The supergroup BPMD tackle ’70s hard rock covers on their debut album American Made. The lineup consists of vocalist Bobby Blitz (Overkill), guitarist Phil Demmel (Vio-lence, ex-Machine Head), bassist Mark Menghi (Metal Allegiance) and drummer Mike Portnoy (The Winery Dogs, Sons Of Apollo). Menghi gives us the lowdown on how the quartet got together and how they decided which songs to cover, potential future live shows, his vinyl collection, impressions on the recent Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance and other topics.
Chad Bowar: How did the lineup for BPMD come together?
Mark Menghi: Last summer I was hanging out in my backyard (it was shortly after our independence day holiday of July 4th), listening to tunes, relaxing, making S’mores with the kids and Skynyrd’s “Saturday Night Special” came on. My youngest son goes to me, “Hey Dad, you guys should play this,” and I initially thought, this is not for Metal Allegiance and said, “Son, we’re a thrash band.” But then as the song was playing, I started to think to myself, “If I were to play this, what would I do?” I immediately started hearing guitar parts, Hetfield-style riffing, drum patterns, etc.
Coincidentally at the same time, Blitz and I were in the middle of one of our famous ball-busting text exchanges. I texted him and said, “Dude, in all seriousness, I’m calling you.” I called him and asked his thoughts about covering a tune like “Saturday Night Special,” tunes from the ’70’s, etc., and before I even finished my initial thought(s) he said, “YES! I wanna do “Never in My Life” by Mountain, I wanna do a Cactus song, “American Made” and that was that. Within 5 minutes, the seeds for BPMD were born and the album was named. When he asked who would play drums and guitar, I said regarding the drum spot “I know a guy.” I texted Mike and asked him if he was down and then hit up Phil to get his thoughts. We all had great chemistry within the Metal Allegiance ranks, so we all know each other, we all know each other’s capabilities, and just like that, a few weeks later we all met at Mike’s house in Leigh Valley, PA to start arranging and recording.
How did you go about selecting which songs to cover?
We had three rules before we even got together. Rule 1: We each get to select two songs (8 total with two community picks making 10 – which were “Walk Away and “We’re An American Band”) and no one can argue or complain about each other’s picks. We had to do them. No questions asked. Rule 2: Our selections had to be released between January 1st, 1970 and December 31st 1979 and Rule 3: Had to be a band that was 100% American. It would be very easy and typical for us to cover songs like Sabbath, Purple, early Priest, Scorpions, Zeppelin, Kiss, etc. Coincidentally we all picked songs that weren’t necessarily “hits.” Some are deep cuts, some are known, but weren’t the respective bands’ most popular (or even in the top 5 of their most popular) tunes. We did have some challenges; for example Blitz wanted to do an early Fleetwood Mac song and we were like “nope, they were an all English band then or Mike wanted to do an Amboy Dukes tune and again “nope, that was released in 1969.” It was fun coming up with the selections, it challenged us as fans of this music and as musicians. I never thought in a million years I would cover a BOC tune on record!
What was your goal with the arrangements in terms of staying true to the originals?
Some tunes we stayed true to form and just sped em’ up a bit, other songs we completely revamped like “Tattoo Vampire” (which sounds nothing like the original). It depended on the tune, whose pick it was and their vision within the song. In my case, I picked “Saturday Night Special” (since it was the catalyst of this project) and ZZ Top’s “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers.” I knew what I wanted to do with “Saturday Night Special” before we got together. Like I said earlier, I heard these guitar parts, drum patterns, etc. For me, that tune was about the overall song, not my 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 overall concept “What’s best for the song?” rather than my individual playing.
And with “Beer Drinkers,” I wanted to see if we could transform into a thrash jam band a-la Allman Brothers. If you listen to the lead parts/breaks within the tune, Demmel is whaling away, Portnoy is going nuts, I’m in another planet doing God knows what and Blitz is screaming his ass off. Eventually we all find our way back to the main riff (which happened organically in the studio). The original song is left so wide open that anything is possible (which is the reason why I picked it), but my vision with that tune was not to over-do it. Just enough to showcase what we can each do on our respective instruments and to see if we can just “jam” on record. It’s also awesome hearing Demmel take on the Billy Gibbons lead vocals and trading back and forth with Blitz (who played the vocal role of Dusty Hill). I believe we caught magic in our rendition of this amazing song. Having said all that, I was so close to picking ZZ Top’s “Waitin’ For The Bus” that would have been fun! Have mercy.
