Overkill – Hello From the Golden Gutter Age

Sunday, 31st March 2013

(This content originally appeared on Blistering.com)

You know an interview is going to go well when the interviewee picks up and says, “David, Bobby Blitz here.” And really, is there a cooler nickname in metal than “Blitz?” Probably not, and there are few as professional, candid, and funny as Overkill frontman Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth, whom Blistering phoned while the singer was doing some remodeling to his New Jersey home. Heck, the singer even took the time to peruse the contents of this very site you’re reading, although he said doesn’t read reviews on Overkill because “If I start reading good reviews, I might start buying into it.”

The band’s 16th album is The Electric Age, and it’s a snarling thrash album that builds upon 2010’s monstrous Ironbound. The tempo laid down by drummer Ron Lipnicki doesn’t let up from opener “Come And Get It” until closer “Good Night” winds down, and there’s no shortage of Blitz gems, including “Wish You Were Dead” and lead single “Electric Rattlensnake.” In fact, these are probably the band’s best successive albums since 1988’s Under the Influence and 1989’s The Years of Decay, two bodies of work that produced arguably a pair of thrash’s best music videos in the form of “Hello From the Gutter” and “Elimination.” Priceless viewing.

There’s quite a bit to gleam from Ellsworth, the most being how dogged he and longtime bassist/songwriter DD Verni are. There are no compromises, no trend-chasing, and no resistance in the world of Overkill. It perfectly explains why they’ve yet to slow down since their seminal Feel the Fire debut from 1985. With that in mind, we’ll let the ageless (and extremely hilarious) Ellsworth do the talking…

Blistering.com: What do you think it is about this particular era of Overkill that appeals more than say, your stint in the 90’s?

Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth: Staying the course and good looks [laughs]. It’s a healthy scene, that’s one of the reasons. There’s a lot of younger bands that have come in over the last few half-dozen years and I think they’re able to fly the flag. I think a lot of the older bands said, “Hey, this is the way we’re supposed to do it.” We have right now in the band, a very healthy chemistry. It’s guys who want to be here, guys who want to play with each other. My wife will say we’re the “Middle-Aged Boys Club” [laughs]. She’ll call me at 2 in the morning when we’re on tour and ask, “Are you smoking a Cuban and rolling dice on the bus? The point is, if you have guys who like doing those things with each other, you’re going to have good results in other areas, and one of those areas is the studio.

Blistering.com: The thing is with Overkill is that you never took a hiatus, or had a big split in your lineup. There’s always been this slow-build, like you’re working toward a good batting average as opposed to trying to hit home runs.

Ellsworth: That’s a good point…I’ve never thought of it that way, that we’re doubles-hitters as opposed to home run-hitters. We’re base-stealers [laughs].

Blistering.com: Do you think some of your albums in the mid-90’s likeFrom the Underground and Below and The Killing Kind are undervalued?

Ellsworth: From the Underground and Below is one of my favorite records. It has such a cohesive feel to it, has a groove, it’s dark, but it’s still hot. It feels like every song should be there; there’s not any filler to it. There’s a lot of things that have been said about Overkill, and one of those is “We have stayed here, but there are reasons why people have kept us here.” And I think the ones that did appreciate us in ’97 is the reason why 2005 comes along, as does 2012. I think that in some degree if Ironbound and The Electric Age were released in 1997, probably we’d have the same results. It would be overlooked based on the fact that it wasn’t the flavor of the day. Sure, we had some meaning to some of the metalheads, but back then, it wasn’t a healthy scene.

Blistering.com: Going back to the mid-90’s when thrash wasn’t so popular, what are some of the things that stuck out? I just remember how you were the only thrash band on (long-defunct label) CMC International.

Ellsworth: We pulled off some slick business deals back then. We pulled off deals when this shit was dead [laughs]. I don’t know why…downloading wasn’t as prevalent at the time, the music industry didn’t consume itself yet, and CMC was working to get some heavy hitters to try to create a business based on value, not a quick home run. It worked out for us in regard to recording and giving us the proper amount of money to make quality releases.

If I remember a downside to it, I remember a booking agent calling one of our tours “The Bowling Alley Tour.” All of that looked really good because we all like to bowl, so we’d be out there bowling frames, but it wasn’t conducive to good shows, good touring…that was a little bit under the radar. Some major cities we did great in, but if you were stuck in the middle of Iowa on a Monday, those were the nights you were doing a bowling alley.

Blistering.com: There had to be people telling you thrash was never going to make a comeback. Did anyone actually say that to you?

