Interview with Rat Skates
By David Leslie
Pics courtesy of Rat Skates
So Rat, when and how did you get in touch with the metal music? What did you find so interesting in this music?
It really was a very long time ago. Over 30 years! The most significant record for me at that time was Kiss ’Alive!’ Where I grew up in suburbia, New Jersey, in 1975 the most popular record that everyone had was the Eagles ’Hotel California’… well the Kiss ’Alive’ record was out at that exact same time… so there was a very big contrast from what everyone else was listening to and what I loved, which were bands that were playing heavier rock like Kiss… and of course their show absolutely blew my mind. I continue to be attracted to heavier rock bands like Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Led Zeppelin, Foghat, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Those bands really did change my entire life, because I had grown up listening to Elton John. So, my attraction to heavy metal goes way back really before it was even called ’Heavy Metal’, before Priest, Maiden, AC/DC etc. The bands we listened to were really just rock ‘n roll bands playing a little faster and dirtier than everyone else, and they had energy and an attitude. Heavy rock, heavy metal or anything that is different from the mainstream will always stand out from the crowd. I think I was attracted to all of that because I was a skateboarder, not a football player. Skateboarders stood out from the mainstream crowd just like the bands did.
Do you consider yourself a metal head or were you rather into punk?
Of course I’m a metal head. I grew up that way and I’ll die that way. However, punk was more of an attitude. Remember, heavy-metal started out as an exxagerated form of rock ‘n roll, punk rock music is also rock ‘n roll. Hanging out with the punks in the late 70s is what gave me the attitude in playing heavy metal to help push it to a new extreme… it ended up being called Thrash Metal. If I had to pick one or the other, I which choose punk without a doubt. Punks were real people…none of them were ’Rock Stars’ and the music was about real issues in the real world Heavy metal was all about fantasy things, and I did enjoy the imgination behind it.
At which point did you pick playing drums and how did your choice fall on this instrument?
I was about 15 years old when I started taking drum lessons. I had originally played guitar and I still do, but I am a very basic player. However my hands are small, and I got frustrated with guitar very easily. The drums were much easier and natural to me: I could figure out parts very easily and I could definitely take out all of my aggressions on them. Plus I enjoy the physical motions of playing drums. I had grown up always playing sports: basketball, football, surfing and of course skateboarding. So the drums were definitely a natural fit for me!
What were your influences to become drummer?
Of course I really admired Peter Criss from Kiss. He was a very recognizable and of very musical player. I wanted that. I wanted people to like my drumming, and to also recognize me. Drummers were always kind of stuck in the back and hidden by everyone else, and no one knew they ever existed. I was out to change all of that. Drums are the most powerful component of a rock ‘n roll band… drums are about a feeling more than anything else, and it was something that I always enjoyed the power from them.
What kind of drumkit, cymbals and equipment did you have back then?
Well, I was lucky to have any drums or cymbals at all! My parents didn’t want to spend a lot of money on something that they thought I might not stay with. Most of the cymbals were always Zildjian’s, but they were used Zildjian’s… I had about two drum kits before my Ludwig double bass drum kit. (the white one with Tama heads that I used towards the end of the Lubricunts and with Overkill. I had a Slingerland Marine pearl kit that was around for a while, I practiced all my Jazz stuff on that..
Were you self taught or…?
No, I took lessons! I cannot stress enough how important I think it is for a musician to take some lessons and understand his instrument! A great musician is something that will come from your heart, and it is a gift that some people are blessed with. It is great to be self taught, and every musician will be self taught to some point. I think understanding your instrument makes it more fun to play and taking lessons helps everyone to understand what it is that they’re doing, especially younger players. Taking lessons for your instrument is the best thing that any musician can do, it can only help you… it can never hurt you!
OVER KILL was formed in 1981 by you and bassist D. D. Verni after you left the hardcore/punk outfit LUBRICUNTS, what about this act? Did you record several demos, rehearsals etc.?
First of all let me say that the Lubricunts was NOT a hardcore band…’ hardcore’ was a word that didn’t even exist yet! We were a punk rock band in every sense of the word…pure rock with the punk attitude. We recorded our live shows, and I still have tapes of those shows, they are absolutely great. We couldn’t play very well, but that’s what was so cool about it. We were funny and very entertaining, and the songs were very good. We never recorded any demos in any kind of recording studio. We never had any money to do anything like that!
Did you gig a lot with this band?
Actually we did play quite a lot of gigs! We were all under the legal age to drink alcohol and play at nightclubs, which was 18 at that time. I was able to play at CBGB’s, Max’s Kansas City, Great Gildersleeve’s, The Mudd Club, Botany Talk House, The PlayPen and The Peppermint Lounge. And, all of these great underground clubs in New York were very small. And every one of them is gone. They are all legendary in their own right. It really was a lot of fun doing that because we were so young and we couldn’t play very well…we fit right in with all the other bands in that scene!
Why did you leave the band? Was your goal to form a more brutal and aggressive band or…?
Well DD and I had always been listening to the heavy rock bands that I spoke about earlier. We wanted to be more like that because punk wasn’t professional enough to go to an arena concert level…at least thats how we saw it.. But we wanted to be heavier. We were very attracted to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and all of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands.
The original incarnation of Overkill was completed by ex-D.O.A. vocalist Bobby „Blitz” Ellsworth and guitarist Robert Pisarek, how did they get in the picture exactly? How did you hook with them?
I had to place a lot of the ads in the local music newspaper to find a guitar player and a vocalist that were into the heady music just like I was… DD stayed with me after splitting from the Lubricunts, he was into the exact same music that I was and we always thought about everything the same way. DD was also very unsociable and was not comfortable talking with other people, but I was the opposite so by staying with me he knew that eventually he would get the chance to ’make it’ because he saw that I would never quit, and that I was going to ’make it’! So it took quite a while, but eventually one of my ads was answered by Robert, who brought the other Robert (Ellsworth) with him. It was really Pisarek and I who formed Overkill: DD was the partner with me and blitz was the partner with Pisarek. I was the one who always spoke with the other musicians and made the connections for DD and I, because he always had trouble talking with people and Ellsworth just didn’t really have any iniative or opinions. I think it was just a beer and girls that he liked about playing in a band during the very beginning.
Would you say, that you found the best, the most suitable frontman for the band in the person of Blitz?
