BPMD is the latest supergroup on Napalm Records, featuring Bobby Blitz, Mike Portnoy, Mark Menghi, and Phil Demmel (whose initials all form the band name). This summer, BPMD released American Made, and Metal Contraband’s Chelsea had the honor of chatting with Bobby Blitz about the new project. We covered the concept and ideas behind BPMD, and also had a lot of laughs talking about Bobby’s origins and influences as a vocalist, the early days at clubs like Sundance, Roxy, and L’Amour Brooklyn, the latest on Overkill’s 20th album on the horizon, plus took a few digs at each other for the New York-New Jersey rivalry. Check it out below.
I want to start off with the very basics of how the four parts of BPMD came together for this.
Well, you know, this was really Mark’s brainchild…actually, not even Mark’s, his son Alex, who was 8 at the time. And Mark is a family dad, the weekends are with the boys and that means barbecue, beer, and — well, not for the boys, but beer for him *laughs* — stereo, and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s playing, and his young son says, “This would be a great cover for you guys to do”. And his first reaction was, “No, it wouldn’t. It’s Southern Rock, classic, 70’s”. And then he had a few more beers and he called me, and I said, “Don’t call me when you’re drunk, please” *laughs* “with harebrained ideas”, but I loved the idea, I loved it. He and I had always talked about doing something together, and then we just started throwing songs out, and guys’ names. And it was only two other guys we thought of, and that was Mike and Phil, because both are kind of students of that. Phil’s actually experienced firsthand, back in the 70’s, he sent me a picture of him when he first picked up a guitar from back in that era. Mike is like a Wikipedia of information, he knows everything from the old jazz greats up to the current day. So it was just a good choice of people, and we’ve all kind of had a chemistry through Metal Allegiance, so it was a spontaneous idea and the momentum picked up instantaneously following it.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, you weren’t necessarily a regular member of Metal Allegiance, but you did a few tracks and some live shows with them, so that connection was already in place and you guys just kind of expanded on it with Mark’s drunken ideas, it sounds like, so…that’s cool. *laughs*
*laughs* I don’t think he was drunk, he was really drunk with excitement.
That’s good, that’s good!
Because, as you and I just jawed a little bit, he’s a huge vinyl collector and it was funny because I’m sitting here thinking, going, hey, for me, this is a no-brainer. This is like me transporting myself from the current day back to puberty, you know? To when I was cutting my teeth on rock and roll songs. These were my first experiences with that. Mark was born twenty years after me, and wasn’t even born in the 70’s, and went back when he became interested in music and really became a student of it. So, you know, there’s some kind of a connection there with regard to traditional, older, and youthful information. So I think it was a great combination.
Definitely a great combination. I can understand his perspective, too, because I love the classic stuff, I love 70’s and 80’s music, and I was born in the 90’s. So I love that idea of looking to the couple of decades before you and appreciating that music and keeping it going, so that’s really cool too.
And you guys did a killer job with these classic covers, and I like that it’s not just the more obvious kind of “hit” 70’s songs that you guys went for, you pulled off a Cactus track which was already a blues cover, you dug into some Mountain, which, I appreciate the Long Island appreciation on that one, and just lots of cool stuff. So how did you go about choosing the more specific songs that you went for?
Well, there’s actually three Long Island bands on there, I mean, Blue Oyster Cult’s from Long Island, so is Mountain. But that conversation was getting longer and longer with Mark, Mike and Phil were mentioned, and some loose rules were mentioned. Had to be released in the 70’s, had to be American, everybody chooses two, you can’t veto another guy’s choice, so it kind of became this challenge game on top of it. So it wasn’t just “Oh, we’re going to make this record and overthink it”, the whole thing was kind of set in place, and when we asked Mike and Phil, “Are you in? These are the rules”, they were like, “This sounds like fun”. And Phil threw out Blue Oyster Cult and “D.O.A.”, and I’m thinking to myself, “I don’t want to do these”, and the rules are like, “Hey, too bad”. *laughs*
“Too bad, you’re doing ‘em”. *laughs*
Too bad, you’re doing ‘em! But that’s, you know, how do you pick the deeper tracks? Nobody thought about it, we just went after things that they thought were cool, that may have been a little bit “hit” – I mean, there’s a couple of obvious, out in the open…”Saturday Night Special”, “Beerdrinkers and Hellraisers”, “Never In My Life”, “Tattoo Vampire”, “D.O.A.”, the Van Halen version, et cetera, et cetera. Reimagining these in the current day became that challenge, that motivation, and the spontaneity of the original idea, continued. So when the fire got lit, it just burned, we didn’t have to fan the flames.
