Vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth
Interview By Lord of The Wasteland/Transcription by Adam & Jodi
Twenty years is a long time?longer than some of the readers about to pore over this interview will have even been on this Earth, yet thrash legends, Overkill, are celebrating that monumental anniversary with the release of their 14th studio album, entitled RELIXIV (pronounced ?Relics?). A lot has happened in those twenty years and the band has seen many members come and go but with vocalist Bobby ?Blitz? Ellsworth and bassist D.D. Verni at the helm from day one, Overkill is ready to take on the world with a huge tour (finally including Canadian and U.S. west coast stops) and a celebration of sorts for having survived twenty years in the heavy metal trenches.
I spoke with Ellsworth in early-March and found him to be one of the funniest subjects I have ever interviewed. After clearing the air with a discussion about the NHL players? strike, we got down to business with a 85-minute chat about the new album, big plans for the band?s 20th anniversary, the early days of Overkill, surviving the 90s, his health, why there are always ten songs on their albums, what?s it?s like being known as the ?working man?s metal band? and about a hundred other things! Enjoy?
It is 2005 and it has been twenty years now since Overkill?s debut, FEEL THE FIRE, came out. Did you ever think Overkill was still going to be a reckoning force after this many years?
That?s an impossibility, I don?t know if I?m shortsighted, have no insight, don?t care?there?s no way. If someone said ?Do you think there?s even a possibility?? I would have said, ?Nah, not a chance.? But I suppose, in hindsight, I guess we did the right thing and I guess the right thing is the day-to-day kind of attitude, you know. We?ve always taken the opportunities that come our way and we kick the shit out of them. I know it sounds almost like a lug head mentality but if a show comes up, it?s still a big deal. It doesn?t matter where it is. So I suppose, twenty years gets strung together that way by taking each days opportunities and beating them up.
Do you ever dig out the old POWER IN BLACK E.P. for shits and giggles?
You know, no I don?t but I do have the bootleg on disc. I haven?t seen the video in years but its funny, we actually did ?The Beast Within? for the DVD but it came out really crappy. I think I was the one who was messing it up.
(Laughs) Is there any chance of the older stuff coming out, sort of like a rarities thing for the fans something like that?
You know, it?s been bootlegged for years. I forget the name of the company?maybe Metal Masters in Germany or something like that?they took an EP and did that to it. There?s always a chance. I really don?t know. It?s not something that we really sat down and concerned ourselves with because there?s always kind of a positive forward movement for us. I?m not going to say forward by leaps and bounds but even just holding your own in the mid and late 90s was enough of an accomplishment. But I do look at the coming years possibly presenting those opportunities to us. Maybe I could get the POWER IN BLACK stuff out and just clean it up a bit and digitally remaster it or something.
The 25th anniversary Overkill box set is where we should see it.
You think so?
Yeah definitely (laughs)!
(Laughs) I think Metallica is going to beat us on that!
Well, yeah, probably (laughs).
Like you said, Overkill is definitely one of the most prolific acts out there. I mean you guys have released a studio album almost every year since 1985. How do you keep up the pace of writing and the inspiration to still do it regularly?
I don?t know what the key is but I do know that the results have always got a feeling of freshness to it. Whether you like the record or don?t like the record, that?s up to the listener of course, but it always has some type of movement to it. That?s what I was speaking about before?again not by leaps and bounds. Maybe take a sidestep to the left and experiment a little bit this way or a little bit that way, whether it will be groove, hardcore or punk. I think that?s where the freshness comes from that it still is interesting to us. I think the proof of that is in pressing play. It?s really kind of simple. This isn?t a famed, energetic record that we released 20 years after our debut. This is about the way it is right now. Again, I think this has to do with opportunity. I mean that this is not something that we ever looked at lightly. We make not take ourselves as seriously as we take our music, but the idea is that there is value in 1985?s FEEL THE FIRE and we knew that, and we know it has value today. It?s an injustice to that value if you take it lightly, I think that that becomes the inspiration, and from there comes new ideas. We have our own sound and our own style and that style has different things.
Well, the new record is out March 22nd it?s called… pronounce it for me?
It?s called RELIXIV and pronounced ?relics.? Yeah, we just added the other roman numerals to it to make it more interesting in the interviews (laughs).
You guys have self-produced, recorded and mixed it. Why did you decide to go it alone again?
You know, a guy asked me this today, and it seems to be one of the big questions. He added something to it: ?Did you do it yourself to get the cash in your pocket?? And I you know that?s a pretty good observation from somebody. I suppose in some degree that helps but you know by the time your done making all the mistakes on your own, you end up pissing that cash away somewhere else by remixing it yourself and having to pay for more studio time. There?s also an upside to doing it yourself. There?s two sides to the coin. One is the objective ear of the producer?his opinion, his expertise. The other side is ?This is my baby, this is our ship, lets sail this mother fucker.? So it was half for fun, half to save the cash, or piss the cash away, but being able to control the record from start to finish was what really did it for us. I think our idea of production was different of what was done in the past, too, and that was to make the record performance-oriented. If we?re an old-school band, if we are what we are, and we know what that is, then to revisit and forego technology to an extent, it?s kind of a cool way for doing a record for us again. It?s like doing a second honeymoon or something. It wasn?t analog. I mean, of course it was digital. We used the computer but we didn?t cut and paste this record together. That?s what?s kind of cool about the whole approach to it and we knew that this would be the way for us to do it opposed to someone else coming in and doing it.
That?s a nice thing, you know, its not slick, it hasn?t been given the ProTools treatment to death.
That?s the idea, and that?s evident to me on new releases. We?ve done it and you can get the absolute perfection of recording, you know the epitome of what recording is all about as far as musical perfection goes, but you lose the human element and it sterilizes it. I?m not going to say we?ve done this in the past because I think KILLBOX 13 is a pretty expensive piece of real estate in terms of production?Colin [Richardson] is just awesome?but the point is this band has always been a live band and the idea about that is to capture what our assets are. Our assets are there?s still ninety minutes a night where we?re on tour and we rule the world and that?s our approach to it and it should be like that. When we were recording, this was our approach and the result was RELIXIV.
