Overkill

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AN interview with bobby ‘blitz’ ellsworth

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“It’s our fucken stage and we will fucken bury you!”

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“Looking back on the early days of thrash it was always about hindsight,” recalled Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth, vocalist for thrash pioneers Overkill. “I never really understood it when it was happening because rules were being created from day to day and then they were getting tossed away three days later and new rules were being made. There’s obviously a map this many years later but when I was starting in the early days there was no map and that was the beauty of it. There was no book to follow. There were no rules to follow, and I think it was like a young man’s voice in the dark. He had to say something but he didnt know how to say it. He was a metal head but he didn’t relate to what was the mainstream metal so I think the beauty of it was it was just a natural reaction to what was happening, whether socially, politically, or musically in the world. One of my earliest thoughts about thrash metal is total chaos. I was a punk fan. I’ve been to Max’s Kansas City, I’ve been to Heebie Jeebies. I saw the Ramones, I saw the New York Dolls, but then the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) came in and if you put them both in a bag and shook it around and threw it out on the sidewalk you’d get fucken Overkill. Does that work? I don’t know, but if I said I had a plan I’m a fucken liar! The idea was that there was no plan and that was the excitement about it was that we were just different. Not because we wanted to be, it’s just the way it worked out with regards to let’s say our turtle makeup and our influences with to music.”

In those early days of thrash metal there were few bands with which to use as influence, and as such Blitz says Overkill were in the unique position of shaping their own sound. With the eclectic nature of the music and the rumblings of a musical revolution beginning to gain traction he says the only rules were there were no rules.

“We were kids at the time,” he remembered, “and you know, I have a voice kind of like Mickey Mouse on methamphetamines (laughs). I’ve had people come up to me and say ‘what a great band but I can’t fucken stand you man’, because I am an acquired taste (laughs). In regards to identity I think that just happened. Again, it wasn’t a cookie cut approach to it. It was more a case of, we as a group can make this happen so the identity showed up right away with regards to original material because I wasn’t the norm or the new rule in relation to what happened last Thursday for a thrash metal singer and it kind of worked out right for us.”

With Overkill preparing to unleash their eighteenth album, ‘The Grinding Wheel’, Blitz says the band has given up trying to reinvent the wheel and now just lets the music dictate its own direction. “We’ve been around for so long that at the end of the day Overkill’s Overkill,” he explained, “but I think it’s always the different nuances; the different spices that you add to things and we’ve accumulated a lot of those spices and tools over the years. Our music embraces everything from punk rock to doom and somewhere in between and if you add the energy it becomes thrash. I think this record for some reason contains most of the tools, whether it is punk rock or rock and roll or a doomy approach to certain things. A tune down or something here, a speeded up something there, so I think it really is like looking into a good part our history after eighteen records. The other thing is that we worked with Andy Steep for the first time. Andy has a certain way of doing things and we love the way he mixes with a little more organic drums or more of a guitar sound and it came out something like it was in 1992 with a fresh approach to it. Basically, you just take all of the tools in the toolbox and you take Andy Steep production and our input in to it and you have something special with The Grinding Wheel.”

Although ‘The Grinding Whee’l is completed and ready for release, it won’t see the light of day until February next year, with Blitz not even trying to hide his feelings on the delay.

“It sucks cock to be honest. It fucken blows,” he laughed. “We have a formula we try to stick to and that’s write, promote, release, tour and now we have pushed back the release ‘x’ amount of months and it’s a little bit; I won’t say debilitating but a little disappointing. We’ve always been able to keep our formula working for us and I think it’s one of the things that has kept Overkill working is the fact that we stay on that clock. We were ready as hell but it was just a case of miscommunication. Nobody was late. Nobody died so I was a little disappointed, but at the end of the day do you rush the record or do you have Andy sit there and keep on it? When it comes down to it we chose dignity over formula and money so somewhere at night I can sleep well.”

