OVERKILL "Nothing Left to Prove"

Interview By Dr. Abner Mality

There isn't anybody in the entire metal scene I enjoy talking to more than Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth of the mighty Overkill. Funny as a stand-up comedian and as articulate as a college professor, Blitz is a great spokesman not only for his band, but for underground metal as a whole. He has got everything in perfect perspective and as a result, he and Overkill have a career that 90% of other bands would envy. No "Some Kind of Monster" group psychoanalysis sessions necessary here, thank you, because the pressures of being in a long term metal band are well under control.

Overkill's latest effort "ReliXIV" is the 14th slab of skull-splitting mayhem from the band. Somehow it sounds both fresh and comfortably familiar at the same time. It may also be their all-around heaviest record. Take it from me, the guitar sound is just crushing on this one.

So how do they do it? To find out, I become a humble seeker of knowledge and climb the highest and most forbidding mountains in search of enlightenment from the mystic guru known as Blitz. Well, actually, he called me at home. Nevertheless, the following words of wisdom should be heeded and obeyed...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: I'm hoping you've recovered from that memory lapse problem you had the last time we spoke.

BLITZ: (laughter) What are you talking about?

WC: Who the hell are you? (laughter) That whole shtick was hysterical, that made for one of the best interviews I've done.

B: I rode with that for about a year and a half. Can't use it anymore, people were catching on to it.

WC: This might be a tiresome question by now, but 14 albums into your career, is your energy as high as it was for your very first album "Feel the Fire"?

B: Well, I think it's just as high but it's in a different place. I think the energy for "Feel the Fire" was continuous for all but a few hours spent sleeping. I think in connection with the new record, it's more of a controlled and well-placed energy. What I mean by that is that to still have the opportunity to record relevant music 20 years after the start is exciting. That breeds our energy, it's just that simple.To be able to do big shows and say that this is actually a career, it's exciting due to that. It's never commonplace, it's always a new bag of tricks and never the same old thing. Yeah, I would say the energy is the same but it's well-placed high-end energy.

WC: Is it true to say that Overkill is now at its most comfortable point? It seems the personalities in the band are gelling better than ever.

B: I think...yeah. The evidence is probably in the recording. This would be the proof, the best answer to that question is "press play", because bands make music. The whole thing changes over the years. Your band may be chaotic and even erratic over time but over that same time, there is a consistency. I look at my relationship with D.D. (Verni, long time bassplayer). My God, I've known this guy for 25 years! This isn't just about writing music, this is about D.D. first, about what's right for him...

WC: Almost like a marriage...

B: (laughter) Musical, anyway! I think that to have a friendship for 25 years is unique in itself. To have a band for 20 years is also unique. I think the relationship is on a higher level than just the music. Just knowing a person so well, a record like "ReliXIV" just follows suit. We've come to trust each other over a 25 year period. There's some depth there.

WC: Is there any place you haven't played? It seems you've been across the globe.

B: Haven't been to Australia. I would like to see that happen. We've had some offers but they've never panned out in regards to making it happen financially. The cities over there aren't close and it would just be a real high cost tour. I don't know if that will ever happen so there are still some mountains to climb.

WC: How about Asia? Not so much Japan, but other places in that area.

B: Well, there are other places we haven't been to besides Australia. We've only been to Japan, we haven't been to Korea or Thailand or Vietnam. But some of these places are opening up, so we'll see what happens this year. Our Japanese following is at a decent level. We were just over there and the shows average about 2000 a night. We were over there with Death Angel and Flotsam & Jetsam. That was a good bill. It was a little moving festival that was celebrating 15 years of Masa Ito, who is a radio DJ in Tokyo.

WC: I just had the pleasure of watching your "Wrecking Everything" DVD for the first time and it looks like you've had a lot of memorable foreign gigs. What would you say was the one that sticks in your mind the most? The Russian gig looked insane!

