with Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth
at O2 Islington Academy, London
13th March 2014
Interview by Kirsty Birkett-Stubbs
Photos by Graham Hilling
“I’m not sure what the fuck is going on here with these lights!” laughs Bobby, as we board the Overkill tour bus, which does appear to be operating some pulsing disco light setting. “This is like day one for me. I dunno if it bothers you or not – I feel like I’m doing a porn!” He laughs again.
Hang the lights. We got things to discuss. Especially as given that Overkill’s forthcoming new album has been delayed, and with it the rest of the European tour, we’re lucky we’re here at all. With the band about to take in a handful of dates throughout the UK, including a headline spot at Hammerfest, we grab a few moments of frontman Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth’s, one of heavy metal’s nicest guys, time to talk about the new record (It was probably the hardest one to make for me…), the music industry (But for some reason there’s always a want for this stuff. There’s always a need….), seizing opportunities (You know take that chance and if you can and succeed more times than fail you can string days into years and into decades…), and pie…
We’ll do it like this then. I’m good; just had a nice steak and ale pie.
I was going to say so you just got dinner?
My wife’s texted me and said “are you going to the same place that you took me last time” and I said “yes I am actually”. [laughs]
So you liked it last time then?
Yeah it’s cool when you find a really good English pub, I mean even in the States where we have more Irish pubs than English pubs, but they’re relatively authentic. A guy from Cork who’s very close to us so it does fish n chips, Shepherd’s pie, Guinness stew – he tries to do it as authentic as possible and it really attracts locals. It’s like “our Irish pub is way better than your Irish pub” [laughs] “That guy, what is that trash, he’s from the North” [laughs]
[laughs] Well that’s great – and you touched down yesterday, or this morning?
We got here yesterday, flew into Heathrow. We always like to just kind of acclimate for a day just so it’s not like you get thrown right into the fire. I think, you know in the old days it didn’t matter, and if I’m honest 100% this has to do with age [laughs] It’s just natural, it’s not a scourge or a bad quality, it’s just kind of natural and we like to present ourselves at a high level, so to have the first day to be able to get rid of the jet-lag and sleep in and not worry about anything, just get some good food, start the next day. It just makes sense.
Definitely. So this is the first night of the UK dates?
It’s six dates yeah.
So I can’t say how’s it going – because so far it’s going pretty good, you’ve had your pie. [laughs]
The pie was awesome. Seen some old friends.
It’s quite interesting because the rest of the tour’s been postponed.
So why did you keep the UK dates? Is it just because of things like Hammerfest?
It’s opportunity, and Hammerfest actually made the opportunity possible. We’ve never played Edinburgh, we’ve never played Glasgow, we’ve never played Dublin. So this is our first time in all those places, and being that we’ve never played them we didn’t think it was necessary to have a release. There’s some personal issues going on at home which delayed me from finishing the record – I’m still not done – the point is I have to go back and finish a couple of songs, so if we were going to do the rest of Europe like we normally do and not these places that we’ve never done it would make sense to have a new record. So we said hey let’s keep those dates, let’s grab the opportunity, because it doesn’t mean we get Dublin again, or Hammerfest again if we just cancel this. So we cancelled the mainland and just decided to keep the UK because they were first time places for us. The thinking behind it was – hey they haven’t seen us do the old stuff, except for London of course.
Does that mean when you do the later dates the UK is going to be missed out?
You can’t say that, no you can’t say that because we’re booking now refilling in those dates for October, so our agent is looking into as much as she can. What we like to do is usually cut it up into two pieces, so even if we come back in October, doesn’t mean we can’t come back in March. So maybe a year from now we’re talking about doing the UK again, and not necessarily Dublin but another Irish city or maybe in Wales, or maybe go back to Edinburgh, maybe do London again, maybe do Manchester again, who knows, Sheffield.
I was just thinking if you come back later in the year and don’t come back to the UK there’s going to be people going “Oh why aren’t they coming to the UK” even though we already got to have you.
You know something the clock ticks too. The clock ticks. It’s one of the things, I think it’s always been our principle to think that it’s always going to be the last record, it’s always going to be the last tour, and if you think like that you kind of put more into it. Because if your mentality is the clock’s ticking – and in our case I actually hear that [laughs] Not necessarily a bad thing again, but I suppose I’m a realist to some degree and you just never know, it could be the end. Is it going to be? I would think probably not if we kept to the principles we’ve kept in the past because we like opportunities you know? We were born to seize opportunity and I think that’s what really a band is about. You know take that chance and if you can and succeed more times than fail you can string days into years and into decades, so who knows? Hopefully we’ll be back but you never know.
