Interview by Robert Cavuoto
Legendary New Jersey thrashers, Overkill have announced the release of their new DVD/CD, Live in Overhausen due out on May 18, 2018, via Nuclear Blast. For over 36 years, Overkill has dominated and with the coinciding 30 year anniversary of Feel the Fire and the 25th anniversary of Horrorscope the band felt the time has come record both albums live. The band Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth on vocals, D.D. Verni on bass, Eddie Garcia on drums and Dave Linsk & Derek Tailer on guitar filmed the DVD/CD in one night in Oberhausen, Germany on April 16, 2016.
Overkill is synonymous with power, precision, and perseverance. Across three decades they have shaped, refined, and steadily broadened a style of power-thrash metal. They continue to power ahead through the changing musical landscape; trends be damned, and deliver an incisively supercharged and ridiculously energized music.
I had a chance to sit with fellow New Jersey native Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth, to discuss the making of this landmark DVD/CD, the significance of those two albums and to get an honest perspective of the band then…. and now!
Robert Cavuoto: The DVD is really powerful; tell me about the significance of Feel the Fire and Horrorscope in the band’s career to perform them in their entirety live?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: It’s got a lot of snot for some old guys! [Laughing] We wanted to make the DVD an event by celebrate the two anniversaries. We had been asked in the past to do anniversaries and turned them down. Very simply we were under contract with Nuclear Blast to do a DVD, and we decided to not be like everyone else and do two albums instead of one? [laughing]. Hey, the name of the band is Overkill…. and it was a simple decision to double down on the opportunity, so we wanted to make it bigger and better.
Robert Cavuoto: Were there any thoughts if something went wrong that night of filming that you might not have a DVD?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: That’s the fun in risk! I’m still in it for competition and risks because it’s not about coloring by numbers for us. It’s about chasing that high. You grew up in Jersey and followed us so, you probably know us better than most; we are very hands-on guys. We were hands on for the artwork, picking the amps, picking the lights, picking the sound and production companies along with everything else across the board. So to take on that risk was hugely important for us.
Robert Cavuoto: What are your thoughts when you look back at Feel the Fire and the band’s accomplishments since then? You guys were just kids when you made that album.
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: I think that’s the beauty of the record, it was pure chaos, and somebody happened to capture it on tape. We worked with Carl Canedy and Alex Periales in making the album when Johnny Z signed us. The cool thing was that we didn’t know what we were doing. I feel if we had over though things it wouldn’t have had that intensity, which I’m not sure if that’s the right word, but it certainly wouldn’t have had the chaos [laughing]. It was a great starting point for us. From that point on we could appreciate what we started with. It gave us insight into Step A, but we still have to get to Steps B, C, and D. Thinking of that record always brings a smile to my face. Like a beer in each hand and hard-on kind-of-thing. [Laughing]. It was an awesome time!
Robert Cavuoto: I know that you’ve played and still play a lot of the songs on these two albums but how long did it take Overkill as band to get up to speed on all of them?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: You bring up a good point. I was personally familiar with about 90% or the songs along with D.D. and Dave. Derek was probably familiar with 60%. The challenge was Eddie Garcia. Ron Lipnicki could not do the project and left the band. We had to get Eddie to up to speed. He was our soundman for as long as Ron had been our drummer, so he was aware of the material but hadn’t played it. He is an accomplished drummer but just wasn’t familiar with all the nuances of Feel the Fire or the methodical attack of Horrorscope. What worked in hindsight was we were all paying attention to Eddie and the nuances; it inadvertently brought us up to speed. It prepared us to make the performance even that much better.
Robert Cavuoto: The Germany fans on the DVD in were insane and deafening at times, is that indicative of the metal scene outside the U.S.?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: I think so to some degree, but this was a special night. The venue was filled with Overkill-heads who were there to celebrate with us. We chose the venue, Turbinenhalle in Oberhausen, Germany. This is their industrial area; it’s off the Dutch border about 70 miles east of Holland. We always had a second home in Germany, they have always been good to us. Our first European tour was 30 years prior in April 1986. It’s where we were first recorded on video. It was put together by Metal Hammer magazine. The video was called U.S. Speed Metal Attack Metal Hammer Roadshow at a venue about 15 minutes from Oberhausen. It featured Anthrax and Agent Steel. The whole thing was a sort of coming home. I think that was appreciated by the crowd. It obviously not the same crowd 30 years ago although some probably were the same. I’m sure most people there felt the connection to what we did there 30 years ago during the Feel the Fire tour; that it was filmed 15 minutes from this venue, that we are doing it again, and we all lived through it both times. [laughing]. It was a cool event that incited the fan’s response even more.