Did you miss having the outside voice there saying you know ?This sucks? or ?This kicks ass??
You know we did have an engineer with us, someone we trusted who worked with us in the past. So we did have objectivity, and the fact that I?ve known him for a 25-year period?if you know someone that long they?ll say anything to you, and nobody?s feelings are hurt. It?s not ?Let?s be careful of someone?s ego here.? It?s really, ?Look man, it?s just fuckin? awful!? (laughs) The idea is that that?s how things get done with that type of honesty. If you?re going to take on the production thing to put a badge on your chest but still be mindful of all the egos around you, I don?t think you?ll get it done. I think in Overkill?s house, it?s kind of different. We?ve lived with each other, we don?t really care. Hurting other guys? feelings is not what it?s about. It?s about brutal honesty when it comes to getting a good product and I think we?ve always been able to do so.
There seems to be a tip of the hat to some of the Overkill albums from the 1980s with the thrashier parts on RELIXIV. Did you guys try and drop some of the groove elements found on the last few records and bring in some of the thrashier parts of old?
I think it?s just?we?re working on a circular clock. It wasn?t done consciously but when I think back now, I think, ?Whoa, it starts getting that way a little bit more on the BLOODLETTING record.? It started getting that hardcore thrashy vibe to it and that. KILLBOX 13 had three or four cuts on it that were thrash numbers and this one and my view of it, and this again in hindsight, is that you know the thrash world and that sweathammer groove collided. It didn?t mix but it just kind of became separate pieces but they kind of show all the elements of the band. I think the best indicators of that are tracks four and five [?Bats In The Belfry? and ?A Pound of Flesh,? respectively]. It?s like one world that meets another world but for some reason there seems to be a signature voice or some signature bass playing or the way the double bass is played in one song opposed to the other. But there?s a reason that they work and I don?t know why the fuck it happens but they?re cohesive. It?s kind of cool for us to be able to show that both exist on one record.
?A Pound of Flesh? has got to be one of the heaviest tracks you guys have done in years for sure. Does it feel good to go nuts again on tracks like that?
Dude, fifteen minutes and the thing?s done (laughs). It?s like no work at all. I got this thing in the mail?I had been exposed to it prior. D.D. [Verni, bass] goes, ?These are the finishing touches. I?ve put some stuff on with Dave [Linsk, guitar].? I call him back and go, ?I think its done,? and he said, ?Yeah, I think its done, too? and I said ?No, I?m done with it? (laughs). The beauty of songs like ?A Pound of Flesh? is that?s an action versus reaction song. If we work on that as a band musically and listen to it, we have an immediate reaction. As for my end?the lyric writer and the melody writer?I can say, ?I know what goes here? because with that action I have an immediate reaction. It?s one of the beautiful things about the thrash approach is that some of the best songs are written in fifteen minutes. Musically it took a lot longer, that?s just my end of writing. Those guys worked their asses off, I?m just a sloth.
(Laughs) How many tracks did you guys actually write for RELIXIV?
Ten. It?s always that way. People always say, ?Is there other Overkill stuff floating around?? and I say ?No? (laughs).
Well, that was actually one of my questions. I noticed that there seems to be usually ten songs on an Overkill record. Is that a conscious number that you guys have in mind?
Yep. That?s the way it?s been since the beginning. I remember us sitting there as we were taken under the wing of management all the way back in ?86. We didn?t have it during FEEL THE FIRE but we were being guided by a lawyer who hooked us up with some great managers. One of these managers went on to be the vice president of RCA and still worked there, fantastic guy. He sat us down?we were like these wild-eyed, pissed-off guys with motorcycle jackets, with like half beers in our pockets, and he said, ?Boys, you write ten. That?s all you?re getting paid for? (laughs). But you know, it also gives the opportunity to focus on those ten. There are of course other ideas that will be played on tape which could evolve into songs, but their not focused on. We pick ten, we focus on the ten, and we say ?This is a record as far as we?re concerned.?
This is the third release on Spitfire Records. How are things going with them?
Pretty decent. When we were first brought over to them, Paul Bibo [??] ran Spitfire. I love his philosophy on things. They got some good people up there. I?m happy that they?re doing it. I?m happy that they hire promotion. They have to do these things and we sold a good amount of units last year, more than we?ve done prior and that to me was impressive. So I suppose my answer is yes. I?m even optimistically positive about this release because we?ve been doing a little bit more. It?s not really about dollars and cents to us and I don?t think it is at Spitfire. I suppose it is in the long run but it?s really about some kind of a positive movement. If there is a new interest in this by a new group of listeners, we should own a piece of that real-estate.
I think just the name Overkill will sell itself to a lot of people. I mean, at this stage, you guys could put an hour of guitar feedback out and people are still going to buy it because it has the name Overkill on the front.
Well, I think we?ve been very lucky in the fact that we?ve been united with a group of people that have followed us and kept us alive over a long period of time and when some left, others came in and took their place. I think this band has always been about commitment. I mean there?s no backdoor plan to get MTV airplay. I mean if we have a plan, that sucks too, because it?s taken twenty years to admit we have it. The idea is that it?s a real honest approach to music. What you hear is what you get and what you see is what you get if its ninety minutes on a stage. If it?s in New York or Bumfuck, Kentucky it?s really the same approach and I think that?s what people appreciate about this band.
Somebody wrote that ?Overkill is the Bruce Springsteen of metal.? The ?working man?s metal band? (laughs).
(Laughs) Who? I guess to some degree, it?s a very blue-collar mentality. D.D. and I have been here for over a twenty-year period. Just to know someone for twenty years is amazing, let alone write songs with them and have a friendship for that long. I think we have a blue-collar work ethic. Maybe we?re the individuals that have been here for that period of time but I don?t present myself in anymore of a light than any other of the band members and I think that that?s necessary. I mean, we were headbangers before we were Overkill and we?re still headbangers when we?re in Overkill. It really eliminates a whole bunch of bullshit when there?s not all these other things that go with it. I didn?t have to go to ?Rock Star 101? because it never really mattered to me. I wasn?t going to be sitting on a therapists couch at 45 saying that I was abused and I should have been one of the big four on the thrash thing in 1990 with Slayer (laughs). If it didn?t fuckin? matter, it didn?t fuckin? matter and maybe we?re our own worst enemy when it comes to that but I think the other side of it is that it?s a reason for the longevity. Let?s say we?re reachable. There?s a certain amount of closeness with this band and the people who listen to this band. You know maybe people don?t agree with what we say but maybe they respect the fact that at least we?ll say it (laughs). I think that all this together has helped keep this band alive and most certainly the people who buy the releases.
