Heart of Steel: Interviews


Ex-Overkill Axeman Bobby Gustafson Returns To Metal With New Band RESPONSE NEGATIVE

Bobby Gustafson - 2003Interview By EvilG
Transcription by Waspman

From the late 80's, one of my favorite thrash metal bands was Overkill. Their album THE YEARS OF DECAY got a LOT of "airplay" on my home stereo back then. One of the main things I liked about the band was the guitar playing of Bobby Gustafson. When Bobby left the band in 1990, I was disappointed. Skip ahead to about 1996-97. I was at that time in the early stages with Metal Rules. I did a "Where Are They Now?"  page for Bobby since I hadn't heard much from him in ages. That didn't lead to any great scoop on what he'd been up to. Oddly enough it was a recent interview I did with Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth, Gustafson's former band mate in Overkill, that lead to this interview taking place. Shortly after the Overkill interview went live, I was contacted by Jim, the drummer from a Florida band called Response Negative. This was an entirely new band to me. Jim e-mailed to let me know that they had recently recruited Bobby Gustafson into their ranks. Thanks to that contact, an interview was set up and I was thrilled to finally hear the other side of the story regarding Overkill and to find out what Bobby had been up to for the past 13 years!


I guess the first question is that a lot of people, myself included, want to know about your departure from Overkill. In 1990 you were asked to leave Overkill by Bobby and D.D., and we’ve all heard their side of the story and I’ve never read or heard yours, so if you don’t mind, I wouldn’t mind hearing what your side is and what happened there.

Yeah, I don’t mind. We can just start by saying that I was not asked to leave the band. It wasn’t something where they came out and said, “Hey, you’re fired!”. It was more of a verbal fight between me and D.D. about doing a show where they wanted to do it strictly for money and I didn’t want to do it because we had just sold out Studio 54 in New York, our biggest show, and they wanted to do a Halloween show that was kind of goofy. They wanted to charge full price, which at that time was about $15 or $20. I said that it wasn’t right and that we should either not do the show or keep it half price because it’s not a real Overkill show.

One thing led to another and I hadn’t talked to D.D. for two weeks, so I knew that something was up. I later found out that he was doing stuff behind my back with the management, trying to get me out of the band pretty much. They called me in and we had a discussion and it was like “They want this, they want that”, and they started putting judgments on my music as far as what we were writing next time and I said, “Hey, I just wrote four albums worth of stuff that nobody ever said anything!”. By that time I had found out what was going on behind my back and that he was trying to get me kicked out, and I got really upset. When Blitz came back from his honeymoon I said, “Hey, I’m not playing with this guy anymore, so the decision is yours”. Actually, D.D. was kicked out of the band first and he sort of came back. I said, “Look, I’m not playing with him”, and Blitz said, “Well, I’ve been with him longer, and I kind of want to stay with him”. I was like, “OK, I’m gone”. That was it.

I think what happened was that when their guitar players over the years, a lot of it had to do with money. I’ve kept in contact with a few people who know those guys as well and they said that they just didn’t pay those guys anything and made it so they couldn’t stay around. With me, since I’m the only one that people asked about, they have to make it seem like they threw me out. If that gives them a pair of balls between them to say that, then so be it. I didn’t care because I wasn’t in the business anymore. I kind of gave up and said “The hell with it!”. Now that I’m back, at least my side can be told. You can believe what you want, but I think the more that they’ve said it, people tend to believe it, but just because a lie is told 100 times doesn’t make it true.

Overkill photo from 1990 (Bobby G. is second from left)


How did you feel about the situation after this happened? You must have been pretty pissed because you were such a big part of the reason why the band got to where they did at that point?

I was kind of shocked, mostly because D.D. is the one that wanted to leave the band. We were like, “Why are you starting all of this shit between everybody when you want out? If you want to go, just go!”. I said, “Fine, if you think that you can do it without me, then go for it. I just wrote four of your albums, and now you can start doing it with someone else. If you think you can make it, go ahead”. As far as anybody is concerned they never really topped anything that I did. It’s obvious that they’re still making a career off of my music since what, 11 out of 17 songs on their new DVD are from their first four albums. Obviously they know something too, because they’ve done what, 9 albums since I left and most of the shit is still off the first four albums.