Well, at that time, and even to this day, singers and frontmen are very hard to come by, you can find someone with a great voice, who is a terrible performer and not a good entertainer. If took many years to develop this with blitz, he ended up doing his job very well. But it took a while for him to get good in his position, just like all musicians who are also learning to become professional entertainers. I really had to had to help him a lot in the early days with his stage performance and learning how to connect to the crowd, and to be comfortable on the stage. We all got along very well and he was very agreeable to learning the songs that we wanted to play. He really didn’t know much metal at all before he met Pisarek, who was the one who got him listening to Priest and Maiden and all the stuff we wanted to play!
All of the members did have punk roots or were they into metal as well?
Well DD and I had the exact same roots, meaning that we were listening to Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, The Damned, Sham 69, The Vibrators, The Sex Pistols, Iggy, The Ramones, and of course the Dead Boys. Pisarek knew most of the same punk style music as well but Ellsworth really didn’t know too much of it. I think he knew just some of The Clash, and not too much other real underground punk stuff.
How was the New York/New Jersey scene as a whole back then? What do you recall of those times?
The New York, New Jersey scene in the late 70s and early 80s was absolutely amazing! It was something that you really had to experience to understand how great it was. There were lots of clubs to play at, and they were packed almost every night. We would go out to see a band in five nights a week and not have to drive that far to see a great band like Twisted Sister. However, the difficult part for people like me was that I wanted to play original music and most of the nightclubs only booked cover bands to play. There were only a few very small clubs who didn’t draw too many people that you could play original music at. And of course we never made any money at all! But that really was a great time…there were always a lot of people out, bands to see and lots of girls around! Everything was very cool, and of course the bands who did play the cover songs were making a lot of money. They didn’t have to work any day jobs, all they did was play at night, and that’s it. The scene was absolutely thriving and it was a lot of fun. I really do miss it, and it sucks that it will never come back again.
Which clubs did start opening their doors for the metal groups?
The main club that comes to mind was called The Showplace. It was in Dover, New Jersey. It had a pretty big stage. Almost no lights, but they let us play there and that was the important thing. We always recorded our shows from there and took a lot of pictures. Yes, the showplace was very important for bands like us. The really cool thing to know is that a lot of national recording acts played there, meaning that the Ramones played there and the Plasmatics and the Dead Boys and bands that already had records out and it was great because I would see all of those shows and stand in the front row. I never missed out on seeing a good show!
You began gigging locally with a mainly cover dominated set, which covers did you play mostly? Did you choose mainly metal covers or rather punk ones?
We were playing covers of anything that was heavy, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, MSG, Accept, Y&T, Motorhead, very obscure stuff for that time. We did play some punk covers like Sonic Reducer from the Dead Boys of course, but Sonic Reducer is very much a metal song, isn’t it? When Overkill first started playing the clubs we were definitely a heavy metal band. It was mainly DD and I that carried our punk attitude, and of course some of those songs into what we were trying to do with Overkill.
Robert came up with the name of the band, did you like his idea? Did you choose the name on the base of the classic MOTÖRHEAD song?
We had to run around a lot of different names, one of them was ’Virgin Killer’ named after the Scorpions record, but the name ’Overkill’ was perfect, especially because it had the word ’kill’ in it. We thought that was cool, even though it was the name of the Motorhead album. And of course we knew that when we decided to take that name we didn’t really care because at that time not too many people at all ever heard of Motorhead! Yep, it was Pisarek who really thought of that. We had thrown around the name of ’Overdose’ and ’Overdrive’, but they didn’t have the word ’kill’ in it!
Robert left the band and instead of him joined Dan Spitz and Anthony Ammendolo, what about their musical past? Why did Robert decide leaving the band?
Robert had left because he was very unhappy with the way the Ellsworth was acting, he was very unprofessional. A few of our shows were very embarrassing for us, he would drink too much before we played, and that made us sound very sloppy. Also, Robert had this girlfriend who was brainwashing him into being a rock star. He got this white leather jacket, which was the exact opposite of our black leather jackets so obviously this was a big problem, our show and our image was very very important to us! So all of these things added up, and it was mutually agreed that he would not be in Overkill anymore. So, a friend of ours referred us to Danny Spitz and Anthony Ammendolo. They were both from Rockland County New York and had been playing the guitar together for quite a while. They were into most of the same music that we were like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, etc. They were also pretty agreeable to do the theatrical showand make-up that we were doing. And that was important because it was very different than everyone else, and that gave us our unique identity.
They spent a short time in the ranks of the band, because in 1981 they left the band and they were repalced by Rich Conte and Mike Sherry, in which groups did they play earlier?
I don’t remember what Bands they were in before they played with us but I’m pretty sure they werejust small garage type bands who weren’t very popular.
Did Dan leave the band because he joined ANTHRAX or…?
As I said, Danny and Anthony were a team: they stuck together. So, they both left at the same time, and Danny didn’t join Anthrax until probably at least one year later. There were two reasons why they left, one of the reasons was that they were never really that comfortable with doing the leather and studs and makeup and all of the theatrics that we were doing and I can completely understand that. But, without a doubt the single main biggest reason is the fact that Danny especially wanted to be Eddie Van Halen! Back at that time, every single guitar player in this area…. and I mean EVERY single one wanted to be Eddie Van Halen. I can understand wanting to be like Eddie Van Halen, he was an innovative new guitarist and played better (technically) than everyone else. But we were on a mission: DD and I had to focus on being the heaviest band to ever exist, and Eddie Van Halen wasn’t exactly the heaviest guitar player to ever exist. He was a very talented, and I respect him immensly for what he does. However, we were about something else. Actually we were about the exact opposite thing: Van Halen would smile. We would snarl.
Would you say, that you had so many member changes in the early days, because it was hard to find the suitable members for the band?
Yes, of course! Finding suitable members is why band members changes so frequently in any band of any genre! I spent many years in trying to find the right musicians for Overkill. It was very difficult and I spent an awful lot of my time doing that.
At this point, you started writing originals, including „Grave Robbers”, „Raise the Dead”, „Overkill”, and „Unleash the Beast Within” respectively more originals would follow, including „Rotten to the Core”, what about this early period of the band?