Do you think there are a lot of people who are just as excited about RELIXIV or KILLBOX 13 as they were when UNDER THE INFLUENCE came out? I mean, do you think you still have a lot of fans that stuck with the band for 15-20 years?
I think there is. I think that one of the things that happened is that this lasted for a long period of time. You know, somewhere in the 90s?and we probably talked about this last time?the wave of metal was dead and everybody went home and worked for your dad and lived with your mom in the basement (laughs) and put on their tight pants once a week and went to the rock club (laughs). But the reality is that we never answered the call. I don?t know if it was ignorance, and it wasn?t only us, there was other bands of course, some great bands like Testament and Kreator. I think it was one of the reasons that we were able to stay alive during this period and we picked people up during that time, which may have picked up THE KILLING KIND and then went back to UNDER THE INFLUENCE and were really excited and shit about THE KILLING KIND. I think people are still excited about the new releases, but I can be honest when I tell you that thrash in 1988 was a dangerous type of music. It had impact because it was unpredictable and unexplained. Now, people have had time to let it sink in and if it didn?t, they?re not paying attention or they?re not metalheads. If you go, ?Oh my god, this is the craziest thing I?ve ever heard,? I?ve listened to some black metal and you know it really sends you right to hell (laughs). I think that people are excited about it but in a different way. I don?t think that it?s, you know, ?expect the unexpected, this is the heaviest thing since lead boots.? I think it?s just about the talent and the value that the music has itself.
One of the songs that really caught my attention off RELIXIV was ?Old School.? It sounds like you guys had a lot of fun when you were recording it and writing it, but why did you wait until now to really openly explore your punk influences on record?
Good question. Well, we did have fun quite obviously. You can almost hear the beer steins clinking, right? And you can picture it in some English bar. You know, the band has always had a punk root to it but we?ve always presented ourselves as a metal band. As far back as FEEL THE FIRE, I remember the bonus track for Europe was ?Sonic Reducer? from The Deadboys and we were still using that song in the set. We were doing some Ramones covers prior to being signed. It was like the most fucked up thing. They would ask, ?What kind of band are you?? and we?d say ?We?re a metal band who does some punk songs.? They?d say, ?Well get the hell out of here! We?re not giving you a gig.? We took that metal presentation and added that punk energy to it. That?s were the punk kind of stayed for all these years for us and punk energy is a real honest kind of angst. It?s an unexplained variable. When it comes to ?Old School,? we were deciding on the songs and D.D said, ?I haven?t finished this one.? I said, ?Send it anyway before you send the other track.? I sat down and I listened and listened and in two hours, I was laughing my ass off, because he actually wrote the chorus to that and I have only his voice on the singing?and he can actually sing well?and I said to myself, ?It sounds like something from a 1970s TV show, it?s so stupid? and I said ?I?m done with it.? So he said, ?Well, we?ll leave it on for a bonus track? and I said ?Well we?ll leave it on the record. It?s 20 years. We can do what we want (laughs).? But it was really about just being fun. I don?t think we waited. It just so happened to rear its ugly head so we took the opportunity and went with it.
You were mentioning the difficult times that bands like Overkill had during the 90s when grunge took over. Did you ever think about packing it in when everyone was saying ?metal is dead??
The funny thing was is that, as everyone else went away, our value rose and I suppose other bands did too because obviously there was still touring going on. There was the opportunity to fill houses wherever you went and we saw immediately what the value was. We?re kind of glad we waited it out. I suppose it?s like selling your stock. If your broker calls you and says, ?You gotta sell now,? and you go ?Something?s telling me to hang in there? and then you cash in a year later, I suppose that?s really what happened. We didn?t really know why, but let?s be serious, they had less choice. There was us, there was Testament and there was a few other bands. We were doing good size tours. I mean metal was dead and we were filling 1,500 seat rooms. This was a good thing for us, so it never really was a bad time for us. It appeared as a bad time. There should have been a book called ?Grunge Eats Metal Except For A Few Bands That Stuck It Out,? and I think we?d be listed in that. So it actually was a good time for us and it kept us out of this god awful reunion phase (laughs). I?m flipping around the TV the other day, and Motley Crue certainly did change the face of rock ?n? roll, but I was never really a big fan of it. I actually liked the DR. FEELGOOD record for some reason, but I never really liked the rest of it. I really thought it was about ?you have to see my band? with them as opposed to ?you have to hear my band?. Anyway I was flipping around the TV one day looking for a game and I saw a channel where they were making over Vince Neil, and I said to myself ?This guy?s got to be the best comedy I?ve seen in fuckin? years!? He?s sitting there playing with his little bags going ?It does look good, Ray? (laughs hysterically) and I said to myself ?But for the grace of god and the bad attitude, there go I.?
(Laughs) How have you guys avoided jumping on a trend? You know we?ve had nu-metal come and go, we?ve had hair metal come and go and we?ve had grunge come and go. What kept you guys focused on what you originally started to do?
I?m sure you have to say in all honesty we were part of the thrash trend. We didn?t invent it and we never said we did. We may have made ours original and unto ourselves with that vibrant punk attitude with a metallic presentation. We weren?t orchestrated like the west coast bands were. Those guys would go into these symphony guitar parts in the center of it. We were more like the meat and potatoes, you know, sledgehammer thrash. Um…I don?t know. I think that we saw the value in it. I think that the value was important to us, again being headbangers before being the band. You know, I was diving at a Slayer show before I was signed to Overkill. That?s probably part of the reason. This was important, this had meaning, and this has impact. We have experimented sometimes and we?ve taken a step to the left and a step to the right and tried to incorporate that into our sound and in many cases we have and I think that is part of our evolution. But this is the same band as the 1985 release. It?s really about going for it. It?s about squeezing the shit out of the opportunity. Maybe the difference then was that it was chaotic and now it?s more organized chaos but I think what kept us on that focus was that you find something you love you protect it and you just try to make it better. It?s not about selling the bike to get a new one, it?s about the one I have is fine. I just have to polish it.
