Interview: Bobby Blitz and Mark Menghi of BPMD

Interview: Bobby Blitz and Mark Menghi of BPMD
Interviewer: Paul Hutchings

Supergroup is probably an overused term these days. Collaborations between artists has always been something that the world of rock and metal has encouraged, although the results can be varied. BPMD is something a bit special though. The result of bassist Mark Menghi’s eight-year-old son prompting him to get together with some of his friends from the world of rock and metal to do an album of covers of some American classics. Menghi engaged the services of Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth, Mike Portnoy and Phil Demmel to make ‘American Made’. Paul caught up with Mark and Bobby [boiling some eggs for lunch] to find out more.

The Razor’s Edge: Great to speak to you both. How far into the interview cycle are you?

Bobby: I guess this is about the fourth week we’ve been doing press and so far, so good, the response has been good. I think that’s because this is a different approach from the metal you expect from most of us.

The Razor’s Edge: How are you guys doing?

Mark: Same as the rest of the world, staying in, being socially distant. What I would have done normally. I try to stay away from him [Bobby]!!

Bobby: I’ve been socially distant most of my life, so this is no change for me but obviously much like big parts of Europe our area has been an intense spot, New York, and New Jersey. In some respects, it’s just normal, the status quo, but it seems like everyone in this area is dealing with it relatively well, accepting the necessary evil for the evil that is around.

The Razor’s Edge: I am sure you’re fed up of talking about it. So many musicians lately must talk more about covid-19 than their music so let’s move away from that. A big congratulations on the album, I’ve played it several times and really enjoyed it.

Bobby: Great compliment, thank you

Mark: Yeah, thank you man.

The Razor’s Edge: Mark, I must ask, given the history of how this album came about, does your son now feel that you should listen to every idea he comes up with?

Mark: Hahaha! He came up with a good one, I’ll give him that.

Bobby: Mark is no longer in charge of his own house!

Mark: I never was man!

The Razor’s Edge: Mark, you’ve stated in the blurb that Bobby was the obvious choice for vocals. What is it about the Blitz that made you think of him?

Mark: You know, it’s the chemistry. We co-wrote a song on the last Metal Allegiance record, we’ve done a bunch of gigs together, and we get along really well. We are like minded, like to bust each other’s chops, we both have thick skin around each other. First and foremost, it wasn’t about vocal stylings, we tolerate each other well, he’s fun to be around. I love talking to him and hanging out and he’s awesome, like all the Metal Allegiance vocalists are, I love them all. Bobby and I are local, makes things easier, and we have fun.

Bobby: You can translate that into he knew he could get me for cheap!!

The Razor’s Edge: Bobby, what about you. You’ve worked with Mike [Portnoy] before but what about him and Phil.

Bobby: I’ve been a guest vocalist on three of the yearly Anaheim shows. Mark and Mike and I had done a Black Sabbath tribute on Halloween, a couple of deep cuts, so there is a chemistry with Mike. Phil has always been around the Metal Allegiance camp. So, obviously, I’ve shared the stage with him, and he has a bright intensity of a love for many different types of music. If you follow some of the socials he is on during the pandemic he has been doing covers of Thin Lizzy or Alice in Chains, so diversity is what made him the first choice in this. Mark and I got on the phone and I said how about Phil and he said perfect. We felt Phil could handle this based on his love of music. If the chemistry happens and we are all in the same place about where we are going with the BPMD project, to me it was a no-brainer and it was going to work. It was going to be a successful endeavour with great results.

The Razor’s Edge: It does come across not just as four musicians at the top of their game but also having fun. What about Mike. Mark, he’s incredibly busy but as you’ve worked with him regularly did you have any secret levers to pull to get him on board?

Mark: No, it was rather easy. If he got to pick his two songs, he was in. It was fun. We went to Mike’s house, we recorded, we jammed, he recorded his drums. It was never like, who are we going to get to play drums on this. It was all relatively quick and painless.

The Razor’s Edge: The track list is beautifully eclectic with a couple of rarer songs that will make people pause. Bobby, you chose Cactus and Mountain, two legendary bands but maybe not so well known worldwide as Skynyrd or Aerosmith. Did those tracks come to you easily as choices?

Bobby: This was for me quite simple. To get a better understanding, I grew up in this era. This was the stuff I am cut from. I heard it on the first go around. Mark was talking to me on the phone and I was spitting out ‘Never in My Life’ [Mountain] before it was over. I remember DD Verni and I talking about covering it for Overkill and I was drooling. It was right in my wheelhouse, but it never came to fruition. I always wanted to that track, always wanted to do it and with the pedigree of the musician in BPMD I thought this is going to fucking work. Why even over think it. This was the one I wanted to do. What I always thought about it and musicians have given it attention over the years but this, with the pedigree. The phrasing, this is the kind of phrasing I have used in Overkill for years, when singing, so it was kinda transporting myself from 2019 back to 1973. A welcome vacation! This is why I started doing it, because it was fun, but yeah, deeper cuts, but stuff I was exposed to back in puberty.