In the early days, playing covers was about the only thing that we could do! We didn’t want to play covers, but we had to! If we never played covers we would never have had the chance to play anywhere…. so it was actually a good thing because we got our stage experience and learned a lot of things until we were ready to start writing originals with the right musicians in the band.
Would you say that „Rotten to the core” was the most popular and most known OVER KILL tune?
Yeah, I guess so, aside from ’Fuck You’, which we didn’t write…obviously the first two Overkill albums had all the classics on it, never to be repeated. If I had stayed in overkill, of course there would have been so many more, and much stronger too…hey, my songwriting was just getting started!
Somewhere around this time Rich and Mike left the band and Bobby Gustaffson entered with Joe somebody on guitars, at which point did he get in the band exactly?
It was late 1982 or early 1983. We had just gone through so many players, and I was so tired of it.
Would you say that Bobby Gustaffson was a talented guitarist back then?
Yes, Bobby was a talented guitar player and he showed all lot of potential that’s why we brought him in. He was very young and very shy, but he showed potential.
The band became a staple at New York and New Jersey clubs around 1982, and soon Bobby lived up to his "Blitz" nickname, earning an ejection from the band for a few days in 1983, did you gig a lot these days? Did you want to built up a strong fan base? Did you want to make a name for OVER KILL?
Yes we gigged as much as possible. Actually that was the one thing that DD had usually taken care of, was booking the shows. I didn’t do too much of that. It was very very hard for us to build up this fan base, but we slowly did it because the New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands like especially Iron Maiden became so popular, so there was a slowly-building market for Overkill, but it was a very very hard time for me.
Around this time, the green logo was adopted – it was specifically chosen to stand out on a poster with lots of red logos of other bands on the bill, do you still remember who created the logo?
You recorded March-Sept, 1983 the „Power in black” demo at two shitholes, Staten Island NY and Sterling NJ, do you still remember how was the demo recorded? Was it your first studio experience?
Yes, none of us had ever been to a recording studio before. Three songs were recorded in an 8-track, (or was it 16-track?) studio in Sterling, New Jersey. But we had also recorded ’Theres No Tomorrow’, and the song ’Overkill’ in a very small 4 track studio in someone’s basement in Staten Island New York…I still have all those original reels. It was all that we could afford to do.
It was dedicated to all the false faggot poser wimps of the clubs, stick this tape up your ass, would you say that made it your purposes clear?
Yeah, I put all that ’stick it up your ass’ stuff on there because I really wanted to make a statement. I think I did! Looking back at it now, it really makes me laugh, but at the time I really felt that I had said something that was so important and so rebellious!
Did you shop around the demo to attract some label interests?
I did every single thing possible that I could with our demo! I sent it to magazines. I sent it to management companies. I sent it to record labels. I was on a mission to get this band signed, and because I persevered without ever stopping, I eventually did get us a record deal!
Did you distribute it in the tapetrading scene as well? Did the demo draw the fans attention to the band?
’Power in Black’ was very successful in the tape trading underground. It was probably the most heavily traded tape of the underground tape trading scene from the very early 1980s. I was selling the tape, I was not trading it in the underground, because of course I needed to try to recoup some of the money that was spent on it. So I sold it but I purposely did not trade it, but it was sure traded by everyone else!
A second demo was recorded in 1984 featuring „Feel the fire”, „Second son” and „Kill at command” (both live versions), did this tape sound much closer to what you want to achieve with OVER KILL?
Overkill never recorded a second demo! That cassette tape that you are referring to was bootlegged from the tape trading underground. I actually thought it was very cool because the tape traders would bring cassette recorders to all the shows and tape the entire concert, these guys were fanatics about doing this! Then the next week it would appear in all of the underground magazines and was being traded all over the world. When a band played brand-new material everyone in the underground was hearing right away through the trading!
Did you spread this demo as well or was it done only for labels and radio stations?
No, I knew that I was going to sell this demo before it was even recorded! Because of the tape trading underground, it gave us the opportunity for people to hear the music all over the world. Back then, there was no internet, and there was no MySpace, no CD burning, downloads or anything at all… this was the only way that I ccould get our music heard around the country and around the world.
The live tunes were recorded 1/13/84 (in the "fucking snow"), what do you recall of that show?
I recall that there was a lot of snow outside, and that it was really really hot inside!
„Feel the fire” appeared on Metal Blade’s famous „Metal Massacre V” compilation and „Death rider” included on the 2New York metal ’84” compilation, in your opinion, were these records good opportunities to introduce more fans the band?
Yes, I had no choice but to have our songs appear where ever they could, meaning through the tape trading underground and the compilation records that were being circulated. I had to take advantage of ANY opportunity that I could! Plus, I thought it was so cool to finally have one of our songs appear on an actual vinyl record…that was the ’Holy Grail’. By the way, you got the songs messed up a little: ’Feel the Fire’ was on ’New York metal 84’ and ’Death Rider’ was on ’Metal Massacre Five’.
In November 1984 you recorded the „Over Kill” EP featuring „Rotten to the core”, „Fatal if swallowed”, „The answer” and „Over kill” which was originally a demo, but you strapped for
cash, sold the demo to Azra/Metal Storm Records, who pressed it as a EP in 1985, how did you get in the touch with label? Did they perhaps want you to sign?
No that’s not exactly it…. those songs were recorded specifically for that EP. We had to take some money out of our pockets, but we had also saved up some money from the gigs to finance the whole project. As I said, I was marketing the band and promoting the band anyway that I could. Azra was one of the labels that I had approached because they had released some other heavy metal records. And I did sign a contract with them for that EP. It was a terrible contract, I knew that we would make no money at all, but I was finally able to get our songs on vinyl…so it was a good thing and a bad thing. But, it was something that was past the appearances on compilation records with all these other bands… now we’ll have our very own record. It was by Overkill!
The almost 9 minutes tune „The answer” became a slow, epic one compared to the other songs, what made you to write this track?
It’s great that you mention this song ’The Answer’ because in my opinion it’s the best that we’ve ever done. This song was not written purposely to be an epic or anything like that. When we rehearsed. I always insisted on playing for a lot of extra time. The song just came about naturally, by having a lot of parts put together I would just start playing another part, because thats how I felt…and it would lead to another section of the song….it just went on and on, kind of like Merciful Fate, but that’s what I wanted!
It reminds me to BLACK SABBATH, do you agree with me?