I think it’s kind of nice in a way treating everything like it could be the last time and putting a bit more into it, because some bands, particularly those with long careers, it can be a bit through the motions… we do this and we do it all the time. Whereas you kind of bring a bit more to it and it’s a great experience for everyone.
Yeah, it’s a great point too. I think I would be embarrassed if I was known for what I was as opposed to being known for what I am. Why do you want to do that? In my case, I can’t speak for other people, why would I want to do it? And I don’t think I would, but I’ve always kind of been relevant and been involved in a band that is relevant. You know we have our ups and downs like everybody else but at this particular time in our careers the stuff that we’ve been releasing is being accepted on a wide level and by a whole new brood that is out there. You know this new breed, this younger thirsty breed wants to see the old dogs do their tricks and that’s kind of cool. So I kind of think that up until this point, at least up until today, we’ve been able to keep that relevance and keep our value in that current day.
With the new album, would you say that’s as good an introduction to Overkill as your older stuff? It’s still as relevant, and it’s still you – whether someone is familiar with your back catalogue or not you they can pick it up and that’s Overkill.
I think that’s one of the qualities we have, or the characteristics, that it’s always identifiable. Regardless of my voice, I think it’s identifiable by DD’s songwriting, now obviously I’ve been part in writing with him 150 or 160 songs, other guys too have been involved, but I kind of know where he’s going and I think that other people pick that up too. One of the things about us is that we’re not stuck in an identity crisis, we’ve always known what we are. This isn’t cutting edge.
I remember a conversation that he and I had back in like 93 or 94 and we were going to a new label and I was saying “well what do you think about this next record?” and he says “what do you mean?”. And I said “well what direction are you going to head in with this” and he said “there is no direction” [laughs] “It is what it is.” I said “that’s an interesting way to look at it” and he goes “listen man we’ve been over since 1990, what’s the difference? We got to nothing to fucking lose so let’s just go, all cylinders.” [laughs] I was like “that does make sense”, so now you’re thinking more in terms of not competing with the music business, but competing within your own genre and doing the best you can with what you have. Then you get good results I think.
People may say that same thing about bands like AC/DC.
They’ve got their sound and they’re great at it, and they’re huge, but they don’t change and they’re not going to throw in a dubstep influence because that’s the in thing.
That music business that you just mentioned, it’s obviously quite a lot. You’ve been going a long time, is today’s music industry harder to adapt to having been used to older one than a newer band, or do you think it’s worse for a new band now?
Well there’s a lot less cocaine. [laughs] That’s the difference between the old and the new. [laughs] What are you guys doing? We’re going to the UK. Ah you going to do some shows? No we’re going to do coke! [laughs]
No that’s not true, I don’t think you can hang around 30 years – I think everyone’s dabbled with something or other but I don’t think you hang around 30 years and keep relative health by putting cocaine as number one on your why you want to tour list. I think the music industry has changed and I’ve seen two parts of it, and only speaking from my experience in it because I know it’s changed prior to when I was in there, but I came in I suppose during the period of the excess. Thrash metal was really a response to the excessive bands that were called metal bands that were really pop bands through the MTV era – you know whether it be the Def Leppard’s or… I mean they were huge arena rock bands. Good or bad – that’s not what I’m talking about, but we were kind of a response to that I think, we were more that cry in the dark, that socially conscious ‘what are we going to do with our lives’. We can’t all be rock stars with unlimited cocaine [laughs] and money and big cars and shit, we can’t.
And I think our stuff really endeared itself to, I don’t know maybe that minority that didn’t associate themselves with or make connection to those arena rock bands. But what happened I think as that scene grew, because it was very attractive as there was purity in it, the excess spilled over into our end so we got to experience some of that music excesses, those parties and wild touring. I remember sitting with my brother after I came home after a tour and he was like “well what’s it like really? I mean it can’t be like what we think it is” and I said “it’s better!” [laughs] “it’s fucking better. You’re not going to believe it, you’ve got to come out on the road with me.” But then I think the music industry got caught with their excesses, because it’s obvious that if there’s that much excess around they’re obviously ripping off the public and the people that are supporting them and the bands that they have.So I saw that and then I saw that age of the download and everybody panic. Then I saw the filesharing and everybody panic again.
