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Mark Menghi Alex Skolnick Metal Allegiance - Interview
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MARK MENGHI & ALEX SKOLNICK

METAL ALLEGIANCE


Metal Allegiance
READ OUR REVIEW OF "METAL OF ALLEGIANCE" HERE

Metal Allegiance is truly a supergroup if ever something that old tag could ever well and truly be applied to. It's a who's who of metal musicians who took part on the album including Phil Anselmo, Randy Blythe, Chuck Billy, Jamey Jasta and more along with the main band that consists of founding member Mark Menghi, guitarist Alex Skolnick, drummer Mike Portnoy and bassist Dave Ellefson and the result is a set of songs that captures the essence and spirit of great heavy metal. I was lucky enough to talk to both Mark and Alex about the songs and how the band formed and became what it is ahead of the debut release which is set for September 18th.

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Andrew: We gotta talk about this Metal Allegiance thing, it's an unbelievable lineup! Just looking through these names here, it's like a who's who of metal celebrities or whatever. Just tell me a little about how this whole thing came together from the start.

Mark: We started this thing tracing back to basically 2011 when it was under a different name and it was very small, very compact and over the years in 2011, 2012, 2013 and early 2014 it just grew from 2 drummers and 2 bass players to 3 drummers, 14 guitar players....I mean it went out of control which was great. And then the first Metal Allegiance gig was this past September, a year ago now on Motorhead's Motorboat Cruise and that's when things started rolling. Our first gig and that's when the idea came about to write a record of music and here we are a year from there with a finished product coming out which is pretty amazing actually.

Andrew: Yeah it is amazing. When you wrote these songs, especially individually did you have the idea of specific people being on that particular song or did it just come about as you went along?

Alex: Well to get back to your earlier question, for me it all started with that Motorboat, that official gig because Testament was on the ship too and I was brought on board as a special guest for Metal Allegiance and we just hit if off. A few days later they mentioned the idea of writing and working on some original tunes and then it just went so well, it happened really fast. And I think while the 4 of us were writing the tunes - Me, Mark, Dave Ellefson (bass, Megadeth) and Mike Portnoy (drummer, ex-Dream Theater, Winery Dogs) - we were discussing certain types of voices but we never specifically decided on a specific voice until after the songs were completed and we had a chance to talk to people that we had in mind to sing them. We played them the song, discussed schedules, can this even work logistically and it came together very naturally. It's funny because with each tune there were usually more than one person that we had in mind but now that it's out, it's hard to imagine the songs any other way.

Andrew: Yeah absolutely because listening to some of these songs, it's sort of weird how they came in after these songs were written. You listen to a song like "Wait Until Tomorrow" with Jamey Jasta and that sounds similar to a Hatebreed song or a song like "Dying Song" with Phil Anselmo, those songs just fit them very well. So that's why I asked that maybe when you wrote those songs that you had someone specific in mind of doing the vocals and things like that.

Alex: Vocals have a very powerful effect on a tune so you're hearing them for the first time with the vocals but before those vocals were there though, it wasn't as clear. Each singer and the ones you mentioned certainly have these very distinct sounds and personalities, those affected the songs. But they were actually written before that but that's part of the reason they were chosen because we can imagine those voices with those songs.

Andrew: Not to pick out those people I guess but were there other people not on this album that you wanted but didn't make it on the album?

Alex: We had options for every song, I think we had more than one option so I think we got great singers for every song. The majority I think were the first ones we called, there might be one or two that might be the second ones we called but now we can't imagine it any other way. But just because we called them second doesn't mean they are second on the list, we were just running through names.


READ OUR REVIEW OF "METAL OF ALLEGIANCE" HERE


Andrew: It's been a little while since the original idea came about so looking back on it now, can you believe that it's become such a big thing and what do you plan on doing with it now? Will you be touring?

Mark: We've been known to do spot shows and event type shows whether it be cruise ships, conferences, conventions if you will. Next week is our record release show on September 17th, we're playing at the Best Buy Theater in New York City, a few days later we're going to Mexico City which I guess is our first international performance. I don't know if you count the cruise ships even though we were in international waters [laughs]. Mexico City is our first on-land international show and we're playing Loud Park in Japan which we're looking forward to. We have a bunch of other things in the works right now and we're just looking forward to it. This record has been a labor of love, a lot of work and we're just looking forward to this record coming out next week.

Alex: Yeah and it also happened really fast. From my point of view, it went from me guesting on the Motorboat Cruise to talking about hanging out and writing some songs and seeing how it goes to having a full album worth of material to having Nuclear Blast excited and putting all this great energy into it, to having press and suddenly it's just a thing! I know we all felt excited about it, we worked really well together but I don't think any of us realize just how quickly it developed and become a thing.

Andrew: Why do you think it has become such a quick thing as you say?

