Shortly following the recent announcement of their signing with Napalm Records, BPMD – the new juggernaut featuring heavy metal icons Bobby Blitz (Overkill) on vocals, drummer Mike Portnoy (The Winery Dogs, Sons of Apollo), bassist Mark Menghi (Metal Allegiance) and guitarist Phil Demmel (Vio-lence, ex-Machine Head) – announced new details regarding their debut album.
Entitled American Made, their debut full-length shall see its release on June 12th, via Napalm Records. The ten-track homage to some of rock music’s greatest treasures is amped-up by its four creators’ experience and enthusiasm. Lead single, “Toys In The Attic” – an Aerosmith staple just begging for a heavy reimagining – is an energized take on a ‘70s era classic. American Made was mixed and mastered by Mark Lewis, also known for his work with Metal Allegiance (featuring Mark Menghi), as well as artists such as DevilDriver, Trivium, and many others.
It’s evident within the initial seconds of BPMD’s American Made, as the legendary Bobby Blitz chants the introductory lyrics to Ted Nugent’s “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” in his signature skyscraper-high howl, that he and his equally iconic bandmates are here to have a damn good time. Featuring ten unforgettable rock classics re-imagined as heavy bangers, American Made is a party on wax.
American Made is a celebration of the magical 1970s era of music, modern takes and classic songs that will please young and old fans alike. Bassist and co-producer Mark Menghi took a bit of time to chat with V13 about the inception and creation of these songs. He also talks about the gestation of these songs, the rules the band members adhered to while creating them and, in a timely fashion, how it has been readying this release during a worldwide pandemic.
Can we start with what your background is? From the outside looking in, you’re like the luckiest guy on earth. You jam with some of the greatest musicians ever. So I’m just curious how that all happened?
Mark Menghi: “Sure. Metal Allegiance (MA), which is my other band, is the main project if you will. And that’s how BPMD kind of started. MA was the catalyst to that. I’m one of the main songwriters, lyricists, etc, for MA. Bobby and I kind of hit it off with MA doing live shows. We co-wrote a song lyrically together called ‘Mother of Sin’ on the last MA record, and we just kind of hit it off. We just creatively became really good friends. You know, we bust each other’s chops constantly. So we had good chemistry.
Also, with Portnoy, he’s the drummer in MA and one of my songwriting partners there too. So we instantly had a strong background, and we know each other in the studio. This is our fourth record together, Mike and I. And with Phil, he’s done a whole ton of MA shows and tours, etc. We already had good onstage chemistry. So when putting together BPMD, at least for me personally, I reached out to Bobby, and he loved the idea; I reached out to Mike, and he liked the idea. And then I reached out to Phil, and he liked the idea. And hence BPMD was born.”
Did you ever consider doing this album as Metal Allegiance or was it always going to be something on the side of that?
“I never wanted to. It’s different. MA is a different animal. You know, we write original music. It’s a thrash metal band. So doing a cover record of ‘70s rock tunes doesn’t really fit in the MA wheelhouse. So in my mind, even though MA was kind of the catalyst of it, it never really fit, even from day one. And those ideas were presented; Is it MA? Is it not MA? To me, I was pretty adamant that this is not MA.”
Was this album done as studio time or did you record all of these parts independently?
“Well, last summer, once this idea was spawned, we all went to Mikes’. Mike Portnoy has a beautiful home studio.”
I can imagine.
“So we all went to Mike’s house to arrange these songs and figure out how we are going to interpret these songs, etc, etc. So we literally only spent the day together arranging. And during that day, as we were arranging, Portnoy was recording his drums. So he would do it on the spot. He works pretty fast. So the entire drums were recorded live. Within one or two, maybe sometimes three takes. That’s why with this record now, it has that live feel because the foundation was recorded live. After we all parted our separate ways, we took those drum tracks, and we recorded, obviously, my bass and the guitars and whatnot. So it definitely has that live feel because we were all in a room, putting everything together, and we were recording the drums together, etc.”
That’s cool. Did that present any unique challenges the way that you put this album together, maybe compared to a Metal Allegiance album?
“No, I did it basically the same way I record MA. I like to be on my own. I can’t be around other people when I’m recording. I need it to be just me and an engineer. I couldn’t imagine having Alex or someone standing over my shoulder when I’m recording. I need to be I have to be in a whole different mindset/headspace when I’m recording. And even when I’m recording, or putting together a record. I mean, I rarely listen to all the music. When I did my bass for this record, you know, the drums were recorded for us. I like all the rhythm guitars recorded before I go in and record my bass, which is kind of weird.
