Heart of Steel: Interviews

Vocalist Bobby 'Blitz' Ellsworth
 Interviewed by EvilG
Transcription by Waspman

From the first time I saw OverKill's video for "Hello From Gutter" with the flying skull way back in the late 80's I've counted myself as an OverKill fan. OverKill are one of the few thrash metal bands from that period who never watered down their sound or broke up like so many of their peers. The band has seen line-up changes over the years but vocalist Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth and bassist D.D. Verni have been there since the beginning. The band are back with their 13th studio album aptly entitled KILLBOX 13 containing 10 tracks of thrash metal that is sure to satisfy the band's loyal following. 

I was given the pleasure to speak to "Blitz" on a bright and early Saturday morning just a couple days after the release of KILLBOX 13.

Let's start out with your new album, KILBOX 13. As the title suggests, this is the band's 13th album...

13th studio album, yeah.

Right, 13th studio album.

That includes an E.P. that we did back in 1984 before being signed. That's where the 13 comes from.

Now that the album is out, how do you think that it stands up against the rest of your catalogue?

Well, it's been out now three or four days so it's really hard to not be biased about it, or give you an honest answer. It's usually best to wait a year or so to let the songs sink in. Quite obviously a band like us has done this for so long and has so much material, it's really hard to be unbiased about ourselves. I think we are what we are and we know that. We've never had an identity crisis. I know it's metal record, I know it stands up, but what number amongst the 13? I couldn't even fathom a guess. It may be 1, it may be 13, but I AM happy with it. A general overview that I feel about it that it's a good blend of where we've come from and where we are. We've refused guitar into it at a high level. It's probably since the ...UNDERGROUND record one of the more vocal hook oriented records that we've done.



This is your first studio album for Spitfire Records. How have things been with your new label? Are you guys happy now?

Well you know, one of the reasons that we've attained longevity is that we're in every corner and nook and cranny and darkest spots that you can possibly be in this business. We're involved in everything. These are nice people that sell records. These are metalheads. These are good things. Let's see where it goes from there. I think it's pretty easy to promote a live record, and I think that I know what to expect for the promotion of a live record, but when it comes to this record, it's just kind of our maiden or virgin voyage here. I'm optimistic, I'm happy with these people. That's what attracted us to this label was their commitment to the scene. Again, it's three days into this. Ask me again and I may be taking pot shots (laughs). Or I may be standing up and applauding (laughs). You never know!


(laughs) My favorite song on KILLBOX 13 so far is "Devil by the Tail". What is that song about?

Well, I always write internally when I do lyrics. For me it's kind of a journey since the HORRORSCOPE record. What I mean by that is that every year I kind peel away a layer of an onion and look a little bit deeper. What I did with this specifically is to peel that layer away and fuse the Canterbury Tales and the Seven Deadly Sins within the scope of the whole record. This song is envy, that sin. What I also did was apply it to me. You have to understand that I don't think of myself as any different than most people, on let's say the even plane. I think we all have the same hopes and fears, etc. We may have different politics, but I think that when you get to the core of the person, we want the same things. That's why I looked at it this way, how sins affect my life. Some can be my downfall, some of them I actually celebrate. "Devil by the Tail" is simply envy and how I perceive envy to be.

So there are seven songs on here, each one representing one of the sins?

Yeah. Anger actually gets a couple of spots in there. I'm finding that's one of my...

Easier ones? (laughs)

(laughs) I wouldn't even say easier. If I was honest about it that's the one that gets me all the time. That's the one that knocks me off the beam. What I mean by that is that it's the one I'm partial to. It's not necessarily the best thing for me all the time. I consider myself lucky to be able to vent it through music, and be doing it for quite some time now, as opposed to, you talk to some psychiatrist and they say it's some kind of a sick therapy. So it's always work for me. On KILLBOX 13 I'm trying to think of the last one I did..."I Rise". I was penning "I Rise" and...I always feel like there's some great weight lifted from me when I finish a record, like "Phew! I'm glad I got that out!". (laughs)



I remember a few years ago you were interviewed on Canada's MuchMusic and you were talking about the influences on the lyrics and I remember you said something like hate was a much stronger emotion involved and it's easier for your band to express.