Do you keep your ear to the ground with what the newer metal bands are doing at all or do you try and distance yourself from that, especially in your writing?
On occasion. I was happy to find that In Flames is ten years old. I was really blown away by that fact and they turned me on to their old catalog. I was like, ?Holy shit, I thought this band was five years old.? Some of the newer metal bands have some good ideas, like Shadows Fall out of New England. The problem I have with nu-metal is not change. I really don?t have a problem with change and I have a problem with sameness. I suppose that could be argued in any genre to some degree. Like, ?Oh, these guys are always using the double bass just like the whole goddamn genre,? talking about us for instance. I really think that a lot of these guys should be paying Phil Anselmo royalties. This guy changed the face of vocal approach years ago and did it with such an unbridled brutality with an honest angst. I mean it was the newest thing that anyone had ever heard, it was the last time I heard anything heavy that made me go, ?Whoa? (laughs) and because it was new and I think it?s been flattered for a fifteen-year period now, I think that?s maybe why I steer away from the mainstream of it. But I?m still exposed to it on some level.
Do you hear any Overkill influence when you hear some of these newer bands?
I don?t really pay close enough attention. I think if we go back to the original question, sure I?ve named some of the bands that I?ve been listening to, but I probably don?t have my ear to the ground that closely.
Let?s talk about touring for a bit. Overkill has the eastern U.S. tour planned for April, and then May through August you?re over in Europe. One of the bills that really interested me was Sweden Rock. Are you guys excited to be playing with those bands again?
I never played with Dio. Motorhead, I could tour with them as the opening act for the rest of my life and I think I?d be happy. I think I?m actually going to have a good time seeing Motley Crue just because I think it?s something I never really saw before. European festivals are just awesome. It?s great planning and usually great bills. We?re doing one with Maiden and Nightwish in Poland. We?re doing another one with Maiden in the Netherlands.
You guys are also touring with Meliah Rage, another band that?s sort of making a resurgence again, as well. I was talking to Tony Nichols and he?s excited about touring with you guys.
Somebody approached me about this and we had booked some dates and they were interested in them, and my answer was ?I have no problem with them being on the shows,? but we never contacted them directly. I heard they were added to some of the New England shows and a show here and there, I think maybe D.C. or Springfield and Baltimore so they?re going to be on more than just a handful of them. We did shows with them up in Boston in the early days when those guys were the kings of Boston thrash.
Are their any plans for you guys doing another live album on this tour or anything like that?
Well, you know it?s the twenty-year anniversary of the band and we?re trying to think of something to do but really the idea was let?s concentrate on RELIXIV. You know, it?s a new release and it can?t be about what follows it until its done and its only recently been done. We?re speaking about doing a big European show and doing a big U.S show, filming both for a DVD, special stuff, like going into the FEEL THE FIRE record in its entirety, with maybe a fifteen-minute break and then coming back and doing our set. So it would be a long show with the emphasis on that release from twenty years ago. Probably a theatre-sized approach. I know that they?re already being planned in a place called the Live Music Hall in Germany and in New York with like 1,500 to 2,000 people. It will definitely be filmed, I mean why should we not?
Talking about DVDs, the WRECKING EVERYTHING DVD came out in 2002 and that?s become something of a reference point for fans to measure DVDs that come out now against. I know a lot of our readers just go nuts about it!
There?s a lot of value in it for sure. I mean, we take a lot of pride in the stuff we do. One of the things about Overkill is that we try to control as much as we can but that DVD, I think we?re especially proud of. We got the film crew, we set the tone of the night, we got the lights, we brought in the sound, we promoted the show, we set the price, we picked the venue?I mean, across the board. If you remember Sebastian Marino, our guitar player from earlier days [1996-1999], well we contracted him to do the whole thing. It was such a hands-on project for us that we were going to lose our ass if nobody showed up. But it did work, I think, because we did it right and we had faith in the fact that this is still worth doing and I think that that comes across in the DVD. I mean, you can do all that prep work to it but then you get an excited crowd that shows up and the band kind of feeds off that shit and it was a great show. It was really worth doing and I think it was good that the band was finally documented in the DVD format.
Well you guys were one of the first to really jump on and fully use that format to its fullest potential. I mean, you had the documentary, the extended show, the 5.1 sound. It?s basically everything that DVD was made for and you were using it before most other bands were.
Well, we involve good people and its one of the Overkill principals. We talked about longevity before. It?s really about knowing what to do. It?s not about throwing a piece of shit out and seeing if it floats, its really not about that. We put our ass into that thing! It?s not a matter of we?re fighting for budget all the way through this. We?re managing ourselves going ?Its not enough! We gotta bring in Richardson to mix this record? (laughs). There?s not five guys sitting around smoking bones and drinking beer saying, ?It could have been better if we did this.? It?s really about five guys saying, ?Get his fucking ass in here? (laughs) and maybe that attitude is why the results are what they are. There is no shit release, in our opinion. You may dislike it and you may have a favorite record and you may think another DVD is better but we can say, ?Okay, we did everything we could to make this as good as it possibly is.? There?s no ?I wish I could have?s? with regard to this. It was either done or wasn?t done.
You guys had a tour stop in Spain that you were supposed to play on Friday. Do you want to comment on why you had to cancel that?
The reasons were personal. A family illness had to be taken care of. We do have principals and obviously we tried the best we could to make it but there was no time. There was only like thirty-six hours notice, so it was unforeseeable. But the person is doing fine and remains intact with the band.
Excellent, that?s good to hear, so you mentioned some of the older thrash bands like Exodus and Death Angel that came out with albums this year.
The Exodus album is a great album.
