Interview with Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth
Conducted by: Carlos M. Llanas
Since the early 80’s, Overkill has been ripping stages and releasing albums consecutively, and to this day, they continue to put on energetic and exciting live shows. They have conquered many fans with their style of thrash metal, and they are considered by many as one of the greatest thrash bands that ever existed; I have to agree completely. How can you not? With classic releases like "Feel the fire" and "Taking Over", they helped pave the roadway for a genre with a scene that has benefit greatly by these records. Sure, the scene has increased significantly since the mid-2000’s, but unlike these "Junior Thrashers", Overkill never forgot, and never forgave.
Tonight, I am joined by Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth from the legendary thrash quintet, Overkill. How are you doing, Bobby?
Carlos, It’s good to be in Texas, where everything is bigger and better. I’m really excited!
Your latest album "The Electric Age" is everything that we’ve come to expect from Overkill. It seems like these days you guys cannot be stopped from releasing great albums. For example, your previous release "Ironbound" is heavy, it’s fast, it’s an Overkill total package. What sets "The Electric Age" aside from the rest of your albums?
Well, I think that one of the things that this album has, and I can’t say for all rest of the records, but it has a contemporary presentation. It says "Here we are in 2012" not "Here we are in 1990", which is very important to us. We want to be relevant in this day and age as opposed to what we were. I think that is the most important thing. What this album has that is a little different than "Ironbound", is that it seems more power-packed, darker, and a little faster. It feels like the thrashier roots that we had back in past by reinventing those roots in 2012. It’s an exciting record based on that power, the reinvention, and based on it’s production.
It entered in at #77 on the "Billboard 200"; "Ironbound" came in at 192. When you look at it, that is a pretty substantial jump from one year to the next. You must be excited about that.
Well I gotta tell ya man, when I chart, you chart haha! That’s what this is all about, you know? You don’t make noise doing this by yourself, you make noise with people. I think that one of the things that has always been the endearing quality and characteristic about this type of music, or about Overkill, is that we are fans of it, and I think that people who follow and support that band are fans of it too, so together is when you make that noise. So sure I’m proud as hell of it, but I think that everybody who purchased that record should be proud as hell of it too, because they are the ones who made it happen.
The title "The Electric Age", how did you come up with that or who came up with it?
It’s actually D.D.’s title, but we went back and forth. The song "Electric Rattlesnake" was originally entitled "Electrocution Therapy", and we were kind of looking for a theme, but not necessarily so important to us, but something that we are all about. There has always been this kind of electric vibe between us, the audience, and the scene. The scene is very healthy right now and feeling very electric, so there really wasn’t big thought put into it, but we were going back and forth and I remember that I got an email from him, and all it said was "The Electric Age", so I emailed him back and I said "I think you got it." It said something big, electric, and it was themed.
The cover art is awesome. It’s classic Overkill. Who came up with the concept, and who was the artist?
We’ve been working with a guy named Travis Smith since 1999. He works for a company called Scene Pieces. Travis is always a little bit ahead of us, because he likes doing Overkill art. For instance, for "Ironbound" he said "Hey I have this great idea for your next record." and It almost gave us the idea of where to go with the title. So we decided, "Hey we’re going to call it Ironbound." Same thing with "The Electric Age"; he started with that room he created, the skull was on a post and looked like it had turbines on it and slowly started adding the electricity. He’s really excited about working with us, and I think that one of the things that he likes about us is that we give him free hand, but we also give him input. It’s not "We want this" it’s "What do you have? Where are you going with it?" and that for an artist is huge. If you’re just copying someone’s idea, you’re not an artist, but if you create something and we say "Hey, this represents us." is great. I agree with you. I think this is one of the best albums covers we’ve ever had. You really feel it visually when you look at it.
From the moment you started writing, till its completion, how long did it take you guys to write and record "The Electric Age"?
