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Interview: Metal Allegiance’s David Ellefson and Mark Menghi on new album, ‘Power Drunk Majesty’

Posted by on October 4, 2018

On September 6, dozens of metal’s premiere musicians gathered at the Gramercy Theatre in New York City to deliver a powerful performance as Metal Allegiance. Founding members David Ellefson (Megadeth) and Mark Menghi sat down with Metal Insider to discuss the band’s second effort, Power Drunk Majesty.  The guys dish on the meaning behind the lyrics, working with musicians from across the globe, and more!

Power Drunk Majesty is out now via Nuclear Blast Records. The band’s next performance will take place on October 27, 2018 at Brooklyn Bowl in Brooklyn, New York, where they will perform Black Sabbath’s first album in full. Tickets are available here.

Okay, so, let’s take it back 2015, you guys are working on the first album, was there ever a discussion or did you already know in your head that you were going to make a second album or is that something that just kind of happened organically?

MARK MENGHI I knew we would. I definitely knew we would. I knew we would in the middle of recording the first one because we had so many ideas writing that first record. You know, the first record was kind of finding who we were as Metal Allegiance, not Testament or Megadeth or Dream Theater or whatever else that we do. We’re finding who are we as a collective unit. And then from there, that’s what spawned, at least myself, creatively to where we are today. So I definitely knew.

DAVID ELLEFSON Yeah. Oh, I agree. To me, it was about fun, you know? I’ve been in a group, fortunately, for many years, decades now, where we’ve made records, you know, and it was the mission of that band to do that. Something like Metal Allegiance literally started out of just pure joy, fun, friendship. And I think to me, keeping the friendship is as important as the song. And it can be challenging because you go to creative, different paths, different things you explore, you have to agree to disagree on things. And, of course, we come from very distinct backgrounds. I mean Mike Portnoy has a very not a metal background, at least professionally. He’s a total metal head inside. Obviously, Alex and I, I think everybody kind of knows our pedigree, but it was fun to unlock other sides of what Alex and I do. In fact, I brought in probably the less metal stuff to both of these records [laughs]. I’m the guy that brought in the stuff that was the least metal because I play a metal band every day. It’s fun to bring in other things and bringing riffs. I’m always writing, so I bring riffs and lyrics and ideas in. And I think for Mark and I, we’ve been friends for several years now, and for us to collaborate as bass players to kind of enjoy the differences…

MARK MENGHI We’re the only band on the planet that has two fucking bass players [laughs].

DAVID ELLEFSON [laughs] But I enjoy the differences in how we play. I mean, we don’t even talk about it. It automatically kind of decides what songs we’re going to play because of how different we play and that’s something very cool. Usually, most bands, you’ve got two guitar players who are very different and they kind of decide who’s going to play what lead. In this band, it’s like who’s going to play which bass part. It’s pretty unusual.

MARK MENGHI But there are times we play together.

Awesome. You had just mentioned, Mark, you guys, the first album you were finding your sound and I definitely noticed that when I was listening to this album. I felt it was more cohesive. How was that process, kind of figuring it out? Was there anything that you guys did differently or anything you applied differently to this album to make it different from the first?

MARK MENGHI It was easy, actually, again, speaking for me personally. January 1, 2017, I went to Alex’s apartment here in Brooklyn and we wrote “Bound by Silence” musically. And the next day we went to Portnoy’s house. We spent three and a half, the better part of three and a half, four days, but we just cranked tunes out. That set Dave up to come in and go, “Okay, so, this is where we’re going and this is where we’re headed and this is what we’re going to do.” And it flowed. You never sat there going, “Hm, I don’t know what to do. I can’t find a riff. I can’t find that chord for this part.” That never happened. It just came out.

DAVID ELLEFSON Yeah, I’d say that first album I think unlocked something in Mark that had been sort of suppressed. He’d been working a corporate gig, you know, raising a family, off on kind of a different path. I’ve been there myself for a season of my life. And then there’s this thing where you meet some people and you plug in your instrument and then you riff and they sort of give you inviting approval. I’ll never forget it the minute it happened when Mark started throwing some riffs out in that first album. Me and Alex and Mike just went, “Wow! Dude, that’s freaking cool. Let’s take that in the other room and throw that down.” That began a real four-way collaboration. I picked up a guitar, just started playing because I play guitar anyway, so it was fun to play guitar and not be the bass player.