So do you still, after all these years and having stepped back from the situation, feel disgruntled over what happened, or have you forgotten about it and moved on?

Yeah, I’ve kind of moved on. I haven’t spoken to D.D. since I left. I’ve spoken to Blitz a few times over the years and it was pleasant, but uncomfortable. Just recently, since they’ve never given me any royalties or anything from any of the albums that have been out, I just found out that the first album recouped like three years ago. Actually, Misty from the new Megaforce Records gave me the heads-up on that. I tried see what was going on and tracking down money that was owed to me, and our first drummer Rat, because he had no idea, so I’m basically watching out for him. I think that stirred things up because those guys don’t like to give up money at all. So now, even my relationship with Blitz has turned sour.

Do you hope to recoup some of the money that was made off of those albums?

Well, when I left the band I really only kept my royalties and my publishing, and I haven’t gotten any of that yet. All of the money basically goes to them and they’re not giving it up. I asked Blitz on the phone if he knew that the first album had recouped and he said he didn’t know, but I already had heard from Megaforce that it had. He was sending my money to them, and I’m trying to get it back. Now it really turns into a mess because those guys were just all about money and that was what the fight was over 13 years ago.

So not a lot has changed then?

No. They really haven’t changed at all.


Overkill - Taking Over era

Did you keep up with Overkill and check out the new albums after?

No, nope! The only thing I kept on was HORRORSCOPE to see if they used any of my riffs, but I guess they didn’t. I didn’t follow them, but it seemed like every other week they had a new guitar player. I was just shocked about the new DVD about how many old songs were on there. I think that they realized that no one wants to hear their new stuff so they went back and played the old stuff.

There’s two DVDs inside. The second one has old clips of the band live with yourself, which was cool to see.

I think I got more air time than their current guitar player believe it or not! (laughs)

On that DVD, sure. So you checked out the DVD at least then?

Yeah, my other band member was saying how much I was on it and wanted to show me, so I watched it. Basically, I got the same…Blitz came off well, but D.D. came off as the same old stubborn, pig-headed, wearing the blinders. He’s got his opinion and everybody else doesn’t matter. He came across as the same as he was when I left, he hasn’t changed one bit.

Overkill - Under The Influence

Did Overkill go in a direction that you would have not been happy with?

I can’t really say because I don’t know what direction they were taking at all. I really didn’t follow it, I just checked up on that one album, and that in itself was 12 years ago. I don’t know anything that they do.


I thought there was some talk on the DVD about difference of musical direction?

They’re always going to say that! They don’t want to look bad. They also give a whole laundry list of reasons why these other guitarists left. Even Tim Mallere who’s been with them for ten years now doesn’t get paid well. He’s not a part of the band, he’s a hired gun. From what I heard he makes VERY little and he just does it to go on the road. That sounds bad! No wonder why all of these other guitarists left! They just used them as a stepping stone. They have to make a point out of me because basically…

...You weren’t the hired gun.

Yeah. I was the songwriter. They were doing covers when I first joined. I was 17 years old and I got them to write songs, originals.


Back when you did first join Overkill, the only other guitarist that I’ve ever heard mentioned before you was Dan Spitz who went on to join Anthrax. Were there any other guitar players around at the time you joined?

When I joined, I actually auditioned, and there was another guitar player but he split two weeks after. They had someone when Dan was in the band, and I tried to bring in a couple of my friends, but no one ever really worked out so basically we were wasting time and I said, “Hey, why don’t we just stick with one?”. That was it, the decision we made at the time because there was no one working out. I think maybe that there was at least three to four guys before me. They were just a cover band then though.

Overkill - Fuck You!

Is there anything else from back in that time period that you want to talk about before we get into the post-Overkill era?

