Interview with Bobby Blitz
8th September 2015
Interview by Jarod Lawley
With the imminent release of their Historikill: 1995-2007 box set we had a chat with Overkill’s iconic vocalist Bobby Blitz to discuss belt buckles, being a tourist, and what’s in store for the fans with this mega, 13 CD box-set.
Hey Bobby, how is your day going?
Pretty good actually, I just got a whole bowl full of seedless red grapes! (laughs)
Very rock ‘n’ roll! So you have your box set, Historikill, coming out, what’s this going to be offering the fans?
Well it was kind of a darker period for metal in general. Metal, or thrash metal specifically is a much healthier scene post 2005, I think that these current days are right up there with what people call the “glory days” or “the good old days”, but there was a period of time, maybe a ten year period, where metal was not the flavour of the day and a kind of dirty word when it came to general popularity, but I do think there were great releases then and that part of the proof of that is in Historikill. It may not be the era of the band that received the most attention, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t value in it, and I think that to get 11 albums and to catch up on such a metallic era that still had solid release is why Historikill is great.
It’s an instant catch up, you wanna put on those 11 CDs and catch up. If you’re familiar with the Fuel The Fire to Horrorscope era, then Immortalisis to White Devil Armory, you are missing a big chunk of stuff. And this was a time when, because of its (metal’s) popularity, a lot of bands went home, worked for their mom and dad, lived in the basement, played their guitars and smoked grass- for us it was just not an option, we weren’t the only ones, but obviously on our level it wasn’t the easiest thing to keep touring and continue securing record deals year after year and doing what we love doing best. So I think it shows persistence, which is a great characteristic to have. I think it shows tenacity, that we didn’t do this because of winning popularity.
Overkill didn’t compromise on their sound during this era either…
Well I think it would always be hard for us to present ourselves as something we’re not. I think if you look at our discography, Historikill era included, we didn’t have an identity crisis (laughs). Overkill is what Overkill is, and I think that accepting that as band members gives us a huge amount of freedom. There is no chasing anything, it’s about enjoying the time with the other guys when we’re writing, recording or touring, making sure that the man is more important than the band, and if that’s the case then the band takes care of itself. It’s not about me, it’s about us, and if it’s about us then we’re a lot more powerful, and that’s what I’m talking about with regards to identity.
One thing that is a bit different for Overkill is that on the box set you have a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Main in Black”. How much of a role does non-metal music play in your life and how much of an influence has it had on Overkill over the years?
For sure it has had an influence. Back in 2007 I started working on a side-project called The Cursed, and it was a really fun project with Dan Lorenzo of Non-Fiction fame, and this guy thinks a riff, and then he can play it, he doesn’t have to work it out, it’s just a case of he thinks it and it comes out of his amp, you know? He asked me to do this project I thought, “Let me look at things I like that are non-metal, let’s not do Overkill part 2 for The Cursed, but let’s make it unique. So I studied the entire Greatest Hits or The Essential Johnny Cash, which is like a three record CD , and what I was trying to do while studying that was to understand the low end in my voice- if it was there I was gonna learn how to uncover it by learning how to sing this stuff. And I was doing it I kept talking to D.D. who was saying, “listen man, you gotta do some of these Johnny Cash covers for your side-project cause it would be awesome for your voice”. As time went on, D.D. and I were talking about it, then I laid down a track and he laid down a track and before you know it we had a duet. So for sure it has an impact on what we do cause that’s how it showed up on this Historikill bonus CD, a duet with both D.D. and I singing because we both liked this stuff and had been involved with learning it and knowing in the past.
There’s a few demo tracks also included as a bonus, what do you think is interesting for the fans about getting to hear these songs in their earlier stages?
Well the demo tracks are specifically from sessions for Horrorscope back in the early 90s, and it was just fun to find them, I think D.D. was looking for looking for armchairs or something in his attic then said, “You’re not gonna believe what I’ve found”. We started to listening to them and they were different to the final version because we we’re developing those songs with producer Terry Date, Terry was just awesome to work with at the time, and he wanted us to be the best we could and could always bring that out in us and the songs would change. So I think it was unique because it was one of our best selling records, and to be able to show something that was pre-Horrorscope release was just quite unique in itself.
There was also a box set version of your last album, White Devil Armory, which included a belt buckle. Do you think it’s cool that fans can get their hands on these kind of collectibles?
Well it’s 2015 and you have to reinvent the record industry, and I think Nuclear Blast is perfect at reinventing it-the whole idea of the Historikill box set was bought to light by our signing with Nuclear. D.D. and I have managed the band since ’95, we started cutting licensing deals as opposed to perpetuity where the record company would own that master tape forever, we would get that master tape back. So we had recollected all this stuff and Nuclear is the kind of partner that understands its customer, and this is what I mean by reinventing. So to put out a box set for Devil which included a belt buckle to make it a collectible, this is what 2015 needs to keep bands in the “financial black” to be able to do the next record after that. I just adore the fact that they’ve reinvented the music industry without taking it to a cheesy level but to have reinvented it by targeting their customers at the correct point.