MARK MENGHI Quite honestly, so here’s a fun fact on that. “Gift of Pain,” I wrote that music in 2001. It just sat there. 

What’s amazing about that song too is, I would have thought Alex wrote it because I feel like I hear that Testament influence. What are some of your influences?

MARK MENGHI I’m fucked up [laughs].

[Laughs] I want to hear that. Good, I want to hear something fucked up. I don’t want a basic answer.

MARK MENGHI I mean I’m a huge, in the metal world, you know, I always go to my three forefathers. The three forefathers of bass are Geezer, Cliff, and Steve Harris. Those are the guys, at least for me. I’m big into groove. I need to be able to swing to it. That’s just the way I am. That’s how I write. But on the flip side of things, no joke, I’m big into early on, you know, the early sixties, late sixties, Southern California rock like The Eagles and Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Jackson Brown, James Taylor. I’m huge into that.

DAVID ELLEFSON Your yacht rock channel [laughs]

MARK MENGHI [laughs] I love all kinds of music. I just love it, but again, it all, I need to be able to swing to it. Metal, thrash metal, like, I eat that. That’s what I am, that’s what I do, that’s what I love. But on the flip side of things, I take little bits and pieces and, on this record, it shows. It shows that you hear some Maiden and you hear some Cliff, you hear some Geezer put in a blender. I like to try my best.

That’s definitely what gives you your own sound, just taking that from everyone else and just kind of throwing it in.

DAVID ELLEFSON And taken that, I think, when this record was starting, schedules are always probably the most important component of that. I know we started talking about, I guess it was 2016, you know, like, “Well, what do we do? Do we book shows? Do we do these events and festivals?” For me, I felt very driven that we needed to make album number two, like quickly, like we really needed to get it going because we started out on Motorboat just jamming some cover songs. Then, we made an album that, which was actually Mike Portnoy’s idea. He was like, “Why don’t you come to my house  and we’ll make an album?” And then Mark set the course.

MARK MENGHI I actually laughed at the idea. I thought it was a fucking joke [laughs].

DAVID ELLEFSON SO then Mark said, “Let’s make a thrash album.” And then, so,  I felt like album number two would establish us more as an artist, not just sort of an all-star cover band or an all-star jam band because we’re, like, as much as there a bunch of famous people around, we’re not an all-star band. We didn’t form because we’re all-stars. We formed because we’re buddies.

MARK MENGHI Listen to the songs, especially lyrically. There’s real shit going on. We’re not singing or talking about, you know, “I’m gonna go get laid” or I’m gonna go drink and party.” It’s not about that. We’re not that at all. It’s more real-world shit.

It feels like there’s some political undertones on, like you guys are kind of speaking to the political climate right now.

DAVID ELLEFSON Well, what’s interesting about it, as we set the schedule, which largely was around Mike Portnoy being home for like a week. He happened to be home right at the holiday break of Christmas/New Years. With me living in Arizona, I’m like, I saw years ago, I don’t leave my Arizona home during that time. I just don’t because you’re just naturally going to fly into a snowstorm. The three of them live locally. I now have a part time shingle in New Jersey so I know I can hang with the guys more, but you know, they got together and I thought it was cool because, knowing Mark and what he brought in on the first record, I thought it was going to set kind of a cool tone to sort of establish the foundation of what this record was going to be. So, you guys wrote, like, six songs. We shared a Dropbox folder. I sat down, I think “The Accuser” was one of the first lyric ideas I sent over and, certainly, “Power Drunk Majesty.” I wrote a whole lyric thing that I sent to them, that I sent to Mark because he and I usually start the lyric collaborations. We just kind of have this kind of nice brotherhood with that. And I sent stuff to him and said, “Dude, whatever you want to do with that, go with it.”

MARK MENGHI Yeah, I’m big into it. I actually prefer writing lyrics more probably than playing. I love writing. I write for days. It’s funny, “Mother of Sin,” I swear to God the lyrics were about four pages long [laughs]. I’m not even joking. I sent them to Alex because Alex is a great editor. I’m like, “This is what I want to say. This is the name of the song. These are the keywords I want to use. Mold it.” [laughs].