That’s awesome. Yeah, that’s right, the Blue Oyster Cult track, “Tattoo Vampire” is definitely not an obvious one, so I like that that one got thrown on there too. Out of the band that you guys have all collectively chosen to cover on American Made, which one would you say, for you personally, originally influenced or inspired you most as a vocalist?
Wow, that’s interesting, and I mean, it’s probably Mike Portnoy’s choice, and that is “Toys In The Attic”, Aerosmith. And it’s a weird way that Steven Tyler influenced me, Steven Tyler was a gritty, dirty, bluesy rock ’n’ roll guy of that era. And before they became that kind of hit machine – you know, “Janie’s Got A Gun” and “Love In An Elevator”, the later on stuff – it was dirty blues. And even all the way up into the Overkill era, when Overkill first got together, we were doing covers, then we morphed into an original band. So I was cutting my teeth on microphones before Overkill, and trying to do stuff like Tyler. Or trying to do stuff like Paul Stanley from that era. I learned, from Steven Tyler, that I can’t be Steven Tyler, it’s just not possible. There’s one. That’s the idea of this, and I think that what influenced me from people like that…that, okay, I can’t be Ted Nugent, I can’t be Derek St. Holmes, but I can be me, and I can present that stuff as I would present it. So I think that that was the key for me. Maybe I copped their phrasings, but I couldn’t cop their tonalities, so it was a great lesson for me, and I’ve actually taken it through Overkill, I’ve kept a lot of that 70’s phrasing in the Overkill stuff that I’ve done, just to mix it up a little bit here and there. And when we got to BPMD, it was, again, a no-brainer for me to say, “Hey, this is where I made my bones, to stack with these types of singers.
I love that. I’m glad you learned that lesson, if you will, that you weren’t copying anyone else, you had your own unique tonality and your own unique style, because you are an extremely unique vocalist, and then you, in turn, have influenced others to come after you, so I mean, that’s a cool progression of events.
I’ve been called many different things, “nails on a chalkboard”, “Mickey Mouse on speed”. *laughs*
Oh, that’s an interesting one! Well, I’m just going to call you awesome, because you’re one of my favorites.
Thank you, that’s very nice of you. I have plenty of extra egg salad if you want it. *laughs*
I’ll take it, thank you, I’ll join you! *laughs* I want to ask you a little more about what you were just saying, the 70’s phrasing though, can you explain more about what that means?
Well, you know, rock and roll’s a chain, and that chain, for instance, the Cactus song that’s on the BPMD record, was originally written by Willie Dixon in Chicago for Chess Studio, and Howlin’ Wolf recorded it, and this was really the birth of rock and roll, you know, when the distorted guitar came in, a little bit of distortion, the whole new wave of approaching things. And phrasing, when the blues was turning into rock and roll, the phrasing became more contained within the bars of the song. They weren’t hung over, unless purposely done so. And as rock and roll developed, that original phrasing, when you listen to it all the way up on the Cactus song, to the Howlin’ Wolf songs, the phrasing is still intact. The presentation is different, but the phrasing is still there, the way that you deliver the words with a lyric. So, I’ve kept that from my youth into the current day. I mean, listen, we’re a thrash band, I get it, Overkill, but I mean, to do those kind of machine gun vocals for me just becomes kind of old after a while, so a melody has to be there. So I keep the same mentality of the phrasing from all the way back in the 50’s that I learned in the 70’s, I’ve taken into 2020.
Yeah, it adds an additional layer of musicality behind the hard, pumpin’, you know, “Mickey Mouse on speed”, like you said, thrash/speed metal kind of vibe, you’ve got all that musical thought behind it, which is really cool.
*laughs* Well, every generation does something with it. And that’s the beauty of it, and that’s why it’s a chain. You know, my generation when thrash first started, we took it differently. Listen, it wasn’t all about — I didn’t walk into Overkill and say, “it’s all about blues phrasing”, when I was looking for something different, I would think by the time we got to the fourth or fifth record, I was looking to do something different, I said, I’ve got this whole encyclopedia of presentation in my brain somewhere. So it kind of gave me a chance to step out of things. Inasmuch as we were reinventing something, there’s still the basic elements that were kept within it, or at least revisited currently.
