Exclusive! Interview With Overkill Frontman Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth
Saturday, June 25, 2005 @ 10:52 PM
Still Thrashing: The Blitz Spe
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Few bands understand adversity and the fickle nature of the metal scene better than Overkill, and no band has matched their level of stubborn, forceful determination that has carried them through and beyond a scene that all but died in the ‘90s and that by all accounts should have dragged Overkill down with it. But Overkill is like the stubborn fat kid, his chubby face all smeared with melted chocolate, whose parents can’t get to leave the candy store. Sure, they’ve had 20+ years of thrashing dominance and they’ve gorged themselves sick, but godammit, it’s still candy! And so Overkill will continue on as they always have, oblivious to mainstream expectations with feet firmly planted and forging always against the grain, defiant to the end, “laughing in a wind storm and blowing all the cornstalks down.”
BLITZ: Hey Brian, Bobby Blitz.
KNAC.COM: How the fuck are ya, man? BLITZ: Good! I have to push off in a few minutes; I have a soundcheck in like 15. Can we accomplish it?
KNAC.COM: Sure. Let me know if we get there. BLITZ: Alright, great.
KNAC.COM: Alright, let’s kick it off here. No band really likes to have line-up changes, but I’m sure that anyone that has had to go through them has to consider Overkill as being the best at being able to move on. You always seem to find these bad-ass guitar duos. How do you accomplish that? BLITZ: Well, I think it’s part of our attitude, and the idea is that you can perceive a change to be negative or you can perceive it to be positive, and in our case finding guys with the right attitude has always helped this band. I mean, you bring in a guy like Derek Tailer, who’s the last guy to enter this band -- he’s got a real high level of hunger, a real high level of energy, and I think what it does is it becomes contagious to the other members. I mean, I’ve been here for 20 years professionally and a few years before that when we were a cover band. So I think I kinda raise up to Derek’s level, I don’t think he raises up to mine; and I think that really helps the band. It’s not that we wanna go through the changes, but the other side of it is it can be perceived as good or bad, and have those results depending on how we perceive that to be.
KNAC.COM: Since you and D.D. [Verni, bassist] are the core you write most of the music, [do the line up changes] impact your writing process? BLITZ: Um, I think it does, but I think there’s a little bit of a control issue here if I’m honest -- quite honestly it goes through D.D. and myself, the other guys have interpretation. Dave [Linsk] so much as being the most musical person this band has ever seen, we’ll all change vocal lines according to what he’s writing on guitar for each song. But I think that we’re always looking for the elements that we’ve never had before. For instance, on Bloodletting, Dave kinda broke out and brought the guitar back for us; it showed itself again on Killbox 13, and now again on RELIXIV. The new element on this record is, let’s say, Derek’s voice. So yes, it impacts the songwriting -- you have to look at it and say, “What’s in the new box of tools here?” Well, we found out that Derek’s just got this great voice, and songs like “Love” Derek sings on… “Play The Ace,” etcetera; it’s all through the whole record. So it did impact it, but I think with positive results.
KNAC.COM: In a recent interview with Metal Dreams you talked about the overall heaviness of RELIXIV and you called it, “a kind of ‘best of’ without having to reduce yourself to a ‘best of’ status,” which seems pretty apt -- depending on what song you hear it invokes different faces of Overkill throughout the years. Did you intend the album to have this retrospective, encompassing kind of sound? BLITZ: It really kind of formed itself. I mean, quite obviously we take elements from the past and use them, and I don’t even know if that’s conscious or it just happens to be a part of us. Songs like “Pound of Flesh” are really cut from another time, but the idea is to give it a fresh face. As the record kind of forms itself -- of course with our input, but you don’t realize that you’re just totally forming this record -- and before it’s done it shows up as a completed project, and I look back on it and say, “Holy shit -- this is what was and what is,” and that’s how it kinda comes out as a ‘best of’. But I think it’s more of a ‘best of’ with regard to characteristic of the band, but it wasn’t a preconceived notion -- it just so happened to show itself that way.