DAVID ELLEFSON Well, that started a real collaboration with us, I think, on a lot of levels because Alex, you know, on the first record, he really, he took scars. And I realized with Alex, working with him lyrically, so, I’d go, “Hey, do you want any help with that?” He goes, “Nope, I got this.” So I go, “Should we work on the chorus?” “Nope, I got it.” And you realize, okay, this is where Alex sort of draws the line and says, “I got this. I’ll work with this.” It was really good working in the studio with Mark Osegueda, producing his vocals. So you got to see a lot of Alex’s production chops on the first record. This record, you know, Mark spent a significant amount of time just masterminding it, the three of us were busy on tours, between Mike, Alex, and myself, we were on a lot of tours, busy. Mark and Alex collaborate really well in the studio just trimming and fine tuning and fitting the pieces together. To me, that’s what I wanted. I go to them, “Why don’t you guys just take the production credit? I mean you guys had put the time and really, not just only the writers and musicians, but really having an oversight.” And last night, opening up the vinyl and really looking at it. That’s where Mark, one of his greatest strengths is really having a vision of the artwork, which is so needed in the metal band, someone who defines the imagery. Some bands, you struggle to get image around it because it’s a name, it’s the music, it’s some guys, but what’s the image?

MARK MENGHI And Metal Allegiance, a generic name like that, as people call it, it’s very generic. It can get lost very fucking easily.

DAVID ELLEFSON Yeah. So Mark’s been great with defining the image, coming up with the imaging around even the first record and imaging this whole record, laying it out. And I think, you know, it comes from, I’d say, you know, being a fan, we sit here and we go, “Oh my God, a double default and four sides of vinyl, we have cassettes. Oh my God!” This is like a dream come true for a head banger.

MARK MENGHI Well, what inspired this record cover is two parts. I love putting the Slayer Repentless artwork, the artist who did that. So, I went to Nuclear Blast and I go, “Who the fuck did that? We gotta get him!” So we got him. Then we were coming up with ideas and I was like, “I want to define every lyric of every song on this cover. How could we do that?” He came up with the idea to do it and then we actually used Rust in Peace as an example. I’m like, “I want something like this, but different.”

 

DAVID ELLEFSON See, and I’m too close to this. Like I would never draw off of a, well, look, I did use a Megadeth-ism the title. Mark called me, because Volume II was going to be very Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, but then Mark calls me. We’re on a group chat and Mark is like, “This imaging is so strong, it needs a name. This isn’t Volume II. I mean, it can be, but it needs something else.” So, I said, “I’ll tell you what, send me the lyrics.” So, he sent all the lyrics over to me, I just sat and I read through it and I just called him and I said, “Dude, Power Drunk Majesty is just jumping out.” Now, we did a similar thing with Megadeth with the Cryptic Writings album. It was one of the first records that didn’t have our mascot, Vic Rattlehead, on the cover and we had this, you know, we had to create imaging. And Cryptic Writings was a lyric out of the song “Use the Man.” It was just this really cool way to come up with a lyric and I didn’t even intentionally do that, but as I looked at it, I went, here’s a lyric. we all worked on that song. It’s a very collaborative work. It’s sort of defined that it was absolutely written in the election year. I think it sort of sums up a metalhead’s view of sort of the oppression, dictatorship, corruption, all of it, you know, kind of in the cover, in the song, and the lyric.

MARK MENGHI I keep getting asked this question, “Is it anti-Trump or this?” And it’s not. It’s, for me, at least when I’m writing it, being an average middle class American, stuck in the middle of left wing and right wing bullshit, liberal versus conservative, family fighting family, friend fighting friend, being stuck in the middle of it and going, “This is fucking crazy, you know, where we’re going and where we’re headed.” It’s not really a dig on anybody or a political figure. It was more of “What the fuck is our country turning into? What is this? What’s going on?” So that was my mentality while I was writing.

DAVID ELLEFSON Yeah. And you see this as we traveled the world. You to go to Argentina, I mean, I remember the first time we went to South America. I mean, there are still swastikas on the wall in Chile as we’re riding out of the venue. They were just coming out of dictatorship oppression. Argentina, Venezuela, and obviously we go to Russia, so we see these things all around. I think that’s one of the things with metal bands is, in fact, I was talking to Andreas [Kisser] about it last night, about religion and politics and culture. You can’t separate any one of them out. When you go to a country, you see something very, forget about how you were raised and your beliefs when you go into a new country. It’s sort of like zip it, shut up, and play your guitar, and rock the house, rock the people that come. And the people and the fans that come we played Bloodstock in England. They’ve had their own Brexit and their own political issues. You start to see things and you kind of go, let me have a look around and take this. And then, when you can all of a sudden take that back home and put it into a song, you’re speaking a language that speaks to everybody around the world, not just to your own country. I think when you write about your own events in your country or whatever, it limits it. It becomes limited. When you write about people, it becomes timeless.