I know a lot of people don’t do it that way. For me, I like that because I get to see the space that I have to fill, especially with BPMD being a one guitar player band. It’s essential that I fill in a lot of space. So, in this case, you know, Demmel recorded all of his guitar parts in the Bay Area of San Francisco, and I did mine here in New York, my bass parts. And I did one, maybe two songs a day. I didn’t want to do more than that. I mean, I could have banged out five songs a day and been done in two days. But I went in with my mindset on this as ‘how can I record my bass live?’ You know, because back in the ‘70s, when these songs were cut, you didn’t have ‘command z;’ ‘undo;’ ‘copy and paste.’ You didn’t have any of that; it was all tape.
So I wanted to have that mindset knowing that, ‘Ok, I have to go in and nail this in one take.’ And if I don’t get it, then I’ve got to do it all over again. And that’s kind of the mindset I went into recording. I did very minor punches, but mostly everything you hear bass-wise was done in one or two takes. I was recording how they did it back in the day just to keep the integrity of that music. And I felt that was important in covering these songs. If you go in and do this like a thrash metal record, then it wouldn’t have that same groove and that swing of the ‘70s. That was kind of my approach going into this.”
Can I just say I was super thrilled to see Phil attached to this project. He’s such a dynamite shredder.
“Yeah. He was the first person we thought of when Bobby and I were chatting that night when this idea came about. Who could play guitar? Phil is a monster rhythm player, and he is a monster soloist. At that point in time, which is now a year ago. You know, he was out of Machine Head, he was doing gigs with Vio-Lence and had reformed Vio-Lence. I didn’t know if he was free. I had no idea if it was going. I just put it out there and said: ‘Hey man, me and Blitz are probably going to do this thing.’ And I explained to him what it was and he was game. He said, ‘yeah man, I’m totally game; let’s do it.’ I mean, there were no tryouts. There was none of that. It was just basically three phone calls I made. And or texts. You know, it was that easy. (laughs) I just called Bobby, and called Mike, and called Phil. Done.
A week later, we were in Pennsylvania. That’s kind of how MA was born too. With Metal Allegiance, it was again, just, you know, I’m just fortunate to know some killer musicians, and it was them inviting me to play. You know, to be creative with them. That’s the way I look at it, know even though Metal Allegiance has gotten to be my brainchild, I’m still humbled to this day that I get to write with some pretty legendary musicians and perform with them. And even in BPMD. I definitely don’t take that for granted.”
Some of my favourite live shows are Metal Allegiance shows. I flew into New York for the Made In Japan show, which was phenomenal.
“Oh, that was deadly. That show, man, you know, learning that record was not an easy task.”
I really wanted to see Bumblefoot do the Jon Lord stuff on his 12-string. That was just mind-blowing.
“You know, that was something again. Who was in that band again? It was Ron, Alex, myself, Mark Osegueda. And I believe Kenny, one of Alex’s jazz fusion drummers, played drums on that.”
And the fella from Amon Amarth.
“Fredrik (Anderson) did the metal portion. He did the metal set. So we did two sets. Fredrik did that set. And then Kenny did the Deep Purple stuff. And let me tell you, learning the Made in Japan stuff. The live versions? We put a lot of hours into rehearsing and trying to find what Roger Glover was doing. He was all over the god damn place. You know, Ron, he did some of the Jon Lord stuff on the second guitar. The second neck of his guitar. That was a fun gig.”
Yeah. What did you do to rehearse something like that? Did you all get together? Or rehearse as an independent and just get on stage together and figure it out?
“Well, we all knew what we were going to do so. We all knew the role we had to play. So you’re learning those parts on your own. We did one rehearsal the night before together, which wasn’t a very long rehearsal because we had very limited time. We did one rehearsal and then we did the gig. And that was it. So it was intense. And the gig completely transformed. We just started jamming. I remember some of the shit going sideways. We extended solos. (laughs) You know, when you have people like Alex and Ron going into a different place, you just kind of follow. I just followed. When I saw someone going into a zone, it was just knowing to let them do their thing.”
I like the energy at those shows, man. I went to the record release one as well a couple of years ago at the Gramercy, I think?
With Portnoy and Blitz. It’s just the energy on the stage; it’s more contagious than being in the audience. You guys are having a friggin’ blast. It’s so obvious.
“Yeah. We have fun together. Fortunately or unfortunately, when we do our West Coast dates, whether it’s LA or San Francisco. San Francisco is basically our home away from home now. And the audiences are just out of control. Especially with the two-plus hours set we do. There’s a pit going for two-plus hours. You know, even in New York, we haven’t played New York probably since that record release show maybe two years ago, 2018. We all have fun together, and that’s the reason why it works so well. It’s because we’re all friends. It’s the same with BPMD. The four of us are close friends. If you take music away, we’re always hanging out and checking in on each other’s families. We’re actually good friends, and that’s why BPMD worked (and works) so well.”
