Top song, it was just a matter of which one. I was listening to “Tres Hombres” and “Beer Drinkers” came on. I was like, this is perfect. It’s wide open – we keep the arrangement and it’ll allow us to have some fun.
The end of the album, I think it’s one of the group choices. It’s almost like a statement of what the band represents with “We’re an American Band,” am I correct?
Yeah. That was Blitz. He’s like ‘we have got to do this’ and we all agreed. Even though it was a community choice, I was like ‘yeah, definitely.’ And it’s funny – before then we had no idea Rob Zombie covered that song. Again, all the choices we picked were just based on our love for that music and those songs, it wasn’t for any particular reason, but to pay tribute to these guys.
So what would be the next step for BPMD? I heard that this was planned as a three album deal. Is that the case?
We’ll see. I’ll never say never. It depends on what’s cooking, what everyone’s got going on. We’d very much like to do more that’s for sure. But again, it all depends on timing. Obviously the way the world is right now, it’s hard to get together and this record was made together. It wasn’t made as an internet record or a quarantine record, like everyone’s doing, it was done in room, in the studio. That’s why it has that live feel to it, because we were together.
Do you think the next step will be to represent another decade of Americana or go somewhere else geographically, like UK Made?
That’s what we’re talking about. UK in the seventies and Europe in the seventies, American Made Volume II. I mean, there’s so much we can do, it’s just a matter of doing it and talking about it. We haven’t just because we just put this out this record, it’s not even a week old. We’ll let this sink into the brains and see how the world turns over and then take it from there.
Tell me the status of Metal Allegiance. Is there a chance of a third album anytime soon?
Not anytime soon, because again, I refuse to do an internet record and we’re scattered all over the place. A METAL ALLEGIANCE album is a global thing, so it’s stressful to get the right timing and be able to being able to get into it into a room together. It’s most certainly not dead. We have all intentions in the world of doing a third record. It’s just a matter of when.
One thing that people always question is there any sort of chance of METAL ALLEGIANCE becoming more of a permanent thing? You guys do shows often, but it’s not like a tour – it’s one off shows and then it stops, right?
The problem is schedules. Alex with your Testament, Portnoy like you said, 85 bands. Everyone’s busy. We would love to do tour tours and there’ve been many times we wanted to go down to South America and we booked it and we put the time aside to do it. But unfortunately with promoters and whatnot it just always fell through. So we’ve tried to get out and do it. It’s just a matter of the promoters and timing. That’s basically what it comes down to
What else have you done or planning to do in the future?
I’m a wild card, man. Everything I do is pretty spontaneous, and METAL ALLEGIANCE came about because of, it was very spontaneous. BPMD came over listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd in my backyard. I mean, it doesn’t get more spontaneous than that. I’m concentrating on BPMD right now. Alex Skolnick and I started trading demos back and forth and he lives local to me. So at least we’re able to get together him and I, and we’ll see what happens. We’ll see where it goes.
Going back to BPMD, given the opportunities, is there a chance or even a drive to present the songs in a live setting?
We were supposed to be playing right now. That’s why we booked the June 12th release date, to support that around festival season and whatnot. And we were supposed to be out there and unfortunately, all those plans got scrapped away.