What was the most challenging song to BPMD-ize?
For me, it was “Tattoo Vampire” because I have never even heard the song before Phil suggested it. It wasn’t so much of a challenge playing wise, it was more familiarizing myself with the overall song so I would know the parts, when the choruses came in, etc. When I first listened to it, rule number 1 came into play, “You can’t argue each other’s picks” and I’m glad I didn’t as “Tattoo Vampire” is now one of my favorite tracks on the album. Demmel had a vision for that song and we made it our own. I even pay homage to Blitz with my background vocals at the very end of the song.
What will be your strongest memory of the recording of the album?
That day last July (after the concept was born) the four of us got together to jam these songs. The chemistry was instant. It was so good that Mike recorded all of his drum tracks in one day with us jamming live to him. The album has that “live” feel because myself, Phil and Blitz were jamming live to Mike as he was recording. No grids, no clicks (just tempo maps), just good old woodshedding at its finest. The fact that the four of us had that one day together was awesome. I only wished we had cameras rolling the entire time so people could see the fun we were having. Four dudes, having fun, that’s what I’ll remember from the album.
Was there any discussion of pushing the release date back because of the coronavirus pandemic?
We didn’t even have a label when we were recording, mixing or mastering the album last year. In fact, we self-financed the entire album. It wasn’t until January/early February of this year when we signed on to Napalm. The record was long done, artwork was done. In February we decided that June 12th was a good date. It’s right at the beginning of summer (which this album is perfect for – cracking a beer, BBQing, hanging in the backyard and enjoying life) and at the beginning of festival season (which we were gonna take part in). Once COVID-19 hit and the world started to shut down in mid-March we were kinda freaking. There were initial conversations on pushing the album back, but we all decided that the world could use some feel-good music during this crap. We decided to NOT let this shitty virus dictate an album launch, so with that, the release date is June 12th as originally scheduled.
Did you record any additional songs for bonus tracks, b-sides, etc. that aren’t on the album?
We did not, the 10 songs selected are all there is. We zoned in on them and wanted to capture those songs to the best of our abilities.
This album is songs from the ‘70s. If there is another album, would it be more songs from that decade, or would you go in a different direction, such as ‘60s or ‘80s?
There are talks about covering other areas of the world. Some of our favorite music came out of England in the ’70s. Picking 10 songs from that era might be hard, but would be a fun challenge. I already know my two picks. Shit, we should just do a double album of 1970’s England Made?!
Once live shows return, are there any plans to tour with BPMD?
Yes, we were supposed to play select shows, festivals, specialty shows. Once shows come back (God only knows when) the plan is to play live. We will not tour, but count on us playing select gigs, that’s for sure. Our first gig was to be a benefit show end of May with 100% of the proceeds going to music education held by our good friends from the Old Bridge Metal Militia out of Jersey. We hope we can make up that show. What a way to debut by giving back…
What do you think the long-term effect of the pandemic will have on live music in the short and long term?
New World Order. Life will never be the same again. Most of us took for granted what we once had by going to live shows, playing shows, sporting events, etc. Now we are being told we can not do that anymore. It sucks. This pandemic has caused such a shit show that it will be years before we can go out in masses like we once did. It will definitely change the music business for a long time to come. I just hope they come up with a proven, tested and 100% workable vaccine sooner rather than later.
What’s the status of the next Metal Allegiance album?
We’ll see, but nothing on the books yet. MA is comprised of many of us scattered all over the world. We wanna do a third record, but it’s all about timing. Mike, Alex, Dave and myself had one of those Zoom calls a few weeks ago to discuss, so we’ll see.
How did your participation in the documentary Murder In The Front Row come about, and were you satisfied with how it turned out?
