BPMD may have been founded in 2019, but they are no strangers to the music industry. The supergroup covers project features vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth (Overkill), drummer Mike Portnoy (Metal Allegiance, Winery Dogs, Sons of Apollo), bassist Mark Menghi (Metal Allegiance) and guitarist Phil Demmel (Vio-Lence, ex-Machine Head). Spearheaded by Menghi, who came up with the idea while listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Saturday Night Special” with his son, BPMD (the name is an initialism representing each member’s last name/nickname) came together quickly, energized by their shared love for 1970s rock.
On June 12, BPMD released their debut album, ‘American Made,’ which they have described as an “homage to some of rock music’s greatest treasures… turbocharged by the experience and enthusiasm of its four creators.” Restricting themselves to songs written and recorded by American bands throughout the 1970s, the band doesn’t go for the obvious tracks that everyone covers or stick to one particular rock genre. Instead, they opt for lesser-known tracks from an eclectic mix of artists that include Van Halen, Aerosmith, Blue Öyster Cult, Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, James Gang, Cactus, Mountain, Ted Nugent and Grand Funk Railroad, and put their own heavy spin on each one. The album is already getting high praise from critics, as well as from fans and the artists they covered.
We spoke with Menghi to discuss ‘American Made,’ his favorite covers, promoting a new band during a pandemic and more.
What was the recording process like for American Made?
FUN! Pure fun. After the initial idea of “BPMD” came about (July of 2019) the four of us got together at Mike’s house to arrange our ideas for these tunes and record drums… turns out we did all of that (including the recording of 10 drum tracks) in one day! After we did the drum tracks, we went our separate ways to record. I can only speak for myself, but I changed my own rules and perspective of recording for this particular album… the goal was to record my bass tracks in one take, and if I screwed up, do it all over again rather than punching in, copy and paste, undo, etc… the goal was that 70’s musician mind-set. Back then, you had to have your shit together when you were recording as the studio time was expensive and recording to tape (analog) was a science. Engineers or Producers back then wouldn’t allow one to record, stop, record, stop, record, fix, record, punch, etc… that just did not exist. Very rarely were you allowed to do that, where the engineer would get a razor blade and cut tape (literally)… So my goal was to record in one take and if I screwed up, do it all over again until I got it. Sometimes, I would nail a song in one take, other times it might take 2 or 3 takes (at most). I remember recording Wang Dang, I would play to the track about 2 or 3 times in full, THEN my Engineer would hit the record button; that way the licks, fills, etc… were fresh. Having this mindset truly challenged me as a musician and opened the door for new techniques.
How did you choose which songs to cover on the album?
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 – 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!
Which songs did you enjoy covering the most?
For me it was “Beer Drinkers” and “Wang Dang”… just because I went into those songs with zero sheet music, zero expectations and zero planning. I wanted to just jam and feel it… I was curious to see what would come out if I just cranked the volume and went for it… turns out they are my two favorites on the record. “Beer Drinkers” was one of my selections for this album and my vision was to see what would happen if we just jammed on wax… haha what would we sound like with zero planning and our version is the end result of that. I will never be able to play those two songs like I did (on record) again as it was totally spontaneous and like I said earlier, one or two takes of just feeling it.
Were there any covers that didn’t make the cut?
Unfortunately not… like I said earlier, we each picked two tunes plus the community picks. We had our hands full with those…
Are there any other songs that you would like to cover, perhaps on another album?
Oh yah… this opened the door (and many texts between the four of us) on doing other albums, songs, etc… from other regions of the world (cough cough 1970’s tunes from the U.K. cough cough), possibly a Volume 2 of ‘American Made,’ possibly made in Europe – the 1970’s, etc… there is SO MUCH great music from that decade that we didn’t even scratch the surface yet…
When things go back to “normal,” do you think the group will be doing any touring?
We will never tour, but we will do a week here… etc… we’ll also do festivals, specialty shows, etc… we have so much going on outside of BPMD that we all agreed that BPMD would never be a touring band, but we’ll absolutely play live. We had a ton of shit booked and planned upon release (hence why we picked a June 12th release date) that we had to scrap it all. Sucks, but at the end of the day, I am happy everything went down the way it did. I believe this record came out at the perfect time given the state of the world at the moment…
Is there anything else fans can look forward to from the band to coincide with the release of American Made?
Yah, keep your eyes peeled for sure ☺
You all come from your own successful bands, so obviously you have fans coming over from your respective bases. Not all of the songs you’re covering are from metal bands. How do you contend with the fans who don’t like a particular direction you’re going in with your sound?
We love all of our fans… having said that, you (they) are either going to love or hate this record. If you hate it, that is ok. We won’t be offended… This record was made out of love for the original artists and those tunes. We did not say “we can do this better” instead we wanted to pay tribute. Nothing more. This record reminded us (some more than others) where we came from and why we do this. We did not have a label when we recorded, we didn’t have anything. We self-financed the record because we wanted to do this for us and have some fun. Four dudes, getting in a room, drinking a few beers, laughing and jamming. That’s it. I understand people are not used to hearing Blitz sing outside of Overkill and they might hate it… or they are not used to Mike doing 3 minute songs opposed to 20 minute epics… and that is OK too. Again, we are fans of all the bands we paid tribute to and this record was made by fans of the great 70’s music. I would just listen with an open mind and understand that Blitz is NOT trying to sound like Steven Tyler or David Lee Roth. He sounds like Blitz singing their words… love it or hate it.
I know COVID-19 wasn’t a thing when you conceived of the band, but since you are less than a year out from your formation and announced American Made just a couple of months ago, do you think there has been any added difficulty in launching a band during such unprecedented times?
Absolutely. We had so much planned that we had to scrap, including filming a series of three videos (in person) which we couldn’t do. So we had to think outside the box and continue to think outside the box to support the release. Again, this record was done in December of 2019 and no one expecting COVID-19… I remember having calls with Bobby, the label, etc… in early-to-mid-March wondering what we should do. Ultimately, we decided to keep the June 12th release date and roll the dice…