By Andrew Bansal
Based out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Beatles-Metallica mashup masters Beatallica are well known for their craft all over the world. With EP releases like ‘A Garage Dayz Nite’, ‘Beatallica: The Grey Album’ & ‘Winter Plunderband’, full-length albums ‘Sgt. Hetfield’s Motorbreath Pub Band’ & ‘Masterful Mystery Tour’, and the maxi-single ‘All You Need Is Blood’, they’ve garnered themselves quite a cult following, and their live shows only enhance the level of fun that’s generally had by the listener while he or she indulges in Beatallica’s music. Today, on April 16th 2013, they are all set to release their third full-length album ‘Abbey Load’, via Oglio Records. I’ve enjoyed their previous releases and the two times I’ve seen them live were indeed great, so I for one was looking forward to new music from them. Last night, I had a pleasant chat with lead guitarist Grg Hammetson III, and you can enjoy that below.
I was listening to the new album ‘Abbey Load, and to me it seems a lot heavier and darker than some of the recent Beatallica material. Would you agree with that?
Yeah I do, and the reason is, we’re signed to this label called Oglio who really gets us and has been great to us, but we’re distributed by Sony International, and some big wig at Sony decided that he didn’t like what we were doing. He’s like a new guy in power or something. So, he basically strong-armed us into either shutting the whole thing down or doing the next record by using the Beatles lyrics and the Beatles vocal melodies. So those were our choices, and obviously we were like, ‘Well, OK, we’ll do this record with the Beatles stuff then.’ And I think what happened lyrically was, Abbey Road is the record the Beatles were breaking up on, and the lyrics are just so dark that they tend to color our record that way too. Musically it’s the same thing as what we’ve always done, which is combining the riffs from Metallica and Beatles. And we’ve been getting heavier, but had we been able to do our lyrics, like ‘Help!’ for instance was called ‘Hesh’. It was all about our fans and what not. There are other ones too. Like ‘Mean Mister Mustard’ we were going to call it ‘Mean Mister Mustaine’ and we had all these funny lyrics regarding Dave Mustaine. So I think all that’s what lent itself to make it sound like a heavier record (laughs). That’s my opinion, and I do agree that it does sound darker. With all that said, it turned out really well.
That’s crazy! So basically Sony just wanted to shut you down and this is what came out of it instead?
Well yeah, Sony International owns all the rights to the Beatles catalog, so anyone in the world can’t do anything unless they go through those guys. In particular, the guy in power is really adamant about not having anyone bastardize the Beatles stuff, which is a drag because in the actual Beatles camp Ringo, Yoko and McCartney, they love it (laughs). But there’s nothing much else we could do. It’s their say, it has to be done or else they are shutting down everything. So we were like, ‘Okay!’ (laughs) I think any band that’s signed or worked with a major label or company, that kind of stuff is going to happen to them. Somebody in a suit will decide that they know what’s better, and fuck with the formula that has worked for years (laughs). But if people come and see us live, we’re actually going to be doing the lyrics that we wrote for those songs. We can do that legally and not be sued! It’s funny because in the beginning of Beatallica, Sony came after us to stop us from doing this, and that’s when Lars from Metallica stepped in. He said, ‘This is bullshit that these guys are trying to shut you down. Metallica is behind you 100 per cent!’ This is some years ago, and what ended up happening with all of that is, Sony dropped the lawsuit and were OK with us doing whatever we wanted, as long as we ink the distribution deal with them. So for all these years it was fine, and then all of a sudden they changed hands as far as the powers that be, with a new CEO or something, and things just changed out of the blue. So that’s one aspect of the record that has shaped how it is. But like I said, it’s still a pretty heavy record and we’re all proud of it.
That’s very interesting, man. But as for the songs and the mashups, there’s so much to choose from, right? Whenever you guys sit down to do an album it must be such a hard thing to decide on where to go.
We’re working with a limited catalog on the Beatles end because they were only around for five years, but Metallica has a lot more just from the sheer volume of the catalog. But there’s still a lot to draw from, you can put it that way. This is our third full-length. There is a finite amount and we’ll reach a point when we’d have exhausted every Beatles song (laughs).
What do you think is going to happen when you actually exhaust everything?
Oh, we’ll just continue to play, do some touring and what not. We don’t really know. The whole thing just came about as such a fluke anyways. We never set out to do this thing and call it Beatallica. It started when the band put a few songs together to do a rock club show in Milwaukee that was called ‘Spoof Fest’, where bands make fun of the bigger bands. Some guy in the audience posted it on the internet and named the band! That’s when Sony and Lars got in the fray, and then the rest was like, ‘Oh okay, I guess now we’re a band’ (laughs). So to be honest, we don’t even think that far ahead. We’ll deal with it when it comes. The label Oglio called us and asked if we wanted to do another record and we were like, yeah sure! We already had a bunch of songs lying around that we wanted to get recorded, so it wasn’t hard to finish it.
