AN INTERVIEW WITH BEATALLICA
By David Iozzia
I never had the opportunity to interview John Lennon or George Harrison, and neither Metallica's frontman, James Hetfield, nor their drummer, Lars Ulrich, returns my e-mails or phone messages about a future interview. All I'm trying to do is talk about my favorite subject: rock and roll music. I'm really passionate about music, and I think all the musicians whom I interview have something to say. The magazines and websites I write for provide musicians with an avenue to express themselves verbally. I have no hidden agenda as I interview, other than a strong desire to find just one musician on Planet Earth who will go on record and hammer Gene Simmons from KISS. (Nothing personal, big guy, but I'd love a great quote hammering you that would generate a couple million hits at my humble website.) So I'm going to keep on keeping on; spreading the word about cool musicians, hot bands, and their smokin' new records. Jaymz Lennfield, Ringo Larz, Kliff McBurtney, Grg Hammettson, and I chatted recently over lunch at Planet Hollywood in New York City about their band Beatallica, which is a Beatles/Metallica mash-up, and their brand new record, "Sgt. Hetfield's Motorbreath Pub Band," which coincidentally was released on the day I did this interview.
Dave: Thanks for agreeing to do this interview fellas. In Quentin Tarantino's classic film "Pulp Fiction," Uma Thurman's character tells this to John Travolta's character: "There's two kinds of people in this world, Elvis people and Beatles people. Now Beatles people can like Elvis. And Elvis people can like the Beatles. But nobody likes them both equally. Somewhere you have to make a choice. And that choice tells me who you are." I'm going out on a limb and guessing that all you guys are Beatles people. Introduce yourselves and tell me how you guys were first exposed to the Beatles.
KLIFF: I'm Kliff McBurtney, the bass player, and I was first exposed to the Beatles when I was growing up in the 70s. My brother actually looked like George Harrison on the "Abbey Road" album. He played guitar and he had all of the Beatles' albums, which I inherited when he moved out of the house. That music was a big part of my young childhood.
GRG: I'm Grg Hammettson and I play lead guitar. I always liked the Beatles, but I didn't fully appreciate them until I attended music school in Minneapolis. We had an entire semester on Beatles songwriting, style, and theory. After that, I gained a new appreciation for them. I adore them to this day.
JAYMZ: I'm Jaymz Lennfield, lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist. My folks were really not into the Beatles at all; their music wasn't part of my family culture. My mom listened to Johnny Mathis and Anne Murray. I discovered them on my own like a lot of the other types of music I listen to.
RINGO: I'm Ringo Larz, drums only. Our former guitarist Kirk introduced me to them. The first album he ever played for me was "Revolver." I'm a late bloomer as far as my exposure to the Beatles, which started when I was in my early twenties.
Dave: I won't ask you for the date that Beatallica was born Jaymz, but I'd like to talk about the day they were conceived. Let's talk about the first moment in time when you decided to mash-up the radically different music of Metallica and the Beatles.
JAYMZ: We have an unofficial birthday for Beatallica and it's April 1, 2001. When you have ideas like this, it's nebulous, and hard to know the pinpoint hour of where and when you were. The idea began when we wanted to create some mp3's for a fun event called Spoof-fest. We thought what would Metallica be doing to have fun at a festival on April Fool's Day? We started composing Beatles-esque songs after hearing some riffs on the radio and adding lyrics strictly for kicks. After making the mp3's and thinking nothing of them, we handed them out to people at the show. A friend of ours took them and posted them online without telling us. Nine months later, he got a hold of us and told us that he was getting positive feedback via e-mail from all over the place. He told us that he named us Beatallica and that we needed to start writing new tunes again. That's basically the beginning of the band.
Dave: Grg, pick one of your versions and elaborate on the process your band used to break down the existing song's structure, tempo, melody, and lyrics as you transform it into a Beatallica song.
GRG: On the new CD, my favorite is definitely "Ktulu (He's So Heavy)." It's one of the most clever mash-ups the band has done. I'm really proud of a part in the middle where it breaks down, and we play the Metallica tune and Beatles tune riffs at the same time over each other.
JAMYZ: Like any sort of songwriter, I do a lot of lyric writing and poetry writing. I actually used to do some fiction writing as well. I'm big into the written word and making sure, as far as Beatallica is concerned, that it doesn't sound like eighth grade humor. The song has to have a sense of cleverness and sense of intelligence about it, even though it's dealing with beer, fire, blood, brimstone, or whatever. You have to have tact. You're dealing with works by Metallica and the Beatles: two very intelligent bands. You're dealing with rhyme, meter, syntax, and all of the things that songwriters need to deal with to compose a song that actually works.