Now, outside of BPMD and all the current stuff, I also wanted to ask you — because in February, you did a show on Long Island at Mulcahy’s, it was that Sundance/Roxy reunion to honor Frank Cariola, that was a really awesome show. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that show, and just your connection with Sundance and Roxy, and, you know, those classic venues.
Well, you know, I mean, that was our go-to place, Sundance, and the Roxy, and Frank and I always had a great rapport. Overkill was managed by a couple of guys out of Brooklyn, a club called L’Amour, and they were brothers, so there was the two brothers, George and Mike, and another guy, Richard Sanders, and they had a great relationship with Frank. And these guys brought us up with regard to the music industry. And they did it in a really old-school kind of way, I mean, this is when social media was getting in your car, going to see a guy, and shaking his hand, or going to see a girl and shaking her hand, and going, “Hey, listen, I’ll see you this weekend” or, “Hey, I need a gig for my boys”. And they would say to me, “When you get out there, make sure you stop by and give Frank our regards”, and I did it every time. *laughs* I’d knock on the office door going, “Hey, Frank, it’s Bobby Blitz”, “Hey, Bobby, good to see ya!”, “Listen, George and Mike send their regards”. *laughs* So, you know, the mentality was…there was a different mentality, it was personal. And I think that L’Amour was always a club, I think, where I cut my teeth, where I got my start, where Overkill broke through. But Sundance was a second to that. So there was a real family vibe with it, so to see Frank at that show, with that amount of appreciation from the Long Island crowd, and us being one of his early day bands, I mean, that to me was just a culmination of a life well-lived.
That’s awesome, yeah, and that makes sense, that personal connection there, you know, that’s something that really prevailed before social media was, knocking on Frank’s door and saying like, “Hey, it’s Bobby, hey, it’s Bobby”, kind of reminding him every time, and then you got that rapport, and then built your own reputation in the clubs and venues and stuff like that. It’s like, that is something that’s kind of missing, is that personal, “Hey, how ya doing?” kind of touch. Now it’s just a text or a message or something.
Well, I spoke to a guy, a friend of mine who runs a club here in Jersey, and he goes, “It became so different”. Social media helps put people in the room, he goes, of course it does. I mean, it’s just the thing of the day, it rules the world. But he goes, “There’s a hell of a lot less handshaking, and as soon as the band’s done, a lot of the time, they’re gone”, you know? I remember when we were kids, that our social media was, even if we weren’t playing L’Amour, you’d go there. Even if we weren’t playing Sundance, you’d say, you know something, I’m going to stay over at my buddy’s house out in Huntington Station, and I’m going to go to the Roxy because there’s somebody I want to see, I’m going to stop by and see Frank, I’m going to shake some hands. It was, I just think, a different approach, we were doing the best with what we had, I’m not saying one is better than the other. But back then, “social” meant in a room with people. It didn’t mean distanced from them.
Right. It’s funny, that comes up even more relevant now with the social distanced times that we’re in right now, it’s making it even harder for bands with everything that’s going on, and yeah…it’s a pandemic pushing bands to the side, I mean, I wonder what your thoughts are on how the metal world might find a way to work around this and kind of come out strong on the other end?
Well, I’m fine with the 6 feet, I mean, I had an 8 foot limit up until this, so…*laughs*
Oh, okay! So you’re cool, this works for you!
*laughs* I’m joking!
Yeah, I got you *laughs*.
I think we’re resilient. We’re resilient people, whether it be the metal world, or whether it be our country, or probably the world to that matter, but being that we’re talking about an American record, and we’re talking about the American clubs, and you’re 75 miles from me, I think that our resiliency is something that Americans have always relied on. That, no matter how dark it is before the dawn, the dawn still comes. So I truly believe that there will be new creations, not drive-in movie shows or anything like so, sure there’s going to be some casualties in this, but there’s going to be a whole new world that comes out of this, that, in my hopefulness, could even be better. And this is what I hope, I don’t really want to say specifically, “Oh, this is going to suck”…we’re going to have to figure it out. But there’s going to be benefits to follow this, not just only a loss of what we love, for instance.
