Overkill’s Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth checks in to talk metal, motivation and “Dark Roots Of Thrash” tour
Overkill is currently out on the road with Testament on the Dark Roots of Thrash tour kicking America’s ass along with fellow thrashers Flotsam & Jetsam and 4ARM. 2013 is looking to be a giant blur of touring for Bobby, D.D. and their mates in Overkill as they are following up these dates with a big run in Europe starting in April and have already got dates booked into July. This is all on the heels of their amazing “The Electric Age” album which was released last year and found its way onto many top ten lists (including ours!). Overkill has been around since 1980 and the most interesting thing about the band is that they have had so many twists and turns career-wise only to end up 33 years later sounding as vital as ever. It might be their underdog, underground fighting spirit or simply a matter of perfecting their attack after all this time but the band is as nasty, heavy and fun as you remember them. I was honored to talk to Overkill singer Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth, one of the architects of thrash, a funny guy who’s also one smart son of a bitch, read on….
Legendary Rock Interviews: Hi Bobby, it’s so cool to that you guys are doing this Testament “Dark Roots Of Thrash” tour, I know that Overkill was rumored to have been a part of the Anthrax/Testament shows and a lot of fans are looking forward to these shows you’re doin.
Bobby Blitz Ellsworth: Yeah, the truth is somebody jumped the gun and announced that before, we were scheduled to be doing studio work but I think Anthrax’s people or someone had thrown that out there like and we were like “Ummm, not just yet”. This time it’s working out with everyone’s schedules and we’ve got Flotsam and Jetsam as a third act coming in so it’s turning out to be a real cool old school evening. It’s kind of going to be a nice little roving thrashfest through the U.S.
LRI: Another thing that’s cool is that both you and TESTAMENT have put out back to back amazing albums. Ironbound was fantastic and there’s no letdown with “The Electric Age”. We interviewed your former drummer Rat Skates who was fun to talk to but seemed to think that OVERKILL was just going through the motions at this point. Clearly, these last couple of albums prove otherwise…
Bobby: I don’t like to give Rat credibility as far as his statements about our band, that’s his opinion and that’s fine but he doesn’t live in our world or walk in our shoes. He did, for a short period of time but if you actually look at the timeline, as compared to D.D and myself, Rat has actually had more opinion than practical experience in things like this. This is kind of a specialty business and obviously there’s a love of this music before it’s a business. There’s always been a fold, a group of people who love this band. You don’t stay around for 30 plus years by just selling to your parents and your cousins (laughs). There’s people out there who have stood by us through thick and thin regardless of whether the scene or the band was popular. I think that kind of belief and support can get you through all sorts of things as a band. I’ve never looked at this as a re-branding or a re-building these last few albums, it just so happens that the chemistry is just correct right now. It’s as simple as that. There’s never been any calculated plan in 2010, 2011 or 2012 like “Ok now we have to get down to this type of presentation or delivery”. We have always tried to win. We’re in this to win it, regardless of popularity. It just so happens that we have the right chemistry and a healthier scene and more people are being exposed to the music, which is great.
LRI: Nuclear Blast released the album in Europe and E1 music here in the states, are things a little easier these days as opposed to the old days where it might have been a little too chaotic or impersonal at Atlantic?
Bobby: Oh yeah. The E1 guys here in the States, their metal department, is filled with real metalheads, to us that’s huge. When you’re at Atlantic and you’re working on promotion and doing it with some guy with a suit and tie a lot of times, who actually has no fucking idea as far as how to do this (laughs). I mean they only know how to promote an album one way which is by the book and that wasn’t always suited for underground thrash bands. Plus, you have to remember their ways of doing things was pre- Al Gore’s internet (laughs). The way back then was print ads and a radio guy trying to break a thrash band on AOR and a few college stations! These days it is a whole different ballgame, it’s metalheads promoting metal music through viable means in the U.S. and through Nuclear Blast in the rest of the world. These guys are not wearing suits and ties they’re wearing Death Angel and Exodus T-shirts, it’s a comfortable place to be (laughs).
LRI: To me, this sounds as kickass as anything you’ve put out. No offense but this is the most excited I’ve been about Overkill since “Horrorscope”….Are you finding that you’re inspired by similar things as you were back then or a whole new set of things?
