GUEST BLOGGER: GAIL FLUG
Strange musical covers, mash-ups and parody have been around for years, but they are often regarded as a novelty. Other times, taking samples of classic rock tracks into a new format has been called sacrilege — anyone remember “Come With Me”, Puff Daddy’ s re-creation of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”? So it’s no wonder that the very idea of a band re-working Beatles classics in the style and lyrical content of Metallica would be met with skepticism, blasphemy and/or great interest. Fortunately for one Midwestern quartet it’s been more of the latter due to solid musicianship, clever song arrangements and, above all, their keen sense of humor.
What started as spoof has given Beatallica — guitarist / lead vocalist Jaymz Lennfield, guitarist Grg Hammetson III, bassist Kliff McBurtney and drummer Ringo Larz — an international following with several albums under their belt (some available via download only), world tours and recognition from both the Metallica and Beatles camps. In fact, Metallica’s drummer Lars Ulrich came to their aid when they were having legal issues with Sony, who owns much of the Beatles catalog.
I was lucky to catch one of their shows earlier this year and chatted with Jaymz Lennfield, who still seems quite amazed that this quirky mix-up of two musical giants has taken his band this far. As a devoted metalhead who has adored the Beatles since I can remember, I found them to be one of the coolest and most entertaining bands I’ve seen in a while.
Were you in a band with any of the other guys before you were in Beatallica?
Not directly. I grew up playing in the same scene with Grg Hammetson, our guitar player. We’ve known each other about 20 or 21 years, since we were kids playing these crossover metal/punk type things back in Milwaukee, but I know that Ringo and Kliff used to play in the same spacey prog metal band together, and that was about eight or 10 years ago. So we’ve all played around but not always directly together. Milwaukee is a small scene, so you know who everybody is.
Are you more of a Beatles fan or a Metallica fan?
Just because of the era that I grew up in I’m definitely a metal fan. My avatar on our forum is me in KISS make up with a guitar when I was four years old. I wanted to be Ace Frehley. I’ve always been into metal and rock. It wasn’t until later that I started getting into Beatle-esque sorts of things. I was listening to Cheap Trick, which is a very Beatle-esque band with their vocal harmonies. A lot of the Beatles’ later stuff, the Paul McCartney stuff, has this early Americana flavor to it, a lot of vaudeville stuff. My grandma was a piano player and a dancer, and she started getting me into that side of life. Not that I dance, mind you, but at least [it opened me up] as far as expanding my knowledge base and learning that there was more out there besides “Calling Dr. Love”.
Did you listen to the Beatles a lot when you were growing up?
Yeah. Not a lot of my other friends did. It wasn’t until I reached high school that I met some guys who were really into that sort of thing. Both were guitar players around town, and we’d just hang out and do that. We were the weird guys with the basement parties that wanted to listen to Revolver instead of [Iron Maiden’s] Killers.
People don’t realize it all came from them.
Yeah. Kliff and I have this running gag at a show every now and then about what the first heavy metal song ever written was. I said it was “Helter Skelter”. He claims it was [Iron Butterfly’s] “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” because it came out a matter of months before. We have this Professor Kliff against Jaymz Lennfield war that goes on onstage. It’s pretty funny.
I would say it was “Helter Skelter”.
Then you would fail Kliff’s class.
“Grg and I save a file of stuff that’s called ‘We Hate You’. It’s just great because you get truly honest opinions of what’s on people’s minds.”
How did this all happen, combining the Beatles and Metallica?
We all love having fun, and April Fools’ Day brings about a time in Milwaukee for a festival called Spoof Fest, where local musicians do parody and satire of other musicians and bands that they like. So one year we were doing the works of Muttallica, and I was James Hetfield in Muttallica. To up the ante a little bit we started making these MP3s of just fun songs that we did for April Fools’ Day, and we handed them out at the show. This festival is 17 years old — I book it, so it’s one of my babies — and this thing got onto the Internet without us knowing it. Some guy put it up on the Internet because he was a Beatles radio host, and he got a hold of me six months later. He said, “Hey, you don’t know who I am, but do you want to come out and meet me for a drink?” I said, “I’ve got a girlfriend, dude.” He was like, “No, I want to talk to you about your band.” I was like, “I’m not in a band, man.” “You are now.” He showed me all this e-mail that his radio show was getting and said we needed to write some more tunes. Those were the simple beginnings that lead to more drastic middles and uncharacteristic ends.
