- Backyard BBQing, Having a Drink and Listening to Tunes
by Dave Schwartz
Being in a band can be a bit of a grind.
Playing the same songs night after night can lose its appeal over
time. Musicians often find themselves just wanting to hangout,
have a few beers and jam with friends on some classic tunes.
In a sense, that hang out and jam mentality was the origin
of “American Made!” – a new project from heavy metal icons Bobby
Blitz (Overkill), Mike Portnoy (The Winery Dogs, Sons of Apollo),
Mark Menghi (Metal Allegiance) and Phil Demmel (Vio-lence,
ex-Machine Head) – BPMD.
“American Made!” is a collection of classic
tunes that have been re-imagined and recorded by this quartet of
friends. A few days ago I got a call from Bobby and Mark.
Hi, this is Bobby Blitz and Mark Menghi of
DB: It’s good to hear your voices.
I’m happy that you have a moment to talk.
MM: Yeah man, absolutely.
DB: Alright then let’s kick this off.
Congratulations on the release of “American Made!” A new
record filled with '70s cover songs. Tell me a little how this
concept came together.
MM: Last summer, a couple days after
the 4th of July, I was just hanging out in my backyard, BBQing,
having a drink and listening to tunes when “Saturday Night Special”
by Lynyrd Skynyrd came on the radio. As the song starts
playing my son looks at me and says, "Hey dad, you guys should play
this." And I started think, if I were to play that song, how
would I approach it, how would I interpret it, etc.? And I
started hearing these drum parts, guitar parts, riffing… Just
more stylistic things, not arrangements. I text Blitz that I
was going to call him. So, I called and I asked what he
thought about covering songs like this? He started spitting out
songs from Mountain and Cactus, etc. The idea was born that
DB: The list of songs that made it to
this record are amazing. You settled on 10 songs and I can
imagine that there was a wrestling match between the four of you
when deciding which songs would make the record. I mean, you
had an entire decade to choose from. There was so much good
music. You could’ve narrowed the scope down to one year and
still had a bunch of great songs available. So how were the
BB: It was actually really simple.
You know, when Mark and I got on that phone conversation, it must be
going on 11 months ago right now, we laid some ground rules.
Let’s get Mike (Portnoy) and Phil (Demmel) involved. Let’s
make it 1970s. They must all be American bands.
Everybody gets to choose two. And the rule is, whatever
someone else chooses, you’ve got to play. So, there was a
little bit of a game, a little bit of a competition or challenge in
there. We voted on the last two songs – democratic choices.
Those two songs were “Walk Away” by The James Gang and “We’re An
American Band” by Grand Funk which was a no brainer. But
everybody else choose two and that’s the way it had to be.
DB: You have such a unique voice
Bobby, what were the vocal adjustments that you had to make on these
BB: What I do for my other band – for
the last 75 years in Overkill – I play Mickey Mouse on meth!
(laughs) So ah, I had to take a different approach to this and
learn the presentations. Some of the stuff I was really
comfortable with. My two choices were “Never in My Life” by
Mountain and Cactus’ version of “Evil.” So, I thought that,
for songs like that, all I could do is drop my voice. But
stuff like “D.O.A.” and “Tattoo Vampire” which were Phil’s choices,
I had to really dig into and learn those presentations.
DB: One of things that I admire about
the albums song list is that – some are no brainers like your
comment regarding “We’re An American Band” – but there are other
songs on the list that are unexpected. For me, that would be
“Tattoo Vampire” and “Evil.” I like that you went a little
deeper on the track selections.
MM: I know that in my case, I knew
what I was going to do in 30 seconds. But I look back on it
now and I wish I would’ve picked this; I wish I would’ve picked
that. But for me, I love Skynyrd and I love ZZ Top so it was
pretty easy to pick those bands. “Saturday Night Special” was
the title that started all this so, I had to choose it. And
for me, “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers,” the song is just so wide
open. It’s not a very hard song but it has a serious groove to
it. I wanted to see if we could just jam on record. Not
do to much traditional trash metal part by part. What would
happen if we just hung out and just jammed? What would happen?
So, that’s what we did.
DB: They are just such excellent
songs. You have two videos out already. One is “Toys In
The Attic” and the other is “Evil. " “Toys In The Attic” is such an
iconic song. Did you feel that you had to pay homage to it or
did you just go – be yourselves?
BB: The idea of making this record,
and we may have lucked into it, but it had to be done with
spontaneity. The idea was spontaneous. Choosing the
songs was spontaneous. And then the recording became
spontaneous. I’m talking specifically about the drum tracks.
Mike picked “Toys In The Attic.” I don’t remember if it was
the first song we recorded but I remember it as being early in the
day. But there was a spontaneous energy to it. So,
there’s not like there was a lot of thought that went into this.
I know from my perspective, I wanted to be as spontaneous as
everything that I just mentioned. I just wanted to go in there
and do it. I wanted to reimagine it rather than just copying
it. I also wanted to make it my own so let’s say that the
legacy of the song would remain intact but the presentation would be
personal. So that was a real fun element to this entire
DB: You absolutely pulled the song
off. “Toys In The Attic” sounds great. I really like
your version of it. You’ve hinted a bit about how you recorded
this music. Did you all get together? Or did the pandemic step
on that idea?
MM: After the idea was conceptualized,
the four of us met at Mike’s house a few weeks later, in
Pennsylvania. We were in his room hammering out the songs and
arrangement ideas. From that, Mike recorded his 10 drum tracks
all in one day. That’s why this record has this feel to it –
he was recording to us live, which is awesome and what we wanted.
I went in with my bass recordings with the same concept. If I
can’t do it in one take, I’m scraping everything and starting over.
There’s no cut and paste, copy and paste or undo’s. I had that
mindset with this material. Again, I wanted to have that soul,
that swing, that groove to it. You don’t get that by copying
and pasting your parts in. When you do that, everything
becomes mechanical, technical. In order to have that feel, you
have to be able to play live. At least that was my mentality
going into it. And that all stemmed from the day that the four
of us were in the room together.
DB: All of these songs are songs that
should be played live. The soul of these songs is in the live
feel. And as you know better than I, you can spend months in a
studio working on one song, sterilizing it and removing all of the
subtleties in a quest trying to make it sound perfect. But in
the end, killing it. Sometimes just recording the song live is
the best thing you could ever do.
BB: That’s how these songs were
originally recorded. If we got 10 tracks done in 10 hours,
with regards to the drums, we had that spontaneous foundation.
So, we gave credence to the legacy of these songs by recoding them
very much like the originals were.
DB: Was there any thoughts about
taking these songs on the road and playing a little bit? I
mean, I know that right now touring is shutdown due to the pandemic.
But eventually we will find our way back to the venues.
MM: The goal was to do festivals,
select appearances, specialty shows, etc. We had one booked
for about four days from now which would’ve been our debut gig as
BPMD for a benefit charity here on the East Coast, in New Jersey.
But obviously that had to be canceled. We selected a June
release date so that we could hit those early festivals and support
the record this summer. We’re all eager to play it. It’s
just a question of when. We’re never going to be a traditional
touring band, if you will. We all have our things outside of
this. So that won’t work but to do the festivals and some
specialty shows, we’re ready for that.
I want to thank Bobby Blitz and Mark Menghi
for calling into DaBelly. Hopefully these friends and these
songs will find their way to a stage. Until then, be sure to
check out all the socials!