Bobby: It is to some degree, the most incredible high I have ever attained, just being involved in this on all different levels. The writing, recording, touring. The writing, even though it can be painstaking at times because you have a style but you also don’t want to repeat yourself, you want to be viable. My thing, the thing I am most proud of is “The Electric Age” being viable and relevant in this day and age. The fact that it’s not about what we were but about what we ARE. I think there’s pains to reach that but if you reach that and achieve it, it becomes this unbelievable high. If I am standing side stage in Warsaw, Tokyo, New York, wherever and I ready to go onstage and perform this new material I am surging with adrenaline. This is what it’s always been about for me and I hope that’s always been evident because we have always taken the stance that anything we do has got to be quality or it is not worth doing. It is because of that approach that I can say, 30 years later, that high still exists, that attraction to doing this that we had in the very beginning is still taking us to where we are going in the present day. That same feeling we had to get us where we went then is used to get us to where we are going today.
LRI: Does performing the older material ever get to be routine or less fulfilling?
Bobby: We touched on chemistry a minute ago when we were talking, I think this particular group with Ron Lipnicki on drums who’s been here since 2005, we have really gelled. We’re a bunch of guys who like these songs and like to perform them and I think that whether the song was written in 87 or 95 it has this feel of the 2013 band. That’s what keeps it fresh for us.
LRI: I heard you talk in another interview about your methods during pre-production on an album and it was fascinating. You had said that in an effort to not repeat yourself you actually go back and familiarize yourself with a lot of the catalog. That is a really good idea but a lot of guys would be too “cool” to be smart enough to do that.
Bobby: I do that, especially with the later releases. I’m not going to go all the way back and listen to 16 albums worth of material but I do listen to the more recent stuff in order to make sure that repetition doesn’t happen. I always look at it as a challenge and an opportunity, I think the biggest challenge is to avoid repetition because you’re playing within a box to some degree. We ARE a thrash band, I think when people see our brand they know what’s gonna be behind that moniker and that logo but at the same time we want to stay moving forward within that style. There’s a fine line between style and repetitiveness. In listening to those last few albums I am giving myself the opportunity to challenge myself. The goal for “The Electric Age” was to not repeat myself lyrically or musically in terms of what we’ve been up to on the last few albums.
LRI: I’m glad you brought up the logo. I’ve liked some of Avenged Sevenfold’s material over the years but their use of the bat logo on merchandise and in videos is a bit of a ripoff of “Chaley” your famous Overkill design. Does that sit well with you anymore?
LRI: Avenged Sevenfold
Bobby: (laughs hard)
LRI: Okay, there’s my answer I guess. I guess the bigger question is, that skullbat logo is so iconic, is that copyright infringement?
Bobby: (laughs) You know, seriously in regard to that, it’s obviously flattering. We’ve been around a lot longer than those guys and I think there are marked difference between our band but I think it’s flattering and I like the heat that follows it. If we’re being talked about, if they’re being talked about than there must be something worth talking about and that is a good thing. If nobody gave a shit or noticed I think maybe that would be worse (laughs).
LRI: Have you gotten some good feedback from younger bands that you’ve played with?? I know a lot of bands who have been influenced by Overkill.
Bobby: You know, I think the thing with a lot of the younger bands is that they are responsible to some degree for the health of this current scene. I know why and how they do this. I don’t really understand, I know why we do this but I don’t really understand how we do this. When this music started it was really a younger man’s game and it was that voice in the dark, it was angst, pure angst and there’s something about that that is just so perfectly suited to you when you’re in your early twenties. I think that what the younger bands have done, they have brought that youthful angst that makes it so credible and brought that back to our scene. Some of them have done that through copying or mimicking the bands from the original scene the Exoduses, the Megadeths, the Testaments and I think that some of the bands from that original scene including us to some degree have gained a certain something through the experience of watching and touring with some of those younger bands. Personally, I like to play with those younger bands so that I can watch them and get motivated to get up there and go “Okay, this is the way it’s supposed to be done” (laughs). It becomes a real motivational thing to watch that and bring it out ourselves in our own unique way. It’s almost the difference between chaos and controlled chaos!
LRI: I have been blown away by the output of all of the classic bands. People will bitch about the sound of the recent Metallica or Megadeth but I love it and I really love how Anthrax, Testament, Overkill and Flotsam and Jetsam have ALL put out these really kickass, solid albums. It’s almost to good to be true. Would you have ever imagined back in 1987 that all of these bands would be performing at this level still or that the crowds would be this receptive?