What was Metallica’s initial reaction to this? I know that Lars has pretty much been in your court.
They were first turned on to it when they were touring Europe with the St. Anger stuff, and a reporter from the UK sat down with them presumably to talk to them about their tour, and a couple of questions in he presses play on a boombox that’s got our CD in it. He asked, “Have you heard of these guys?” They didn’t know what it was. Three weeks later they’re in Italy somewhere, and a reporter sits down, asks if they have heard of us, presses play on a CD and it’s us. They thought it was a little weird, so they started doing some recon about what we were all about. At first they may not have been put off but were certainly skeptical about what this was all about because no one had ever done anything like it before, and all of a sudden it’s getting out and almost getting a little bit out of control. We didn’t even know what it was all about.
When did it officially become a band?
We did this second group of songs, just myself and our old guitar player; we did all the drum, bass, guitars and vocals. We put that on April 1st again, as a sort of anniversary gift to the Internet. We thought just in case we should get a bass player and a drummer, just in case. Several weeks later we got flown to El Paso, Texas to headline a festival, so it didn’t take long for us to start playing once we released that second set of MP3s. From there people started writing and blogging about it and asking us to come here and there, and [people] in Europe got a hold of us and asked us if we were interested in doing a Euro tour. We were like, “Yeah, what do we got to do?” We toured Europe twice before we were even signed, and it’s because of the power of the Internet. At that time it was the rise of MySpace — now it’s declining — but things like that, just viral networking.
It kind of comes full circle because the way that Metallica got signed was through tape trading. These days it’s like instant tape trading online.
Back then it would’ve taken three weeks for a tape to go from a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy to get from New York to San Francisco, and then the quality isn’t good. Now you put it on the Internet, and it’s instant and irretrievable. That could be to your benefit or to your disadvantage if you’re not careful with it, and I think a lot of people forget that. Once you do something you’re out there now, and it’s a permanent record. We try to be cognizant of that with the way we handle ourselves and what we do on the Internet. We want to serve as an example of the good things that the Internet can be. There a lot of bad things out there of what the Internet can be now because people don’t know how to handle powerful technology. Even people who write into the Beatallica Facebook [page] — there’s a guy out there who shall remain nameless who has been writing in pretty consistently over the last two weeks. He hates us. I keep thinking to myself, “You know, dude, every time you post on our Facebook you’re putting yourself out there for thousands upon thousands upon thousands of Beatallica fans who will infiltrate your page.” And they do. There was this other guy from Pittsburgh who was railing on us on our MySpace, and five minutes later another group from Pittsburgh wrote in on our MySpace and was threatening this kid. This kid looks like he was a little touched in whatever way, and there was this guy going, “We are going to kill that fucking kid!” We find it funny. Grg and I save a file of stuff that’s called “We Hate You”. It’s just great because you get truly honest opinions of what’s on people’s minds.
Are you hated or loved by more Metallica fans or Beatles fans?
We’re hated by more Metallica fans. If people get really incensed, they’re generally going to be a Metallica fan, but if people are really passionate about loving the band they also tend to be Metallica fans. We’re just finding that the metal/rock side of life has a lot more spit in them either way. The Beatles fans tend to be a little bit more mellow. If they don’t dig it they kind of just let it go, but if they do dig it, they tend to be a little bit more calm in their demeanor. I think you can be a fan or not a fan of something, and it doesn’t have to rule your life. It’s good to have passion about music — I understand passion about music, everyone in this band does — but it doesn’t completely control our lives. It runs them to an extent, but there’s plenty of music out there I don’t like. But I’m not hacking on Lady Gaga’s message board.
Have you heard anything from the estates of the various Beatles or the surviving Beatles?