The Razor’s Edge: Mark, anything that came out a bit left field for you. I’ve seen your record collection, so I know you have most of the stuff suggested. Anything that was a challenge to play?

Mark: Nothing that was challenging as far playing it. The two songs that were challenging, the one I had never heard before which was ‘Tattoo Vampire’ [Blue Öyster Cult] so that was how the hell do we even do this song but that was one of Phil’s picks and he had a vision for that which is now one of my favourites on the record. The second one, and again, not a challenge to play, but a band I never learned music from, ironically, because it’s Van Halen and ‘DOA’ it was like, what am I going to do here. The other tracks, they were pretty easy for me. So it was those two that I had to pay attention to, because I wasn’t familiar with a) the bass style and b) ‘Tattoo’ I’d never even heard the song before so I had to put myself into a different perspective which is a good thing because it challenges you as a musician and I like those things. Those were the only tracks that made me think.

The Razor’s Edge: I know that Phil had to think a bit about ‘Toys in the Attic’ because of the duel guitar work. I assume Mike can play just about anything. Anything that you had to rethink Bobby? I know you changed your tone a little bit on a couple as they are maybe a little lower pitch than you usually sing.

Bobby: The key was never the issue; you can always find it to fit your voice. My goal was not to copy but to present it as I would do. I cut my teeth on some of the early Aerosmith stuff when Overkill was doing covers back in the day; there’s only one Steven Tyler but there is nothing wrong with being yourself using some of that influence to present yourself. But again, as far as songs, it was probably ‘DOA’ because I just didn’t expect it to be one of the picks, it was a big surprise for me too, I was like, David Lee Roth, that phrasing has nothing to do with what I’ve presented for three decades so I had to not only learn it but also adapt it to my style of presentation. It made it kinda fun, so everything was not ah yeah, whatever. I had to come home and really dig into it prior to recording it.

The Razor’s Edge: The James Gang is a great choice. Is that a group choice or Mark’s?

Mark: That was a group choice. One of the two group choices where we were all throwing out ideas and we are all Joe Walsh fans and I’m a huge Eagles Fan. I was originally going to have an Eagles song as one of my two picks but I’d already done one with MA as a tribute but I still wanted to get Joe Walsh in there and Portnoy, coincidentally, had covered Walk Away with The Winery Dogs but it was never released so he wanted to do it . So, he suggested it and I was like, I’m in! It was an easy yes for everybody.

Bobby: Yeah, I had no problem with it. I had that James Gang record and ‘Funk 49’ and Walk Away, it was one of my go to when I was a kid and Joe Walsh, a hero on the stage and a brilliant guitar player. I actually tried to get in touch with him to see if he’d play on it, but I was ignored!! It sounded like I was selling vacuum cleaners when I left the message!

The Razor’s Edge: In 1986 my first exposure to the Grand Funk song ‘We’re An American Band’ was watching Bon Jovi sing it at the Monsters of Rock festival at Donnington, accompanied by Paul Stanley and Bruce Dickinson who kept singing ‘We’re an English Band’. It’s the most obvious song for an album called ‘American Made’. Was it inevitable that it would be on there?

Bobby: I think it’s a natural choice. Probably one of the most well-known tracks on the record, not that the others aren’t well known but it was again a perfect go to, the idea was not to do ‘American Band’ it was to reimagine it. Keep the integrity of the tune. For me, it was something, and I’ve said this in other interviews, I was singing it to the backwasher in the shower when I was 12 or 13. To have the opportunity to do it that many years later with as much experience as I have under my belt with performing and singing, was something I embraced.

Mark: I forgot we suggested it, but we all said, absolutely. Gotta do that one. It was a no brainer.

The Razor’s Edge: Bobby, you’ve talked about everyone needing a bit of nostalgia in their lives. Some people are going to be saying, why are they covering a Rob Zombie track when they hear this! I know the intention but hopefully this will open some of the bands that are on here to a whole new audience, a younger crowd. I suppose that would be good to get the nostalgia that we all want.

Bobby: There’s a couple of ways to look at this. You are talking to a guy who lived in it and there is Mark, who was born after it. He went back and looked into it and became hooked on it. I, as someone who lived in it, see it as the bridge to what followed. Which was metal and then thrash metal. I think music, in general, is a chain, and every link is important. To expose younger audience, especially people that follow Overkill or Metal Allegiance or Phil’s Vio-Lence or the numerous projects Mike is in, it gives them the catalyst to walk back and see how the chain developed. That’s cool for me because I lived through most of it. I wasn’t a student of it like Mark was, I was exposed to it. I was smoking a spliff to it and listening to half of these tunes. The younger thrash audience, which we find are 18-25 age group, had no idea this existed unless they physically looked into it unless their parents exposed them to it so I do think there is a great way to look at how things developed into the things you listen to today.