JAMYZ: I already mentioned beer!
Dave: Kliff, I can't envision Sir Paul McCartney in today's music marketplace trying to break a new band. Any musician who's attained his level of success would consider the time he'd have to spend on the Internet self-marketing a band and communicating with its fans as one of the biggest negatives in today's music industry. That time spent would take away from his creative process. How instrumental has the Internet been for Beatallica?
KLIFF: We would not be doing this interview today if it were not for the Internet. It's music fans and their online response that brought Beatallica out from being a party favor to being in New York City releasing and talking about "Sgt. Hetfield's Motorbreath Pub Band." I spent a lot of time on our forum talking with our fans. MySpace.com has been great helping us to get our music out there. Bands today, where there is so much competition, have to use any avenue that they can to get their name out there and make it happen.
RINGO: I just wanted to interject that the Internet is just like any other medium. You had 8-tracks, LPs, cassette tapes, CDs, mp3's, and the Internet. It's a step forward in the medium that we present our music with. If not for the Internet, like Kliff said, Beatallica would never have blossomed into an actual band.
JAMYZ: Sorry to interrupt Dave but check out the video screens playing Rick Astley. We did a U.S. tour, which I affectionately dubbed the "Kill Rick Astley" tour.
RINGO: We had a headshot of Rick Astley on our lanyards.
JAMYZ: His decapitated head was in flames!
Dave: And, in the ultimate irony, here he is playing on 28 separate video screens.
JAMYZ: He's all around me man!
Dave: In your band's infancy, you had a website and a MySpace page, You were recording mp3's, but you weren't taking it all too seriously. What factors made you switch gears and decide to record first an EP, "A Garage Dayz Night," and your new release, "Sgt. Hetfield's Motorbreath Pub Band"?
JAYMZ: When we started doing more mp3's after the initial ones, words started coming out that industry people were interested in it. This was around January 2004. I decided to start a band with a former bass player and guitarist to recruit Ringo and kick those songs around because you never know what will happen. Then we started getting calls to do live shows, both locally and around the country. We headlined festivals in Texas, Cleveland, and Chicago. We realized we had something that was starting to swing in our favor. With the power of the Internet, as Kliff said, we started using it to be attractive but not obnoxious.
Dave: Beatallica has received stamps of approval from Anthrax's Scott Ian, Dream Theater's Mike Portnoy, and from members of Metallica. How cool is that?
JAMYZ: I always wanted to be in their bands, and know I can semi-call them my colleagues. Our record came out today, and we're officially a professional band. That's great. I want to sit down with them now and just chat. Not about when I was 13 years old and I saw Anthrax play. I want to talk to Scott Ian about 1981 when the Brewers and the Yankees should have been in the playoffs together, but the chance was ruined by the baseball strike. That's the type of stuff that is cool to me.
Dave: Ringo, have you made any efforts trying to get your record heard by Ringo Starr?
RINGO: No, I wouldn't even know how to attempt it. How do you get in touch with Ringo Starr?
JAMYZ: If our record does well enough, Ringo and Paul will find it.
Dave: That's the game plan? Wait, and they'll eventually come across it?
GRG: They're probably pretty busy though!
Dave: Keep talking Grg. Let's talk about Beatallica's first full-length record, "Sgt. Hetfield's Motorbreath Pub Band." Today, July 10, 2007, is your official release date. Where should fans go to purchase it?
GRG: The only place I'm really sure is Virgin Records in downtown Manhattan (laughing). That's the only place I've seen it so far! You can get it everywhere. The main place online is Oglio Records. Look in your record store racks right between Beach Boys and Beatles!
JAMYZ: Use the Internet and you'll find all the places to purchase it or download it. Using the Internet to find information and make music accessible is what it's all about.
KLIFF: Don't forget www.beatallica.org.
Dave: In today's music marketplace Jaymz, I think it's impossible to release a record and have expectations on the day you release a record. Instead, please comment on your band's sense of validation.
JAYMZ: We all worked real hard at doing this. People may have questions about whether Beatallica is a covers thing, a tribute thing, or whether it is a joke band or a garage band. If it was any of those things we wouldn't be here with you right now doing this interview. We'd be back home in Milwaukee, just getting out of work. It's nice to see that hard work and patience, of which we've had plenty, can pay off. We're four guys who like to have fun. It's nice to see that having fun can also get you somewhere. It gets lost in the American metal scene, the idea of having fun and letting yourself go a little bit. Today is very validating, and I wish all of the Beatallibangers could be here with us.
Dave: Between songwriting credits and copyrights, what sort of legal obstacles did Beatallica encounter trying to get this record released?