Of course, it sounds like Black Sabbath, but that was one of my main influences, and the others as well.
They released a year later the first EP of JAG PANZER plus the classic „Ample destruction” record in 1984, did you like these materials?
Sorry, but I can’t say that I ever remember really hearing it.
Was Azra/Iron Works an independent, small underground label those times?
No, they weren’t a small underground independent label…they were a piece of shit. He was a man who had absolutely no intention of having any of the bands signed to his label make any money at all. He knew that he could take advantage of young musicians and he did just that. To this very day, it disturbs me a great deal that someone can sleep at night knowing how badly they hurt the early careers of young musicians like myself. As I had talked about in my film BORN IN THE BASEMENT, I had supplied him with very detailed artwork that took me a lot of time and he never even used it. He tried to save money, and he did save money by using only black-and-white on the album with no printed sleeve. He destroyed my vision at that point, that is not the way I wanted Overkill to debut their record. But, he’ll get what he deserves one day, right?
Before you entered the studio to record the „Feel the fire” record you signed Megaforce and the owner of the label Johnny Zazula had been the fan of the band since the releasing of the „Power in black” demo and he sold 1.500 copies from the tape in his record store Rock ’n’ roll Heaven, would you say, that he helped a lot for the band back then? Was he a symphatic guy for you?
Johnny wasn’t really such a great huge fan of Overkill back then. I was friends with him because I was always in his store, ’Rock ‘n Roll Heaven’. I had become friends with him because we liked talking to each other about all the underground bands and cool things that were happening at that time. Johnny was amazed that I was able to sell so many demos out of his store without any major promtion or anything. Again, Johnny really believe in what I was doing and was confident in in my efforts to make Overkill succeed, no matter what the odds were.. And that’s why he signed us… he knew that I would never give up.
You were signed after seeing you live open for ANVIL at the L’Amours club in Brooklyn, what do you recall of that show? Would you say, that you satisfied Johnny that it’s worth signing the band?
Well that was a great show for Overkill. We absolutely blew Anvil way that night, and I do love Anvil, they are my friends and a very important band. We just happened to have a much better night than they did. I very much respect Johnny Z., and his efforts in helping to push the new genre of metal that became’ thrash metal’. By Johnny also is a capitalist. He is very much about making money and that is what is important to him. So, he saw the potential to make a lot of money from Overkill. As with all the bands he signed…Metallica, Anthrax, Raven etc, that’s the ultimate reason why he signed them…to make money.
Was OVER KILL the first signing of Megaforce?
No, he had signed Metallica, Anthrax, I think Manowar, Exciter, Raven maybe even Merciful Fate? But Overkill was not the first at all.
What made Johnny to establish the label instead of a record store? Was he a great supporter of the underground scene those times?
Well like I said, the Zazula’s were capitalists. They are business people. They were very much in tune with the heavy metal scene that was going on. It was rebellious and he definitely had a rebellious nature, he decided to try to do things his way…which I do respect him for, because that’s how I was doing things with my band as well… he did a lot in those early days to help grow the genre. He had put on some very key shows around here. Like Metallica opening up for Venom… that was a classic. So John saw that there was a new market for these newer bands. But no labels would give them a chance. Also, he saw that he could make a lot more money from having a record label than just a record store in a flea market. So he definitely did take some chances in starting up a label.
Were there any interests in the band from the part of other labels as well, such as Metal Blade, Combat or New Renaissance?
Yes, I kept in very close contact with all the labels and constantly send them updated press kits. They were interested, but…none of them were ready to take a chance on us, meaning that they weren’t ready to bet their money on Overkill.
What about the recording sessions of the album?
It was a great learning experience for all of us…the musicians and producers as well. We learned about commitment, professionalism and matured a lot in that recording session. We also learned about how partying and recording an album do not mix…(that is why I played sloppy drums on ’Hammerhead’, I had partied too much the night before).
As far as the title track, what was the difference between the demo and the record version? How much did you alter the song?
The song ’Overkill’ was recorded three different times: for the ’Power in Black’ demo, for the EP, and of course for the ’Feel the Fire’, LP. All are different versions were based on how we felt the song should be portrayed at that time. And of course they all sound different, because of the studios and money for the recording gear.
„Over kill” became the first part of a story, what can you say about it? Is/Was it a concept story?
I had decided that we should have a theme song, meaning that we should have a song like Motorhead did or Iron Maiden, or even Manowar….the name of the band should be the title of the song. I was mostly inspired by the song, ’Iron Maiden’, to make the song ’Overkill’. I decided we should try something very different from our other songs meaning that the beginning for example, should be just vocals and guitar. Blitz had some cool lyrics and Bobby had a guitar part.that sounded like the horror movie ’Halloween’. I put all the parts together to make the song: simple powerful and memorable, and it worked. It has no guitar solo, but it didn’t need one…Bobby thought it was supposed to have a solo…why?
„Hammerhead” was the only brandnew track on the record, right? Why didn’t you put more newer material on the record prior to that the demo songs were known for the fans?
Every song that is on ’Feel the Fire’ was already played live at our shows. That’s how we got them tight! The whole album was heard well before it was released… that’s due to the tape traders. And that’s cool. That’s just the way it was back then! We (my metal friends, not the band members) had been listening to ’Bonded by Blood’ for two years before it was ever released! What the fans don’t understand is that bands can not just write endless amounts of material and have it be worthy of a record release
Do you think, that Bobby „Blitz” Ellsworth is among the most distinguishable vocalists in the genre and his voice gave Overkill a unique identity from the very beginning.
Yes, absolutely Overkill had a very unique and strong identity in the very beginning, but obviously after I left, their overall identity dissolved and merged into what all the other bands are doing, being influenced by all the other thrash bands and ignored all of the roots that we grew up with. Each one of us had a unique style and approach and that’s what got Overkill noticed in those early days.
„ Feel The Fire” is a fairly strong release with a coherent and energetic feel and although the differences between Overkill’s early albums are not that big, this one is quite an entertaining release, do you agree with that?
Unquestionably ’Feel the Fire’ is the best Overkill release and I don’t just say that because I played and wrote songs on it…you just used the word ’coherent’, which makes a lot of sense because we did play very much together as a unit, there was a cammaraderie amongst us that you could actually hear in our songs.