No, that’s really just it. The biggest pain in the ass for me is that they’re going around saying that they kicked me out. I’m getting that straight right now. I’m also giving another interview where I’m trying to straighten that out.

Overkill - Years of Deacy


So immediately following this, the next time I remember hearing your name was with the band Cycle Sluts from Hell. You were in that band I guess?

Yeah. They had a guitar player quit while they were in the studio and they needed some solos or something done. I knew the one girl, Betty, and she asked me to come in and do some solos and I agreed. They had a two-month tour that they were putting together with Motorhead and they asked me to come out. At the time I was trying to get I4NI (reads as: Eye for an Eye) together, and I figured that it would keep me out there. I played with them and then there was some sort of record company internal bullshit going on and they got blackballed somehow, and then got dropped. They were a great band though, they were fun!

So on their album, all that we hear from you is the solos? You didn’t write any of the material?

Yeah, I just did a few solos, and one song didn’t make it to the album. Then I went on tour with them.

You weren’t in the video for “Wish you were a Beer” were you?

Yeah, I was in that. (laughs)

That was you? (laughs) That was a pretty big video back in 1991 or whatever.

It was pretty funny. I saw that on Beavis and Butthead first, and it amazed me that they would pick that out. “Hello from the Gutter” I think they used too.


After that I think the next time I heard your name was in relation to, as your mentioned, I4NI which basically later became Grip Inc. What was the story there? Did things just not jive musically between you and Dave Lombardo? That’s kind of the story floating around anyway.

Yeah, it started out and I was playing locally in New York in late 1991. Billy Milano got in touch with me because he wanted me to join Pro-Pain, but I didn’t want to do it. I kept in touch with him though and he wanted me to do the next M.O.D. album with him, so I said OK. From there we went to San Francisco to play with Perry Strickland from Vio-lence, and that didn’t work out and Billy left, but I stayed. Somehow I hooked up with Dave’s manager by staying there. It really was just gonna be another band, not I4NI, it was going to be Grip. Dave was down in L.A. and I was in San Francisco. He had his own ideas for guitar parts and stuff, and I just didn’t think that it was that great, and it wasn’t worth my time to drive seven hours down there to sit around with them and just waste my time because it just wasn’t going anywhere. As far as playing goes, he’s still a great drummer, but I just couldn’t deal with him on a personal level. He was very paranoid about everything that I said. I think it was probably because of the drugs that he was doing at the time, and I was just not into that. He took the name Grip, which I came up with and changed it into Grip Inc. because he thought I was going to sue him, which at that point I really didn’t care. I just left. Grip had nothing to do with I4NI and I left before that really got started. None of the music that I did with him was even on their first album.


When their first album finally came out, was it anything at all like you had done with him?

No, actually it was much better than what we were doing. Really, the first couple of songs were guitar riffs that he came up with. I don’t think anything that we did made it on the album. It was better than I expected. To this day though, I don’t regret that one bit. I probably wouldn’t have lasted to long. Just trying to deal with him and his wife, it wouldn’t have worked out.



What were you doing after that? The next time I heard mention of you was with the band Skrew, but that was in 1996. Was there anything else going on in between then?

I just kind of finished up with I4NI in San Francisco. I played with Tom Hunting, the drummer from Exodus. We did a demo and stuff and we handed it out, but we really got no feedback on it. At that point, I was ready to go to Florida because that’s where I wanted to be. I went back to New York first and Debby Bono, the manger of Skrew, who I was staying with in San Francisco, and the same problem came up. Skrew got rid of their guitar player in the studio, and they asked me to go down there. I went and learned 13 songs in four days and played on the album. I pretty much just stayed in Texas when I went out there. We played some shows and went out on tour with Kreator and that was it. It really didn’t turn into anything, and I didn’t really want to be there anyway. As far as I was concerned, that was it. That’s my time to go to Florida and moved out right after that.



I remember buying SHADOW OF A DOUBT  and saying, “Well this doesn’t sound anything like Overkill”. That was the reason I bought it because I read  that you were band.