B: That was pretty outrageous. That had to be the lowest priced show we ever did. I think the tickets were the equivalent of four bucks apiece. All monies are relative to their economy but I always thought that was kind of unique, that a four dollar ticket was considered expensive. That was a cool show and Moscow was a cool, memorable city. It's quite a different world than the world we know. One of the more memorable shows we did overseas was one of the first festivals we ever did, which was Roskilde in Denmark. There were 100,000 paid at this festival. That will take your breath away, to walk on stage and know that there are that many people who paid. Now not all of them watched us, of course, but I'd say about 40,000 were there for our show. That's a pretty intense number.

WC: The size of a small city...

B: I'll tell ya, you go from playing clubs ...sometimes we can do 2000 in New York but you never know what you'll get on a Wednesday night in Indiana,maybe 350...and it's a whole different world when you're playing for 100,000.

WC: On the DVD, the foreign fans seem to be more intense than they are here in the US. Do you think American fans match up to their foreign counterparts?

B: Sure I do. What you see on the DVD are well-placed video clips. It's the most intense concert footage we have...and some of it is from the US. It's not all overseas. It's probably split fairly evenly, as a matter of fact. I think that when it comes to extremes, nothing beats the US when it comes to fans being into it at a high level. The thing I always noticed about the European countries is that you always get a better welcome. In the US, you have to prove yourself year after year. But if you do, the response is always great.

WC: Moving to the new record "ReliXIV", it seems to me that you kind of let up on the throttle a bit on this one. It is heavier but a bit more groove-oriented than your last couple of records. Would you agree?

B: No, actually, I don't. There's the groove world of Overkill, the mid-tempo Overkill and then there's that rooted Overkill from 1987 that always rears its ugly thrash head throughout our records. On this record, both of this worlds kind of collided. The thrash-leaning songs being "Loaded Rack" or "A Pound of Flesh" and the groove numbers being "Bats in the Belfry" and "Play The Ace". The rest of the tracks are kind of a blend of those aspects. A song like "Love" which is very disjointed between its verses and choruses is like both aspects. It has the groove and it has the kind of explosiveness, the "throttle" that you're talking about. I really think the record shows where we've come from and also what we've evolved into.

WC: "Love" is my favorite song on the album because it has such an unusual structure and also the title is a little bit different than what you would expect. What was the idea behind this song?

B: It's perception of love. When I wrote this record, it finally came to me that "Hey, it's been 20 years we've been doing this" and I started writing a little bit about the band as opposed to only writing introspectively. I started writing about our principles as a band. "Love" is quite honestly about control. The concept is that what we can control as a band is what we get out of being in the band. I equate that to the word "love". So the song is really about control.

WC: This is the first ballad-free Overkill album. Did that come about naturally or did you come out ahead of time and say 'we will not write a ballad this time"?

B: It's never thought of ahead of time. What comes up is what we work on. The riffs are developed into songs and the songs are developed into a record. What comes along is what we work with. We're not "let's do a ballad, see if it works and maybe we'll put it on a record". We either commit to it four months before recording or it's not being done period. It never came up in the writing of the original songs, it just wasn't there. It wasn't a decision made by us, it just happened this way.

WC: The last song on the record is "Old School" and to me it has that Ramones type punk feel. Some of you guys started off in punk many years ago in the Lubricunts, right?

B: That was D.D., right!

WC: Any stories or memories from those days? Do you miss the simplicity of punk music?

B: Well, you know, I never played in a punk band. The closest I came was when Overkill was a cover band. We were doing some Ramones covers, the Dead Boys, the Pistols and then we followed up with Priest, Maiden and Motorhead. I always thought of us as the bastard child of both forms of music. It never really reared its head in our original music. Maybe more so in terms of attitude than anything else. I don't really have memories of being in a punk band, that was more D.D.'s thing. But when "Old School" came up, it was easy to do. And as high a standard as we hold our music to, it's still OK to have fun. That was the idea of this. If you've been around 20 years, I guess you can do whatever the fuck you want. It's not really about following rules. We know we're a metal band, we've always been a metal band, we don't deviate so far from our center because it's what we like to do. But another side to us exists and sometimes it's fun to just cut loose and explore it and have a kick with it.