The traditional/NWOBHM influences are definitely abound but there’s a lot more raw intensity and speed here and not to mention the aggression is pretty over the top, what do you think about it?
Yes, you said that correctly: raw intensity and speed. And all of that slowly disappeared album by album after I left, that’s very easy to hear. I wrote and arranged music from my heart and from my influences, which were the bands I grew up with, which all dissappeared when I left.
From start to finish, this album („Feel the fire”) is a relentless assault of memorable thrash riffs, crazy pentatonic shredding, double bass drum beats, and a rather impressive set of rough yells and banshee screeches and with the release of this album, a new breed of thrash metal was born, what’s your opinion?
As I’ve been saying the early stuff was the strongest. It’s not my opinion, it’s just a simple fact, that it’s very easy to recognize that the early songs will that I was invoved with writing with are the classics… this is something that the Overkill fans have decided…not me!
What about the DEAD BOYS cover „Sonic reducer”? Was it the idea of Blitz to cover the song or was it a common choice?
All of the choices made in Overkill were mine and DD’s. Blitz did not make any decisions.
The producer of the record was THE RODS drummer Carl Canedy, was he the perfect person for this job? Were you satisfied with his work or could have sound the record better?
Carl was a great choice for producing the record. He had just worked with Anthrax. And of course he was in a heavy band himself (The Rods). We’ve all learned a lot from that session. I think he did a great job considering that no one was really quite sure on how to produce thrash metal music at that time. So that’s why all of the bands first records sound much different than the ones that came after, because everyone was figuring out how to deal with this new unprecedented speed and heaviness. In retrospect, I think the record lacks some heaviness, especially in the low end, but it makes up for that in it’s raw, thrashy, straight out approach.
What were the shows to support the record?
Some of the shows that come to mind were quite a few with Nuclear Assault opening for us as well as S.O.D. and Carnivore. Then we opened for some bigger acts like Venom, WASP, Anvil and Metallica too, they were pretty big at that point.
In 1986 was released the „US speed metal attack” video, featuring OVER KILL, ANTHRAX and AGENT STEEL and it was recorded live in Bochum, Germany on May 12th, 1986, how did the whole tour go?
Well, like everything else for all the bands involved it was a great learning experience. It was our first tour, and it was also Anthrax’s first tour. We became great friends, and we still keep in touch. The tour was a huge success for all of us and actually for even breaking the thrash metal scene. It was a big advance forward for the genre, especially for Germany
I suppose, you were in Europe for the first time, what kind of experiences did you gain during the tour? How was the European crowd compared to the American one?
When it I first got to Europe, I thought I was in the twilight zone. It was very very strange. That was my first tour, so it was my first experience in living out of a suitcase. And I didn’t enjoy it. I hated everything about touring actually… but I did what I had to do. This was a huge advancement for Overkill and for Anthrax. The European fans went absolutely crazy for us. I really did think that the European fans totally blew away the American fans. To this very day, Overkill has a much larger fan base in Europe. Most of the American ’metal’ bands do. Europe is a much better market for them. That’s why they go there to play all the festivals. That doesn’t happen in the United States like it does in Europe. Overkill and everyone else now goes to Europe and plays in front of 40,000 fans at a festival and take these really great live picture of the crowds, but they don’t sell even close to that many records!
Did you get on well with the other bands? What kind of memories, stories do you recall of that tour?
We all got along great. It was a real lot of fun and we all became good friends. The most difficult thing for all of us was the language barrier. My fondest and most bizarre memory is sleeping in people’s houses, because there were no hotels in some of the small suburbs that we were playing in, throughout Holland and Belgium especially. We would actually stay in someone’s house, meaning that we would sleep in someone’s bedroom of a family that we didn’t know and they most certainly didn’t know us! That was just so bizzare, but we did what we had to do. It was very hard for us to understand the Germans, but they understood us a little better. I remember warm beer and lots of schnitzel!
Around this time was thrash/speed metal on its peak, would you say that OVER KILL belonged to the first class, the first league of thrash, such as METALLICA, EXODUS, SLAYER, MEGADETH etc.?
Yes, that was definitely the time when thrash metal was at its peak, meaning 1985 to 1986. However I do not think that Overkill was in that first league of the thrash as you call it. I say this because the other members of Overkill were picking up their influences from the other thrash bands, meaning Exodus, Slayer…and Gustafson was obsessed with James and Metallica. But those bands didn’t pick up any influence from Overkill, did they? I would define the first league of thrash as the bands that influenced other bands… even though I am very proud of our songs and what we were doing, I still don’t think we were near as strong as the other bands you mentioned.
Why was thrash so popular back then?
Thrash metal became so popular because it had pushed the envelope of traditional heavy metal. Since heavy metal has always been an extreme form of music, thrash metal blew the lid off all the previous parameters of what was considered heavy. Much too quickly the mosh pit and stage diving became commonplace. That is one of the things that ruined Thrash: the widespread mediocrity of all that, especially by kids who didn’t understand it, but they were following the trends.
As far as New York/New Jersey scene, was it a common scene or a separated one? Would you say that the whole NY/NJ thrash movement started with the appearance of OVER KILL?
The scene became unified in the United States when hard-core elements merged with metal elements. As I said many times, Thrash Metal was an evolution. It didn’t start with one single band, or one player. Other bands like Anthrax, Nuclear Assault, Carnivore and Whiplash were all around at that exact same time, playing fast heavy music, just like it was out in the Bay Area. It was a group of bands that developed thrash, not just one…Overkill had the same timing.
A lot of bands started popping up, such as NUCLEAR ASSAULT, REVENANT, RIPPING CORPSE, TOXIK, WHIPLASH, were you close to these groups?
I was close friends (and still am) with Anthrax and the guys from Nuclear Assault. The other bands I don’t really know that well. Too many bands started popping up, and they all sounded like each other.
New York was famous about the hc movement as well, did the hc movement have a strong background, fan base as well? Did the thrash and hc scene exist parallel side by side?
The hardcore scene and the thrash scene were all descendents from the mindset of the 70s punk scene. As I explained in BORN IN THE BASEMENT, the music from these scenes was genuine, it wasn’t based on hype. That’s what made them so special. And that’s why the fans were so obsessive about this music because it was true and only understood by a limited amount of people within their scene. It took a few years for the hardcore guys and metal guys to coexist in the same place, but once we all realized that we were all about the same thing… mainly the energy…everything changed positively and grew from that point on.