The Razor’s Edge: Mark, what was the earliest music that you got into, the early 80s I guess?

Mark: I remember it had to be mid 80s. My oldest brother handed me a Kiss record and I was like wow and I put the record on, and I said, this is terrible! I think it was ‘Dynasty’. [cue groans from Bobby and me] He gave me the wrong record. But I gravitated to it and then I heard I was Made For Loving You and I was like, this sucks, but I love Kiss, Love Gun, Detroit Rock City, Alive I and II, those records I love, and then he handed me Iron Maiden’s Live After Death and I was hooked. So those are the things that got into me and then it carried on, Metallica, and it spiralled out of control. It led to me eventually going back about 10-15 years ago, to Skynyrd, ZZ Top, just anything I could get, and I find myself these days, the majority of music that I listen to coming from the 70s. Whether it’s Sabbath, Purple, ZZ Top, Skynyrd, Eagles, James Gang, Fleetwood Mac, that’s what I find myself listening to the most.

The Razor’s Edge: I can’t pass on the two videos that have been made so far for ‘Toys’ and ‘Evil’. Who designed them? I have to say I’ve seen Overkill many times and I’ve never seen Bobby so pedestrian. Is that age or did your puppet run out of moves?

Bobby: Haha! It’s called the Pandemic Special! We spoke about it, we knew we weren’t going to be able to travel and it was necessary to stay on schedule for the release and you have to look a little deeper into it, as opposed to what the video was. We thought that the release date, keeping it was the goal. This is a fun record that reminded us of why we started doing this, chose this path, this career, this lifestyle, and under the circumstances with everything that was going on in the world; we were watching it grow in Europe and knew it was on its way here as the planes from Beijing were landing in LA, it was necessary to keep that high level of enjoyment in there. This isn’t going to cure the world’s ills, I’m not saying that, but it is good to be able to smile in a time when the world is at its darkest. It’s not the event in our lives that make us but how we react to that. I think that’s most important. I think we are all on board with the puppets. I have to say that the video, the lyric video [To ‘Evil’, the Cactus cover], that was Mark’s baby. It was his from the get-go. He was hell bent on making it tributised.

The Razor’s Edge: It’s a great video, enjoyable to watch which you don’t always get with a lyric video

Mark: Awesome. You should tell our drummer that! The goal with that, I’m a student of the 70s but I’m also a student of blues music. I’ve done some session work at Chess Records in Chicago. I love the history of Chess, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Chuck Berry, Earl James, the list goes on. The people that recorded there. Hell, the Stones named a song after there – ‘2120 South Michigan Avenue’ and there is all that history that has come from that building and one of those songs was ‘Evil’ - Willie Dixon wrote that song there in that building for Howlin Wolf. So, it was my vision to pay tribute to that building, the city, Howlin Wolf, Willie Dixon, Cactus etc. etc. That was kind of my vision. You see all the little bits; Carmine from Cactus supplied some old photos and old tour posters. He helped out supplying some of the stuff. So, it’s a tribute, my way of paying respect to those people who came way before me, and as old as Bobby is, way before Bobby!! ‘Evil’ was written in 1954, and it’s still relevant.

The Razor’s Edge: You’ve had some fabulous comments from members of the bands you’ve covered. It must be quite humbling.

Mark: Yeah, Uncle Ted chimed in and that’s the stamp of approval

Bobby: He’s Mr Excitement and I think he always likes when he’s appreciated, and he was a huge part of my growing up regarding his approach to things. He was the wild man and he may not be a metal fan, but he had hell of a lot to do with the way it developed.

Mark: Gary Holt would be the first to tell you that Ted Nugent is one of his biggest inspirations as a guitarist. And look what he did with Exodus.

The Razor’s Edge: This is a project that could run and run. I know you’ve got Metal Allegiance III so are there plans for another BPMD album?

Bobby: At the moment I’m trying to reinvent myself as a younger man, so Mark Menghi doesn’t bust my balls on a continuous basis. Kids got no respect today [cue more laughter]. Mark and I presented this to Napalm Records and one of the things we liked about them was their diversity because it was different and when we presented it to them, specifically Thomas at Napalm, we said, listen, we are not here to grab the money and run. The idea is to give this legs but to start with what we knew and see where it goes. You know, there is the possibility of Made in the UK – The 1970s or Made in the EU or whatever! The point is that this was the guinea pig and it came off with a fun feel so I do see that it may have legs, and a distinct possibility of taking it to other parts of the worlds with this line up and reimagining those locales.

Mark: That’s the game plan, the vision. It depends on how well received we are with this record. Hopefully, people will dig it, I think they will, but the game plan is to have fun. That’s it and as long as we keep it like that, it’ll be fun to see what it does next.

The Razor’s Edge: It’s been a real honour to chat to you both. Many thanks and good luck with the album.

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