Ellsworth: I don’t think anyone said it, but there’s always been this thing about Overkill that we wear our balls on our chest [laughs]. I think that we’ve made a lot of friends that way. I don’t think anyone would say that to us, and we’re explosive people. I don’t think we’re the kind of guys you see walking down the street that you would say that to [laughs]. Even if they did, it was never a concern of ours; we didn’t care what they thought, it was what wethought. I remember talking to DD about a record, I think The Killing Kind and I was talking about something I wanted specifically and he said, “Sure, let’s give it a shot. Who cares? We’ve been over since Horrorscope anyway.” [laughs] There’s a beauty in that statement, which is, you’ve got nothing to lose.

Blistering.com: As for The Electric Age, the first thing that hit me when I heard “Electric Rattlesnake” was that you sound like you did on “Elimination.” You’re hitting some of those highs, which of course, makes me wonder what your secret is.

Ellsworth: It’s funny, it’s 5:30, and I’m opening a Heineken and I lit a Marlboro [laughs]. To maybe some degree, I don’t care. Singers gravitate to singers at festivals. They talk and ask how we keep our voice together, and I say, “I don’t know, I warm up before the show.” Through the years, it hasn’t been a stressed-out kind of thing for me. I hear other singers, they sound stressed. I look at it simply: I do the basics, and if I get in trouble, I call the doctor. It’s never fancy, and it’s an amazing trait. Without thinking about it, I do the right thing. I exercise, and my dog is looking at me right now going, “It’s 5:30, we’re supposed to take our run.” There are some things that natural that are working well.

Blistering.com: You’ve had your health scares over the years, some of which may be blown out of proportion, but your voice has always remained intact. [Blitz survived a case of nose cancer in 1998 and a stroke onstage in Germany in 2002 –ed.]

Ellsworth: The health stuff was just something to go through and go around. It was never as bad as what people perceived. Shit happens. A lot worse shit happens to people a lot younger. I obviously have a sense of flair for that, and I’m drawn to it. I talk to people who have gone through that stuff and they have a much bigger cross to bear than me. Mine was quite simple. I remember even after the cancer, I was trying to get some shows back, even though it looked like there was bubblegum all over my face [laughs]. But shit is good, and I think the evidence is in pressing “Play.” It has the youthful energy, it has the thrash, it’s a contemporary presentation and a contemporary performance…and that’s the way it should be. Not what was, but what is.

Blistering.com: You mentioned that “youthful exuberance” and you can hear it on a song like “Wish You Were Dead.” What were you going for with that one?

Ellsworth: On the original versions, I was thinking that DD went punky with it. I immediately approached it like so, and I gave it the most easy title in regards to the phonetics I was using, and that stuck. From there, it became satire. In the lyrics, you read that Superman and Batman fly around, so it’s not as negative as it seems, but more so, a tongue-and-cheek approach.

Blistering.com: We mentioned the fast stuff on the new album, so you must be really happy with the work of Ron. He turns in a great performance.

Ellsworth: He’s a drummer’s drummer. He’ll never say it, but he always has to progress. For example, on the bus, pretty much everyone grabs the same bunk every time, and Ron is above me, and you leave all of your shit in your bunk during the day like a clean t-shirt and your smokes. I can go in there six times during the day, and five of those six times, he is looking online and taking lessons from DVD’s. This is the guy he is. He’s playing Buddy Rich, he’s playing some [Mike] Portnoy stuff. He wants to get better and better. And when you have a guy who is really into what he does, it really elevates those around him. I really attribute a lot of his positive energy to the studio experience. As time as gone on, with three records, you can see the difference with what he’s done.

Blistering.com: A lot of thrash bands from your era have gone back and re-recorded their old material. You’ve yet to bite the bullet, so is that in your plans?

Ellsworth: I want to move forward. It’s not for others to decide what we do. Personally, I would never want to re-record any of our albums. I think the beauty is in the album’s non-perfections. When I hear Feel the Fire, it’s four kids who didn’t know anything about this. Someone asked me what the most influential record in my life is, and they expected me to say something like Sabbath or Judas Priest, and I said, “Feel the Fire.” I went from a part-time job in a part-time band, to a truck in Munich [laughs]. When I hear that record, I know it’s not perfection, but that’s the beauty of that record. Chaos. Even those old staples, people ask why we haven’t taken them out, and we say it’s a celebration of what was right now, in a contemporary presentation. To go back and start fucking with what made us what we are, is wrong. It’s almost like admitting you made a mistake.

Blistering.com: What about doing one of your classic albums live in sequential order?

Ellsworth: We turned that down too. The Rock Hard festival in Germany has wanted us to do the entire Horrorscope record the last three years. And we won’t do it. It’s not us. We’re more about what we are, as opposed to what we were. I think that’s what keep it exciting. It’s not like we don’t like playing those songs, but we have new records, which we are paying attention to [laughs].

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