WC: The main theme of the song seems to be defiance, with lyrics like "we don't give a fuck, we don't give a shit"...

B: The song itself is just a little history lesson. It's how we got signed, it's about the clubs we played in the early days. It's actually makes more reference to the early days in New York when bands like ourselves were coming up and hardcore bands were coming up at the same time and sharing the same stage. "Here's to the old school/Didn't matter if you looked cool/ We dranks some beers/We broke some heads" is how the lyrics go.It wasn't defiant to necessarily be defiant, this is about the way it was, the philosophy we had.

WC: The old days of L'Amours Rock Club...

B: Yup, I actually have one of the old owners of L'Amours do a voice-over on the song, and we also have Ed Trunk of XM Satellite Radio and Q104.3 in New York who has been a great supporter of ours for years in New York.

WC: Do you remember the old New York fanzine "Kick Ass Monthly"?

B: Oh, no doubt!

WC: Remember the guy who ran it, Bob Muldowney?

B: Yes, I was just going to mention his name. He was there a few of those nights when we played L'Amours long ago. I don't know where he is now, I honestly don't. I would assume he's out of the business, being that I haven't heard his name in years.

WC: Kick Ass and Metal Forces were the zines I remember the most...

B: Yeah, those were two of the better rags in the metal scene back then.

WC: That's where I got all my knowledge of underground metal from, because you couldn't hear it on the radio...

B: Or trade on the Internet...

WC: On the "Wrecking Everything" DVD, they had some very early pictures of Overkill when you were in your "ghoul" phase.

B: Oh yeah, that was our original stab at a "Misfits" kind of image!

WC: You had skulls and cobwebs on the stage back then...

B: That was before we got signed. Back in those days we actually had a stage set that was kind of modeled on a castle with candelabras. It was made out of styrofoam with gates and a strobe light under the drum riser. We were into it, let's put it that way!(laughter)

WC: You really looked the part back then or at least 3 out of 4 of you did. You and D.D. had the naturally ghoulish kind of look and Rat had an evil look, but the ghoul look didn't suit Bobby Gustafson, I thought.

B: (laughter) In the DVD, I even refer to D.D. Verni as "the evillest man in the world"!

WC: And he was wearing the shirt to prove it (a knock-off of the Levi's logo that said "Evil").

B: That's right, and I've always been referred to as "the blue-eyed devil".

WC: That would be a good title for a song somewhere down the line!

B: We actually used that line in a song called "God-Like".

WC: Does it bother you when you see the more successful old metal bands like Metallica, Slayer, Judas Priest go out on the
road and they get kid bands to open for them? I would think you'd be in line for a break because you've proven your mettle, so to speak.

B: Well, in 2000 we toured with Rob Halford's solo project. I have toured with Slayer in the past...they've given us two tours. It was long ago and far away, probably when we were a kid band ourselves. But I really can't pass judgment on what happens in another man's house and how he decides to run his business. I try not to think in those terms, because I look at this as a successful career. This is what I've done for a living since 1985...I don't work for my Dad (laughter). I don't landscape or pump gas in the offseason, this is it! So my success has been counted in days and to some degree, dollars and support. I really don't look at it that way because I don't focus on anything bitter or negative when it comes to this business. This has been a good fuckin' ride. When they waved the flag that said "metal is dead" in 1995, I guess our ignorance led us to believe they didn't mean us. We weren't at the level of the other bands you spoke of. So to be able to continue at the level we were at and not lose ground during times when grunge ate didn't eat us! Success for us is longevity. A record like "ReliXIV" that comes fourteen albums after our first EP and it is still relevant to today's metal scene...that's impressive. We knocked on the door of success and it opened, but it opened differently than other people perceived it would. Our own definition of success has been satisfied with regard to our career.

WC: I can think of a couple of bands that have done it in a similar way, like Kreator from Germany, who just released a record as good as anything they did in the 80's.

B: Sure, and that's a great testimony to their value. I'm not saying we're the only band that stayed true in 95...there was Testament, there was Kreator. But let's be serious for a minute. This has been a solid 5 years of reunions. There's been so many goddamn reunions, I'm sick of them! (laughs) You sucked in 1990, why come back now?