That makes sense, I mean, my feeling on it is that once everything does open back up and it’s safe to go to concerts and gatherings again, I feel like people are just going to be doing it more than ever before, and bands are going to be touring like wildfire because we’ve all been cooped up so much, we’ve got this energy, we’re ready to get back out there kind of thing.
Oh, I’m ready. I’m ready to go. I’ll even get rid of my 8 foot social distancing thing.
Just for this, right? Ah, listen, you’re from Jersey, that would probably be in place anyway, so, you know…
*laughs* Oh, that is like the perfect answer from a Long Island girl!
Everybody calls it “Dirty Jersey”, and you know what I once said to Menghi, I go, “You live on an island. You live on an island ‘cause the rest of us want you separated”. *laughs*
Well, no, maybe we made the island to separate ourselves from you guys, how ‘bout that!
All right, all right, one more – all we gotta do is close the bridges!
Aw, shit, now we’re screwed.
That’s funny…I know there’s that whole New York-Jersey rapport, but I’ve got friends from Jersey, one of my favorite bands, Overkill, is from Jersey, so like…I don’t have any beef, it’s all good.
Yeah, and you know, same here. I just like…it’s something that’s common to the area, and Mark and I have been doing interviews, and some of the journalists who are not from the area just don’t get it, you know? Mark will get on, he’s a couple minutes late, and I’ll say, “Just like a bass player, being late”, he’ll go, “Shut up, Jersey Boy”. And then I’ll say, “Make yourself useful and make us a couple sandwiches”. But the point is, if you’re from this area, you understand, unless you’re gettin tweaked a little, or your balls a little bit busted…it means people like you. *laughs* It’s our social “hello”, if you can bust your friend’s chops, it means that you have a huge amount of trust with them. So I think it’s something that for sure is very special to this area.
Absolutely, I totally agree with that, and yeah, I can see somebody from some other state being really confused, being like, “Man, these guys are really…taking digs on each other and their states” and shit, and you’re just like…”Nah, it’s cool, we get it”.
We get it, that’s right.
You mentioned L’Amour before too, and I know you guys were a staple at L’Amour for a while, and it’s funny, being in the New York metal scene, anytime you go to a show that’s more like a classic metal kind of vibe, it’s like L’Amour is the first thing that anybody mentions, like “Ah, I remember L’Amour, it was so cool, we had this cool scene”, and I always…it’s kind of envy for me, I wish I was there to be a part of that scene, because it seems like it was such a cool, tight-knit vibe and stuff. I just wonder if there’s any kind of standout stories from your L’Amour times to share?
Oh God, I mean, there was tons, you know, I remember how it was the place to go. When I talk to one of the guys I mentioned earlier, I say, you know, “Do I still have an open bar tab out there? Do I owe you any money?” *laughs* But, boy, it was…it was beer-drinkin’, hell-raisin’, and headbangin’, I mean, this is the generalization of it. I remember when scenes were crossing, especially the New York Hardcore scene was crossing with the New York Metal and Thrash scenes, that there were shows that were so intense, the intensity of the different sub-genres getting together – which eventually, always worked out its problems – they were some of the most — I mean, it looked like a sea of people with a tidal wave coming at the stage. And I’m not saying that’s better than today, I’m just saying that it was an experimental time that Overkill would play with the Crumbsuckers or Cro-Mags, you know, these were…are they different today? I think a little bit. But back then, there was a Hardcore/Metal crossover, and I remember those shows just being, let’s say, the most energetic, bordering on felony.
*laughs* Sounds like a lot of fun!
And there’s something about it, whether you’re playing, or whether you’re watching it going, “Whew! That was…Oh my God!”, you need a week to recover from this, you know?
I mean, yeah, that kind of energy is what I get when I speak to people who hung out at L’Amour and stuff, they’re like, “it was insane, but it was the best”, you know? That’s the general consensus.
Oh, for sure.
And you were talking about the Dirty Jersey term there, and I feel like you have always been pretty vocal about like, “Yeah, Dirty Jersey”, and that’s your home, but I feel like “Welcome To The Garden State”, on the Wings of War record, was the first time you really tied that identity in with your music, like a “Damn right, we’re from Jersey” kind of attitude laid out right there in a song.
