Phil Demmel has been playing guitar in the Metal scene for more than three decades. He is mostly known for his work with Machine Head in the last twenty years, but he was also a founding member of one of Thrash Metal’s best cult bands, Vio-lence, being the main songwriter for their classic of the genre, 1988’s Eternal Nightmare.
Recently, Vio-lence has reunited with three of the founding members, which are Phil on guitar, Sean Killian on vocals and Perry Strickland on drums, plus the addition of former Overkill guitarist Bobby Gustafson and Christian Olde Wolbers of Fear Factory fame on bass. Phil is also working on BPMD, which is the new Metal supergroup focused on covering 70s American Rock songs, with the guitarist playing alongside vocalist Bobby “Blitz”, drummer Mike and bassist Mark Menghi.
BPMB’s debut album, American Made, was just released and I had the opportunity to talk with Phil about it, his influences, Vio-lence and many other things. I hope you enjoy it.
You can buy American Made on CD or Vinyl and a T-shirt here.
First and foremost, thank you for doing this, Phil. It’s a pleasure. How are things going for you and your loved ones with the virus situation?
Been busy. Been super busy. Doing a lot of this cover jam videos with friends of mine and some awesome covers with some awesome musicians. It’s hard because we’re in a bar and that has been shut down for three months now, but things are beginning to improve, so hopefully that gets started soon.
How much of an impact did this virus had on your plans for 2020?
Vio-lence had a bunch of dates lineup all over the world. Some festivals, some one-offs, some cool weekend destinations. I personally had some cool things, some celebrity golf tournaments. I was going to golf with Alice Cooper, jam with him and do the tournament out there. BPMD has some shows we’re gonna do and hopefully we’re going to be able to do some festivals. So, we’re all on hold until next year. We’re taking this year off.
I always start from the beginning: What got you into music when you were younger?
I had a cousin next door. His name was Ron and he was five years older than me. And he had all the cool 70s Rock records, like KISS, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, The Who and all of that. He also played me the Elton John song called Daniel that I really got into and Elton John’s Greatest Hits record was actually the first one I ever had.
How do you think you have changed as a guitar player throughout the years?
I think, especially recently, that my practice regime has changed a lot. I practice more than I ever had. Now I’m focused on technique. I have gone from being in a Thrash band to be in a Metal band, in the late 90s I was in a band called Technocracy, which was a Tool, Fear Factory kind of Metal band.
I think my lead style has remained pretty similar, but it’s keeping up with the new tuning and all that that keeps you on your feet.
Who are your biggest influences in music?
Previously I mentioned Elton John, for sure. Him and Bernie Taupin are my favorite songwriters. I really love how they can formulate such a song and a story within a song. I’m really inspired by that type of writing. Of course, Randy Rhoads and Michael Schenker with guitar. There are some lesser known guys. Chris Oliva, from a band called Savatage. Great legato, mixture of shred. Wolf Hoffmann from Accept. These guys had amazing melodies and I gravitate to these types of players.
You’re close to releasing the debut album of your new project, BPMD. How this band came to be?
Mark Menghi (the bassist) and his son were sitting around in a campfire. Menghi’s son said while listening to Saturday Night Special by Lynyrd Skynyrd “Hey, dad, you should cover this!”. I think Menghi might have already told you this story, but he asked some buddies of his if they just wanted jam on a covers record and that turned into 70s only and then into American 70s only (laughs). We’re all friendly and we have jammed together in previous projects, so it’s a good group of dudes.
This band is focused on covering 70s Hard Rock with their debut, American Made. How did that period of Rock influenced you as a musician?
It was very influential when I was learning about music. Like I said, my cousin Ron had all those records and it’s what I gravitated towards: the more distorted guitars, the partying scene, you know. I was twelve in ’79, so getting around the party scene, the drinking. I wasn’t a big smoker, but I did a bit.
I just loved the energy from the music, mostly. As the 70s grew heavier, British Steel and Unleashed in the East (both by Judas Priest) came out and more distortion started happening, so Priest started to get a little heavier, AC/DC started to get a little heavier, so I was earlier in that journey as I was starting to gravitate towards something heavier and not that melodic.
Is there any chance you guys may do original songs in the case of a follow-up album?
I don’t think so. I don’t there’s zero chance, but 1%, maybe? (laughs) Perhaps we’d write one original song as a B-side for another record that we do because, and I’m saying this after the release, the record hasn’t blown up, but people are digging it and really enjoying it in the first weeks, so it’s exciting. I don’t see any originals in our future, though.
Which songs did you pick to cover in this album?