Yeah, they had the material done, luckily I was able to put the tracks down on all the songs, but that material was already written. I only knew of the band because Debby was the manager. I grew to like it a little bit more. I was happy that I was playing different styles. I just wasn’t crazy about living in Texas and I really wanted to come here, and I’ve been here ever since. I pretty much just dropped out.

Yeah, after 1996 there was no other band that I heard that you were a part of.

No, I didn’t do anything. I put the business out of the way. I wanted to get myself established down here, buy a house and car, the whole deal. Now that I’m established, I’ve been checking out some of the local bands down here. Through friends I met Mark, and I checked out his band a couple of times, and thought they were cool. They seemed really honest and sincere with what they were doing, and they were fans of what I used to do. I don’t know, they just convinced me to play with them.



Was there ever a time where you ever did put down the guitar for any amount of time? Were you still jamming with people at all?

Yeah, I jammed with a friend of mine down here who’s a drummer. We used to play parties and get really drunk and play old Iron Maiden songs. We’d play in his garage with big parties and just go nuts. I basically just played at home, that was it. I was not into putting anything together again. It’s a lot of work finding the right people.



Throughout the 90s did you listen to a lot of the changes in metal? Or what people were calling metal? Did you keep up with new bands, or just listening to bands that you liked all along?

There’s a radio station down here that plays all the new bands like Blink-182 and all that stuff. It’s just radio rock, it’s not heavy. The closest thing to being worthwhile is Godsmack and Disturbed, but they’re already out of it in a lot of people’s eyes. I just didn’t really keep on top of it. These guys do, they’re younger and keep on top of what’s going on. They’re up to date with what’s cool. There’s a bunch of New York bands that are coming out that are aggressive and aren’t worried about airplay.



Weren’t you involved with a New York area band called Insult II Injury, in terms of producing or something like that?

Yeah, that was about 1994, when I was finishing up the San Francisco version of I4NI. They were friends of mine and they wanted somebody to come in and try and help them out with studio sounds and whatnot.

They seem to have dropped off of the map altogether in the last couple of years.

Yeah, I don’t think that they’ve done anything.



So onto the new band now, I believe that Response Negative is the name?


Can you tell me the background on how you met the guys and what it was about this band that made you finally join a new band and make it public?

Basically it’s just through friends. They were playing around with another band that they shared rehearsal space with, and they were always asking me to come out to a show, “Watch us play! Watch us play! Tell us what we’re doing wrong”. They wanted me to manage them at one point, and I just didn’t have the time to do it. They lost a guitar player and I just found the time, I felt like I was ready. I thought they had grown since the first time I saw them and I thought that they were very trustworthy guys. That was my biggest gripe after the whole Overkill thing; I didn’t want to get screwed over again. Knowing these guys for almost three years now, I felt that I could trust them and play music and not worry about getting stabbed in the back. They’ve got a few songs that they had before I joined, and now we’re writing some new songs this week actually. We’re putting stuff together for Megaforce, giving them first crack at it.

So they’ve already expressed some interest in it?

Yeah. We’re hoping to get into the studio by August and record a full-length.

You’ve been helping with the writing for the new album then?

Yeah, I worked on some of the older material and tried to polish it up. I’ve just got tapes and tapes of riffs that I had that we’re going through now. It’s really weird because my style changed a little bit and some of the songs that Mark wrote sound more Overkill than me. I got into the heavy groove stuff and they are trying to pull me back into the death metal and the early days of thrash. It’s great and I love playing with them. They made playing fun again.


When was it that you joined the band? How recently?

About a month and a half ago, if that long. We did our third show last night.

How did that go?

Great! I’m still hung over! (laughs) I threw up and I’m already on my second beer! (laughs) It was great. We had a little bit of down time because we switched drummers in between. We had two weeks when I played my first show, then we got rid of the drummer and got a new guy and that took two weeks to get him prepared for our second show, and then we just had our third one last night. Now we’ve got one next Saturday, and the one after that too. We’re gonna do a few more shows locally, keep up with the website, and just concentrate on coming up with a few more songs.



