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Phil Demmel on the joys of "four dudes jamming covers" in BPMD

BPMD's Phil Demmel with his signature Jackson Demmelition Fury (Image credit: James Willard)

Phil Demmel's departure from Machine Head in 2018 left the guitarist unsure of his standing within the metal community and questioning his value as a player. 

Luckily, a quick stint filling in for Gary Holt on a few of Slayer’s last European dates gave Demmel a much-needed jolt of confidence. Joining up with a few old friends for his new BPMD covers project was just as priceless an experience. 

“I really owe a lot to those three guys for getting me over a hump [with] a lot of self-esteem issues I might’ve been having at the time,” he says. “Just thinking, ‘Hey, these guys believe in you.’ It really helped.” 

With its former and current members of Overkill, Dream Theater, Vio-Lence and more, BPMD’s pedigree is pure metal royalty, but Demmel is hard-pressed to call it a proper supergroup.

“It’s four dudes jamming covers,” he says humbly of hooking up with vocalist Bobby Blitz, bassist Mark Menghi and drummer Mike Portnoy for American Made, BPMD’s metal-finish salute to hard rock classics from Grand Funk Railroad, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Ted Nugent. “I was a '70s kid, so these are all bands I [that] loved and really got me into heavy music.”

The four vets converged upon Portnoy’s home studio in Pennsylvania last year to bash through the tracks in just 10 hours - Demmel sparingly added some rhythm work at California’s Trident Studios afterwards.

Of the quick-and-dirty nature of the sessions, the guitarist explains: “They’re not going to be frog’s-ass tight, you know? No quadruple tracks. Let’s just go in for vibe - warts and all.”

Demmel adds that American Made is also the first album in more than a dozen years where he’s played rhythm guitar; during his 16-year tenure with Machine Head, he’d mostly recorded leads. Now he’s flexing deft, triplet-judding heaviness into razorwire takes on the likes of Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic.

“I’ve got a metal wrist on my right hand,” he admits of revamping the bluesier approaches of Joe Perry and Brad Whitford. “You’re hearing a lot of chunky down-picking and palm-muting.”

Demmel mostly used his Jackson Demmelition Fury on American Made, citing its fixed bridge as the secret to coaxing tasty bends out of ZZ Top’s Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers. That said, he broke out a custom Demmelition V with a Floyd Rose to quake through Van Halen’s D.O.A., which gets reworked with a speedy, double-time thrash finale.

Though American Made is full of songs Demmel has lived with for decades, he’s quick to point out that he wasn’t mastering two-handed tapping techniques and Floyd Rose dives on his $42 department store starter guitar circa 1979.

“Back in the late '70s you weren’t just picking up Eddie Van Halen songs,” he says with a laugh. “[D.O.A.] was an easy enough riff, but I think I was more into [Van Halen’s cover of the Kinks’] You Really Got Me; that was the extent of my Van Halen [expertise back then].”

BPMD's American Made is out now via Napalm Records.

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Gregory Adams is a Vancouver-based arts reporter. From metal legends to emerging pop icons to the best of the basement circuit, he’s interviewed musicians across countless genres for nearly two decades, most recently with Guitar World, Bass Player, Revolver, and more – as well as through his independent newsletter, Gut Feeling. This all still blows his mind. He’s a guitar player, generally bouncing hardcore riffs off his ’52 Tele reissue and a dinged-up SG.