I picked D.O.A by Van Halen, which was also a Portnoy suggestion, but that was one I wanted to do. I gave some thought to the second one. I wanted to do a Montrose song, but they had been done before and there was the song Tattoo Vampire by Blue Öyster Cult, which was a cover that I always wanted to do, even back in the Vio-lence days. There’s even a riff in Nothing to Gain (Vio-lence’s 1993 album) called Twelve Gauge Justice, which has that riff from Tattoo Vampire.
Let’s talk about your other band, Vio-lence. How are things going right now?
We’re in the middle of writing. We’re two and a half songs done of a five-song EP that we’re writing. Not recording, just writing. We have Bobby Gustafson from Overkill in the band now and Christian Olde Wolbers from Fear Factory, Powerflo and many other bands is playing bass for us now, so we’re starting pre-production tomorrow (when he answered these questions a few weeks ago) and looking to start recording in, probably, a couple of months.
You mentioned a while back that Sean Killian was key to get you back in the band. How is Sean feeling these days after the health problems he had a few years ago?
Sean Killian is born again and not in the Christian sense (laughs). But I do think he has some Christian beliefs. But he is healthy, he is thriving and he is hungry. He is really driven right now, so Sean is back to being pretty much the old Sean. Less hair these days, but he is back to normal.
How much do you think the band has changed after all these years?
I’m gonna talk about Perry Strickland (Vio-lence’s drummer) for a minute here. Perry has mentioned that as Sean and I do the press and interviews, we never talked about them. “You never talk about us! There’s other people in the band!” So I’m gonna talk about Perry Strickland right now (laughs).
Him and I are the original members of Vio-lence and we have had a pretty contentious relationship through the early years into the reunion of 2001. Doing this reunion without Perry wasn’t something I was interested in and I think he needed to be a part of this. I think Perry has come a long way as a person, so I think that’s why we’re able to do this as adults right now. As 53 and 54 year old men.
It’s me, Sean and Perry from the classic lineup. But I don’t think this could happen without any of us to continue. Perry… it’s awesome watching him go through the emotions of not playing drums for a long time and coming back. He’s been riding motocross, raising kids, having a career and being successful in life. Seeing him jump back into it. He is such an exciting dude and has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). He’s like the squirrel in cartoons that goes all over the placer and moves everywhere (laughs).
So it’s super exciting to watch him go through these emotions and learning how to play drums again. Very exciting drummer, very fast hands. It’s really cool to write music with him again. And Sean, both vocally and lyrically, is awesome. He’s my favorite lyricist to work with in my career. I love the way he writes and his coloring, or lack of color in certain parts. He can say “Fuck you!” in so many different ways that are so clever, so I really dig the creative circle that we have right now.
Experience must certainly give you another perspective on things. Looking back on those first three albums, how do you feel about them?
You know, Eternal Nightmare was my baby. I wrote pretty much all the music on that. That will always be a very special record to me. Oppressing the Masses is a great team effort written by everybody and it sounds great. I liked working with Alex Perialas (the album’s producer).
Yeah, I prefer the first two records. The last record (Nothing to Gain) was a point in the band where I kind of withdrew from writing. I didn’t like the direction. I think that we all took being in a band for granted at that point and we were all spoiled a little. Spoiled little Thrash boys who kinda needed to be spanked a little and we did. So, there are some good songs on Nothing to Gain, but I think the overall vibe of the band at the time ruins it all for me.
Do you feel that Vio-lence appeared at the wrong time? The band came out when Thrash starting to lose a bit of popularity in the scene.
See, I don’t agree with that at all. We came out in 1985 and that’s when everything was banging (laughs). We were right in the heart of fit. As far as the Bay Area goes, we could play with anyone of our counterparts and hold our own. We could play with Testament, we could play with Exodus, and hold our own. A lot of bands didn’t. And we were selling out venues. We sold out two local venues back-to-back nights and a lot of bands couldn’t do that.
So, no, I don’t think we happened at the wrong time. I think the band ran its course when it supposed to. It led to so many other cool things and now we get to do it again, so no, no regrets.
Considering that the virus has had such a negative impact for bands everywhere, what plans do you have in store with Vio-lence in the near future?
Well, we’re doing pre-production on the record right now. We’re going to do a video. I’m not going to say for what, where or when, but we’re gonna do a couple of little teasers and we’re gonna get the band together. Bobby lives in Florida, Christian is down in South Cal. We’re going to get together and do some pre-production. We’re gonna be busy.
Thank you for taking the time to do this, Phil. Any last words for our readers? Where can we follow you and your bands on social media?
I’m @phildemmel on Instagram, @DemmelitionMH on Twitter, there’s a public Facebook page, an official Vio-lence page and Instagram too, so check them out. I got a YouTube channel where I do all my covers on, play through some stuff on that and I have ideas for this YouTube TV show coming out, so I’m super busy and got a lot of plans. I have a lot of things to do.
I appreciate MusikHolics for reaching out and I hope to see you all soon.