One of the most know club was the CBGB’s, right?
CBGB’s is a club whose name is very overly mis-used. This club became legendary because of the great bands that broke out of there…the Ramones, Blondie, the Dead Boys and other late 70s punk acts. When that all disappeared, it became a home to the hardcore bands of the early 80s, like Agnostic Front and the Cro-Mags. However, there is a great history to that club before most of the metal guys knew that club even existed!
How do you view the other US thrash centers of those times, for example, LA, Texas or Bay Area compared to the NY/NJ one?
I don’t remember any really significant ’Thrash’ scene to speak of in Los Angeles…even though Slayer was a Hollywood area band or not too much either in Texas in the early or mid 80s. There was a developing scene here in New Jersey/New York, but the stronghold was definitely the Bay Area of San Francisco with Exodus being the absolute leaders of that scene. They really were ahead of everyone else, and are responsible for everything that came after that in my mind. Exodus led the way for everyone else, including Metallica.
Talking about your shows back then, instead of playing with ANTHRAX at the Hammersmith Palais, you returned home, what happened exactly? Why did the show miscarry?
I think it was all just political bullshit…Anthrax was signed by the Zazula’s. And they were managed by the Zazula’s as well. We were not managed by the Zazula’s and that Hammersmith show was not part of The Metal Hammer Roadshow. So, for one reason or another Anthrax got to play there and we didn’t. Anthrax was never really a part of the Thrash underground from day one. Anthrax always had money behind them. Scott Ian was always a businessman, so him and Johnny were always good friends from the very beginning. They never really worked that hard for anything, I mean as far as D.I.Y. stuff like I had to do to break Overkill. A lot of their early success was because there was money behind them.
You did, however, return to Europe later in the year opening for SLAYER, how do you remember about it?
Well, the shows were great, and Slayer and Overkill were obviously still breaking the Thrash Metal genre. It was another difficult tour, the money was very limited to support the tour, but the success for both bands helped push Thrash Metal well forward.
In 1986 you entered the studio to record „Taking over”, how did the recording sessions go with this album?
A lot of it was better than the ’Feel the Fire’ sessions because we were more experienced. However we did make some very big production mistakes, especially with the guitars. We just did too many guitar tracks, and we layered it so many times that it ends up sounding really muddy… I told everyone that we had a heavy guitar sound, and that was great, but we are doing too many tracks of it and that’s enough! The clarity of the other instruments was going to get buried and they did…you cannot clearly hear the drums on ’Taking Over’ hardly at all, it really has a terrible drum mix. I told everyone that the drums should sound clear and punchy, and they should sit in the music mix the same way that they did on the first Metal Church record…I thought that Metal Church record was produced very well, and that we should get our mix to sound like that. Well, no one listened to me until the next album after I left…they brought in Metal Church’s producer (Terry Date) to do just that very thing!
It was released on the 1st of January 1987, so you have celebrated really a happy new year, haven’t you?
Yes, that was a very cool, especially since we were now co-signed to Atlantic Records. That was a big label, the same one that Led Zeppelin was on.
Would you say, that you became more aggressive, brutal and faster compared to the first record?
No I would not say that… I think ’Feel the Fire’ is a much more aggressive and raw and definitely more true to the way Overkill started, in the tradition of Sabbath and Maiden. I’m still proud of the songwriting on Taking Over, but it sounds too much like Metallica guitar parts to me.
As far as myself „Deby the cross”, „Powersurge”, „Wrecking crew” and „In union we stand” are the highlights of the record.
Yes those are definitely the highlight songs… they’re the classics, the strong ones that were never duplicated again. I’m very proud of my contributions to those songs… the very simple guitar part of ’Wrecking Crew’ came from me showing Bobby a very simple snare drum pattern, and the song ’In Union We Stand’ was never going to be written because it wasn’t super-fast and heavy like everything else we were doing. None of them wanted to do it. Blitz had some interesting lyrics laying around and a basic melody that I really liked. I told everyone ’let’s just give this a chance and try it’, so I arranged some ideas to get their interest. I thought it could be a song that was a very reminiscent of ’Take on the World’ by Judas Priest. We all liked that song so what’s wrong with doing something like that? So what if there’s no big guitar riff, let’s just open up our minds here! If we don’t like it we won’t play it… Well I’m glad I kept pushing for that song to be written because everyone says that’s one of the best songs we ever did.
How happened that „Fatal if swallowed” was featured on the record, prior to that is was an old demo track?
That song always went over very well when we played it live. And we weren’t completely ready with some of the other songs that were written for the next record to follow, which they used for ’Under the Influence’. So we stuck that one on there as kind of a filler song.
As far as „Deny the cross”, was it written against religion, against the Church?
I thought that Blitz wrote some very creative lyrics, but I didn’t necessarily understand all of them. I was pretty embarrassed by the title of that song…actually I was VERY embarrassed. Its really stupid and confused the young kids even more than they already were.. He explained to me that ’deny the cross’ meant. ’Don’t put yourself in a position to get crucified’. I never would have figured that out by myself, it’s just a little too abstract.
Was „Wrecking crew” dedicated to the OVER KILL crowd or was it rather a philosophy of the band?
It was neither of those… the title ’Wrecking Crew was the name of that was given to our road crew, also it was the nickname of our local football team, The New York Giants, they were very popular and everyone’s favorite, and a great team in those days. So the combination of those two formed the title of the song.
The story continued with the track „Over kill (The nightmare continues)”…
It seemed like a cool idea to continue with the whole theme of this imaginary figure of ’Overkill’, but obviously the original song ’Overkill’ from ’Feel the Fire’ was so much stronger. I was really out to make a lasting statement with that song, especially with the scream by itself and the ending: ’KILL’-’KILL’-’KILL’-’KILL!!!!!!!’… it was so heavy for that day, and again it’s something that I’m very proud to have thought of.
Do you agree with that „Taking over” sounds essentially like „ Feel The Fire” with a heavier production?
No, I don’t agree with that… ’Feel the Fire was much more raw and straight-ahead and it was very much in your face! As I said earlier, ’Taking Over’ sounds a lot like Metallica riffs. ’Feel the Fire’ was more like Iron Maiden riffs!