KNAC.COM: Your first EP, Power in Black… is that ever going to see the light of day again? BLITZ: Well, they’ve been bootlegging that on cd in Europe for 15 years now! [Laughs] I don’t know what the label is. Will it [be released]? I don’t know. I mean, it’s one of the things we’ve kind of kept sacred with the songs that are on it, with regard to even its production from that time. We haven’t discussed it, but as of right now, no.
KNAC.COM: Any further progress with your plans for the Feel the Fire DVD? BLITZ: Yeah, we’re going to… I guess you’ve been reading the interviews I’ve been doing, huh? [Laughs]
KNAC.COM: [Laughs] Yes, I have. BLITZ: We’ve already booked a show in Cologne, Germany for November. We’re gonna follow that up probably with a show in New York, where Feel the Fire will be performed in it’s entirety, then there will also be a second set at each of these shows; we’ll come out and do a set of older classics. Classikill. [Laughs] Yes, it is happening. Actually, our agent in Europe is working with Siemens right now -- a communications giant over there -- to have it simulcast over the web for the Cologne show. So yes, it’s gonna happen.
KNAC.COM: 20+ years later, 14+ albums, thousands of shows… you’ve definitely paid more than your share of dues. What keeps you wanting to make music when you roll out of bed everyday? BLITZ: Well, you know -- I mean, this isn’t hard. [Laughs] A lot of people think it is. Sure, it takes a lot of time and there’s a lot of attention to detail, but the other end of it is that it’s a pretty wild ride! [Laughs] I mean, you have to look at the up side. When I hear people complain about people doing this for a living I go, “Oh, shut up.” [Laughs] “Go work in a box factory. Go pump gas or be an accountant. That’s hard.” The idea I think is that it’s just something I like to do. I’m only speaking for myself, but I see it in the other guys, too. I mean, Dave was born to play; D.D. was born to write and perform; Tim likes to be behind those drums; Derek Tailer has another career but comes out on the road. It’s pretty intense when you get guys that have been around for a long period of time who still take it for the value that they saw at the beginning. And that’s not really hard to do -- I’m not saying, “Oh, it’s been a struggle, it’s had its ups and downs.” Of course it has. But the other end of it is: Look what we’re doing! [Laughs] You wanna bitch about this, you bitch about a free lunch? [Laughs] But it’s been a good ride, I can’t complain. The whole thing will always be considered an up in retrospect for me if and when it ever stops.
KNAC.COM: A lot of people -- and I don’t see why -- but they consider I Hear Black…it makes a lot of least favorite lists as far as Overkill albums. How do you feel about that album? BLITZ: Well, I feel the record was unfocused. I’ve given this answer in the past about it: it’s not my un-favorite record. I think the production is a little bit soft, but I think the songwriting is really good on it and it went in directions we’d really never gone before, at least not to that extent, and I think it’s one of the records we’ve taken the biggest chances on. In my opinion I think that’s a good thing. In regard to [the record being] unfocused, it was… prior to that it was D.D. and I and Bobby Gustafson who wrote, and then for Horrorscope it was D.D. and I, then for I Hear Black it was D.D. and I, Rob Cannavino and I, Merrit Gant and I. So it became kind of unfocused and I was the only common link with each song. So I think it’s really about-- sure, we’re writing as a band but using all those individual ideas to try to bring one cohesive vibe to the record -- that’s probably where it lacked; but I don’t think of it as on the worst list by any means.
KNAC.COM: You guys have a European Festival Fetish –- what’s up with that? You guys are all over the festival circuit. BLITZ: It’s like porn, man. [Laughs] Fetish? [Laughs] Uh, there’s nothing better. I always tell people when I’m speaking to them about European festivals: “You gotta go.” It’s worth the ticket -- it’s worth the 100 Euros it takes to get in for 3 days of music and camp with a bunch of people you don’t know and drink beers and barbeque bratwursts. It’s really that intense. Where are you going to expose yourself to this amount of people in an hour’s time set? I mean, it’s just awesome to be a part of these things. It’s not the Ozzfest; it’s something totally different. There’s really a feeling of community around it. This year I think we’re doing 10 or 12 of them; some of them are huge, some of them are smaller, but all of them have a great feeling and great impact with regard to who we expose ourselves to and how the band feels about doing them. Top of the line production always, too.