It’s always quality stuff in these box sets too, it’s never tacky or cheap…
Well we’re metal bands, tacky and cheap kind of goes with us sometimes (laughs), but I agree with you. The idea for the belt buckle was really simple too. Back in the Historikill era we were still touring regularly, maybe not the U.K. but for sure Germany and Eastern Europe and we were still doing 75-100 shows a year in the states and we were doing South American tours, and I got on the internet one night just messing around on our website talking to people in a chat room who were metalheads, and I mentioned that I collected belt buckles, that this is what I did and if I was in London, I would pick up a belt buckle of the Union Jack for instance, and before I knew it I had hundreds of belt buckles given to me as gifts! So putting the belt buckle in the White Devil Armory thing was a no brainer.
That’s really cool! So, after the release of this box set you’re starting a North American tour with Symphony X, considering that you’re two quite different bands what are you expecting the crowds and the shows to be like?
Well we’re quite different bands, but we’re close to them and that counts. As time has passed for me, I found I like touring with people that I like. I like the competition, I wanna win, but I don’t wanna have fist fights out in the parking lot, that’s not what it’s about, and these guys actually rehearsed for a ten year period at D.D.’s studio, so this how close we are. We’d be recording Bloodletting in one room and these guys where rehearsing in the next, so we’re close to each other so that works. We’d done a similar tour with Kreator through The States, that’s a great one-two punch but we realised there was no grey area- that the Kreator fans were Overkill fans and vice-versa, but if we thought outside the box and did something with a band like Symphony, that there was going to be a great grey area, that we’d be exposing ourselves to people that would not normally come to our shows, as would they be exposing themselves to Overkill fans. So I think it’s gonna work out really well, it’s creative thinking, it’s about reinventing the tour with the right package and not doing a two thrash band approach, I think it will work.
As someone who’s been touring hard for decades now, have you got any survival tips for going on a lengthy tour?
Clean socks! (laughs) It’s very important. I remember in London I was with D.D. in this room by Hyde Park, and I was sitting on the end of the bed saying “Dammit!”, and he asked what, and I said, “I just used my last pair of clean socks yesterday” and he told me to look what he had, and they came right out the package and he gave them to me! (laughs) So now each of us carry a three-pair for the way home so we can be comfortable on the way home without trenchfoot!
So when you’re on tour do you like to go and have a look around, do some touristy stuff?
Yeah I’ve always liked it, I think if people know me or my personality in regard to interviews, I like people, you know. I was never a rock star I was just a lucky son-of-a-bitch who got to fill my passport every ten years and I like seeing that stuff, you know. When I’m in Japan I want sushi and when I’m in Korea I want Korean barbecue, it’s fish and chips by you, cause I like seeing that stuff, I like taking pictures. Like I said, I like people in general, I never think of myself as somebody who needs to be treated special, I just think that it’s just special I get these opportunities. Maybe that’s the key to this, my wife says it a middle aged boys club, “Here we go, it’s gonna be twenty minutes till you lose all your money to Dave Linsk playing cards” (laughs). So I think if that’s the mentality behind it, you get good results musically and it doesn’t feel like a tour forever, I look forward to them every time, it’s not an issue for me, these are the times of our life, so let’s enjoy them.
As somebody with a very distinctive vocal style, what for you makes a great thrash metal singer?
Well it’s believability at first, I can always pick out when the guy doesn’t believe what he’s singing, I think that’s they key. I don’t think its tonality or anything as such, cause I like clean singers as much as I like the dirty, raspy singers, or even some of the cookie monster vocals I’d say I like. For instance, Randy Blythe is one of the most believable singers in that entire genre because he believe what he sings and it comes across as so, and I think their last record is so powerful, that he has such a believable presentation. But, when it’s unbelievable to me, then it’s very obvious.
And finally, do you have any advice to a band looking to establish themselves in this genre? What makes them stand out?
You know that’s a unique question in this day and age because every band, whether it’s our level, above us or below us, has the opportunity, in 2015, to present themselves. Social media and the internet has made us a small world- someone where you are can be heard where I am instantaneously, but I think you also need to continuously reinvent yourselves, that it’s not “just this”, it has to have a destination. I’ve always considered myself, “not there yet”, and by considering myself not there, it means I’m still on a journey, so if I’m still on a journey I can always improve myself. If you think of yourself as “there”, it’s an end to that journey. So I think, reinvent yourself, continue moving forward, and be careful how you present yourself, because everybody’s gonna see it.
Thanks very much for your time today, Bobby.
Jarod, my pleasure, man. Nice talking to you.