I do think it is. It has a much larger impact from the side of the fence that we stand on. Most certainly love is celebrate in music all the time, it's commonplace. If you look at it from the point of view where we stand, we're not hateful people yet at the same time we recognize the power in it. If this is all about power and the hates that we possess, it's easy for us to portray that musically.



You said that when you finished your last song you were kind of like "phew!". Was this album any more difficult for you, or was it pretty much routine?

Certainly we have a formula. We've been doing this for a long time and if it's not broke, don't fix it. We do add new things as we go along. For example Dave Linsk has had a free hand on this album in terms of interpretation. For me personally it wasn't this experience of toil and pain. I like writing lyrics, I look forward to doing them. I do them right here where I'm talking to you. I've got a little portable studio set up and I scare my dogs and my wife when I'm down here screaming these lyrics. The cool thing about it is that it's fun, but it's not easy. I've written, or co-written 130 songs or something. So I really don't like to repeat where we've been. Of course I don't want to abandon the standards that we set for ourselves 18 years ago, but I don't want to go over the same ground. That's not the hardest thing. It's picking a topic, choosing your lyrics carefully, to not repeat yourself vocally. It's tedious work sometimes going, "that reminds me of something", and having to go back through 12 other fuckin' records to find out where it existed! (laughs) It's hard to a degree, but I always look forward to it. I've been a headbanger since headbanging was around, and it's still a fun thing.



Prior to this album you put out a live album and DVD. A lot of bands now are putting out live DVDs, but a lot of people are saying that WRECKING EVERYTHING LIVE is a step above. What do you think made the difference on this DVD?

Well, we've always...we've never written the perfect studio record, and we'll admit that. It's probably part of the reason that we continue to make music. We've come very fuckin' close to making the perfect live show. It's really all guns for us. It's not stepping into it lightly. It's Overkill. Overkill to us is quite obviously a standard. You do the most you can to make it right. D.D. and I put our asses on the line for that show and we co-promoted it. We weren't sure that that many people were going to show up. We had to sellout to even make that a break even. We put as much lights as that place would handle, we put as much PA as it could handle, and we dusted off some of the gems that have been missed in our set, like "Shred", and "I Hate". These haven't been songs in our set over the last 8 years or so. I think our standard and value for this is at the highest level day to day. It's not just a matter of, "Ah, it's just another day, or another show". You don't take it that way. Every new opportunity is grasped and choked to death by the band. (laughs) I'm not going to say that it gives us a leg up on other people, but I think that gives us a great amount of satisfaction when it comes to our releases. You may not like BLOODLETTING, you may not like NECROSHINE, or TAKING OVER, but for us, we stopped there and we put everything we fuckin' had into it. Of course, it's up to you, it's your opinion, I'm happy you have one. The other side of the coin is that I can never look in the mirror and say, "I should have done this". I guess that carries over to the DVD and it's really just quite simply a philosophy that we've carried with us since the FEEL THE FIRE days.



You have a fairly new member of the band, Derek Taylor. How's that working out?

Derek's probably one of the most twisted individuals I've met in my life, and I've met a lot of twisted individuals, let me tell you! (laughs) I mean that in the nicest possible way though. He's pleasant to be around, he always entertaining, he's a good friend, he's got a great heart. He cares and he shreds. These are qualities that I love to see in the band. Contrary to popular belief, D.D. and I don't have a really sharp axe where we cut heads off. People leave this band because they want to leave. We don't have rules about side projects or anything except for the standards that I mentioned before. You have to want to be here. Derek wants to be here. He filled in for D.D. when we returned from the European tour for the birth of his second child. We were kind of aware that this was going to happen but we weren't sure if we were going to get the whole tour in. So Derek came over and played bass and it was weird for me to have somebody different on my left after all these years. I had a kind of animosity about it, like, "This isn't D.D.!" (laughs). After being with him for about two weeks on the road, he's a funny guy, he's fuckin' insane! (laughs). Joe Comeau left to sing with Annihilator. Derek was a plug-in piece right there. He was somebody we liked and that's way more important to us than somebody who is a virtuoso. Nothing about talent here, Derek handles it. This is a tight band. Very, very happy with it.



He was playing bass originally with Dee Snider's SMFs. Was he a guitar player at all before or was it something new for him?