Alex: Well part of the reason is it takes a while to do a record properly, even once it's written it's not just the recording, the mixing the mastering, the artwork, the manufacturing. There's so many steps involved so if you're going to have a record release in 2015, it really needs to be done in the first half of the year. We basically wrote this in two writing sessions, both around the holidays. So we had one writing session near the end of the year in 2014, we had the next one shortly after New Year's and within a month we were in the studio tracking. We knew we wanted it to come out this year, we also wanted it to be ahead of our respective band's album cycles. Me and Dave being in Megadeth and Testament, we have these record cycles that are going to happen. His is coming up soon, Testament is looking at next year but we didn't know that at the time so we just wanted to make sure we release this not at the same time as Megadeth and Testament.

Andrew: Yeah you don't want the bands to clash with this obviously and keep them separate.

Alex: Exactly.

Andrew: Looking at the tracklist, there's so many songs you can pick out and say is your favorite. For me it keeps changing but for both of you guys, do you have any particular favorites on here that maybe mean more to you than the other songs?

Alex: Yeah that's a tough question. I think for me, for a long time "Dying Song" was my favorite because it was so different and it's still one of my favorites but the fact that it's a video, between approving the video and it's been played on the radio, I still love it but I've heard it a lot of times at this point. Not that I'm tired of it but if I had to pick another one...it's funny because we've been learning these songs for the first time getting ready to do these gigs so I'm kinda leaning towards "Let Darkness Fall".




Andrew: OK cool, and what about yourself Mark?

Mark: For me it's "Let Darkness Fall" and "Can't Kill The Devil", more so ""Can't Kill The Devil" on a lyrical standpoint. When I wrote those lyrics, it tells a personal story of myself and the way Chuck delivered the vocals on that. When I first heard it, I remember I was jumping up and down in my fucking house like a 2 year old like, 'Fuck yeah!' I was that excited. So for me it was those lyrics. And "Let Darkness Fall" was kinda my baby, I remember it was the first song we recorded in the studio and one of the last songs we finished. And musically and lyrically on that one, it's just something that's near and dear to me. There are some parts musically on that song that I had from a really long time ago that I never thought would see the light of day and to hear Alex play acoustic over it and Troy (Sanders, Mastodon) singing and how we just turned the song into an epic! [laughs] It goes into so many different areas. To me it's my favorite drum performance from Mike Portnoy, I listen to the drums on that track and everything about that track to me is special. So that's probably one of my favorites on the album.

Alex: Most things we agree on and some things we don't agree on. The track order is a tough thing, for any band putting out an album and for Mark and I, we wanted that song second. There was talk that maybe it's too long or maybe we should save it as it's more of an epic but I think it's great that it's second because it turns people on their heads. You know you're going to get plenty of tunes where it's consistent, solid wall of guitars through-out but with this, noone's expecting that and I like having that early in the album because it kinda shows that, 'Wow this is not the album that we're expecting'.

Mark: My attitude was if fucking Metallica can put "Master Of Puppets" as the second track on that record, we could do the same thing as well [laughs].

Andrew: [laughs]

Mark: For me it's not about the length, it's about the journey of the song that takes you and I feel listening to that track, it will take one on quite the rollercoaster of a musical journey.

Andrew: Yeah absolutely. And another of the more interesting tracks is the instrumental one "Triangulum" which has a lot of different guys on that one as well. Quite progressive and kinda fits you really well Alex, as you kinda go into that sort of progressive kind of stuff in some of your other projects as well. So that's a pretty cool song to have as an instrumental track.

Alex: Thank you. Well that was an interesting part because I don't do a lot of proper prog. I like it, it's not my main thing but usually I'll have ideas that are more on the prog side of things that wouldn't really work with my jazz or world music, definitely not for Testament. But you have a drummer like Mike Portnoy where it just makes perfect sense and the first part of that tune, that's where you really hear what Dave Ellefson is capable of. He brought in this whole finished composition pretty much as close to as you hear it, we tweaked our parts. He had a demo with a drum machine and kind of mechanical guitars but the same changes, the same basic idea and we thought wow! It's really melodic, it goes a lot of places and it was perfect for this album. I think at that time we were envisioning it as sort of the instrumentals the Scorpions used to do and then we had this other thing and Portnoy and I were jamming on, this crazy prog thing and we thought, 'You know what? Maybe we'll put these together and see what happens', just as an experiment. And then Dave also had the last part as well and that just made perfect sense for the epic guitar festival!

Andrew: Well as I said, there is some great tracks on here and it's like a bucket list of people that you would want to be playing with. Absolutely fantastic album, congratulations and thanks for your time today, it's been a pleasure talking to both of you!

Mark: Thank you, we appreciate it.


More info on the band, the new album and tour details can be found at MetalAllegiance.com.

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Interview by Andrew "Schizodeluxe" Massie on September 8th 2015