But for some reason there’s always a want for this stuff. There’s always a need. It pulls heartstrings, it touches your soul sometimes. It instils anger but at the same time makes you feel peaceful when it’s done because you got the anger out, there’s this great thing here. So it’s always wanted. But now I see it as a different thing, you just have to adjust. I think if you’re an unchangeable person in a changing world you get left behind. You may be that person who waves your flag of non-change but it doesn’t mean that you work in that world [laughs] And I think in the case of Overkill that we’ve been able to adapt. Obviously the popularity of the genre is part of it but the fact that we will adapt.
You know I don’t like social networking, I don’t want a Facebook page or a Twitter account. I don’t. But I know the band needs them, so I have a couple of great guys who will do that stuff for us, who will do it because of their interest in social media and heavy metal and Overkill. So I think that as long as we stay current with that stuff we stay relevant regardless of the changes. Do I like one better than the other? Excess was fucking great[laughs] it’ll fucking kill you though after a couple of years [laughs] Excess and not married it was like ahhhh [laughs] My niece said to me “I can’t believe you get paid to do this stuff”. I said “It actually is work you know what I mean”. She says “But you’re getting paid? What do you really do for a living?” And I said “I irritate the masses and endear myself to a minority” [laughs]
That’s the best way! It’s interesting you mentioned social media because I think your Twitter account is great, and there’s lots of things on there, including some insights into the new album. Such as that ‘Armoury’ is in the title, and I was like maybe we should play a game of “Guess the Title”, but I decided I wouldn’t be able to.
But yeah we won’t do that. However it did also mention some single titles, and I know you’ve got one coming out soon so is that any of the ones that have been mentioned or can you not say?
We just threw some titles out there. It’s not about not saying, we’re just old school guys, we can do whatever we want. No-one said “oh jeez don’t tell it’s a big secret!” – who gives a fuck! It’s that mentality – you’ve been over since 1990 – but my principle is that when the record’s done the record’s done. The song titles that I gave out were song titles that were done. I gave it to the Twitter guy because he bothers me all the time, and he’s a great dude. Actually he’s a British guy, Chris Davies. It’s funny because we were getting ready to release ‘The Electric Age’ and one of the guys from the record company called me and said “who’s in charge of that Twitter account that you have?” And I said “We don’t have a Twitter account” laughs He said “It’s overkillband, it says it right here. It’s actually really good, he seems to know a lot. So I had somebody contact him and he got in touch with me and was like “I’m so sorry I’ll stop it” and I’m like “It looks great, we want you involved. If this is what you want to do it’s fine, but just remember to some degree you’re representing us, you can’t just throw out stuff. It looks like you’re doing great stuff up till this point though.” So in any case, I gave him those titles because those songs are done. Our principles are to not release titles that are not finished, that including the record because the record needs to have everything done. It’s just a principle of ours and it just makes it more exciting for us. It’s not supposed to be a big secret or something.
It’s an Overkill record. It was probably the hardest one to make for me, and it’s because I don’t like to repeat myself. I know that, there’s a fine line between style and repetition, and I know that Overkill sound like Overkill and how many times can you use the word fucking fire [laughs] and make it be relevant. But in any case I try to stay away from those themes and one of the things that I do when I’m writing is, in my office, I put up phrases that really excite me or strike a chord and then I put up on other pieces of paper words I’ve always used in the past. And then I put up the synonyms of those words and the antonyms so it kind of looks like a kids preschool in my office. But that’s probably the reason it was hard, we had some family issues that I had to deal with, but the record was hard for me to write because I don’t want to repeat. Sure it’s going to be a metal record, sure it’s going to be straight ahead, sure it’s going to sound Overkill but that doesn’t mean it needs to sound like ‘The Electric Age’ or ‘Ironbound’; sure style and repetition, fine lines, so that was probably the hardest hurdle on this recent project.
It kind of comes back to what you were saying about being relevant. It’s going to be great when it gets here, obviously not as soon as we hoped, but I think it’s July now?
So that’ll be exciting
Yeah we’re excited about it. That’s the thing it’s a great opportunity to have that and you got to get into a totally different mindset to do this. I remember I use to have to be really angry and pissed off, you know the angst filled youth kind of thing to get anything out of me. Now I really want a quiet week [laughs] the dog laying down, doesn’t want to play, just like that’s perfect, looking at all my notes. My wife says that sometimes I go through this crazy insane period where she’ll hear me talking to myself and all I’m trying to do is talk myself through the record, they are lyrics or something, but she’ll go “you know when you’re just doing it that way it sounds like you’re having a conversation with yourself and I’ve just got this madman living in the basement” [laughs]
I suppose it kind of puts a spin on it though in that it must be quite personal. I mean if it sounds like you’re having a conversation with yourself it’s obviously coming from you.