No, guitar first, bass second. He actually adapted to it for the Dee thing and a few other bands, but he's been a rhythm guitarist since music came into his life.

So he doesn't play any of the lead on the album?

Nope. Solid backbone is what Derek is.

Was he able to help with any of the arranging and writing for this album?

Well, he's the newest guy, so probably the least amount of input. I'll be honest about it. Derek's new, he's feeling his way into the band, but he's doing his best to have his end of it happen, but we couldn't have done it without him. That's the way we feel. This is quite simply about teamwork, nothing else. Derek's role will increase in time. On the other side, look at stage left, and Dave Linsk has come of age with this band. Dave's first outing with us was BLOODLETTING, and with KILLBOX Dave's kind of got free hand and he understands the band. He's really infused this intense guitar work that is memorable and has a fresh tone. He has a unique approach to it. That's the newest aspect to the band. That was the "get out of jail free" card that we gave him.

What was the "get out of jail free" card?

Well, to do whatever the fuck you want. (laughs)

(laughs) He has a side band called Speed Kill Hate.

Yeah, Derek and Tim are in that too.

Are they planning an album, 'cause I've heard a few tracks on their website?

They definitely have some shows coming up. The Worcester Metalfest, Metal and Hardcore fest in Massachusetts. I think they're looking. They didn't do it just for the sake of just fun. Dave, Derek, and Tim are people who like to do this stuff. I hope it works for them!



I think all of the members of Overkill are involved in another side band, I'm not sure that you are though.

Me? I rob convenience stores. That's what I do on the side. I always give the money back and there is no blood. It's all about the thrill of it. (laughs). I've done some stuff with some guys. It's more for me and the guy I do it with as opposed to full release. There's a great thing about Overkill that it still excites me. There's the other side though that's not pure and that's the business side. I run a lot of it with D.D. It was nice to go into a studio, actually a computer in a guy's bedroom, and just write songs for the sake of writing. He felt the same way. He's touring all the time with 2 bands, and he understood heavy, and I thought it would be cool to just go with it. It's actually Chris Caffery from Savatage.

D.D.'s also in a band with the guy who was in Savatage (Jack Frost).

Oh yeah! (laughs) It's not like really being in a band. You are, but you get these guys together...Jeff's friends with D.D. You're in the same studio with guys for a long period of time, and you get to talking over coffee and bagel in the morning, and the next thing you know a band is formed. These guys don't really tour, but they do release. Since D.D. was in this band, we were on this wild fringe of drinking which I continued to do for many years after, but D.D. dropped out of that and began reading (laughs). It was always Anne Rice and Steven King, that horror/sci-fi kind of a vibe. To this day, he still reads that stuff. I think the Bronx Casket Co. is a great mirror of things that don't fit in Overkill but things that D.D. loves. I've always celebrated it, I wish nothing but the best for them, and like it. It's part of my extended family.



If you don't mind my asking, I'd like to ask about the whereabouts of some of the past members of Overkill?

Yeah, sure.

The first would be guitarist Bobby Gustafson.

Dead. Next. (laughs)

You're kidding? He died this morning did he? (laughs)

I think I'll give you that answer for all of them! (laughs) Bobby's in touch with me occasionally. He's down in Florida, owns his own business. Plays guitar, and works with some younger bands. I don't think he does anything professionally, but is involved with helping a few acts. He calls me monthly about stuff, motorcycle parts. (laughs). It's friendly. He's doing well.

The last time I heard anything from him was when he was with Skrew. I don't think he's recorded with a band since then.

I don't think so. I don't even know if he recorded with them, I know he toured with them. Before that he did the Cycle Sluts. He had his own project called Eye for an Eye. He's doing really well, happy guy living in the Florida sun.


What guitarists were in Overkill before Bobby? Was there anybody?

Danny Spitz from Anthrax played with us. We were a cover band at the time. Most of the guys before Bobby were with us in the cover band. One guy from Jersey named Rich Conte who was there when songs like "Raise the Dead" and "Overkill" were written. Bobby was also a guitarist in the band at that time. We were a five-piece and then we were a four when we released.


Do you have any contact with former drummers Sid Falck and Rat Skates.