WC: Yeah, some of the reunions have been good, but others are just cashing in.

B: And that's a shame. I'm not gonna say we were the only ones keeping this flame burning, but for sure we were throwing wood on the fire. And somebody had to do so. I think we have the recognition for this and so does Kreator and so does Testament. But I don't think it's necessary to see every band deciding it would be fun to tour Europe again and make a few bucks. It's just not valuable. A reunion is supposed to be valuable, it's just that simple.

WC: If you got a call to do Ozzfest, would you jump on that?

B: Don't know! It would depend. One of the beautiful things about Overkill is that, except for some really big festivals, we've been able to pilot our own ship all these years. I would assume we would definitely talk it over and see if it was doable financially and then make the decision. But I really like being in control of what we do. I don't when the last time was you saw the band live, but if you saw our DVD, that's a perfect representation of our control. D.D. and myself co-promoted that show in Russia. We put that ticket price so low that we could get everybody in there who wanted to be there. We put those lights in there, we put that sound in there, we put that backline in there, we hired that video crew and so forth and so on...Overkill is not about resting on our laurels. "Laurels" is not a word that exists for us. It's moreso about putting ourselves into every day and controlling the outcome. So I don't know. I really don't know what would happen if we had that offer. We would most certainly consider it but I can't say for sure we would jump all over it.

WC: Your philosophy has always been not to look too far ahead. The band is obviously a well-oiled machine that's going to continue for quite some time. But at some point, there will be an end. Have you thought about that day and what would come after?

B: You know, I think I'll just go out and start selling myself on a street corner. (laughter) Quite obviously over the years, we haven't been so stagnant as to not have other business interests. So everybody's OK and it still gives us the opporttunity to use the philosophy we have. Which is, sure, we're a well-oiled machine and when a moment or an opportunity presents itself, we eat the motherfucker! (laughter) We squeeze the living shit out of it! One of us sneaks up behind it, hits it with a bat and the rest of us devour it. It's always worked for us. What happens when those opportunities don't present themselves anymore, I don't know. Maybe we just roll the tank into the garage, put a cross over it and say "Ah, she was a good girl!" (laughter) But there's a lot more than meets the eye going on with the band. Believe it or not, Overkill is an enterprise!

WC: Yeah, "Overkill Inc.!"

B: It's funny. I stopped drinking 10 years ago and D.D. was always a business-minded person and things just develop when you're clear-headed. More opportunities present themselves. If they stop presenting themselves, I know I'll be able to go out with that same kind of ghoulish grin that you said I had. (laughter) That "I have a secret" kind of grin.

WC: Do you have anything left to prove to the metal world?

B: Hmmmmm. (long pause) Boy, that's a good question. Do I have anything left to prove to the metal world? I don't think so, I don't think so. I think we're more of a standard than anything else. To be a standard is not necessarily to prove. We don't take it lightly when we walk out on stage. But what you see when we walk out on that stage is that standard we have set. Maybe the metal world has something to prove to us! Let me tell you something, those were two good questions right in a row, my friend! I don't think we have anything to prove to the metal world, but I still think there is value in what we do and it is relevant to what is happening today.

WC: What are your American tour plans for "ReliXIV"? When are you gonna be around Chicago or Milwaukee so I can check you guys out?

B: April just got booked. I don't know if it goes as far as Chicago. April is booked for New York, Jersey, Massachusetts, a regular run. It goes down to D.C. I'm gonna post all the dates on our website this weekend.Right now there are approximately 20 dates. We actually start in Spain this month (February) then in April the States, then May in Europe and finally back in the States in June. So if you don't see us in April, then in June!

WC: Chicago and Milwaukee are two of the best metal towns on the planet...

B: There's no two ways about it. I think we have a kind of blue collar vibe about us and everybody becomes blue collar when they walk through the doors to an Overkill show. That goes over good in the Midwest.

WC: Any final words?

B: Hang in there! (laughter)

Spitfire Record's Website

Overkill's Official Website