We caught up with Mark Menghi of Metal Allegiance, in the middle of hellishly busy week for him. He was rehearsing for a tribute performance to Deep Purple’s Made In Japan album at Saint Vitus Bar, in Brooklyn. We has also rehearsing for their first UK performance ever, at Bloodstock Open Air 2016. So when Mark squeezed us in for a chat, we were pleasantly supposed by his calm, humble demeanor. Mark talked a lot about the profound losses to the music world that led the band to create their new EP, Fallen Heroes (Nuclear Blast).
Obviously for a guy like yourself, the idea behind this is not just to work with amazing people, and write great music and have an outlet for your writing, but to challenge yourself. Not just with the covers but the originals too, right?
Yeah. My take on it is definitely different than everyone else’s because it’s my personal take, but the way I feel is that since I’m the one that nobody knows, and I’m the one who gets criticized the most because … I hear ” What is this dude doing onstage with these guys? They’re legends. Why is this guy writing with these guys?” For me, I can’t f*ck up. I have to be on point and I have to drive myself and practice and okay. I wake up, and I play bass. I run through scales. 24/7 I constantly think how I can improve my playing, how I can improve my song writing? Whether it’s original materials or covers like this Deep Purple record. Bumblefoot texted me the other day. He said “Just so you know, we’re following you on this record.” Just because I’m so f*cking anal about it. I can’t f*ck it up because I’m the one who’s going to get criticized if I do, and if I was a fan in the crowd, I’d be criticizing that person as well. It’s the pressure I put in myself, and it’s something I don’t take lightly. I’m extremely grateful and humble about it. These guys are peers of mine, and who I grew up listening to. I grew up learning how to play and using my chops. If I am not on point, to me, it’s a failed attempt.
Certainly I’m sure that Portnoy is guy is a guy who feels like he has an X on his back from nerds and YouTubers and things like that.
That’s right man. His technical skill is obviously, it’s second to none. When you get him in a Metal Allegiance situation, and watching him play drums, for me, it’s an honor because he’s, it’s a whole side of Mike that people don’t get to see often. They don’t get into theater. They don’t go down for a while, and all his Progland, and everything he does with Neal Morse, Winery Dogs, and Transatlantic.
And Flying Colors!
Flying Colors. They know Mike in that world. They don’t know Mike Portnoy in this community, and it’s a privilege to watch him play because he’s phenomenal and he holds up. I put up with the Benante’s, and the Lombardo’s, and all those metal drummers out there. Mike has his own world flair, a different flair through this entire record, and I think he proves that. Playing with him live, that’s awesome. The same thing with Alex too, man. If you dig into Alex’s history, he doesn’t record any rhythm guitars in his Testament at all. Never has, doesn’t now. To see Alex become a full-fledged song writer and a metal band, he’s never done that before believe it or not. Through all his rhythm guitar, Alex has done everything from rhythm to leads to song writing to lyric writing to producing with Metal Allegiance. That’s an area he gets to spread out in, that he doesn’t get to do with Testament. I think reasons like that are why Metal Allegiance works because it gives everyone a breath of fresh air as far as their musicianship goes and their capabilities as a musician.
We asked Mark next to walk us through the genesis of making Fallen Heroes:
How this EP came about was, it’s pretty crazy to be honest with you. We booked a west coast tour back in 2015 for October and November. We booked those on the west coast, promoting that. In December, we received word that Lemmy passed, and we were crushed because every one of us in MA, we were all friends with Lemmy. It was hard. It was like “Man, there is no way that Lemmy can be dead. It’s not possible.” That’s what we kept thinking was that it wasn’t possible. As time went on, December went through and reading all the people kind words and everything, everybody saying … We kept seeing that this west coast trip was to be canceled for Lemmy’s memorial on this date, January 9th, 2015, was going to be his funeral memorial, and it was like wait a minute. We are playing January 9th. We are playing at the Whiskey on The Strip where Lemmy hangs out. It was like “whoa, that’s crazy”. Maybe we could go to the services. That would be awesome. Pay our respects. Awesome to be there. A few days go by, we get to the Whiskey to do The Lemmy Memorial. They didn’t want to incorporate us to do a tribute to the services, and then at one point, they said “Hey, we want you to be the house band at Lemmy’s funeral.” It was like “what the f*ck!”
We first said no because we didn’t want to disrespect anybody. We don’t know how to take that. They ask you to be a band at someone’s services. That’s insane, but Lemmy’s management, his friends, Mikey D, Phil Campbell, Todd Singerman, the guy who owns the Whiskey” they all said “you guys have got to do something. You’ve got to do it.” We agreed, and three days before the show. We played some of their old tunes, and we played the set at the Whiskey, and then we had about a set where we had Mikkey D come up and say some words for Lemmy fresh from the funeral, and it was insane. It was definitely a bittersweet day. It was hard. The next day, we were playing in San Francisco. We decided to keep this memorial to ourselves from our San Francisco gig. I remember me and Mark walked offstage to take a little bit of a break, and Dave Ellefson grabs us to tell us that David Bowie died right in the middle of our set. It was like what the fuck! Mark was crushed. Marks biggest idol in music was David Bowie, and he was crushed. He had to deliver that to the crowd. Two days of that, and then as soon as we get home, Portnoy calls me and tells me that Glen Fry died, and I’m an Eagles freak. Huge Eagles fan, probably one of my favorite and biggest inspections was the Eagles, and one of my favorite top five bands. I was crushed. At that moment when Mike called me was when the idea came about to do this EP. I was like dude, we’ve got to do something. I don’t know what we’re going to do, let’s something. Let’s record a few tunes and take it from there. The very next day, we were in the studio. Glen Fry passed on a Tuesday, we were in the studio that Wednesday, and we tracked the whole EP of these three tunes. The day after that, Alex recorded his guitar, and then I went in and recorded my bass. We worked on it that week. That’s how this whole EP came about, just because I was upset, man. Three of my biggest influences in music, I couldn’t imagine a world without Bowie and the Eagles. I still can’t.
Any thoughts on delaying the album to include a Prince track? All these deaths in 2016 are adding up:
That sucks man, and especially Prince. That was a hard one too. I love Prince, and for Alex, he’s probably the biggest Prince fan it of all of us. We love them all equally, but in the Eagles fan. Mark and Mike were huge Bowie fans. Alex is a huge Prince fan, and when that news came out, we tried like hell to get a Prince tune on this record, but like I said, everything was done in January. To coordinate the time to get everyone in, it just wasn’t possible.
I do have to say the cover artwork for the EP, I hope people get to see and appreciate this thing, is pretty phenomenal, Starting with a sketch that you had the idea for.
Yeah. I appreciate that. I did this drawing that was looking at the sky. I still have the sketch. It’s sitting right next to me. It’s what you see by without color. I gave it to Steven Thompson who does a lot of the artwork and he refined it. From there, I did a whole version of it. I took it back and I digitized it, computerized it, and I wasn’t happy with it. It was missing something for me. I went to Marcelo who’s done so many fucking record covers, it’s ridiculous. He did all the new artwork, so all the artwork you see he drew, he painted, the list goes on. It was weird for him to take a final piece of art, but he did it and painted it. He took what we did and did this beautiful rendition of what you see. It was definitely a great collaboration between the three of us. That’s the pint. I wanted to incorporate the three major icons in each artist. To me, it’s the font with the Eagles skull, the lightening bolt, and of course, the ace of spades. That sums up what these three are and I’m happy with the way this came out.
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