Rat, Christmas cards, kind of low level, he's out of the scene. We call once or twice a year, a few dirty jokes, that's all. Sid, no. Sid's probably the one that left this band with the greatest hate for me. I think he still does have contact with them, but by the time when Sid was gone, that's when I stood on top of a chair and applauded. It had nothing to do with his playing, it was really just personal problems. I think Sid have an idea that once he emigrated to the States, became part of the band, he would be "taken care of". This takes everything you have all the time, and I called him on that. I mean, you're a great drummer, but the world doesn't owe you anything, and neither do I. He didn't take too well to that. (laughs)


Last question about former members, and that would be guitarist Sebastian Marino. Do you know where he is now?

He owns a sound company. If you look on the DVD and look stage left where Dave Linsk is, he's running the monitors. He's still a good friend, doing well. Two beautiful girls. These are the decisions that people make, y'know? Sid leaves for his reasons, that's fine. Bobby was the only one who was thrown out of the band. Most of the other guys have left to make families. This has been nature's calling since we were running around with clubs and dragging our women back to the caves by their hair! (laughs). So he's got two beautiful girls, a sound company out of upstate New York. He really helped us a lot and came through on that DVD. Doing well.

Does he still play guitar?

For his own enjoyment yes, but not professionally. His business has grown to huge proportions and we're really happy for him for that.



Just looking back over the albums that you've done, is there anything that you'd like to have changed, or no regrets, do you think it was good the way it was?

Well, you know, naturally there's things I like more than others, but I don't know if I'd change anything. I'm a firm believer in the fact that every step is necessary to bring me to today. Regrets are not an option for me. It's really about seizing the moment. You may not do the right thing with the moment, but the other side of it, is at least you tried. I would say that things I'm dissatisfied with are productions, and that's in two cases. On UNDER THE INFLUENCE, and I HEAR BLACK. I do believe that's necessary to have come to a record like W.F.O. or start bringing guys like Colin Richardson, who produced KILLBOX, into our circle. He did work with us on UNDERGROUND, did the BLOODLETTING mix, and produced KILLBOX fully. I do think that those steps are necessary for us to make adjustments.



Do you have a favorite Overkill song or album, not including the new one! (laughs)

(laughs) Overkill is like chapters. Lasting this long is like the length of three healthy bands. I think HORRORSCOPE is like the definitive point for us, like a pinnacle. It was the end of one era for us and the beginning of the next. I always...when I'm getting ready to go out on the road and I throw on the CDs just to go over the songs, and usually I don't even have to 'cause we've been doing them for so long, I always listen to that record, and it sounds like a lion coming out of the cage, it sounds hungry. It still has that feel to me. It's probably one of my most favorite records.



One of my favorite OverKill albums is the THE YEARS OF DECAY. Two of the songs on there that would be some of my favorite by Overkill would be "Evil Never Dies" and "I Hate". I was wondering who inspired "I Hate", and what inspired "Evil Never Dies"?

When we were back at that particular time, I wrote the lyrics by taking ideas from the other guys. For instance Bobby came up with the "I Hate" riffs and from there we talked about the direction that we wanted to with lyrically. I think it was just a good song at the time for us. This band was very chaotic in its first four records, up until THE YEARS OF DECAY. After that we were still chaotic, but it was a controlled chaos. I think "I Hate" comes out about directional hate, when in reality it was multi-directional. It encompasses everything. It was about a good way to close that first era of the band for us. If I'm honest about it then it was probably inspired more so by Bobby.

"Evil Never Dies", these guys would come up with riffs and I would come up with the melody lines. "Evil Never Dies" is Overkill Part 4, its a continuation of the story that preceded it, we just didn't name it that way.



What do think of some of the other thrash bands that are out there that have been around for a long time like Testament or Kreator?

Big fan! I'm cut from that mold. I like to see them do well. The last Kreator record I liked very much, but the one before that I didn't care for at all, and quite honestly both titles escape me at this point. When it comes to Testament I don't think there's a better singer than Chuck Billy out there. I think they've written some great songs. I like it when he infuses all of his style within it. I don't like it to lean towards the death end of things, but I like when he infuses it within all of the other parts. He's got such a powerful voice with a fantastic range and a clear, clear top end. For comparison, my top end...his can be clean. That's a definitive thrash or metal singer.



