Interview by Robert Cavuoto
Overkill will be releasing their 19th CD, The Wings of War on February 22th via Nuclear Blast Records. It is by far the band’s most brutal CD to date. Right out of the gate Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth [Vocals], D.D. Verni [Bass], Dave Linsk [Guitar], Derek Tailer [Guitars], and Jason Bittner [Drums] hit you with two of their fastest and most aggressive Thrash songs “Last Man Standing” and “Believe in the Fight.” It’s a 51 minute Thrash assault of some of the most powerful Overkill songs possible. Adding some dimension to the CD, the band provides the ominous and doomy Sabbath-esque track “Where Few Dare to Walk” and “Welcome to the Garden State” filled with punk ethos and attitude. The Wings of War is not only destined to be everyone’s Thrash Metal CD of 2019 but the Overkill CD that is used as a point of comparison for their future releases!
Speaking with vocalist, Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth, he still exudes the same passion, energy, and excitement for Overkill as he did 40 years ago when the band was formed. Their career has never been easy but they have managed to weather the storm despite member changes and the downturn of the record industry. With dedication and hard work, Overkill has prevailed. In my interview, Bobby explains the key characteristics that have helped the band carry on, the importance of providing a musically diverse CD, and reliving his childhood memories on “Welcome to the Garden State.”
Robert Cavuoto: You’ve made a career in Thrash metal for just shy of 40 years. What’s one or two key attributes that you feel has carried Overkill through all the ups and downs of the music business and challenges the band faces on a daily basis?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: First and foremost we are not afraid to change; whether that be external or internal. It happened early on in our career during the second record when we lost a member. By the fourth record, we had lost two members. It’s really how you look at change; you can either embrace it and make the best of it or freak out and fold. We choose to make the best of it! I also think we are unchangeable from the outside, but internally we are changeable. That we do compete against ourselves and look for new things to interest us; on this record the change being drummer Jason Bittner and the rest of us becoming part of that change. It’s still Overkill at the end of the day, but it felt different to us as it was developing. If you don’t reinvent yourselves, you don’t break the present, you’re not a social media hound, but you still have to have it otherwise you get left behind like a dinosaur. You have to have a good sense of staying on top of your game internally or externally.
Robert Cavuoto: Any plans for a special 40th-anniversary tour?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: I haven’t thought of anything. We are happy about the present day. You and I talked in April about the Live in Overhausen DVD which was a celebratory event. Half was because we had a contract and the other half said let’s make this as big as we can. Let’s not fuck around and squeeze the Hell out of the opportunity. For me, I’m not thinking in terms of “Wow this is awesome, and we are going to have this big tour with ex-bandmates.” It’s going to be business as usual. It goes back to your first question that we put as much into the current day as opposed to what we were. I think that it is necessary to keep our interest in it and feel relevant.
Robert Cavuoto: How did things go with the Metal Allegiance show in Anaheim, CA the other night during NAMM?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: It’s was a beer drinking and Hell raising good time! The idea is a combination of a reunion, putting the talent together, with a party vibe and done in a professional presentation. It’s a one-off show, and it’s very relaxed regardless of how prepared you think you are. It feels like that old school jam especially when all the musicians are being inserted in and out of the show.
Robert Cavuoto: The first thing that hit me on this CD was the power, speed, and aggressiveness of Jason’s drumming, how does something like that impact the creative juice when sitting down to write songs?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: We toured with him a year prior in the US and at overseas festivals. I remember our first show with Jason in Moscow and three songs in thinking; the band has changed. It’s already different, and I can feel it. This is no slag on Ron Lipnicki; he was a top-notch drummer who brought us to a new level. They are different drummers like apples to oranges. We knew it was going to happen in the studio as well, but the final result would still be a surprise. Jason is one of the most brutal drummers we’ve ever had, and he plays with surgical precision. It’s a unique place for us to be this deep in our career; it’s not a lateral step or a step back, but a step forward in regard to his technical ability.
Robert Cavuoto: I was also impressed by the sonics of the CD as every drum hit, and guitar note was clear.
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: We have the old Motorhead adage, “everything louder than everything else.” If you can get it all up there, that is what metal is all about. We have that sonic relationship where you don’t get tired of listening to it after three or four songs and need to take a break. I think we scored a great balance between the two. It is a listenable record with the force of modern technology without being tiring.
Robert Cavuoto: There are also some diverse songs like “Distortion,” “Welcome to the Garden State,” and “Where Few Dare to Walk.” Tell me about the importance to provide that different dimension to the CD?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: It’s not something spoken about in our ranks it’s more from our influences like with Sabbath or melodic rock & roll or the punk of “Welcome to the Garden State.” I think it’s just going to show itself. All of these questions are connected to your first question of naming two things that keep me going; all of this shit keeps us going. If you know there is going to be diversity within the content it excites the guys in the band, it’s not a one trick pony. It’s not Thrash ‘till death on the first song and Thrash ‘till on the tenth song and everything else in between. There has to be different journeys on there, and that’s what keeps it interesting to us. We can punk-out, we can rock out, or get doomy or ominous like with “Where Few Dare to Walk.” We have to have some fun and keep ourselves interested from the inside.
