INTERVIEW: Mark Menghi – Metal Allegiance

Out of all the ‘supergroups’ METAL ALLEGIANCE certainly feels like the most star-studded. With their debut record, released last year, featuring some of the biggest stars in metal, METAL ALLEGIANCE certainly captures the essence of unity and family; virtues rooted in the heavy metal community. Now, to honour some of music’s fallen icons the band are set to release a tribute EP in August and will make their debut at this year’s Bloodstock Festival. We caught up with mastermind of the project, Mark Menghi, to talk about the EP and it’s background alongside discussing what fans can expect at Bloodstock!

So to begin, I want to go back to the beginnings of METAL ALLEGIANCE, can you explain where the first ideas for this project came from?

Mark: Well the idea actually stemmed back from about 2010-2011, where we did this under a different name. It was a lot smaller scale but with big artists and big time players, but it was just a once twice a year college project but as time went on we changed the name to METAL ALLEGIANCE, as it is now know, in 2014. That’s where I came up with that idea, we then played MOTORHEAD‘s Motorboat Cruise and it was on that boat where we really got the light bulbs on. That’s where we first discussed the record and we had all these crazy ideas, it was on that boat where everything changed.

The debut record came out last year, how have you found the response to that album?

Mark: Great! I really haven’t seen any bad press on it and I know fans are digging it, colleagues are digging it, everybody is enjoying it which is great! We put a lot of work into that record, Alex, Mike, Dave and myself. From writing it to recording it, we did everything under a year so from the idea, to writing it, to recording it, mixing it, mastering it, having 25 musicians on it, signing a record deal and putting it out under a year; that’s a lot of work to do! But it was very organic, it was natural, nothing was forced, it was just flowing and I think that comes across and people notice that when hearing the record. Hearing that it wasn’t forced together and it has a very organic vibe and I think that is why it caught on.

And since then, the whole METAL ALLEGIANCE project has become a well known thing. You’ve now got a new EP coming out on August 12th, Fallen Heroes, where did the idea to do a tribute EP come from?

Mark: That was actually started by myself. Lemmy passed away in December and we were all good friends with Lemmy. Back up a minute, in November, we had a few dates booked for the West Coast in America and by the time our gig in LA rolled around Lemmy had passed away. Unfortunately or fortunately however one looks at it we were playing the day of his funeral and memorial services in LA at the club he used to hang out at. It was a really surreal day, Sunset Strip in LA was shut down and there were thousands and thousands of people there. It was insane! We had the honour of playing his memorial which was you know total coincidence! And then the next night we were in San Francisco playing and it was mid-set where we learnt David Bowie passed away, which was another low blow. We came off that tour and I’m a huge EAGLES fan and Mike Portnoy was the one who called me and told me that Glenn Frey had passed away and it was that night I was like “fuck man, what is going on?!” That night I was thinking and I called Mike and told him I wanted to record a record or a couple of cover tunes, I wanted to do a EAGLES tune, a Bowie tune and a MOTORHEAD song. The next day we were in the studio tracking his drums, the day after that Alex came in and did his guitars, the following day I did the bass so by the end of that week all the tracking was done for this EP. We were all feeling it, it’s devastating! The fact that we will never see these bands or musicians again and in this musical landscape where we feel that music today is very accessible, and there’s so much of it out there that you don’t get these iconic artists anymore and they are going away and it sucks!

The tracks on the EP; Iron Fist, Suffragette City and Life in the Fast Lane. Why did you decide to cover those tracks in particular?