What is your opinion lately on the earlier thrash metal bands getting back together? Like Death Angel have reformed, and Dark Angel.

Well, I'm not a big reunion guy. Probably because I roughed it out while a lot of these guys went and worked for their dad. (laughs) But again, I am cut from that mold, and I know the Dark Angel guys. Death Angel I thought had a really unique approach to things, a really expressive approach. They were kinda like the Dream Theater of this genre. Honestly though, I don't like reunions. I think you either do it or you don't. I don't think it's, "well, there's a resurgence in this, we should come back, and people will like us again and maybe we'll make a few bucks". I think your motivation has got to be pure. I can't speak for these people, but y'know, there's so many reunions. Jesus Christ! 1997 got to be the year of fuckin' reunions. It got to the point where I was saying, "Y'know, why fuckin' bother? You sucked the first time you came out!". It doesn't really make sense for me to say, "Oh! Lizzy Borden is back!". I felt like saying, "hahahahahahaha!". (laughs) I avoided you for eight years, I'm not going to stand up for this one.



Did you find it at all hard, in a business sense, to keep playing thrash metal when a lot of other bands changed or watered down their sound, or just gave up?

No. It cleaned house for us! We never had an identity crisis, we knew what we were. People didn't have to like us! (laughs). That wasn't the idea of this. It was to do what we like to do. If people latched on to it, then great! The other side of it is we always meant what we said: it's really not about popularity. We got rid of that from the equation a long time ago. So when the waterdown came, and some of them went away, and some started chasing their own ass to find popularity, it cleaned house for us. Somebody waved this flag around the time of the W.F.O. record that said, "Metal is dead! Everybody pack your bags and go home". Well, a lot of people did. I don't know if it was our ignorance or tenacity but we continued to go on. We got less press but we were playing to full houses in major cities. This is what was happening, 'cause people had less choice. Was that a good thing? Probably not if you're a listener, but for us it was a great thing! (laughs) We were walking into Cincinnati and there were 1,500 screaming metalheads. Things could be a hell of a lot worse.



It seems like there is a resurgence, like you said, since the late 90s, in metal in general, and thrash metal as well. A lot of newer bands coming out in the last few years like The Haunted and Carnal Forge who are incorporating thrash metal into their sound. What is your opinion on newcomers to the genre?

We've taken things from people to. This is quite obvious. Track six is crystal clear on KILLBOX. That sounds like a Sabbath riff to me quite honestly. I'm not gonna say I created this shit. You follow me? If a band comes in and says, "we're influenced by such and such", for instance double bass on "Infectious" from HORRORSCOPE, and they've admitted it and then taken it to another level, then I applaud it. If they think they invented it, well y'know... (laughs). I do like hearing new things, I'm open to them. I think change is necessary. In our case it doesn't happen in leaps and bounds, it happens in new members. Still the same commitment. I do like to see bands like The Haunted, playing a different style of something that existed. I think it's kind of like interpreting a picture differently than I would have, and that's a great thing.



I mentioned on the online forum for Metal-Rules that I was going to interview yourself, and that if there was something they'd like me to mention, and most people replied with an obvious one. That is when you're going to come and play in their country! (laughs) Several people asked if you're going to do a North American tour, because a lot of times they say that you don't play the West coast as much as the East. Are there plans for a full tour, do you know what countries you'll be playing?

We've never stopped touring, but it has to be financially feasible. This is a business that has to be run. The motivation is the love of what we do, but on the business end, I'm not going to write a cheque and say, "Boy! This is a great place Seattle!". (laughs) I'm not going to do it. The point is that it really has very little to do with the fans, it has a lot to do with promoters looking for a bargain basement sale. "C'mon out, we'd love to have you, we'll give you $700". Man, y'know I'd hate to say this, but we do things right. We need X amount to make this right. We're not trying to get rich off this, we're not trying to get this commercial play out of it. But if it's going to be Overkill it's gotta be done correctly and that's what's kept us away. On the upside we've had a change of agents. On the West coast, the idea of having a West coast agent is to get a feel and vibe from that area. We've had all East coast agents up until this year. There's a distinct possibility that this will happen on the KILLBOX tour. We're at least looking to do that Western Pacific rim tour, Seattle to Tiawana. That will probably happen prior to July 1st.