Yeah, the Exodus record was our number one album for last year.
That was a really good release. It took a lot of balls to do it without a record label.
Absolutely, it?s too bad that Zetro is out again but hopefully he gets back in.
Yeah, they are their own worst enemy. They?re great musicians with great releases but hey, you can?t have everything.
Then Anthrax, of course, their going to be getting back together with Joey Belladonna at Sweden Rock.
(Laughs) No comment, huh? (laughs) I get it. Will Overkill ever reunite with some of the older members and maybe have a reunion gig or a one-off show or anything like that.
Ah…it?s going to have to be for a retirement fund (laughs). It?s not something that we?ve really talked about. The idea has only come to my mind because I knew Joey was coming back to Anthrax and actually there?s a whole bunch of other stuff going on. I?m so sick of these reunions. I just don?t know what to say about it. They just have less and less value, I think. But I suppose people do it for their own reasons and that has nothing to do with me. You?re just doing what you have to do. With regards to us, I?d rather concentrate on where we are. I?ll never say never, though, because who knows what opportunity will present itself? If it works in the future?for kicks maybe, but it?s not really a concentration of ours.
That might be something I thought you were alluding to when you mentioned doing something special for the 20th anniversary. You know, like a home town gig where everyone comes on at the end of the gig for a jam or something like that?
Rat and Bobby had great contributions to this band and were great people and I still feel that way about them. I?ve never had hard feelings towards anyone who left this band. I mean, Bobby I?ve had a problem with when he left, because he kind of left just not…happily.
How does the current Overkill line-up compare with others in the past?
I don?t know. It?s cohesive. David Linsk is the longest-standing guitar player in Overkill. He joined the band after the release of NECROSHINE , actually before it because we had to get ready for touring with him. That?s a pretty big accomplishment, I think. You have to realize that we don?t throw these guys out; they go on to other things. Joe [Comeau] went to Vancouver to sing with Annihilator. Sebastian Marino went to start a family and a business. These guys had made their own decision to leave. It had nothing to do with me or D.D. or whoever runs this band saying, ?Your time?s up.? This lineup is cohesive. Tim has been with us for a long period of time and quite honestly the person who had the problems was Tim and hopefully this will work out. We said ?Hey, we?re here. If this is what you need to do, we?re still here. It?s not like you gotta go because you?ve missed the show.? I like this lineup and it?s got its strong points to it but all the past lineups have had its strong points, as well.
You mentioned the Eddie Trunk show and there was sort of a one-off thing you guys did on Halloween where Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater ended up drumming. How did he end up getting involved with the band and what happened to Tim for that gig [**NOTE: Since this interview, Tim Mallare has left the band]?
Well, really the same situation. This illness has been happening since October. It?s just really something that?s unforeseeable because it?s a really delicate situation. It?s not a matter of, ?Hey I gotta get to New York and play at the Hard Rock Caf? for Ed Trunk!? It?s not even considerable. Tim gave us the call twenty-four hours before the show and he said, ?This is not going to happen. I can?t leave.? We were going to try to get Tim?s drum tech to fill in, but that wasn?t going to happen. We called Ed and said ?We have to pull out? and he said ?Give me an hour.? He called D.D. back and sent me an e-mail and said ?Try Mike Portnoy.? I?ve met Mike a bunch of times on the road. He?s from the area. Mike gets back to me within fifteen minutes saying, ?What songs do you want me to learn?? and I said ?Wow.? We practiced for two hours and we did ten Overkill tunes and I think six cover tunes. It was like playing with an animal! Mike is not really a finesse drummer, he can pound. It was a really unique thing to have a ?Dream-Kill? setup going on. He knew the stuff from the band from the early days, so it was really a simple approach.
Is there a reason that its just yourself and D.D. that are writing and you don?t have Tim or any of the other guys writing songs on any of the records?
?Cuz it?s our band that?s why (laughs)! Pay attention (laughs)! The other guys contribute to the songs, they most certainly do but they don?t contribute to the final result of the songs. They contribute to the development of the songs. Our feeling is that this has been Overkill with regard to the writing team since the HORRORSCOPE record . On I HEAR BLACK , we tried to go the other way and were kind of left with a directionless record and it probably clutched onto this since. Even if it said ?Overkill? on W.F.O  and on THE KILLING KIND, it was D.D. and myself. We had a problem with a few of the guys saying, ?Yeah, I?m not writing with you until you tell me your giving me credit for the other things.? I said, ?You know, that?s not going to work. If you present a song and its good enough, we?ll use it.? Dave likes to be heavier into things when it comes to writing. He has a project called Speed/Kill/Hate that?s sort of a cousin to Overkill and that?s his outlet with regard to writing. That?s the stuff Dave likes to write. I think that?s fine and I?ve always supported that band. I think it?s a great band from that deathcore approach to things. They?re really hot and really aggressively brutal but that?s not Overkill, so that?s why we hold onto it.
So how does an Overkill song come together? Do you and D.D. write together? Does he give you the music and you write a lyric around that or how exactly does it work?
Well, it starts with a riff and with D.D. and he may start demoing some of the stuff with Dave in the room and Tim. Then from there it goes to me and I mess around with it and Dave is messing with it and it eventually evolves into a tune. But it most certainly starts from a riff and a riff usually comes from D.D.. Occasionally, a vocal line will start a song but usually it?s a riff.
You have the MP3 for ?Within Your Eyes? posted on the band?s official site so fans can get a taste of what to expect from RELIXIV. How important is the internet to a veteran band like Overkill?
Well, quite honestly, the press we?re getting is not at the highest level. Of course there?s interest in the band?there?s sites and mags and webzines, but I think if you can get instantaneous information, this is the age of such, so it is important. We?ve re-hatched the site for this record and got information and trimmed it down so it?s easy to navigate and get involved and answer questions. Actually, I?m a registered member on the site, so if people want to send e-mails through registered members, I get a notation at home that says I got a new message.
So you guys are really involved with it then?
Yes we are.
What do you think that Overkill would have been 20 years ago if there was such a thing as the Internet?