Everything has to be run through the mill. We have legal folks that have contact with various licensors from the Beatles. I pretty much deal with Metallica directly, which is cool. Some of it goes well with the Beatles camp, and some of it is a little bit trickier because not all of the Beatles catalog is owned by one person or one company. If it’s their cup of tea, then they’re cool and things come to pass, but if it’s not their cup of tea it’s little bit more of a fight. We have songs that have been denied and things that have been delayed. That’s just the nature of the beast and will continue to be with this band.
I’ve noticed that a majority of what you tackle is Lennon/McCartney stuff.
It’s just the way that it is, and we know that it’s going to be like that. Nothing is easy with this band. We have just grown to accept that, as unfortunate as it may be. But we also know that the things we do accomplish — what we have done and will do — nobody has done this before. This is a band entity that had not been taken on until we came along, so in some ways this is pretty groundbreaking stuff — the way that music is look at and interpreted, the way that legal arrangements and partnerships have been made. It’s a different beast, and it’s a different beast live, too. When you see it actually happening front of you, and you’re hearing it, it’s a different sort of band. That’s what makes it really fun.
“We have songs that have been denied and things that have been delayed. That’s just the nature of the beast and will continue to be with this band.”
When you guys are writing, what comes first, the Beatles song or a Metallica song?
It depends. It can be a riff, it could be a lyrical line, it could be a song title. We just submitted a bunch of these titles that we would like to start working on, so it depends on what inspiration strikes first. The first Beatallica song was written around a riff, the second Beatallica song was written around a song title. There are different ways to create.
Are there any Beatles songs you tried to work with that just didn’t happen?
Oh yeah. We were working with a tune called “Within You Without You” that just hasn’t gone yet.
How did the concept for “All You Need Is Blood” come up?
It was a message to the fans. Initially that was going to be put out on Valentine’s Day in one of these past years, and then we started doing these translations of the song. [Editor’s note: There are fourteen versions of the song in different languages on the single.] People would send us translations upon request, and we swore them to secrecy on it. They would translate it as they wanted to translate it, so their translated lyrics are not necessarily my American English lyrics. If they wanted to put in some of the things about what is going on their own culture or what pisses them off or people that they think are posers, they’re in the song, and it’s is another great example of how interactive Beatallica can be. I sang that stuff verbatim, and hopefully they would send in a phonetical translation along with their lyrics so I could at least get close. It was fun and was a challenge.
So you have no idea what you were singing, to an extent?
How has doing this band affected you as a musician?
It makes you better. You have to learn to work within multiple parameters. The vocal imitation makes you a different sort of singer. It’s not like I walk around talking or singing like that all day. I wasn’t even in a rock band before I was in Beatallica. I was playing acoustic music. All of that stuff makes you a better musician — at trying to be creative, at trying to be clever, not school grade funny. It’s a higher level of intelligence and fun, but yet it needs to be accessible. You don’t want to be a geek about it. You want to make it accessible to the listener. I think the more that we do it, the better we get at it. The mash-ups on the Masterful Mystery Tour CD is some of our best stuff. It’s fun and it’s sonically good, and that’s the idea that we’re looking for. Any band wants to be that, and we’re like any other rock band. We compose, we play and do anything that any other rock band does. It’s just that we’re a little more bizarre than other rock bands.
I think any form of parody has to be clever to be successful. Did you see the Simpsons episode parodying the Beatles history?
Friends of mine that are not into the Beatles as much as I am find it funny, even though they don’t quite get the joke. I think even people who don’t know the Beatles stuff might like you because it’s arranged very cleverly and is very musical. But if you know Metallica and know the Beatles, it just makes it that much greater.
If you know them, then you get the inflection of the humor more. The music tends to be the more intelligent side of the mash-up, and the lyrics tend to be the more humorous side of the mash-up. Plus we’re putting in our own stuff. We’re putting in our own lyrical phrases and working with time signatures and phrasing on guitars and drums and everything. We definitely put in our share of writing.
Which Beatles member would you want to be with on a desert island?
George Harrison, if it were a deserted island. If I were kicking around Manhattan, it would probably be with [Paul] McCartney. It depends where you are.