Do you find that the word is out now with people in the area who maybe were old Overkill fans, coming to shows with their old Overkill shirts on? (laughs)

These guys are so young that they kind of…they know about the band, and some of them are fans. They’re slowly getting the gist of what I did. A guy in another band was like, “I think I saw you on VH1 last night!”. (laughs) “Was that you with the long hair?”. Yeah, that was me! (laughs) There’s nothing much like Overkill fans being around, but the guys are coming around a bit more. We didn’t let it out at first but once we did on the website we got like a thousand hits in two days.

And it’s only going to get "worse"! (laughs)

I love it though! I’m hearing from people that I haven’t heard from in years, people in Germany and all over the world. It’s instantaneous. I’m flattered that people still remember me when I haven’t done anything lately.



I saw some of the live pictures on the website and I noticed that you’re still playing the beige/white Explorer shaped guitar. Is that still your trademark guitar?

I guess. I switched off between that and my Flying V. My last two gigs I did the V, and then I switched to a black one. It sounds kind of big-headed but I’ve got so many guitars that I don’t know which ones to play! (laughs) I almost didn’t want to play the Explorer but it’s such a damn good guitar. I can throw that thing against the wall and it will still be in tune.


Is it the same one from the videos from Overkill?

Yeah! Those are all the same guitars. A lot of the newer guitars that I have just don’t hold up. Everything else is compared to that guitar.

Indestructible! (laughs)

(laughs) Yeah!


Have you bought any new guitars in the past few years, or is it basically the same ones that you’ve been playing all along?

Yeah, it’s still all of the same stuff. I didn’t really purchase anymore. Some of them just sit in the box ‘cause I haven’t even played them!



When I was on the website, there’s a section there for sound clips, I think there were two at the time, I listened to both of them and I don’t know if you were playing on those, but my impression was that it sounded like death metal. Is your material now leaning more towards death metal, or do you think that it will sound more old-school thrash?

It’s probably going to be a combination of everything. The one thing that we’re trying to keep away from is the new groovy type of stuff because it doesn’t sit well with Nick’s vocals. I’m actually coming up with a few things that are more death metal. Mark’s like a big Overkill and Savatage fan, so his writing is very similar to mine. It’s everything. Nick loves Nuclear Assault and Anthrax while the drummer loves Iron Maiden. We’ve got a little bit of everything covered. Basically his vocals are death metal though. Whenever we play underneath him, it’s going to sound death metal.

Response Negative promo picture

Do you have any particular goal for the band, or is the goal just to have fun? Do you want to bring it to a certain type of level with touring?

Yeah, I want to get these guys out and tour! I mean, basically I felt like I was Yoda! I was telling them all of these road stories and I really want them to experience the fun I had doing it. I want to at least get the band out and on the road to show them what it’s all about. They’ve totally changed already, professional-wise. They wanted someone to kind of guide them, so that’s basically the position that I’m in right now. We’ve got so much happening so quickly between writing new material, getting ready to record, new members, and getting ready to tour, its great man!



Do you think that the album will be out this year?

Yeah, depending on what Megaforce does with it; if they put it out themselves, or we take ‘em halves on it. We’re trying to get into a certain studio down here which is why we’re waiting until August.


It’s not Morrisound is it?

No, no. It’s a smaller studio, but the guy, Jeremy is doing all of the bands down here. It’s amazing.



I look forward to hearing some new stuff! I’ll be checking out the website.

Yeah, we’ll be putting up some new pictures and stuff soon.


Is there anything else about your new band that you want to let people know about?

Just check out the website. We’ll keep everybody up to date through there.


Does the band do the website themselves?

Yeah. We have a webmaster but we all make changes and stuff. Yeah, that’s about it that I can think of.


Well, thanks for your time! It’s nice to hear that you’re back in the ring!


Band Website: www.ResponseNegative.com

Picture credits:
Interview pictures courtesy of various Overkill albums.
New Bobby Gustafson pictures courtesy of Response Negative.