Mark: Well with MOTORHEAD’s Iron Fist we started doing that back in January, we learnt a bunch of MOTORHEAD songs for when we played at The Whiskey for his memorial services. Literally, the day before we learnt all these MOTORHEAD songs and Iron Fist just felt good. It is a crushing tune and we did not want to do Ace of Spades or Overkill or Damage Case, we didn’t want to do anything that’s already been, Troy [Sanders, MASTODON] had been doing Iron Fist with us live and it was crushing man, it was unbelievable! So that was a easy choice, no brainer. With David Bowie, Portnoy suggested Suffragette City and it was great, everyone digs that song. Bowie was the trick because Glenn Frey in the later EAGLES years he didn’t sing a whole lot but he wrote all the songs so Life in the Fast Lane he wrote, he didn’t sing on it, but he wrote it. It’s definitely more of a rocking tune and we wanted something we could do and kind of turn it into our own. We didn’t play it like the records, I describe Life in the Fast Lane as if you take the guitar work for And Justice For All, that down-picking crazy James Hetfield picking on And Justice For All mixed in with Alissa‘s [White-Gluz, ARCH ENEMY] vocals, we kind of reinvented that tune! It came across pretty easily and a song was just suggested and everyone was cool with it, there was no debate about it that’s for sure.

And with this EP do you feel that is the perfect tribute to the icons that have passed away?

Mark: I do and that is all that this is, it’s a tribute. We wanted to keep their music alive and we want to show other fans of different genres that even in metalheads, we love the EAGLES and David Bowie too! Even though some metalheads won’t agree, they will call you every derogatory name in the book for listening or playing EAGLES or Bowie tunes but you have to be diverse! METAL ALLEGIANCE, we are the most eclectic and diverse bunch there is, especially with Portnoy. Portnoy is all over the map when it comes to music, but we all are! Alex Skolnick is really into jazz and world music alongside metal, Portnoy is prog and all over the place, my roots are lesser known than the other guys but I’m big time into a lot of different music outside of metal. We wanted people to know that these musicians did shape us on what we do, even in the metal community.

As you just mentioned that all of you come from such diverse musical backgrounds, how does that affect writing and recording music? Does it help of hinder the creativity?

Mark: Oh it is a huge help! It’s a huge huge help, both Alex and Mike went to pretty prominent music universities. Alex went to the New School of Music which is very jazz orientated and Portnoy went to Berklee so they have an understanding for flows and transitions. Myself, I grew up in New York City, my college was playing at all the clubs in Manhattan, that was my school! But it works, we’ve never been stumped or stuck. When we get into a room together, and Dave as well, it’s just an easy flow!

Looking ahead, you are set to make your UK debut at Bloodstock Festival in about three weeks. Who will be playing with METAL ALLEGIANCE on that performance?

Mark: In my opinion, that’s going to be our best lineup and it is definitely going to be our heaviest fucking set we’ve ever done which is going to be awesome! Playing is myself on bass, Alex Skolnick is coming over for the show on guitar, Mark Osequeda from DEATH ANGEL is on vocals, Charlie Benante from ANTHRAX is playing drums with us on that date, which I’m really looking forward to! We’ve got Gary Holt playing a few songs with us, Scott Ian from ANTHRAX is playing a song and we’ve got Russel Allen from SYMPHONY X doing a tune.

So do you have any special surprises that fans can expect?

Mark: Yeah! Absolutely!

Bloodstock, their background is very much a family-based festival, with your ethos do you have any similarities to Bloodstock?

Mark: They get it, when we were approached, we had been working hard to get over to Europe and I still feel that a lot of people in Europe don’t know who we are, they might know the name but might be confused on what we do. But Bloodstock, they get it and when we were asked to make this our only UK show we just said absolutely. From being in America, we’re jealous of all the festivals that happen in Europe! It’s a shame that we have nothing even close to that here but Bloodstock is just a full on metal festival and it is the perfect situation for METAL ALLEGIANCE, we’re going to be on the same stage as SLAYER and ANTHRAX and SYMPHONY X. The prior days obviously Portnoy will be there with TWISTED SISTER, MASTODON you know, it’s all METAL ALLEGIANCE bands playing so it just made the most sense for us to be there!

Well I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me, thank you and good luck for Bloodstock!

Mark: Cheers, thanks!

Fallen Heroes is set for release on August 12th via Nuclear Blast Records.

METAL ALLEGIANCE will make their UK debut at this year’s Bloodstock Festival. For tickets click here.

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