It’s always personal. I don’t like to be specific and say this is about that. I don’t know where it’s come about but I think through this genre I think 50% of the journalists want to know a specific definition for a song and I’m like ‘doesn’t that ruin the song for you?’ I remember putting on Black Sabbath records when I was a kid and Alice Cooper records and it was all about my imagination and where it took me. It opened up all these new worlds, when I was listening to ‘War Pigs’ and flying across that battlefield, you know what I’m saying, with a big sword in my hand, and I had my meaning for it. I didn’t know what Ozzy’s or Tony’s meaning was for the song but I knew what it meant to me and that was the most important thing, that was the string that pulled on my heart, that made me so attracted to it, so I never like giving out specifics.
But it’s always personal and I’m a true believer in the fact that, I said it earlier, that we endear ourselves to certain people who endear themselves to us and I think a lot of that means we’re really kind of the same underneath. We probably have the same fears or we probably have a lot of the same successes, it’s just about being human but there’s something about being human in this particular group that we have a certain commonality that when you add imagination to that commonality it becomes unstoppable [laughs] It’s fucking explosive, so I won’t sit there and go through “oh it means this, oh you’re not very social or political, you know”.
Maybe that’s becoming worse because of this social media age and we need to know everything, we need content all the time.
Great point. It’s a generation of saying everything. It’s really interesting there’s a school now in New Jersey, a private Catholic school, that is giving class in understanding social media and how it can affect your life beyond just ‘Joey sucks because he kissed my girlfriend and she’s a slut’. You can’t just print that shit [laughs] you should work those problems out and not let the world know, you know what I’m saying? It makes you a better person. That kind of shit thrown out there or ‘so and so needs her ass kicked’ or whatever – that shit will come back to you eventually. You can say ‘oh I was only a kid, I was 18 or 17′ but there’s guys that I know that check Facebook accounts now when they hire people just to make sure you’re not some kind of idiot moron [laughs] who’ll let all the company secrets go. Interesting though.
Going back to your long career, and you mentioned the huge back catalogue, do you ever sometimes feel like you want to do a tour or gig where you just play songs that you haven’t been able to in years and years. So bands like yourselves, personally I’d love to go to a ‘B-sides’ tour which is like ‘we’re not playing the hits. You’ve seen the hits, we’re playing something else.’
That’s interesting. We try to mix it up every now and then, we leave a slot of two or three or four spaces of things we haven’t done and we interject other things in there to keep ourselves happy, but to do an entire set like that sounds like it would really be a lot of fun. I mean really, you do this because you like it. The idea about releasing a new record in the old days was to move your profile ahead, to try and again more ground and keep what you have but obtain more. I think now to some degree it’s about ‘oh good we can play some new songs’ [laughs] this is going to be cool, we’ll have at least four new songs in the set. But yeah it’s a great idea, I’ve never thought about it specifically let’s just do a ‘b-set’ of shit we’ve never ever played. That would be really really fun.
Yeah it’s like over here we’ve got Sonisphere in the summer and Metallica are playing and it’s fan chosen, and everyone has just voted for the same things they’d play anyway, and I’m like ‘this is your chance, you could said no we’re not having ‘Enter Sandman’… It’d have been great.
Yeah something obscure off the first record – ‘Trapped Under Ice’
You’d have to go back and learn it though I guess.
There’s some songs. DD and I have probably done in excess of 5000 shows, and I think at four thousand 900 of those shows ‘Rotten To The Core’ was played because it was off our first record and also on an EP that preceded that, so we were doing this song before we were even signed, so I think that it’s been played that amount of times. And sometimes I’m trying to go to bed a night and I hear that riff. It’s like the Chinese water torture you know what I mean – drip, drip [laughs] eventually it just gets you, so sure I’d love to do something different off that record and we have we’ve done probably over the last half dozen years we’ve probably done six different songs from that record but we put them in for two weeks, pull them out, throw in another one. Just to keep ourselves more interested. Great idea though.
Well maybe next time you come you can do something like that!
And maybe that will be the last time [laughs] “Oh man they played all these songs I don’t even know”
Everyone would be on Twitter about it. Your Twitter guy would get it in the neck but you’ll be ok!
I’m trying to think what we’re doing tonight. I didn’t pay attention to this. I was coming out of the studio and came straight over here and I remember seeing a list and going through it with DD and I don’t remember what’s in it. I know I looked over it really quick and thought ‘oh good I know all these’ [laughs]
Well thank you ever so much for your time, much appreciated!
Have a great show!