There is some kind of an assembly period, and that period is approximately eight months. D.D. for instance, is collecting riffs prior to that and working on songs. Really singularly, D.D. hatches this and we finish it. I’m usually the last guy to get my hands on it, but I’m involved in the development of the songs. We started May of 2011 and we delivered in January. We released the album January 17th; we changed the chorus to "Old Wounds, New Scars" on the 14th of January three days before it’s release. I ran in there and said "Man, I got a better chorus." Like I said, it’s an eight months process. He starts the foundation, and I put the roof on the house.
It seems like a perfect duo. I mean, you two have been friends for thirty years. Your collaborations has made Overkill what it is today. Can you share a little bit about how it all started between you and D.D.?
Me and D.D. met pre-internet, where you actually had to go out and meet people. Your social networking was shaking someone’s hand and looking them in the eye and saying "Hey dude, I’m an honest man." haha! and I’ll prove it! Not just a post on Facebook or Tweet you and Twat you haha. It was a different world. There was a musician’s classified in the back of the paper where you could put an add in when you’re looking to form a band; I was playing in a band called D.O.A at the time and D.D. was in a band called Lubricunts. The idea, is that you try to match up the adjectives. His adjectives were Leather, Steel, Power; my adjectives were Metal, Punk, and Steel. We said "Wait a second…this could be a good match" hahaha! That’s really the idea of how we got to meet each other, and that was really the formation of Overkill. He was with a drummer; I was with a guitar player. We got together and since then it’s been kind of historical with regards to that friendship. Because you’re right, Three decades is a long time.
Bobby, you still sound fucking great dude. It’s as if age has had no effect on you what-so-ever on your vocals. Do you do anything to sound the same? I mean, after all of these years you don’t sound different at all. You still have that classic Bobby Blitz sound. Do you do anything to stay in shape vocally?
I buy more expensive dope now haha! I don’t get any of the cheap shit. You know, the thing for me is that I’ve always been really lucky with this. I’m not a warrior about it, I think vocalists who are warriors can ruin their voice. I know it’s a muscle, I’ve trained the muscle, I keep it in good shape, I warm up before every show, and I am not a proponent of fast food. I may have to eat it when I’m on the road, but I don’t like it, so I don’t eat it at home. It kind of keeps me healthy. I’ve had a couple of health issues in my career, but they are things that I couldn’t have avoided, they weren’t lifestyle issues, they were more predisposed to it through genetics. I’ve always been healthy, and I’ve always had a high level of energy. D.D. and I are a different people that way. He’s a little bit more long sighted and I’m a little bit more immediate, and my voice has just never failed so I continue to work with it and not be affraid to learn new things. I turned 53 on May 3rd, and the point is that if I can still learn things at my age, then I can always progress. If I stop learning, I stop progressing, then my voice stops. It’s just a mentality that I have with regards to keeping it fresh.
Well, it looks like we both share a birthday Bobby! I was born May 3rd as-well.
Well Happy Birthday to us then!
You talked about being energized, how do you do it after all of these years? I mean, you are all over the stage man. Every time I see your performance, you are never sitting still what-so-ever. You look like you could go another thirty years, brother.
That IS the dope haha. The adrenaline rush is why I like to do this; I can’t do it standing still. It’s the reason why that energy was inflicted to this is part of my personality and my character, but the other side of it was fear, because if I stood still I felt like a target haha. You can’t hit me! I’m a moving target. We learned that early on in our career. I remember when we were so excited we were opening up for Slayer, and do a full tour with them across the U.S. We drove all the way to Seattle we were so excited, well as I was standing there on stage, I got hit with a hail pennies, cigarette lighters, and wet paper towels and I said "Man, I gotta fucking move." hahaha. It was a real simple injection into why I move so much.
You also shot a video for the single "Electric Rattlesnake". I had the pleasure of watching it, and I have to say, it’s great. What was it like shooting the video and working with Kevin Custer again for the second time?