So the ten songs that are on American Made, was it always going to be those ten songs? Did you have a whiteboard with a bunch of other tracks that you were considering?
“Well, there were two rules going into this. It was that the song selection had to be released in the 1970s. The song had to come out in the ‘70s. And then the other rule was that it has to be an all American band that released that song. So that kind of narrowed it down. Because if you just said ‘Hey, let’s do ten songs released in the ‘70s period?’ We’d still be here arguing over the tracks. So we kind of narrowed it down because we have a long-term plan on doing different records and different things. We have a bunch of ideas that we want to do. So we said, ‘OK. ‘70’s American.’ So we kind of narrowed down, and we each get to pick two songs, and we can’t argue our picks. So if Blitz didn’t like the two songs I picked? Tough shit; he has to do them. And if I didn’t like the songs, Demmel picked? Tough shit, I gotta do them. So that was kind of the ground rules. These are my two songs, so there’s eight right there.
Knowing this was going to be American bands released in the ‘70s, we all kind of agreed that Grank Funk’s ‘We’re an American Band’ is in, so we’ve got to do that one. So that’s nine. And then that tenth pick was a community pick. That’s where; not really arguments happened, but we all started suggesting different things. And Portnoy suggested James Gang ‘Walk Away.’ And I love James Gang; we all do. So no one argued at one. So we just kind of unanimously picked that one to be the tenth song.”
Do you care to comment a little on what it’s like as an artist readying a release during the quarantine?
“Busy. It’s busy. Not only with this, but I’m gearing up and starting writing for MA. Fortunately, I have the time now. Now with the quarantine, especially being in New York man, it’s a shit show here. With everything that’s going on, all the positive cases and the death rate. I mean, it’s crazy here right now. So I’m literally locked in my house. You know, I only leave my house to get food or groceries. And so I have time. And unlike the past doing records, I didn’t have that time. Now I do. Obviously, with press and all the creative stuff we’re doing around the release and getting involved with the artwork and videos; It’s nice to be able to do that. I haven’t had the time in the past to do all this stuff. So I think that’s paying off. On the flip side of things, I wish the world would go back to normal so we can all leave our homes and live our lives. But, you know, I’m just trying to find the silver lining out of all this.”
I’m curious to see what normal is going to look like? Because there are gonna be some lasting ramifications from this thing. I’m speculating on what that’s going to look like.
“Oh yeah. You’re going to see people staying distant. You’re going to see social distancing being practiced for a very long time. I think it’s going to be a norm to see people going out in masks. I think once it dies down. Even when a vaccine is available for us, I still think you’re going to see people keeping their distance. And I just don’t see people going into venues or sporting events or this and that like they once did. People are going to be more cautious. And, at least in New York, the unemployment rate is absolutely ridiculous. And I’m not sure people are going to have the money to go out. So it’s going to have definite long-lasting ramifications, and it sucks, man. Especially for music, this is going to have a very long impact on music in general for years and years to come. Clubs are going to be shut down permanently. Bars are going to be shut down permanently. Even the big venues out there, it’s going to be a struggle for a long time
And you are going to have a lot of bands fighting for those dates. Yeah. And then not only are those bands going to be fighting for those dates but can the audience afford to go to those shows? Because I know there’s going to be ticket gouging and price gouging happening. It’s going to be horrible. And I feel it’s our job as musicians and as creative people to find alternative ways to cope with this and to help get through this and to hopefully get back to somewhat of a normal life. At least that’s my opinion towards it.”
Well, most of the shows I like to go to are aggressive shows. And I keep thinking of those front three rows. What’s that going to look like? You know, in 2021, and 2022, you know? Social distancing and all?
“Yup. And you’re going to see people wearing masks in the audience guaranteed. You’re going to see that. And again, let’s just say that everything kind of calms down right now and they open everything up back next month. How many people do you think you’re going to be open to a crowded venue?”
I don’t know. I speculate on that, too.
“Well, people say they’re itching to get out and this and that. But are they going to feel comfortable going to a thousand-person venue in a mosh pit? I don’t think so. I think what reality is and what one perceives it to be are two separate things.”
And that energy fuels the musicians that are on stage. So I’m not sure how an act like MA or BPMD would come off with a bunch of people with their arms crossed and face masks on – not moving, you know?
“We’re from New York, so we’re kind of used to that. (laughs) So were built differently than most people. You know, three of the four people in BPMD anyway. Phil Demmel is used to mosh pits and pure-on ragers being from the Bay Area. Bobby, Mike and I, we’re used to that New York attitude. On the flip side of things, I think that when we do get to go on stage again, whether there’s an audience there or not, I just think being able to play together is going to fuel a lot of energy. Because right now we’re being told that we can’t do this, we can’t play. We have taken that for granted over the years. You know, we would book tours, and we would book shows, and we would hope people would show up. And, you know, you hope, the venue and the crowd appreciate you. We hope that they come and support you in this and that.