Oh, I don?t know. I think everyone would have had it and it would still be a level playing field and it would have progressed as it normally progressed. Twenty years ago, that means Iron Maiden also has it, as with Slayer and Van Halen, so I think people?s interests are people?s interests but it think its more necessary now when information about the band is instantaneous. You can see that we?re playing Vancouver on some date or New York on some date, so I think now its more pertinent for the position we?re in and quite obviously we?re an underground metal band. We are what we are and its part of the reason that the heart keeps thumping is that information is instantaneous.
Getting on to the topic of past releases, is there ever going to be a song that continues the ?Overkill? saga further on to Part 5 or is that done with?
I don?t think so, but again I?m not long-sighted enough to say. The first four were done with Bobby Gustafson and I think that was what was kind of cool about it. It ended with ?Evil Never Dies? and sure enough it did (laughs)! But I think the idea was that it was a chapter in the band?s history and that chapter really ended with Bobby?s departure because a new chapter started with HORRORSCOPE. And you know as we talked about the writing earlier, this was D.D. and myself writing HORRORSCOPE and maybe that kind of set the tone for us, as in finally understanding where the groove comes from, where groove and aggression come together and where groove, aggression and speed come together because it really wasn?t part of the band prior to that. So I don?t know, but if I had to guess I would say no.
There are a couple of the early releases that were just put out again by Megaforce last week?FEEL THE FIRE and the FUCK YOU E.P.. Did you guys have any involvement in that or was it a label decision that was made?
No, they didn?t even contact us. We sent e-mails out as soon as we found out. I actually found out in an interview and said ?Jeez, c?mon boys!? (laughs) You know, like, ?What?s the fuckin? deal here?? (laughs) We sent some e-mails to them to find out what this is all about. I saw that they actually reduced the prices of them etc. etc. etc.
How many more years do you think are left in Overkill?
A hundred, probably a hundred.
Yeah? You guys are going to be the Rolling Stones of underground metal? (laughs)
(Laughs) I?ve used this a lot of times and I may have done it in my last interview but I like pulling it out of my hat every once in a while?I retired it a little while ago. We?re going to do a live record, and it?s going to be called NO SLEEP ?TIL SOCIAL SECURITY (laughs)! Or WE ARE THE WHEELCHAIR CREW (laughs)! I don?t know, I mean where do you go from here? I didn?t know where to go after KILLBOX 13. Not that I don?t have a plan because my plan is a daily one and I?ve always thought it?s worked for me. It?s helped me in my personal life and it?s helped me in my professional life and that?s to see what the day has to offer. Of course, be prepared for what that day has to offer the prior day, but whatever it has to offer, take that opportunity and if you?re going to embrace it, embrace it fully. That?s why Overkill existed for this amount of time. It?s that day-to-day, seize-the-moment type of attitude and that?s strung itself into two decades now, so where the fuck do you go from here? I think I just go to tomorrow. This has helped me personally to understand things. People have crossed barriers in their lives and if I take on the problems of the world, I?m quite obviously not going to solve them and just put myself in a whole world of shit, so I think my attitude of taking it day by day is really the best. Of course, we have to plan forwards and maybe have special shows towards the end of the year.
Have you achieved everything you want as a musician or what else would you like to do before you call it a day with Overkill?
Madison Square Garden. Yeah. Is it going to happen? Probably not (laughs). ?Old School? would have to have the edited version go to number one for us to play there and eighteen thousand of those people will be disappointed when they hear the rest of the set (laughs). But I think it?s the New York thing. What?s the Vancouver arena? I?m sure there?s bands in Vancouver that go, ?It?s gotta be here??
Yeah, B.C. Place. Top of the world (laughs).
Yeah, it?s gotta be where the Canucks play that would be the best thing to achieve. So being from the New York area, that would be the greatest thing.
Your voice is probably one of the most unique and recognizable in metal. People seem to have strong feelings about whether they like it or they dislike it, but do you consider yourself a singer or a vocalist?
Hmm…let?s say the voice of Overkill. I don?t think this applies on many other levels. Of course I can sing but it always sounds like me and that has irritated the masses for two decades (laughs). ?What?s your dad do for a living?? ?Ah, he just pisses people off.? But I?ve endeared myself to a minority that for some reason are very drawn to it. I suppose I?m a vocalist then because its more about presentation and I suppose energy. It?s really about an on/off button.
So you?ve never had any formal training is what you’re saying?
I did it for half a year to avoid nodes in an operation. This was all the way back in the FEEL THE FIRE days and I take those principals with me to this day of understanding that and warm it up prior to a show. I don?t drink anymore, I?m physically fit and I?m not really big on junk food and stuff so I have a decent lung capacity. And even though I don?t drink, I?m still pretty good in a bar fight (laughs). The point is, is that its always worked for me by not over-thinking it, you know? I don?t sit there and go ?Oh my God!? I used to know this singer who traveled around with thermometers so he could take the temperature of a room. When he went in, it was like, ?Oh my God, its 66 in here! Bring in the space heaters!? (laughs)
Do you think you?ve improved over time? Do you think you?re a better vocalist now compared to the first couple records?
You know, it?s funny because sometimes I listen to some of the new stuff that comes out and I go, ?Boy, that sounds like that kid I knew back in the 80s.? It?s note-for-note, as high as it was. I think I understand my voice more and I think what I?ve done to it is been able to add a dimension to it and that dimension is a Mid-Low. Most of the low vocals you hear on Overkill records are done by me. The background vocals are not done by somebody with a lower voice, and I?ve been doing this for a ten-year period now. I always try to expand it a little bit because that always makes it interesting and fun. You might say ?Oh, this is kind of a cool effect? and it?s not really an effect, it?s just the voice.
On ?Love,? for example, you just let out a scream on there that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Yeah, that?s the on/off button I got going on about (laughs).
I was going to ask if there is any of the older songs or any of the notes from the older songs that you can?t do anymore that you could when you were a young buck?