Kevin’s great! He has a unique understanding of the band. One of the reasons I like working with Kevin that a lot of people don’t know, is that he’s a drummer. When a guy is going to be doing video editing and can understand a beat, he’s putting the cuts in the right place. He’s not letting them hang over, so we wanted something that moved, the way we moved in order to represent us. A musicians perspective makes it easier to work with him. With regard to a "themed" video, this was our first ever. We usually shoot performance footage, so we kind of left it to him. I remember we brought the actors in, the priest and all of these other people, and I had such a great time with the priest! He was standing there with his bible, and I walk over to him drinking a Hineken, and I tell him "Father, can I have a couple of minutes of your time? I have to confess a few things." He started laughing and he said "Son, as soon as I’m done smoking this joint, I’ll be right with you." haha! True story! anyway, Kevin, at the end of the video, had the guy in the prison cell scared. The only input I ever gave Kevin with regard to the video, I said "Dude, there is no sniveling in Overkill." hahaha. There is no fear here. So he changed it to where the guy almost looks heroic by the end. I was really happy with the way it came out.
This past summer you headlined a North American tour. You had God forbid, Diamond Plate, and Suidakara as supporting acts. How did the fans react to the new material?
Well, like we talked about earlier, when you debut at a high number on Billboard in metal, and you have been around for this long, and with supporting acts that have energy and bring unique characteristics, I think we are covering a lot of good bases. So, if we are out there playing the new stuff and charted that high, people KNOW the new stuff; and that is really important, because hey, I’ve done stuff off the first record 4,000 times, but I’ve done "Electric Rattlesnake" like fifteen times, so that’s more exciting to me. We’ll do "Come and Get It" and "Save Yourself" off the new record, and these are really exciting moments for me in the show. They really set the groundwork for what kind of energy follows. It seems to be perfect with regard to people knowing it, with us being able to play new stuff, and old stuff; both parties being equally excited about it.
Your past few albums you’ve recorded at D.D.’s own "Gearhead Recording Studio" in New Jersey. What makes this studio ideal, and does it have to do with the level of comfortness you have with D.D.?
There’s a couple of reasons. First and foremost, D.D. is more than a musician; he can run a studio. He’s had the studio for a long time. We’ve been there for ten years. The idea is that, obviously me and D.D. run the band. We have to support each other’s wants with regards to this, and he’s made it a great studio. It’s a great place for us to record. It’s very comfortable, and it always gives us the luxury of time, the luxury to re-record something if we want to, and the luxury to just pop in and drop an idea down, which is fantastic. Another perspective, is that the industry has changed with regards to "Download". So, the "Download" has taken away a lot of revenue from the music industry. When he started the studio, it gave us another luxury, the fact that the fucking money stays in the family hahaha!!!
haha! You don’t have to pay some other asshole to record you!
Hey, if I want to see anyone making a few bucks, it’s going to be D.D. Verni! With the luxury of time and with this great studio, we can keep our costs so low, that we can really make quality records. I think that it’s obviously happening with the last two records. They have been super quality releases.
Overkill, has seen numerous line-up changes in the past. Now, you’ve had the same group of talented musicians for about seven years. Was it difficult for you to find this group? or was it chemistry right off the bat when you did find them?
Well, it’s not off the bat, chemistry has to happen in time. There is always adjustments necessary with regards to chemistry. Sure, you like each other, that’s gotta be the start. I’ve always told people that I’d rather tour with people I like, than virtuosos. Virtuosos can be a pain in the ass. Someone is always up your ass how "You can do this better", we KNOW we can do it better, we’ll work on it, in the mean time I’ll be rolling dice and smoking Cuban cigars with Dave Linsk in the front of the bus hahahaha! And losing all my god damn money! That makes for good chemistry, and that immediately transfers to the stage and to the studio.
Tim Mallare left the band in 2005 after fourteen long years. What were his reasons for leaving? Did he ever share them with you?