Right, and there can always be different combinations of the Metallica and Beatles songs that you’ve already used.
Yeah, the sky is the limit, specially if we start delving into the solo records of the Beatles guys. But to be honest, that eventuality doesn’t even come up when we talk about the band.
Talking about your guitar playing on this album, do you think you’ve had to make it bluesier just to suit the vibe of these songs?
Yeah, I’m naturally that kind of player anyways. With these riffs, I wanted to retain some of those George Harrison solos, which are to me really essential to those songs. I try to quote Kirk Hammett solos as well as George Harrison stuff, and I also try to throw in my own thing as well. It’s just a natural feel thing for us on this particular record.
Not necessarily. I would say the attitude is definitely Metallica, and leans more towards the metal side, but if you analyze the riffs, there’s Beatles within the heavy stuff. We’re all heavy metal fans, so musically we’re pushed in that direction but it’s not just Metallica that we write our music on. Like there’s a song called ‘Hero Of The Day Tripper’ on our last record. It’s a perfect example of that. It’s a really good blend of a Metallica riff and a Beatles riff put together to create a new riff entirely. But it comes out sounding heavier just because our sensibilities lean more towards the metal side of things.
On this album, it must have been fresh also to do the 90s Metallica sound rather than just the old 80s stuff. As great as those albums are, they’re so overplayed. For a band like yours, there’s the 90s stuff to work with as well, isn’t it?
Yeah, I totally agree. There are deep cuts that you’d never hear people talking about. So it was cool to delve into that catalog, even the post-Black album stuff. Then also, trying to do the medley parts from Abbey Road was awesome as well. Those songs are like a minute long (laughs). It was kind of interesting to try and get some Metallica riffs in there in the short time we had.
One thing I’m curious album is, how did you actually get the gig in Beatallica?
Well actually, it goes way back. I was in a speedcore band back in Milwaukee, and Jaymz Lennfield’s band would open up for us a couple of times, and this is going back to the 80s. We’re from Milwaukee, so I would see him around and what not. We had mutual friends too. And then those guys took off as Beatallica and I was still in my original band at that time. And then, fast forward to 2006, they called me up and Jaymz was like, ‘Dude, do you still know how to speed-pick?’ I was like, fuck yeah! So they just asked me to come down and audition, because their guitar player the Grg Hammetson before me had left, which is why I’m called Grg III (laughs). So I went down there and auditioned. We chatted about the concept of touring. It’s one thing to be in a band but it’s another thing to actually function on the road, playing 30 dates in a row in a foreign country. We discussed all that stuff but because I had been touring as well and played with a bunch of international bands, it wasn’t a problem. The audition went well and I got the gig. I’m quite happy, and it’s been great to tour with those guys. No issues at all!
This is funny. Those were made before I was in the band, and those things are fucking heavy man. They’re like Kansas (laughs). The band told me the story that they had somebody make these costumes, but they didn’t even think about what kind of material it should be, whether it should be light or not. So it was literally like wearing a fucking burlap sack. And then when I came in on the last record, when we were doing the later part of the Beatles when they went to India. The Indians wear those long kurtas, and I suggested we should do that too, to wear those long, flowery-printed dresses with beads and stuff, underneath the traditional Sgt. Pepper thing. So that was hilarious. We played some shows when we did the first half in the Sgt. Pepper stuff and then we would take that off and leave those kurtas on. That was the story behind that last look. When we come out for Abbey Load, we’re going to have a new look entirely. But I also tell those guys that at one point during the show we should incorporate the Sgt. Pepper look because to me that’s the iconic Beatallica look. So I’d like it if we could use that at least for a couple of songs just because it’s so much a part of our image, you know. But we’re definitely going to have new getups this time as well.
Talking of that previous US tour that you did in 2010, I saw you guys in LA and Pomona. How did you assess that tour overall? Did it get hard when you moved away from the Wisconsin region? Because in the US you’re still not as big as what you are in other places.
Yeah, it was weird. It was hit or miss. Some of those were brand new places that we’d never played, Pomona and what not. We also did the show opening for Steel Panther who had a Monday night thing at the Key Club at that time. That was cool, but yeah, it was definitely weird. The US is a weird market in general. Some shows are fantastic and others are not. So this time around we’re concentrating on Europe first, and then just building press. We’ll probably do a US West Coast tour may be in December, January or something like that. We’re shooting for Europe in September or October. Now that’s a great market for us. They get it, come out and have fun. Another thing we’re working on is getting over to Japan finally. It has been in the works for a while but has fallen through for several reasons, one of them being the hurricane that happened. So yeah, there’s definite touring plans for this next record.