KNAC.COM: D.D. has done his stuff with Bronx Casket Company, Dave, Derek and Tim just had Speed/Kill\Hate come out; what’s kept you from branching out and throwing something out there? BLITZ: I don’t know, uh… narrowness? [Laughs] I don’t really know; I’ve done some stuff in the past with people but it never came to fruition, it never surfaced as a release. I did it for fun; I didn’t do it for any other reason. I said, “If we’re gonna do this on another level, it’s gotta be done at a high level.” We decided just to drop it from that point. We may do it in the future -- it was myself and Chris Caffrey from Savatage. We’re good friends, and he wanted to do some heavier stuff and wanted to put a signature voice on it, so I wrote half of it with him, he wrote the music and I wrote the melodies; it came out pretty cool -- it was like a thrashy Priest meets Pink Floyd, it was really weird with all sorts of different stuff in it. But with regard to what I do, if you’ve read the interviews I’ve said this: It’s a full time job. It’s all the time; everyday some degree of my time is spent on something with Overkill. Out on tour its more than 8 hours a day, writing is more than 8 hours a day, recording is more than 8 hours a day; so it’s really kind of a full time thing, and I actually like to have time for other things, whether it be living or whether it be other business ventures.
KNAC.COM: Any career regrets? Missed opportunities? Something you’d like to go back and do differently, or do you take it as it is? BLITZ: Well, you have to take it as it is. I mean, that’s just my personality. I do remember back when Cowboys From Hell was breaking we were going to do a tour with Pantera, and it was enough for us just to get by, and then they said, “You gotta open for us in New York, too.” The money was really ridiculous and [New York] had always been our big payday; I mean, we could do three shows in New York and we’re all fit for the year! [Laughs] So we said, “Fuck you!” [Laughs]… I think we should have taken that tour! [Laughs]
KNAC.COM: [Laughs] In retrospect. BLITZ: In retrospect.
KNAC.COM: And speaking of those old days, how do you weigh in on the Anthrax and Testament old school line-up reunions going on? BLITZ: Well, what I do give both bands credit for is… Hold on just a moment… is this for radio?
KNAC.COM: No. BLITZ: [Calls to someone] Soundcheck? [pause] Ok. Just had to check to see how we were doing. I got some time.
KNAC.COM: Cool. BLITZ: Uh, I give them credit for hanging around all those years and still releasing. I don’t really look at it as a reunion as much as a continuation of what they’re doing with the original flavorings on it. So yeah, I’m interested in seeing them -- I’m actually going to see both bands the night before Dynamo opens in Holland. We’re doing a show in Belgium and then I’m going to run up there by car and do a couple songs with an Overkill cover band and then see Testament and Anthrax play.
KNAC.COM: For Killbox 13, you guys didn’t make it to the West Coast… Are we gonna get to see you guys this time around? BLITZ: It is booked.
KNAC.COM: Excellent. BLITZ: Yup, September. I think we go up to Calgary and then make our way all the way down to San Diego and then across to Texas. It’s done, it’s in Pollstar[.com] already.
KNAC.COM: Okay, throw in one more here: A lot of metal musicians ironically don’t listen to a lot of metal, they seem to get their fill playing it. You guys, on the other hand, are as much fans as you are musicians. What do you attribute that to? BLITZ: Uh, simplicity. [Laughs] I don’t think we over-think too many things. I think we’re really about… we’re action vs. reaction people; I think what turns us on is what we play as much as what we listen to. I occasionally delve out into other things, but everybody else on the bus are all metalheads. [Laughs] It’s like, it goes from a Slayer cd to a Shadow’s Fall cd to a Motorhead cd, old Priest, the new Priest, new bands, and that’s what you hear throughout the tour. I suppose it’s just that you are what you are, so it always kind of worked for us. I don’t think we tried to present ourselves any different; it’s like you said, we’re fans as much as performers in this or a band in this. So it’s just a simple process, and I think it leaves it uncomplicated so therefore we can approach it just the way we know how, and that’s blood and guts.