But now we’re being told you’re not allowed to play. You’re done; you’re shut down; you’re not allowed to play. And we take that for granted. And we took that for granted. And now look, we’re all itching. So I think when we do get to hit the stage again, whether people show up or not, I think it’s going to be a whole different kind of energy.”
One of my questions would typically be, “will fans get to see these songs played live?” That’s a really loaded question right now.
“We had plans. We had a bunch of things booked for BPMD. We were going to hit it pretty hard. You know, we all made availability for the summer. Overkill had a few festival appearances, but it was going to be a heavy BPMD summer. It sucks. We kept one date on the calendar because it was a benefit gig. We really wanted to do it. In Jersey, it was one that Bobby put together. But that went away, too. So we went from a fully loaded schedule to (laughs) to nothing. And it sucks.”
From a pure fanboy perspective, what are your favourite album moments from guys like Bobby and Mike and Phil?
“I’ve always been a huge Violence fan. You know, my heart lies in thrash and hence MA, and what I do there. So I’ve always loved Violence. Even when he was in Machine Head, I would always joke with him, ‘Hey man, when are you getting Vio-Lence back together?’ So I’m really excited for him that he got that off the ground. Sean’s healthy, which is huge. So I’m stoked on that, and I love Vio-Lence. Blitz, I love him. There’s no denying the first four Overkill records. They are what they are. They’re amazing. I love songs like ‘Wrecking Crew’ and ‘Elimination,’ things like that. And Portnoy? My favourite Dream Theater record is Scenes From a Memory. And Change of Seasons, actually. So, you know, I have favourite records from all those guys in their past lives or current lives. So I’m very much a fan of theirs, still to this day.”
Nice. I took the time to play your versions of these ten songs on the advance that they got back to back with the originals. And I have two thoughts; (1) The originals totally hold up. They still rock. And (2) You haven’t bastardized them in any way. The advancements in the amping up of the songs just makes them ten killer covers.
“Yeah. The goal was not to screw up the originals. Again, presentation is key. Integrity is key and keeping that groove. All of those songs and all of those bands in the ‘70s had this certain swing to them. And they had a swagger. And it was my job as a bass player and as a rhythm guy to keep that intact. And those guys were on my ass. Because if it would get too thrashy, they’d tell me to lay it back a bit. You’ve got to be able to bop that head, you know? Not just freakin’ full-on mosh-pit mode. And it was important to do that. We could have turned these songs into thrash epics. But we chose not to. We played the way we played. And again, it was my job as the bass player to keep that rhythm. And I wanted to find myself as a bass player going in; how would the 2019 Mark perceive this? How would one perceive this song? Hence the reason and the way I recorded on this record.
So, yeah, we’re thrilled with it. I think you can hear the fun we’re having making it. I like to think that we did justice to these songs, and we didn’t fuck them up. We’re stoked by it. And it’s probably some of my favourite Phil Demmel lead guitar work that I’ve ever heard. Especially on songs like ‘Never in My Life’ and ‘Evil.’ If you listen to his playing, I mean, he’s shredding, of course, but it’s definitely soulful. It’s grooving. And so I’m pretty excited by it.”
I was pretty happy to see “Tattoo Vampire” on there. That’s a friggin’ great song.
“Yeah, that song was one of Phil’s two packs, and I, believe it or not, I’d never heard that song before. And when he suggested it, and I listened to it, I was like, ‘shit, what the hell are we going to do with this?’ Because it’s such a different tempo and different style. And again, Phil has his vision. And his vision is what you hear, which is now one of my favorite tracks on the record. I had my visions for ‘Saturday Night Special,’ and ‘Beer Drinkers.’ So we all had our visions for these songs which come through. And again, that became one of my favourites.”
Nice. And I’ll just finish up with a little bit of marketing-speak. Right now, fans can hear the Aerosmith cover of Toys in the Attic. Will you tease this release with another track or two in the weeks leading up to the album release date in June?
“Yes. Two more. Coming your way before the album release.”
Are you allowed to say what they are. Or do you have to keep that quiet?
“That I am not allowed to do. Actually, I think the third one still in argument mode right now, so I definitely don’t want to speak out of turn, but there will be two more coming.”
Alright. Now people can find this online. They can pre-order some pretty interesting looking vinyl and tee-shirt combos.
“Yeah, there’s black vinyl. There’s a red, white, and blue splatter vinyl. CDs. Tee-shirts. There’s all kinds of cool stuff.”