That’s a great point, I mean, we’ve always kind of worn it on our sleeve, but that was taking the final step. There’s a guy who writes for Bravewords, a guy named Mark Gromen, who lives down in South Jersey, and he scans all the lyrics to make sure I get it in there once over the last 15 records. So it’s always in there somewhere, but “Welcome To The Garden State”, I guess, was the icing on the cake or the cherry on top of that because it was just such a fun song to do. And we’ve always kind of had that punky background, so it was the ease of just kind of walking back into it. And boy, it was a hell of a fun song to write, produce, and release.
That’s cool. It is a fun song, even for somebody from Long Island, I enjoyed it, you know?
See? We’re the same.
So, also on the Overkill front, you’ve said, I believe, that you have the 20th album in the works already, which is epic, amazing, congratulations on almost reaching 20 albums, for a band, that’s incredible. But can you talk about what you’ve got going for that so far?
Yeah, it’s “he who dies with the most toys wins”, I mean, that’s the mentality we have.
Is that the “Toys in the Attic”?
Yeah! *laughs* You know, it’s….D.D. always pushes himself in different directions, I mean, he’s more of a theorist than I am, I kind of react to what’s presented to me, I hear things, I hear more diversity on the record, I hear some serious breakdown parts, but when the guy is going into all guns blazing, it’s going to be a machine-like frenzy, Mach 10, he’s written some of the better riffs I’ve heard in a long time. And I don’t usually like saying that prior because I like letting the record develop into what it’s going to develop into, but he’s ten songs deep, Jason is actually doing drum demos up in his studio, because we’re still all separate, but we’re planning on being together when we start demoing this, and start really hashing out the parts. Because what’s always worked for us is that, true, we’ll embrace the technology and the Pro Tools, and the MP3s and WAV files, that we can communicate with each other from our homes, but to be able to get a…I don’t know, get a case of Heinekens, two pizzas, and sit against the wall like we used to, and figure these songs out in the same room, is what’s necessary to make it a good 20th record.
You know, you and D.D. have been going strong for so long, you two, you know, the original guys there, and it’s cool to see you at a 20th record, and still pushing, and still making completely new, original sounds, and you know, still just killing it as always.
Yeah, I mean, it’s still fun. It’s not even a career anymore, it’s just one of the arteries inside that leads to the heart, it’s kind of what makes both of us, and the other guys for that matter, Dave’s been around for more than two decades.
Of course, yes.
You know, so it’s like…you do it because it’s what you are, not because of what you’re trying to prove. It’s just, this is kind of what we are. Do we still have stuff to prove? Sure. Behind what we are? Course we do. But that’s what keeps that lifeblood flowing through the artery.
Absolutely. And part of that lifeblood is, of course, the touring. If there wasn’t a pandemic going on, would BPMD be considering touring, or do you see that as more of a studio project than an actual touring band, you know?
No, I thought this thing had legs right from the beginning. Could there be originals? Of course there could. Could there be visiting the UK in the 1970’s? How many bands came out of the UK that influenced the metal that followed? Of course there is. When we presented this to Napalm, they asked us about touring, and mine and Mark’s opinions, we handled the business for it, it was similar that, listen, we don’t see this as being a six-week touring band, but for sure we see it on festivals. For sure, we see it on specialty shows. Cruises became real popular, will they be after the pandemic? Who knows. But get us ten days in Europe over the summer, and link it up with festivals, I think this is a perfect band for that. It’s a pedigree lineup, and it’s got fun written all over it, I mean, I could see it at 4 o’clock in the afternoon under the French or German or Belgian skies, that while people are drinking beer and eating french fries, that this is a perfect band for that.
There you go, that’s cool, and I look forward to the prospect, and I know everything is still on hold for a while, a lot of people are saying it might not even be til 2021 that we see shows come back around, but…whenever it happens, I’m there! I’m looking forward to it.
*laughs* I’ll look for ya.
All right, sounds good! All right, so I know you’ve got some other interviews lined up, so I don’t want to keep you for too much longer, but thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me, Bobby, this was awesome.
Yeah, Chelsea, it was a pleasure, I mean, I enjoyed it. Don’t come over to New Jersey, we got plenty of you people over here already.
Well, what if you guys are playing a show? What, am I going to be banned from the show or something?
All right, all right…all right, we can make some adjustments.
Okay. *laughs* Sounds good, thanks so much, Bobby.