No, not really, because they weren?t really notes. That?s the point. What they do is they kind of reach themselves into this collage of frequency that works in three or four different keys (laughs). It?s not like you?re looking at a guy who has the ability to sing and then go up to that really high end note, like Rob Halford for instance, who kind of sets the tone for that. It?s an unsurpassable talent to be able to have all those balls and then get all the way up there and be hitting the note that the guitar player?s actually playing. In my case, I just get up there and scream. I?m going to hit the note eventually but I?m not jumping to the note (laughs), so most certainly it?s a different approach. On my end, it?s not hard for me to do what I did then because I?m not really doing anything different. Maybe to the listener it sounds like a note but if you sat down with a music teacher, they?d say ?Jesus, turn this guy off,? (laughs) but it works for me and I don?t mean that to demean what I do. It?s worked for me because it goes with the songs. Again, are you the singer or the vocalist? It?s really about presentation for me. Sure, I have two octaves I can do and then some falsetto comes in whereas three different voices and its always worked and it?s never failed me. I suppose twenty years later, maybe it was the right choice for me to do that as opposed to searching for the exactness of musical perfection.
You mentioned the Speed/Kill/Hate project that Tim, Derek Tailer [guitar] and Dave have. Have you ever had a desire to maybe do a solo project on your own or do something that?s even non?metal?
I contacted Jimmy Page. He wasn?t interested. ?Who the fuck are you and how did you get my e-mail?? (laughs) I wrote an album?s worth of material with Chris Caffery from Savatage and it was a hell of a lot of fun because it was no pressure. There were no great expectations and it was fun. It was ProTools demos and we had a laugh doing it and we decided, ?Hey, let?s see if someone?s interested.? My feeling going into it was ?If we?re going to do this, we?re not going to do this on some record label. We have to have a budget to do this correctly,? because if I do something else, it has to be very different than Overkill and that?s going to have to take a good amount of cash, and that didn?t happen. Chris agreed going into the project. It wasn?t that we had different philosophies about this because he has a decent career with what he does anyway, so it?s really about thinking about it that way. The record was kind of strange. It was like elements of New Wave of British Heavy Metal with occasional Pink Floyd-type loops, so it wasn?t just a standard ?bang-your-head-and-raise-your-fist? metal record. It really had some strange things on it and I was really proud of the songs we did.
Sounds like a cool project.
It was really different. We had written the record and we had gotten this guitar loop that we thought was really happening with this really kind of a?somewhere in between tribal and?picture drums in a church. This thing linked every song and it grew song by song and actually became part of the record. You hear a little of it between the first and the second song, then you hear a verse between the second and the third song then you hear two verses and a chorus between the third and fourth song and by the end it was almost a complete song.
How did you get involved with the Dan Lorenzo [HADES] solo project last year?
Dan and I are just close. We like each other a lot. We have a lot of laughs on the Internet. Dan toured with us with Non-Fiction back in the 90s. We?ve always been in touch and he sends me everything he does. He said, ?I?m getting ready to do this and if you ever want to write a song with me..? Then I sent an email back, ?I don?t know if I can write one with you but if you ever need any vocals?.? I hit send and then I have one new message, ?When can you get there?? (laughs) I walked in and he showed me the part. This is Dan?s song, I had nothing to do with writing it. He goes, ?This is what you have to do.? I warmed up for ten minutes and we did it in three takes. It was just fun, I mean Dan and I watched the Super Bowl together last year and stuff, so it?s really just a friendly relationship.
You produced a demo for a Jersey band called Dirt Church in ?94. Have you worked with any other bands besides them?
No, no I haven?t. I worked with a band for a while but I hooked them up with someone else. I was involved with production years ago?maybe 1990?but I didn?t really see the project through. I made sure it was finished for them but didn?t take it to the next level. I had no intention of doing so. I attached my name to it, they got a few gigs and that was that.
Did you enjoy taking off your Overkill hat, looking at another band?s music and being critical of that as a producer?
It was interesting. But I?m really locked into one way of thinking about things and that?s quite obviously producing vocals for Overkill for fourteen records. At least to some degree, even if we have a producer I?m sitting next to him as this mix is going on, picking everything from effect to making sure the high-end is ripping your head off but not making your ears bleed. I?m involved in odd-projects deeply whether we take full production credit or not, but doing it for another band, I think I?m locked into the Overkill blinder thing. I do what?s best for me.
What?s the status of the Bronze Casket Company with Tim and D.D.?
I know there?s a third record done and D.D. was shopping for deals for it. I think he worked with Jack Frost and he did a lot of the guitars himself this time. Interesting girly vocals, which he always does. I mean this is like D.D.?s A NIGHT AT THE OPERA. This is really his story, the whole thing, and he?s really into Anne Rice, Clive Barker and Stephen King and comic books and he collects all this NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS stuff. I always thought this was a great cousin of Overkill. I always thought that this was a close family relative, but I do think that the way he approaches it, and people’s uses for it, it’s awesome. Myke Hideous has got a cool voice for that. Really cool.
I just want to ask you a couple questions about your health. Since you had the cancer scare there a few years ago, has that changed your outlook on life at all?
Hold on, I’m lightin’ a Marlboro (laughs). No, not really, quite obviously (laughs). It is what it is, people have problems. People get bumps in the road, mountains to climb, crosses to bear. All of us have them. How does it affect you? I just moved through it. It was really simple for me, you know? It happened at a good time in my life, believe it or not. Everything else was kind of in line. I was going to accomplish what I wanted, it delayed the divorce I was going through for a little while – which I wasn’t really too happy about (laughs) – but that was in line, you know what I’m saying? And that was going to be a good thing, not just for me, but for all involved. So the idea was, sure, it was a detour, but I was mentally prepared to handle it at the time. I decided I could live through this or I could live in it. I remember D.D. calling me and saying, what do you need to do? And I said, this new record (laughs). I need to do a record, let’s do a new record.
So it was therapeutic?
He got me the stuff, and we started working on a record while I was going through it. So no, I’m quite healthy and cancer-free since 1999.
Good to hear, man.
Thanks, appreciate it.
I hate to draw the black cloud over everything, but did you have any after-effects of the stroke that you had in Germany in 2002?
Not really. I find that when I do, like, 22 interviews in a day I start stuttering somewhere around nine o’clock (laughs).