Bobby: I don’t think that it would have been possible at all to have been able to forecast that. I didn’t think we’d be around for this amount of time but I do think when you look from 2013 back, and I can only speak for OVERKILL of course, but I think that there were principles then and there are principles now. Those principles were about opportunities and making the most of those opportunities. If I look at my next show as the most important, make or break show of my career and I take that principle into the next show and the next show you start to build a really good basis for longevity. So, in hindsight, I can kind of see why it happened but in foresight back then, there was no way I could have seen 2013 and the scene as it is.
LRI: I don’t wanna act like it’s 1985 or you guys harbor any kind of real angst towards bands like Motley Crue or RATT but I do think some of that piss and vinegar and disdain for that glam era was actually a reaction of that hard work ethic of some of the thrash bands. Whereas the MTV bands were clearly about pussy and fashion and all kinds of things it was always about metal and guitars and music with the thrash bands. Looking back do you think a lot of that anger was motivational?
Bobby: I think so. I also think looking back, that a lot of the thrash bands, particularly the second tier bands, were never polluted by extravagant success. There’s always been something where if you’re doing this on the level that a band like Overkill is at, you are really not polluted by any of that. It’s all on us and you run your show by your rules. Of course it’s a business, it’s dishonest to act like it’s not but it is still pure in the sense that there’s not really any outside forces dictating so the music is first and the business is second. I think that with a lot of those bands you mentioned earlier, the business really, really took over what the initial motivation was, the initial motivation was “Hey, I love doing this” and then somewhere along the line the suits get so incredibly involved that it was less and less about that original love for doing it. I think in Overkill’s case we are in a position where we can still love doing this first and foremost and that’s what kind of keeps it pure and unpolluted. I mean, on the other hand we are obviously less successful so there is an argument to both sides, I’m not going to lie to you John. If you were to have this conversation with Nikki Sixx, I’m sure that he would say “Great, I’m laughing at those guys all the way to the bank” (laughs) but my point is that there is a certain satisfaction here that is counted in time and perseverance as opposed to dollars. There’s a certain purity to that because again, the motivation is coming from that original place of loving what we’re doing as opposed to strictly counting your happiness and success by your bank statements.
LRI: There is also a certain purity to having a decent relationship with your fanbase and people who support your band as opposed to just your “brand”. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us and we hope to see you out on the road this year!
Bobby: It was my pleasure, we will definitely be out on the road in in the midwest touring so come on out. It is going to be a really fun tour, take care!
Overkill 2013 Tourdates
|2/9 – Masquerade – Atlanta – GA|
|2/ 10 – The Filmore – Charlotte – NC|
|2/12 – The Filmore – Silver Springs – MD|
|2/13 – Trocadero – Philadelphia – PA|
|2/14 – Best Buy Theater – New York City – NY|
|2/15 – The Paramount – Huntington – NY|
|2/16 – The Palladium – Wocester – MA|
|2/17 – Town Ballroom – Buffalo – NY|
|2/18 – Phoenix Concert Theater – Toronto – CAN|
|2/19 – Alter Bar – Pittsburgh – PA | HEADLINE SHOW w/o Testament|
|2/20 – Bogarts – Cincinnati – OH|
|2/21 – The Intersection – Grand Rapids – MI|
|2/22 – The Rave – Milwaukee – WI|
|2/23 – First Ave – Minneapolis – MN|
|2/24 – Wooly’s – Des Moines – IO | HEADLINE SHOW w/o Testament|
|2/25 – Summit Music Hall – Denver – CO|
|2/26 – In The Venue – Salt Lake City – UT|
|2/27 – Knitting Factory – Reno – NV|
|2/28 – Ace Of Spades – Sacramento – CA|
|17 – Pakkahoune – Tampere – FIN|
|18 – Tavastia – Helsinki – FIN|
|19 – Kerubi – Joensuu – FIN|
|20 – Club Teatria – Oulu – FIN|
|21 – Seinajoki – Rytmikojaamo – FIN|
|22 – Tapper – Tallin – EST|
|23 – Meina Piektdina – Riga – LAT|
|24 – New York – Vilnius – LIT|
|25 – Proxima – Warsaw – POL|
|26 – Markethalle – Hamburg – GER|
|27 – Amager Bio – Copenhagen – DEN|
|29 – Sticky Fingers – Gothenburg – SWE|
|30 – John Dee – Oslo – NOR|
|1 – Debaser Slussen – Stockholm – SWE|
|2 – Karmoygeddon Festival – Haugesund – NOR|
|3 – Bluebox – Grimstad – NOR|
|8 – Burning Sea Festival – Zadar – CRO|
|22 – Metal Days Festival – Tolmin – SLO|