I still don’t know why they wanted me in that documentary. When the director, Adam Dubin called me and asked if he could interview me for the film, my question back to him was “why?” Thrash metal is in my blood. It’s what I love. It’s what I write/do. But to be in that doc was completely humbling. The story goes that Adam Dubin and MITFR co-book author Brian Lew were in the audience when MA did our “Fallen Heroes” gig in January of 2017. It was there that the late Ray Burton came on stage and handed me Cliff’s bass to play (as he knew I was paying tribute to his son that night). He also knew I was a disciple of Cliff, his playing, etc., hence why he brought his bass for me to play (one of the greatest highlights of my professional life). Ray also sat right on stage (not side stage, but on stage) as we were playing “Disposable Heroes.”
As the saying goes, being in the right place at the right time. Adam thought, “Wow, this dude who is at least 20 years younger and who grew up 3,000 miles away is carrying the tradition of that Bay Area scene, bringing all these Bay Area legends together to write and perform live.” So that was Adam’s angle for me. I’m the aftermath of the Bay Area scene and the direct impact that particular music had on me in my formative years. If it wasn’t for that music, Cliff, etc. there would be no MA. It all came full-circle when MITFR premiered on April 20, 2019 at the Kabuki in San Francisco. Seeing that movie in the theater and hearing the in-person comedic gold commentary behind me of Gary Holt, Rick Hunolt and Tom Hunting was priceless. Metal Allegiance played that night at The Fillmore to a sold-out crowd, by far my favorite MA gig to-date. Half of the set was MA originals and the other half of the set was full-on thrash. Gary even asked me to play bass with Exodus that night for a mini Exodus set within the MA set. To be able to play those three songs with Gary, Tom, Rick and Zetro in the Bay Area was a full-circle moment for me. It was also the last time I saw Ray Burton. It was definitely a night to remember and to this day, I am still humbled to see my name on the cover of that DVD and all the movie posters.
As a sports fan, what was your evaluation of The Last Dance?
I absolutely loved it. Every Sunday night at 9pm I was glued to the TV. I’m a huge Bulls fan and to hear what Michael Jordan, Rodman, Pippen, etc… had to say behind the scenes was awesome because in the ’90s, you didn’t get that. You might read interviews in the paper or on TV, but we didn’t have social media then. It was always a mystery. Now it makes sense why Jordan was sick for game 6 of the 98 finals; they poisoned his pizza! They could have easily made a 20 episode run out of this. I definitely wanted more when it was over.
You did a social media video about your vinyl collection. How many albums do you own?
Honestly, I have no clue. I never counted. But I do have a lot. Everything from thrash to blues to Motown to jazz. I’m an avid vinyl collector. I would go to my local record store weekly for as long as I could remember buying used first pressings, re-issues, etc. I even have done some curbside pickups the last few weeks. It sucks not being able to go to a record store and getting lost in the music. That is one thing I miss.
What are your most valuable albums?
Again, not really sure. I never priced them out, but my most prized album is my first pressing of Metallica’s Kill Em All on Megaforce signed by Cliff, James, Kirk and Lars with various inscriptions. That hangs on my wall never to be played.
What are your most personally important albums?
Metallica’s Master of Puppets, Exodus – Bonded By Blood, Alice in Chains – Dirt, Eagles – Hotel California, ZZ Top – Tres Hombres and the Beatles – Abbey Road just off the top of my head. I know there is about 50 more I can rifle off.
What are some of your non-musical interests and hobbies?
I am a single dad of two, so being their dad is by far my most important job, interest and hobby. I also love football. Some would say I have a football obsession. My two boys both play and I am constantly training them (and with them), traveling with them to tournaments (this past January they both played at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami and later that month in a tournament in Atlanta, GA). I even turned my backyard into a glorified cross-fit gym to train with them. This pandemic will not hold them back. Once the time comes for them to pad up (and it will come), they’ll be ready and even in better shape. We call it the “Quarantine Training Sessions.” They love it and I love that they love it so much. I also love to fish, go kayaking and go four-wheeling in my truck.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
Bonded By Blood is on constant rotation at the moment. Also loving the new Testament record. But mostly, it’s a lot of Beatles, Sabbath, ZZ Top, Queen, James Gang and various other ’70s bands.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Check out BPMD on all social media platforms @BPMDofficial and if anyone is interested in my day-to-day happenings you can check me out on Twitter and Instagram @markmenghi.
(interview published June 11, 2020)