Especially when you’re talking to some jackass like me at nine o’clock at night (laughs)!
(Laughs) I started at ten this morning, man. It’s been an awesome day. I had 21 European interviews right in a row. It was like, how did you even fit this in this time frame? I mean they’re eight minutes a piece, this is insane (laughs)! No, there hasn’t. This is another thing I’m supposed to live through. I can’t say it’s just me, but I think to some degree attitude helps you heal things a lot quicker. I had some great support in this – my wife’s fantastic, and my kid was around when all this happened. It’s gotta be a rush for an 18-year-old kid to see his father go down on stage. “Your old man just had a stroke in the back” (laughs). But he was really awesome and really helpful through the whole thing. I recuperated in Holland with my wife’s family for a few weeks, and we had a big party that was their big anniversary party. By the time I was home, it was three weeks later, and I think the first thing I did was hop on my Harley just to see if I could do it. I said, you know, this has been on my mind. I got on it, and I could keep it up. I could only make left turns (laughs). It took me four hours to get fuckin’ home after I got out of the driveway (laughs). But the idea was that I was very lucky and blessed by having good friends around and good family to be able to help me to get through it. The best thing was, I’m laying there, and I finally came to in the parking lot and I didn’t know what happened to me. But nothing hurt. It was like when I used to drink, it was somewhere between rum and morphine (laughs). I was just kind of numb. And I’m looking out of the back of this ambulance, and I’m realizing, hey, there’s something going on here. My arm’s stuck up in the air, and I can’t move this side of me, and I see Tim. Tim’s standing there and he’s got his shirt off and holding his drumsticks going, ?Dude, we’re right behind you, we’re on the bus. You’re lookin’ good, bro.? And Dave Linsk goes, ?Blitz, hang in there man. Whatever you need, don’t worry about it, I’m with you.? D.D. goes, ?OK man, we’ve got everything together for you, don’t worry about it. Your kid’s in the ambulance, too.? Then I see Derek Tailer and he?s got this look on his face like, ?Ohhhhhhhhh?this guy just had a fuckin? stroke, man!? (laughs) And I didn’t even know what was going on. I didn’t know ’til then (laughs). But it wasn’t painful. I told my wife afterwards, I said, If I had my choice, I’d pick this to go by (laughs).
(Laughs) You mentioned Pantera earlier and one other thing I wanted to talk about is the shooting of Dimebag. When that happened, did you rethink the live setting, or even being involved in music at all? Did it put a pall over you at all?
No. No, not at all. It didn’t affect me. Evil is always going to rear its ugly head, tragedy is tragedy, and uncontrollable. It can happen anywhere. It’s a shame that somebody who contributed on such a great level was taken from the scene. I mentioned earlier that I’m a fan before I was in the band and still am. I don’t know Darrell personally, but I knew he revolutionized guitar and I knew his commitment was at an unusually high level. This guy was music for life, I mean, there was no two ways about that. I suppose myself – say in the same type of situation, the same characteristics around my life – can appreciate that. When it came to my personal approach to anything, it wasn’t going to change, and I made sure that that happened in my head immediately. This was isolated and a tragedy. The sick woes exist, it’s just for us to get to them before they can create such damage and take away something of such a high level of artistic talent.
I talked to one person who said that it’s going to affect stage-diving and that sort of thing at shows. People get up on stage, give the band a hug, and off they go back into the mosh pit. But now, some artists are going to be a little bit shaky about having stuff like that happen.
I’m not going to think about it. I don’t think it’s necessary to. I only have to go on what I know. And by what I know over these years, it’s only been a positive experience for me. And I don’t want to pollute this whole issue and this whole tragedy with my opinion on it, because I think really the tragedy is at the forefront here. My opinion or what I’m going to do is very, very secondary or miniscule to what the real issue is here. The real issue is a man is lost and a family grieves, and so do friends and those who’ve appreciated that contribution. That’s really much more important. That happens all the time, but it doesn’t happen this way. That’s why I really don’t want to pollute it with, what does Bobby from Overkill think about this? I think it was fucking awful. It’s just that simple.
Well, I just have one more thing. In my review of the CD, I don’t know if Chipster sent it to you at all…
Don’t have it yet.
OK, I’ll just give you a little blurb: “Old school thrash remains the central focus of Overkill, but there are a few modern touches to the music of RELIXIV that never compromise what the band originally set out to do.” Do you agree with that statement?
Hmmm?yeah, I think there is. There’s a few things that were surprises to us on this. The band has always remained consistent within its focus on what it is. We’re trying to take that to a new level for ourselves, to keep ourselves interested in it. You know, a song like “Old School? rears its ugly head. Then a song like “Love” and you ask, why is this even showing up in an Overkill record, you know? (laughs)
(Laughs) When I first saw the tracklisting – I saw “Within Your Eyes,” and “Love” – I was like, hang on a minute…is this an R&B album or an Overkill album? (laughs)
I knew they had a pop plan, those guys (laughs)!!
(Laughs) It took ’em twenty years, but they finally got us.
These guys are real jerks, talk about slow (laughs). I think when you listen to them, it becomes understanding. If I’m in charge of the words, of course with the blessing of the other guys, it’s good occasionally to be the unexpected. And I think that’s always been something that we have. A song like “Love,” even beyond the title, is something that’s disjointed, and this band has never been disjointed. This band has always been a sledgehammer groove or razorblade speed, you know, and that’s been our approach to things. The disjointed choruses in “Love” sound like, what’s going on here? Is this interesting, or am I being led down a path I don’t want to be led down? And I think by the time that the song kicks in, when everyone kicks in, that you realize where you are, and I think that’s what makes that song very, very interesting. And quite obviously, it’s not about love, but more so about the distorted view of love and, let’s say, control.
Alright, Bobby. It?s been a real treat to talk to you tonight and I appreciate all the energy you still had at the end of the day. I had a blast here tonight, man.
My pleasure. Hopefully we?ll see you in September. Keep your eyes open.
***Thanks to Al at Chipster PR for setting up the interview and especially to Bobby ?Blitz? Ellsworth for another great chat.
Overkill’s Official Website