Do you think, that the actual differences are very minor, but the band got the right attitude and it shows?
’Feel the Fire’ was just a much better record! For example, the way ’Taking Over’ starts off is with a long musical introduction…just like Metallica was doing, and all the other thrash bands were doing the same kind of thing… that really bothered me, and I could forsee what was happening to the band, and it did!
„Taking Over” is indeed a worthy follow-up to the awesome debut, right from the start, we get two of your best songs ever: „Deny The Cross” and „Wrecking Crew”, but the music is still not extremely thrashy, and a couple of songs have even some reminiscenses of traditional metal, „ In Union We Stand” in particular is an amusing metal anthem or in your opinion it’s fast, lengthy, heavy, and has a more thrash sound to it that „Feel The Fire”…it”s a transitional album between Overkill’s speed/thrash metal days into their late 80’s early 90’s thrash sound and it combines the best of these two different Overkill styles and delivers thrash greatness?
I think you’re beginning to understand all this… all of these so-called ’thrash bands’ had started to rely on the production and the heaviness of their SOUNDS. The songwriting aspect was getting pushed aside by that and it was a big mistake! Once all of the bands figured out how to get that really heavy scratchy-chunky guitar sound, the sound was all that mattered! That’s the reason that I so much love the hardcore bands. They did not have a very heavy sound and were always produced pretty poorly. But their playing was so hard and had so much energy and aggression that it was very easy to hear, and it was genuine and it was a pure, and I love it! To this day, I keep saying the same thing about it: ’Forget the sound, how about the song?’
Would you say, that you gave the old Overkill a punk feeling at times because of your style of drumming, Blitz’s vocals are very diverse on this album, ranging from low and melodic to very high pitched screams and the guitar work is top notch?
Oh sure, my drumming was driving a lot of our musical direction, those songs were arranged primarily by me. Mostly, they were always random guitar riffs, and some lyric sheets laying around, and they had some really great parts, but no one was ever able to put the ideas all together. That is the thing that I always loved to do, to make those parts into songs…and they now approach all of that much, much differently . I definitely think that Blitz and DD are very good at what they do, all of us had talent with our instruments. But, as I said earlier, the differences between then and now are very easy to hear…whether or not you like the old stuff or the stuff that they’re doing today, the approaches are entirely different!
„Taking Over” is like the debut straight up thrash metal, with insanely catchy and very memorable songwriting and a good awareness of melody, but on this album, you reach higher extremes, and the very first song („Deny The Cross”) is heavier and thrashier than anything on „Feel The Fire”, how do you see it?
Yes, ’Taking Over’ is definitely is a very catchy record. Thank you for the compliments. ’Deny the Cross’ is a great song, but most of it does rely on the chunky guitar sound. Most of that song just stays chugging on the E-string… I love the chunky guitar just as much as everyone else but you cannot rely on just that sound to make great songs. That’s what made Metallica so great. They had the sound, AND they had the songwriting. So what makes the band endure and become successful? Is it the sound? Is it headbanging? Is it a cool logo? Hey, all of those things are help but no matter what, at the end of the day it’s all about the song… without a good song, you won’t last long!
A video was made for „In union we stand”, what about the footage of the song?
At that time, music videos had gotten very popular and were very much a necessity for bands to do. So again, with the limited amount of money we had and my homemade stage set we just lip-synced it ’live’ in front of a few dozen people. I think it turned out as a bad video, because like ALL the early metal video’s, it focuses way too much on just the singer!
Was the purpose of the song to make popular of the record?
That song was the most sellable song on ’Taking Over’, so that’s why we made the video for it: to try to sell more records and grow our popularity obviously.
How often was it broadcasted by the MTV or by other music channels back then? Didn’t you think earlier about to make a clip for „Rotten to the core”? It would have been a good idea…
That was in 1987, and when MTV first came on the air they were showing very few heavy metal videos, so we were lucky to have gotten played on MTV at all! Doing that song was in not our choice alone, it was the choice of Megaforce and also Loud and Proud, who was our management firm. Again, we wanted to sell more records and become more popular, although we wouldn’t admit that at the time, because our thrash-head fans would have thought we were ’selling-out’ But that song had the most mass appeal to it without a doubt.
The record was produced by Alex Perialis who did a great job, were you satisfied with him?
I love Alex: he did a great job and is very very talented at what he does. However, every record requires good engineering AND good producing, both of which are two extremely different positions, and require different thinking… so I would say that Alex served us better as an engineer more than a producer.
Would you say that his name was a guarantee for a good work?
Well, just like it was with Carl Canedy: these were two guys who had worked with a few other thrash metal-type bands so the chances of the product coming out well was much greater. But no matter what the production is like, or the budget or anything else, it all comes down to the songs… if the song aren’t good then othing else really matters. I think that’s been proven over the years
How happened that the record was distributed through Atlantic?
Since Johnny Z. sold off most of his stake in Metallica to Elektra and Metallica became so unbelievably huge, it was obvious that there was a need for mass distribution of these newer, heavier ’thrash’ bands. Especially the bands that Megaforce was working with, so that’s why Atlantic picked up Megaforce’s distribution…everyone had their hand out looking to make money. And everyone did make money, except the musicians!
In your opinion, did OVER KILL’s status rise rise sharply in the States through „Taking over”?
Well, it’s not my opinion, it’s a fact that the status of Overkill did rise dramatically through ’Taking Over’. But, however, ALL of the thrash bands had equal amounts of success going forward during that period of time. As I said before, the genre of thrash metal had then broken and it was here to stay. So all of the thrash bands sold very well in 1987, ’88, ’89 and ’90…Thrash became the new mainstream.
You provided backing for Helloween’s tour dates to Europe, what do you recall of that tour?
That tour was a lot of fun because Helloween was such a huge band in Europe and we blew them away every single night . I remember some of the German kids telling me that Helloween were just a bunch of rich kids who got popular too fast and did no hard work to deserve their success. So they were young and didn’t have much experience playing in front of these big crowds, so it was great for us to steal the show away like that.
Your next release was the „Fuck you” EP, which is a cover song of an Canadian punk outfit D. O. A., was it Blitz’ band or did he sing in another D. O. A.?