While seeming somewhat of a straightforward name for the album, “The Grinding Wheel” also served as a mantra for the band during the recording process, with Blitz saying it has multiple meanings.

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“I don’t know how [the word] ‘grind’ works in Australia, but we obviously share some semblance of the English language,” he laughed, “but to grind out here is… sort of, who do you want in your foxhole with you? That kind of approach and this has always been a band that can get it done. Bare knuckles or tank, whatever it takes. If there’s an obstacle, we’re always willing to confront that obstacle. We’re always willing to grind through it. It’s not about quick and reckless; it’s to some degree slow and sure, and I think with us in a grind it always matches up. We always look for catchphrases – something we can go back to about writing. If you have a catchword or a catchphrase and the three writers, agree on it helps in the process. When Dave [Linsk, rhythm guitar, backing vocals] is throwing out a lead or an arrangement at me or D.D [Verni, bass, backing vocals] is throwing a riff at me, I know that both of those motherfuckers are grinding it because that’s the word. We’ve done it now for probably the last four or five albums that had that catchphrase or that catchword, so grinding is probably what we do. The idea of using the catchphrase is to keep us all on the same page.”

Overkill’s last two albums, “The Electric Age” and “White Devil Armory” were two of their highest selling and best-received albums since they stormed the scene in 1980 which reinforces the fact that thrash metal is enjoying a resurgence in the music ranks. While admitting their sustained success is sometimes a mystery to even the band, Blitz also believes there is no such thing as luck.

“I think it’s more when you catch a wave, you ride that wave,” he mused. “You never go into the studio to fail. You go in to win. I think that’s one of the things about thrash is it is about competition, and I have always liked competition, especially friendly competition. I remember touring with Exodus back in 2008/09 and Gary Holt coming off stage every night and giving me that cowboy look and a wink in his eye saying ‘beat that’ and I was like ‘I’ll bury you motherfucker’ (laughs). I think in there somewhere is your answer. The idea is you don’t sign up to lose. You don’t enter the race to lose. The idea is you want to win, and a band like Overkill with regards to any success that we’ve had is that we go in saying ‘this is ours. It’s our fucken stage and we will fucken bury you!’ If you can do that and believe it, it eventually comes true.”

Not only have Overkill tasted success in the world of thrash metal, but they have also remained as one of its elite for 36 years. Through a combination of relentless drive and competitive nature, they have survived through the highs and lows of metal unscathed and with their reputation intact, a feat enjoyed by only a splattering of bands.

“We lent people money in the early days,” Blitz laughed, “and they still owe us! Also, we’re from New Jersey, so when I was a young boy I grew up in an Irish immigrant family and D.D came from an Italian family, so when you put the both of us together, people are like ‘just leave those guys alone and don’t borrow money from them’ (laughs). But I think the point is it’s not about worrying about it, and we never did. Even in the 1990’s when times were a little lean and metal was a dirty word and thrash was passé that isn’t what it was about. We were like, can you pass me a beer and put it on the table while I take a piss? You zip it up, knock off the beer and you come back, and you do what you normally do. I think overthinking things sent a lot of guys home. A lot of guys sat in their Mums basement smoking Marlboro’s and playing their guitars saying ‘why won’t anyone recognise my fucken genius’ and I always thought to myself there are a few guys out there that do have the testicles to get through. Kreator was one of them. I love touring with those guys, they’re the real deal. You walk on a Kreator bus, and you know who you’re fucken talking to and they’re the kind of cats that wouldn’t accept no for an answer. I remember talking to Speesy and Mille one day, and Speesy says ‘what are you working on?’ and I said, ‘you know what I see in you guys? Me!’ (laughs). Not to be egotistical but more to say I recognise who I want in the foxhole with me and it’s guys like that. It’s not hard to stay there in the music industry if you know who you are and you can work out all of the other details around that principal.”

Written by Kris Peters

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LISTEN TO OVERKILL

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