Robert Cavuoto: How about the tracking of the CD, was it intentional to crush the listener out of the gate with the first three songs?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: I didn’t think of it that way. I thought “Head of a Pin” is where the diversity started. Obvious it starts beating the Hell out of you through those changes. In my opinion, I think it is the first step off the gas pedal, the thrashiest part of that song are the interludes between the verses or between the verse and chorus where there is no singing. That’s when it gets the most brutal. When you hear the chorus breaking down to half time and the introduction of the riff at half time, it really becomes more of a plethora of different styles as opposed to “Last Man Standing” which is a one trick thrash pony.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you feel you are as angry lyrically as you were 40 years ago?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: I don’t. I think I should be honest, but I do have it in my DNA [laughing]. I think you know me long enough to know I rather laugh then be pissed off. I’ve lived a pretty decent life. Just like when you asked me about Metal Allegiance, it’s was a party and I’m attracted to the nature of it [laughing]. Part of it is recognizing shortcomings, and I can make myself angry. That’s where the motivation comes from. It’s more about an honest assessment than being a pissed off young man. I’m not a young man, and I get it. I’m not going to tell you I’m as pissed out at this age as I was at 25, it’s just not possible.
Robert Cavuoto: Something I noticed and really liked was the way you handled the vocals on The Wings of War, what can you tell me about it?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: I definitely approached it with more melody. I wanted more melody in the vocals and that to be echoed by Dave’s guitar which I think we accomplish. The result of this record is brutality, melody and creating a third entity out of the two. I think that is cool because again it does feel different to us from the inside. It doesn’t feel or sound like the same old thing. It doesn’t sound like we mailed in the tracks. My voice is open due to giving up smoking tobacco seven years ago. I’m singing better at this point as my voice is cleaner and hoping I’m presenting better as well. I went with what is natural for this time period and this era in my life.
Robert Cavuoto: Being from New Jersey my favorite song has to be “Welcome to the Garden State” that song is filled with punk ethos and attitude.
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: Oh God, it was like reliving my childhood again and probably half of yours too! Going down to the shore with your friends and loading the cooler up with liquid gold in a 12 oz. can. Trying to talk to some Jersey Girls and telling guys from Pennsylvania to go home [laughing]. I got a kick out of the fact that it was so easy lyrically to write. It brought a smile to my face, even the Philly remark is tongue in cheek. I’m a big NJ Devils fan, and when we go to play Philadelphia, one of our biggest rivals, I have to throw something out there regardless of the standings which usually gets the biggest boo of the night. I figured let me double down on this to show them I’m not a pussy. I might not be angry, but I’m not a pussy either.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you think people outside of New Jersey can really understand and appreciate that song?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: I was recently doing an interview with a guy in Germany, and he asked a similar question of how I would explain that song to someone outside of New Jersey. I told him if you were in New Jersey at my garage and I’m doing some work on my car; you are standing there watching me and say “That not how we do it in Germany.” I would say, “You’re not in fucking Germany anymore!” [Laughing] He got it then.
Robert Cavuoto: As I was first listening to “Welcome to the Garden State” I wondered if you were going to add a Bruce Springsteen musical reference at the end and you did? Are you a fan or Bruce?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: I think you have to be to live in this state in good standings. You have to recognize the great things he has done for the state and his monumental musical accomplishments. He has brought a good light to a place that is the butt for everyone’s joke. We have always say that you can take your New Jersey jokes and shove them up your ass! [laughing]. I’m a fan of Frank Sinatra too.
Robert Cavuoto: I know you are a big Queen fan, what did you think of the movie Bohemian Rhapsody and Rami Malek’s performance in channeling Freddie Mercury?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: I thought it was great! I really didn’t know that much about Freddie other than the odd interviews or how he performed and wrote. It added a new dimension of the band to me. As a kid, I went to the Capital Theater and saw Queen for their Sheer Heart Attack concert. It made such an impact on me as it was my introduction into Rock & Roll and has stayed with me to this day. The movie didn’t take me to a spot where I said, “I never thought that.”
Robert Cavuoto: Was there ever a moment when your faith in singing as a career choice was shaken?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: Not shaken, there were events in my life that lead me to believe that the possibility of singing was not going to be there in the near future. I had a great friend for many years who I shared a big issue I was facing. He said to me, “There are two sides to the problem, one side here and the other side there. The key is going through the problem.” When he put it in those terms, I got what he was saying. With that kind of advice early on in my singing career, it helped me deal with other things. I wasn’t going to be in charge of what the results were, but I could make the best of it provided I had the right attitude in life.
Robert Cavuoto: Any plans for a US tour.
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: It starts in Baltimore on the April 24th, we will have Deth Angel, and an Act of Defiance with us and for the New York City PlayStation show we will also have Life of Agony. It was planned for a while we just had to tweak a few things here and there to make sure it was going to work at a high level.