MARK MENGHI Believe it or not, on this record, obviously the record cover has that political, I guess, statement to it. There’s only three songs on the record that have political lyrics. If you think about it, out of ten songs, only three of them do.

DAVID ELLEFSON Most political stuff in metal and rock and roll. Anarchy is the common theme of rock and roll. Get off my back! 

It’s interesting you say that because kind of, but I also feel like there are some other bands that are all like, “We’re patriots!” So, I think it’s interesting.

DAVID ELLEFSON Yeah, as soon as you go for one side, as soon as you say “chocolate,” you’ve alienated the vanilla people. So, I’ve found that if it’s really your band or song that you have to sing, then by all means go do it, but I think the common theme in rock and roll is get off my back. I got this. I’m not an idiot. I’ll figure this out on my own. “The man” is always in the way and I think that’s common. That’s just a common flag that we all live under. We’re rock and roll.

MARK MENGHI But we have more songs on this record, personal bullshit on this record. We have political stuff on this record. I have still to this day have no fucking idea what Max Cavalera is singing about [laughs].

DAVID ELLEFSON [laughs] But because it’s Max, you’re like, “Well, it sounds good!” It’s all good.

MARK MENGHI Yep, but no idea what’s going on there [laughs].

DAVID ELLEFSON We have Judah and David and a bunch of other names [laughs].

MARK MENGHI I guess, religion?

DAVID ELLEFSON It is religion, yeah. It’s funny with Max, which I’ve learned now from being around Kiko [Loureiro] a lot, it’s interesting being in a band with him because he’s so worldly and he sees things from such different perspectives and I love that because as Americans we’re newbies. The country’s only a couple of hundred years old. We’re total newcomers. We think, of course, that we own everything and we know everything, but we don’t. We’re just another nation. And I love that, about this record, that we have this international scope on it because, we’ve got Johan [Hegg] from Sweden, you’ve got Floor [Jansen], you’ve got Max [Cavalera].

MARK MENGHI You know what’s funny, speaking of Floor, you just nailed a really good point right there. When we did Power Drunk Majesty it was one long song. That’s how it was recorded. It was meant to be only one song. So, we wrote the lyrics to part one. We fleshed that out and we sent Floor the part one lyrics and we said, “We want you to do part two because we want the European perspective.”

DAVID ELLEFSON Totally, yeah! I got goosebumps.

MAKR MENGHI All the bullshit that you’re seeing, we want that perspective.

DAVID ELLEFSON That’s a great point. I’m just driving around, listening to the CD in my car the other day, right before I flew out here for the show. I’m listening to the record and it’s sort of chronological. Great metal records to me are, you need 40 minutes to just drive in your car to listen to them. You’re not picking singles out. In fact, if you have to stop and get on your car, your pissed because you’re breaking the flow, right? That’s how we make Metal Allegiance records. They’re metal records top to bottom. And to hear that hook from Floor, to hear not only how she sings, I mean she just has a beautiful voice, so majestic, but to hear her sing those lyrics with that conviction from that side of the world, pointing back here. I mean, I know that feeling because every time I leave the U.S. and I traveled to a foreign country and I stand and I look at our country, you’re either proud or you’re embarrassed.

MAKR MENGHI I love the tweet and comment. There’s a tweet and comment. Oh, the European perspective on it. When I read those lyrics, I was like, “We’re a bunch of fucking amateurs over here.” [Laughs].

DAVID ELLEFSON And I like it because, the allegiance of what we try to create is that we’re inclusive, never exclusive. This was never about leaving anyone off that participated in the record. This about expanding it and bringing more people in. Getting this global perspective is probably the thing I’m the most proud of from the performers that we had. We’ve got this great international perspective that represents metal from all around the world now on this record.

Absolutely. You guys have a lot of diversity and that’s amazing. I mean, I feel like you see a lot of these bands and sometimes they seem to be very niche, like we’re just gonna work with thrash guys or we’re just going to work with whatever. But, you guys have everything covered. You’ve got multiple women on the album like Floor and Alissa [White-Gluz]. You’ve got people from different countries and I think that’s awesome and definitely speaks to you.

