Interview by Robert Cavuoto
The newest supergroup to hit the metal and thrash scene is BPMD, an acronym for four highly talented and prominent musicians who came together for their love and passion of American Rock. The band consists of Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth of Overkill on vocals, Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater, Winery Dogs, and Sons of Apollo on drums, Mark Menghi of Metal Allegiance on bass, and Phil Demmel of Vio-lence and ex-Machine Head on guitar. The CD features ten handpicked cover songs that the band felt passionate about performing and releasing. Songs like “Saturday Night Special,” “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers,” and “We’re An American Band” are all metalized and performed with a sense of fury. The CD entitled, American Made was release June 12th via Napalm Records.
The band and idea for the CD is the brainchild of bassist Mark Menghi, as it materialized when he enlisted the help of some of his friends. Together they forged a path of creativity and chemistry that can only leave one question; when are we going to get some originals from these tremendous musicians? The CD can be ordered here: https://www.napalmrecordsamerica.com/store/bpmd
I spoke with bassist Mark Menghi about how the band was formed, the friendship between the member, and what fans can expect from the CD.
Robert Cavuoto: What was the impetus for starting this project?
Mark Menghi: Last summer, I was hanging out in my backyard shortly after July 4th, listening to tunes, relaxing, and making S’mores with the kids when Skynyrd’s “Saturday Night Special” came on. My youngest son said, “Hey, Dad, you guys should play this song.” Initially, I thought this is not for Metal Allegiance and told him, “Son, we’re a thrash band.” As the song continued to play, I started to think if I were to play this song, what would I do? I immediately started hearing guitar parts, Hetfield-style riffing, and drum patterns. Coincidentally at the same time, Blitz and I were in the middle of one of our famous ball-busting text exchanges. I called to asked him his thoughts about covering a tune like “Saturday Night Special.” Before I even finished my thought, he said, “YES! I wanna do “Never in My Life” by Mountain, I wanna do a Cactus song called “American Made,” and that was it. Within five minutes, the seeds for BPMD were born, and the album was named. When he asked who would play drums and guitar, I said for the drums, “I know a guy.” I texted Mike Portnoy and asked him if he was down and then hit-up Phil Demmel to get his thoughts about playing guitar. We all had great chemistry within the Metal Allegiance ranks, so we all know each other as well our capabilities? In a few weeks, we all met at Mike’s house in PA to start arranging and recording.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about the friendship between the four of you.
Mark Menghi: Our friendship stems from Metal Allegiance. Mike and I are half the Core 4 writing team for Metal Allegiance, and this is our fourth record together, so we have the studio and live chemistry. With Blitz, he co-wrote lyrics with me on a Metal Allegiance song called “Mother of Sin” on Volume II: Power Drunk Majesty. We developed a great chemistry from working on that song, plus he has done a few live gigs with Metal Allegiance. We get along really well. It’s no surprise to anyone that knows us that we constantly rag on each other [laughing]. Phil played some solos on our first Metal Allegiance record back in 2015 and has done a number of shows and tours with us. He is my stage-right partner in crime. Again, the chemistry was built within the Metal Allegiance ranks.
Robert Cavuoto: What songs did you personally select to record and be on this CD?
Mark Menghi: I picked ZZ Top’s “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers” and “Saturday Night Special,” which was the catalyst for this project. I knew what I wanted to do with that song before we even got together. I had the guitar parts, and drum patterns worked out in my head. That tune was about the overall song, not our individual playing. I could have easily picked a tune that I could have shredded on to showcase what I can do, but since I am one of the main songwriters in Metal Allegiance, I think the overall concept of what is the best for the song rather than my individual player. And with “Beer Drinkers…,” I wanted to see if we could transform that into a Thrash Jam band a-la Allman Brothers. If you listen to the lead parts and breaks within the tune, Phil is whaling away, Mike is going nuts, I’m on another planet doing God knows what, and Blitz is screaming his ass off. Eventually, we all find our way back to the main riff. This happened organically while we were recording in the studio. The original song is so wide open that anything is possible, which is the reason why I picked it, but my vision with that tune was not to overdo it. It was just enough to showcase what we can each do on our respective instruments and to see if we can just jam. It’s also awesome hearing Phil take on the Billy Gibbons lead vocals and trading back and forth with Blitz, who handled Dusty Hills vocal parts. I believe we caught the magic in our rendition of that amazing song.
Robert Cavuoto: Were there any songs that were recorded but didn’t make the CD?
Mark Menghi: No, we only went in with the ten songs. We each had our two picks each and the two community picks.
Robert Cavuoto: Were the songs recorded live prior to the lock-down, or was it done another way?
Mark Menghi: We arranged, recorded, mixed, and mastered this album between the summer of 2019 and December of 2019. The album was finished before we even entertained labels or signing with Napalm earlier in the year. It wasn’t until February of 2020 until we officially signed with Napalm, so all of this happened before the corona pandemic in the States.
Robert Cavuoto: Was there any consideration to including a few original songs on the CD?
Mark Menghi: There was not. We had a clear vision of just having fun and paying tribute to the amazing music of the 70s. We didn’t even think about writing music together. It didn’t enter any of our minds until we started doing press and getting asked that million-dollar question. I’m a firm believer in “never say never” so who knows what the future will hold.
Robert Cavuoto: Will you be doing any quarantine music videos like so many artists are putting out?
Mark Menghi: We released a series of three videos for the American Made CD that could be considered “quarantine videos.” We call them the “Pandemic Specials.” But nothing like the “quarantine at-home videos” everyone is doing simply because everyone is doing them! I know Mike and Phil have done quite a few, but for me, it’s really not my thing. I don’t feel comfortable playing to the camera. I am too hard on myself and will play, pause, delete, play again, delete, question myself, and so on. I am better on a live stage, in a studio winging-it, or in the moment. There is nothing better than sitting in a room or studio with other musicians writing, jamming, and feeding off each other.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about the tribute band pose to Van Halen’s Women and Children album.
Mark Menghi: From conception to completion of that photoshoot, it was about two and ½ minutes. Mike was wearing the shirt which you can see in the photo, and our photographer said, “Hey, you guys should try that pose,” just to have some fun. So we looked at Mike’s shirt for a minute, did the pose, the photographer snapped it, and it was done. Being spontaneous is key!