Are you serious? No really, the band called ’DOA’ that Blitz was in was just the name of the cover band that he was in with Pisarek and I think they only were around for maybe six months or a year, anyway. But, the Canadian band DOA is one of my all-time favorites!
The live tracks were recorded at the Phantasy Theatre, Cleveland, OH, June 2. 1987, didn’t you think about to release rather a whole live album?
I had decided that we should do a cover of the song ’Fuck You’ from DOA. It always went over incredibly well when we played it live. So we recorded it as an extra track when we went into the studio to record ’Taking Over’. We released it separately with those live tracks in the form of an EP for two reasons: so people would hear this extra song, and of course to try to make a little extra money, which we never did. All of these things are explained very well in the DIRECTORS COMMENTARY bonus feature of my DVD ’BORN IN THE BASEMENT’.
At which point and why did you leave the band? Do you still remember your last performance with OVER KILL?
Once again, this is explained in great detail in my film BORN IN THE BASEMENT () To sum it all up, the road sucks. The music industry sucks. I had worked my ass off for 8 years to put Overkill on the map and I had not made any money. I was broke. I did not like the direction that everyone else wanted to go in, meaning that everyone was becoming generic and mainstream and just trying to copy Metallica like everyone else. That used to bother me so much! It is one thing to be influenced by another band, but when you’re copying someone directly…it is an embarrassment. And I’m talking about the music, about the way he they were dressing, and everything else. Overkill was an original band with our own identity that came from the heart of what I thought, and also what DD thought…that all started to slip away, and I saw that it was not going to come back because of the direction that the thrash metal scene had taken. I was right.
Does it mean that you didn’t contributed in the songcomposing process of the „Under the influence” record?
No, most of the songs on that record were written with me in it. I have a very interesting tape of all of those songs that we recorded in the studio as some scratch tracks during the ’Taking Over’ session, meaning they were almost completed songs for our next record. So they used many of my ideas that continued on with them after I left: doing the Ramones cover ’I’m against it’, etc.
Did you part ways in a friendly term in the end?
There really were no terms at all, good or bad. I know they were upset and nervous that the main guy was leaving them by themselves to run things, but we were friends, and friends should understand the needs of their friends. I learned my lessons in a very hard, very dissapointing way.
Did you follow what’s going on in the metal scene after your departure from OVER KILL?
I almost did not follow it at all. It had disgusted me. The little bits and pieces that I did see had proven my thoughts about the mainstream trendiness of the metal scene. It had become generic. Thrash Metal especially became a big race, and everyone had lost most of their identity. I had then gone back to playing straight-ahead rock ‘n roll, and I could not have been happier… and happiness is why I play music.
Do you like the other OVER KILL records? In my opinion, „Under the influence” and „The years of decay” are classics and I would say, around the „The years…” record was OVER KILL on its peak, do you agree with me?
I guess everyone has their own opinion. Well opinion or not, the fact remains that all the Thrash Metal bands had their best sales in that same time period that you’re speaking of…every single band with no exceptions. I had left, so obviously the songs were very very much different. Whether that was good or bad, the fact remains that they were very different. So to say ’peak’, this means what? The best songs or the most recognized period of time for record sales and visibility? This period of time, which ironically is right after I left the business for a while, is when the Thrash Metal scene started to implode because it had become so generic and mainstream, that mediocrity of all the thousands of Thrash bands that appeared superseded the songwriting that established Thrash Metal bands in the first place. A good example of this: look at all of the major thrash bands first records compared to the records they did in 1988 and 89. Obviously, their first records all sound very very much different from each other, whereas the ones recorded in 1989 all sound very much the same, don’t you agree?
How would you describe the career of the band as a whole?
Well, I and definitely very proud of what I was able to do with Overkill, and DD should be proud too, he also worked hard. I think the shame of it is that Overkill will never go down as a sincere iconic legacy to Thrash Metal, because their current mission seems to be in putting out records just to pay their bills. When we were putting out records in the 80s…of course, we were much younger then and did not have as many responsibilities, but it was all about the songs, and all about the fun, and all about the passion. I think that’s all gone, and obviously that can never come back. I very much admire and respect bands like the Dead Boys for putting out only 2 records…but they were 2 absolutely legendary records! The Sex Pistols only put out 1 record, but it’s one of the best records to ever exist. So, what’s more important, 1 or 2 absolutely great records or 20 that are pretty average?
Have you heard about the successful fight of Blitz against the cancer? He has almost died…
Yes I did hear about it…he will be in my prayers, and I wish him the best of health.
Are you still in touch with them? What about Bobby Gustaffson these days?
I got together with Bobby to film some interview material for another film that I co-produced, ’Get Thrashed’, and we talked a few times on the phone, but I don’t talk with Blitz or DD at all. Since my separation from the band, they have things on their agenda that are more important than keeping in contact with their friends.
Would you have thought in the early days that OVER KILL will exist these years as well? Did you regret back then leaving OVER KILL?
My regrets in leaving Overkill was not covering myself with our contracts to make sure that I get paid for the all the work that I had done. That was my fault and it was a mistake. I have started to talk about this on BORN IN THE BASEMENT, but we had purposely cut it off. I do not wish to publicly discuss the details of money because it is one of the things that has ruined friendships and musicians lives for many years, and it will continue to do that. My big regret is that….well actually it’s just a disappointment…is that I never got a chance to finish writing the songs that I wanted to…Overkill could have been a very big band, should I have stayed. It really is a shame that we will never know how Overkill could have turned out, and it really is a shame that the business is so horrible that it forced me to leave playing music (professionally), the thing in life that I loved the most.
Is there any chance to see live on stage OVER KILL with classic line up? I mean, Bobby Ellsworth, Bobby Gustaffson, D. D. Verni and Rat Skates?
Rat, thanks a lot for interview and wasting the time for me, anything to add to the feature what I forgot to cover?
- If you have not yet seen my film BORN IN THE BASEMENT go and see it now! It is available exclusively for worldwide delivery at . There is also a lot of never-before-seen historical Overkill information on my website, be sure to check it out. I have many exciting new projects in the works, both film and music, and be sure to check out my band BOMB SQUAD. I’ll be releasing a CD later in the year from this amazing rock band (not Thrash!) that I had played in after my years with Overkill. It’s a kick as heavy rock CD that I recorded in 1990-’91, it’s absolutely my best drumming and songwriting….and yes, I still do skateboard!