MARK MENGHI Well, look at Trevor [Strnad]. Trevor’s known for a completely different vocal styling. Who the fuck would have thought, “That’s Trevor from The Black Dahlia Murder singing like that?” That’s the way we think though. We’re thinking, okay, how can we do this? We heard a five second snippet of Trevor singing in that style. I was like, “That’s the voice.”

DAVID ELLEFSON What is funny is that Alissa’s the same way. What I love is that she has an incredible singing voice. I mean, obviously, she’s very specific about what she does in Arch Enemy, but to hear her sing. I love watching the comments when she sang on “We Rock,” which was just part of a verse. When she sang, the comments blew up going, “Oh my God, we want to hear you sing more like this. We didn’t even know you could sing like this.” So, it’s cool to bring out different sides of what all of us do. Same with Alex, everybody, to bring out different styles. These two Metal Allegiance records are my favorite Portnoy records he has ever made. They’re amazing. I mean, he really just goes to the wall as a thrash metal drummer and it’s just amazing. And we all know his skills. We know the records he has made, but it’s like when I listen to these records, this is, to me, this is Portnoy at his absolute premium best. And that is absolutely free advice or life.

Definitely. I mean, you have a really amazing sampling of musicians. You all bring something to the table and like you said, you spoke on this earlier, you guys are able to step outside the box. You don’t have to write a thrash album; if you want to write something a little different you can, which is really cool. So, you guys have worked with a whole bunch of people. Is there anyone who might be on your wishlist who you would love to collaborate with that you haven’t yet?

MARK MENGHI I betcha he can guess mine and I can guess his. Rob Halford for Dave.

DAVID ELLEFSON Mhmm. For you…

Can I guess it? Steve Harris?

MARK MENGHI Close, but not number one.

DAVID ELLEFSON Hm, your number one? Well, we already collaborated with Geezer.

MARK MENGHI It’s not a bass player.

DAVID ELLEFSON Bruce Dickinson?

MARK MENGHI Nope. You don’t know? James Hetfield. Only because…

DAVID ELLEFSON You don’t even need one. No excuse needed. [laughs] Just because it’s James Hetfield!

MARK MENGHI I just think his voice and his right hand are just second to none for me as a bass player. right hand as a bass player. I would love to just noodle with him.

DAVID ELLEFSON You almost don’t even need a bass player with James in the room. He handles all of it. He handles drums, bass, and everything. He’s a one man show.

MARK MENGHI …And Justice For All, perfect example of that. You don’t need a bass player.

DAVID ELLEFSON We definitely have a few more guys that, well, a couple of them, just because of timing issue didn’t work out, but for the most part it’s, there’s a few, which is great because it already starts to plant the seed for album number three.

Okay so, wrapping up, my last question, I would love to know what newer bands, like post-2010, you guys listening to right now or maybe you feel inspired by? Is there anyone up and coming?

DAVID ELLEFSON For me, it’s Ghost. Hands down. I know they’re very popular right now and as a metal fan, I remember when Cheap Trick and AC/DC were my little baby bands that only I knew about. And when everybody knew about them, I didn’t like them anymore. But I just, I love everything that they do. I think it’s musical, it’s wide. I love music that is melody. There’s a mystique about it that I think is often gone in rock and roll because everything’s on social media and they’ve maintained that. Like what I grew up with with KISS, you don’t know what they look like. You don’t know where they live. They’re this larger than life figure. I love that. That has largely been lost in today’s rock and roll and they’ve somehow been able to maintain that which is super cool.

MARK MENGHI [laughs] It’s not new, but I just discovered it, so for me it’s new. It’s post-Lynyrd Skynyrd Rossington Collins Band. Gary Rossington and Allen Collins put out a record after the crash. I was just like, “whoa!” There’s some serious shit going on. It’s amazing. And Allen Collins, he was one of the guitar players in Skynyrd, he passed away a while back, but he’s one of my favorite guitar players ever. It’s not that I never got around to it, but I was in a record store, I’m a vinyl junkie by the way, and I was like, you know what, now is the time. And I took it, put it on at home, and I was just like, “whoa.” It’s not new obviously, but I’ve been blown away by that. And a new metal band I really dig is Power Trip. I think we’re in sync, at least myself and Power Trip. I really dig what they’re doing.

Have you checked them out at all?

DAVID ELLEFSON Yeah. I remember they played at an awards show, Loudwire or something. They’re another great group that’s, who knows, maybe one day they’ll be part of the Allegiance.

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