Robert Cavuoto: Which of the songs from those two albums still make the hair on the back of your neck stand up when you perform it live?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: There was stuff I haven’t touched in a long time. I have always aspired to be a better singer, and maybe that is why I have been around this long. Singing was always something that was in my family. My mother was one of thirteen children, and every one of them could sing. Imagine what weekends were like at grandpa’s house with nine Aunts singing in harmony around the fireplace [laughing]. I was a scratchy kid from the school of Udo Dirkschneider and Bon Scott with that bourbon breath and cigarette smoke approach to singing. Since the 90’s, I have always been trying to be a better singer. The reason we are still around is that we are still pushing ourselves in the directions of what we want to be and make what we are better. So playing a song like “Soulitude” still makes the hair on the back of my next stand up with all its great melodies.
Robert Cavuoto: At what point did you realize your voice was truly unique and instantly recognizable?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: It was a few records in. A guy once told me I sounded like Mickey Mouse on meth [laughing]. I don’t know if that is a compliment, but I’ll take it in regard to being identifiable! My voice wasn’t unusual to me! Hearing it on the Feel the Fire record with the screams was me trying to mimic the people that I admired. I couldn’t get Rob Halford’s clarity, so my screams came out like broken glass. I was still trying [laughing]. I would have to say by Under the Influence I realized there was something special about it.
Robert Cavuoto: In what ways have you most improved as a singer over the course of OverKill’s career?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: Honestly, the biggest improvement I made was right after the Ironbound session I stopped smoking. It was always something I had done, and I justified it in my head that was gives me a little of my snot. It was killing me. I listened to my voice on The Electric Age and the record that followed, and I was like “Oh my God!” I can do all the shit I wanted to do. I think putting down the Marlboros gave me the opportunity to open up. The last CD opens with “Mean, Green, Killing Machine” which is not Thrash by numbers but has Thrashy parts that breaks down into melodic blues sections and I can sing it. They just roll out of me. So that has been the most instrumental thing helping me to improve.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about the partnership that you and D.D. have developed over the years?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: D.D. doesn’t speak any English, so that is why we get along so well [laughing]. It has always been great. The reason we have the longevity of our relationship is that I have known his wife as long as I have known him. I can remember sitting on the tour bus with our families, who have been out on tour since the beginning, because that’s the type of guys we are. D.D.’s wife told me, “You know why this band works? You both come from the same background, you both love your family, you both are from the same area, you have the same work ethic, and you are both interchangeable with your values and morals.” I’m always proud to say I have known D.D.’s wife as long as I have known him. That’s why this works because we have made sure those values have remained intact. We have created some good things without compromising to anyone else’s plan but our own.
Robert Cavuoto: That’s a great response; now tell me a dirty secret about him?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: That’s the thing about Overkill we don’t have that much dirty laundry. It never comes from an internal part of the band. It may come from external sources [laughing]. I always thought it was cool that we never aired our dirty laundry in public. My Irish Uncle used to say, “Bobby, you have to work hard and keep your fucking mouth shut.” [Laughing] It really shows that we have our values intact as I mentioned earlier.
Robert Cavuoto: When you were young and starting out, was there ever a band that you auditioned for who didn’t hire you?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: There was, I was really young, maybe in high school. I remember the band was Sahara, a metal cover band. My father took me over there to audition as the bassist and do some background vocals. I was nervous and fumbling on the four strings for that audition and didn’t get the gig. There was the band I was in before Overkill when I was in college; I went down there to audition for the bassist. I was next to audition, and they told me that they really needed a singer and asked if I could give it a shot. That was first shot I took at singing, and it couldn’t have been more than three or four months later that Overkill formed out of that band.