Do you know that other countries that you'll be playing yet?

Just lined up South America, European festivals through June and July. Headlines go through seven to nine countries, Germany, England, France, Belgium, Holland, etc. U.S. shows are coming together right now. We're looking at between now and July 20th, there's 75 to 90 shows booked.



On a more personal note I know in the last couple of years you went through a scary period related to a form of cancer that you had. I don't know if you want me to bring it up at all, but I just have one question. Doctor's usually say that it's five years before they give you the all clear. So I'm just wondering what the status is, how you've been feeling? Is everything cleared up?

Well, it was five years in February. I'm good to go! They are what they are. There was a philosophy infused in my life back in 1995, when I decided to clean my life up personally, over indulgences in some of the finer things (laughs). In any case, I stopped drinking and stopped doing dope. I cleaned up. I learned quite simply that I can live in a problem, or I can live through a problem. I chose the latter based on the fact that it gives me way more freedom for myself. I spend less time sitting on the piss pot. I don't deal the cards, I just play the ones I'm dealt. I keep that in mind, and it gives me the opportunity to move forward regardless of what the situation is. I'm doing quite well, but I was doing quite well when they cut my face off to! (laughs)



(laughs) Sticking with the personal theme, I was wondering if you wanted to make your thoughts known on the war in Iraq?

I'm an American. That is the best way to put this. One of the great things about being an American is that you can have an opposite opinion of what the current situation is bringing us. I think that's a great thing. At this particular point, I think that being an American means that I have to support what America's doing at this time. There are brothers and sisters of mine who have sand in their boots and will do anything to protect my freedom. It's the bottom line. It is what it is. Again, this is probably an example of living through the problem, only on a greater scale. You've heard all the debates, you've heard both sides of it, you've heard why we should, why we shouldn't, etc. The bottom line is that the first shot has been fired, and I got back to my original answer and that is I am an American.



Do you think that any of these types of global things will affect where you're able to tour? Or will you just put that aside and just do what you do?

Here's something funny. I just got an offer to do Jerusalem. I said, "that's fuckin' awesome!" On the other side of it I just got two offers to do Turkey, and that's fuckin' awesome too! (laughs) So we don't know. The band...the vocals do not come out very well when done in a chemical weapons suit! (laughs) We're gonna weigh our options and certainly look into it. It's not about fear for us, but it's also not about stupidity. We're gonna see what the world climate is like. As far as touring Europe, going into France or Germany, it's a concern of mine. Only national politics can keep me out, not my views on a different political opinion.



Are there any other things going on that you'd want me to pass on that maybe my questions haven't got to?

No, it's a good thing right now, as far as the band goes. We're ready, we're strong. KILLBOX is the result of that. If you have any doubts, press play!

Definitely man! I've been listening to the new album the last few days. When I was at work I brought in BLOODLETTING, NECROSHINE and some older ones just to see how it stands up in comparison, and it stands up big time. It's a great album.

Quite a unique record for us, I don't think it's a record that is so ground-breaking that it's going to set the world on fire, but I do think that it's reinvention of the band. I do think it truly bands that as a band we know what we are and we do what we do and do it well, even with new people in the band.



Well, I'd like to thank you for your time!

Yeah, it's been a good time!

It's been great to talk to you. I've been an Overkill fan since the 80s since I saw your videos on TV. Not that you see Overkill on TV anymore. (laughs)

(laughs) Next time I take a scooter ride up to Newfoundland I'll drop you an email!

Definitely man, I'll show you around! Not that there's much to see. Well, if you like outdoors it's a good place.

You know what the best thing about a bike is? You're supposed to get lost on the motherfucker! (laughs) That's the idea! (laughs)



Do take a trip like that every year?

I do about 10,000 miles every year. That's my life without a safety net. I ride with about 70 guys, very much like myself. None of us drink. We do trips around the East coast, we do trips out to Sturgess, we do occasionally into Canada, Yellowstone.



Do you get to take your bike on tour?

No, not really. That's due to financial restrictions. I tell ya, after 5,700 miles, I'm going to have some serious calluses on my ass! (laughs)

Plus, if you took your bike on tour and got lost you'd miss a few shows! (laughs)

Yeah, but isn't that the beauty of it? (laughs)

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