You know, he left for a good reason, but I think he was just done. He was burned. This isn’t for everybody, man. I mean, fourteen years is a long fucking time; that’s a lot of service. When you think about it, I think he was just cooked. He had gotten married, there were kids involved, and one of the kids got really sick. Obviously, to support his new wife, he couldn’t be in Paris, France or Berlin, Germany he had to be at home. It was a man’s decision made by men. It was very simple, he said "Hey man, I can’t be everywhere." He hasn’t stayed in-touch with us, which is a little strange, because there were no bad feelings when he left; we said "we understand." Actually, we knew it was coming, we talked to him about it and he said "I don’t know how much longer I can go on." So we started to look for another drummer. I think that when we met Ron, Tim was really relieved. Hell, Ron was sitting in our dressing room in New York having a beer and having a few laughs. We had already rehearsed with Ron and Tim had known. Ron was going to be the guy when Tim couldn’t make it. As soon as Ron came into the situation, I think it let all the air out of Tim, as if he let a sigh of relief knowing that he could leave the band with a clear conscience. He didn’t feel like he was hanging up his friends, you know? I think it actually worked out pretty well.
Growing up, and having a great band in the heyday of thrash must have been quite the experience. What are some of the things that you miss most about the olden days?
You know what? I don’t know if I miss anything about them. Maybe the fact that it was new and uncharted. Everything was kind of a new experience. A lot of people say "ahh those where the good ol’ days!" I say, "Damn! These are pretty good days too." hahaha! These are not shit days where you’re trying to play in somebody’s basement to get a gig. Because if that was happening, I wouldn’t be doing it. I mean the 90’s were a little lean, you know? But it was still something we loved doing. Definitely, the fun part about the heyday of thrash, is that it there were no rules. These are still great days man, and obviously charting high and releasing quality records like "The Electric Age" proves that.
I read somewhere, that the only past members that you really miss, is Rat Skates. Is it because he was a co-founder? Also, what was it about Skates that made you miss the guy?
This question I can answer with a little bit of what you said before. "What do you miss in the heyday?" and it was chaos. So, we were kids making our bones. I always like to say when I see old pictures of us "Hey, I didn’t even have hairs on my balls yet!" hahaha! The idea is that we were all going through the same things together. We were all growing up in a world where we didn’t even know we could grow up in. The missing of him, was the instantaneous bond when there is four of you who don’t know what the fuck you are doing, but you’re just doing it anyway. You are compelled to do it. You don’t know why, but it feels good, so you’re going to do it. When I think of him with regard to this, it was a great bond. This wasn’t a business test back then. Now, it’s a "Love of" and a "Business". Back then it was just chaos. That was the reason. Kids running around the country trying to stay out of jail hahaha.
You still talk to Skates?
I don’t actually.
In all of your long career, what has been the most rewarding and accomplished moment. Aside from the seventeen albums of course.
It’s actually personal. It was brought to me by Overkill. All the good things I have in my life have been brought to me by Overkill. I was single, it was 1999, and I had this great friend over in the Netherlands. Her and her boyfriend were really nice people. I always missed them. We used to hook up prior to internet; we used to send faxes and stuff like that. Well, I was a single guy, I had been divorced for a while, and I was walking through Dynamo when it started raining like fuck. I looked, and there was a blonde girl sitting on a white chair. It was the only spot the sun was shinning, and I went "Oh my god, is that Annette?" hahaha! Two years later I was married to her. What goes around comes around. If people are meant to be with each other they will be. I always think that because of Overkill, it’s rewarded my life in other ways that you can’t measure. I’m a romantic bastard under this leather exterior.
What’s next for Overkill?
We plan on touring. Ride the wave to some degree and exploit a healthy metal scene. This is not the time to take time off. This is the time to go charging in like a bull in a china shop. That is what the future is to bring. Do it day by day.
This next question is a question I ask all the artists, and it’s probably the most important question of the whole damn interview. What’s your favorite beer?
Heineken. I’m a Heineken drinker. It’s what I drink at home all the time. I was sober for ten years. Not a single drop from 1995 till 2005. I started drinking a few Heinekens on the road. I think it’s because my wife is Deutch hahaha! She’s a lot sweeter than this though, this beer is very bitter.
That’s a great answer Bobby! I want to thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us. I want to congratulate you on the success you’ve been having. Also, good luck and I hope to get to work with you again.
You got it Carlos! It was a pleasure, and good luck to you too!