JAYMZ: During the whole process, we've kind of watched the process go by. There's things we could suggest as a band but we're not lawyers. We're a bit smarter than we were 20 months ago, but practicing law is not what we choose to do professionally. We have people do that for us. Other labels that approached us about signing may not have had a good plan. Some may have wanted to change us to make the legal work easier. Well you know what? I'm not in this band for it to be easier. You can't be in anything creative for it to be easy. You have to be in it because you believe in it and because you know exactly what to do. Oglio Records, Metallica, and we got on the same playing field and got it done.
Dave: Writing, playing, and recording music is challenging enough. I think the biggest challenge for a band in the 21st century is getting its music heard. Can you please comment on that challenge Ringo?
RINGO: I suppose that's why we're here or on the radio and TV doing press. We're using every tool we can to push the product. The best thing to do is get out there to play shows and get people enthused about what we do. Hopefully, concert-goers will go a step further and check out our website or buy our CD.
KLIFF: There's a lot of distractions out there. America is over-saturated with a lot of media. It's hard to stick out in a crowd. You've got to do what ever you can.
JAMYZ: Bands are always heard, people are always heard, but is anybody really listening and understanding? Beatallica has a mindset that you really need to think about what we're doing. People may think it's a fun thing and a party thing. But if you don't understand the points we're trying to make about how to view music, you're missing out. We try to challenge the listeners. We hope that they have the mental fortitude to really understand us.
Dave: Grg, it's time for a silly question to break the ice here. Is there a track on "Sgt. Hetfield's Motorbreath Pub Band" that music listeners can play backwards to hear subliminal messages like "Paul is dead"?
GRG: We have subliminal back-masking on most of the tracks. The most prominent are Ringo's flatulence noises.
JAMYZ: If you play it backwards, it sounds like a canary I think.
Dave: Do you care to defend yourself Ringo?
RINGO: No, I'll just let that one sit.
Dave: In July 2007, you played a few U.S. tour dates to support the release of "Sgt. Hetfield's Motorbreath Pub Band," and a few European festival dates will follow the U.S. dates. What type of fan reception has Beatallica received in Europe as compared to the fan reception in America?
KLIFF: American audiences are great, and we love everybody who comes out to our shows. There's more of a tendency, due to the fact that there's so much to do and see, that they come, appreciate it, do their thing, and then go home. German audiences, for example, are creative. They make us things and send us little projects. They are the epitomy of fanatics.
Dave: European open air festivals like the Earthshaker Fest are unique experiences for rock and roll fans. What are American audiences missing if they've never attended any of the big European music festivals?
JAYMZ: A lot. We played the Kings of Metal festival in Holland. We thought we'd get killed walking in. We were playing with scythe-wielding, corpse paint-wearing types of bands that we thought would eat us for lunch. Yet, the folks are so receptive and more willing to let themselves go than American audiences. Americans attending European festivals can learn how much of a community the heavy metal or hard rock scene can be. That is sometimes lacking in America where we take everything too serious. The sense of camaraderie in the American scene somehow gets lost.
Dave: If any of you have ever attended Ozzfest, how would you contrast it to a European outdoor festival?
RINGO: People going to a festival here tend to go to hear one particular band. In Europe, they more willing to check out bands that aren't in their chosen genre tastes. They are way more open to a variety of music in Europe.
Dave: What should music fans expect from Beatallica in the latter part of 2007?
JAYMZ: If they are coming out to a show, they should expect to move and lose their voices by the end of the night. That's what we expect out of them. We put a helluva lot into a show, and we want them to do the same. As far as where we're going to be, keep checking out our website. It'll always be true and up-to-date. The Oglio website has some official videos. As far as new tunes, they're only in our head and we do them live. Because of the release of "Sgt. Hetfield's Motorbreath Pub Band," the focus is on that. We have plans to do more, but we're trying to stay focused on the task at hand.
Dave: Thanks again for the interview guys and stay metal.
JAMYZ: Right on.
KLIFF: Play it loud!
Dave: Feel free to end the interview with closing comments for your fans.
KLIFF: Play it loud heshers.
GRG: Our fans are of a higher caliber than average fans of other bands. They need to have a base understanding of a couple of very different bands. They need to be able to suspend their beliefs to listen to Beatallica. I appreciate all of them.
RINGO: Thanks to all our fans for all their support.
JAMYZ: The questions you asked were really great Dave. We haven't gotten these questions in the last couple of days. In a recent interview, somebody asked me my name! Thanks for the good questions. It's real apparent that you're doing something you love. As for our fans, we encourage them to come to the website or a Beatallica show. We hope you dig the music and the record. We do. Right on and stay wild!