OVERKILL's Bobby Blitz Talks New Album Delay, Big Four Spill-Over, Having One Of The "Worst Record Covers Of All Time!"
March 7, 2014, 5 years ago
By "Metal" Tim Henderson
You know what's cool about metal cruising? You can get up close n' personal with your icons and pray (prey!) at their altar. Even air some of your grievances without getting thrown overboard. OVERKILL frontman Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth and BraveWords have had a thriving relationship for decades. Our roaming US scribe Mark Gromen has many stories of run-ins, get-togethers and personal moments with the band, and yours truly would definitely call him one of those rare friends in the biz. Most come n' go (ironically) like ships in the night, but Blitz is the real deal, shooting from the hip without giving a shit. Prior to the cruise setting sail, we get deep in conversation about our four-legged saviours, before I tell him a tale of Overkill finally 'taking over' my life in 1987. But that's where the 'grievance' comes in.
When those records came out in the '80s the artwork was crucial. You may have never heard of the band, but if the artwork was cool you be snapping that record up. You could only afford one or two albums per week, so the art was critical. But I questioned what these guys sitting armed in a bunker was going to sound like! And to this day, I regret walking past the album for so long!
Blitz is quick to ask out loud: "Is it possible that was the worst record cover of all time? To us we say that it's got to be in the top 10, that Rambo fish-eye look. We had a mud fight before we did it. Not that I'm not proud of it, don't get me wrong, because it's a goof, it's us. It's part of us. But we look at it, and we say it's got to be one of the worst covers of all time. Dude, you are old enough to remember how important vinyl was. Back then, you were holding a piece of art."
It's these moments that I will cherish, but it's one of many on a junket such as 70000 Tons Of Metal - "The World's Biggest Heavy Metal Cruise" - which sailed from January 27th to 31st from Miami, Florida to Costa Maya, Mexico and back!
And Blitz, like most of the artists lap it up."How could you not have fun," he says. "This is one great sense of community from the metal vibe to seeing the bands. My wife and I walked the top of the pool deck and counted the amount of people who had passed out by how red they were from sleeping in the sun! We went up to the bridge last year and we met the captain and he said his favourite cruises are the metal cruises because people are having a great time, they are passionate, they are drinking, they are living life banging their heads to the music, but they aren't a pain in the ass. You'd never think that from the way all of this started. We were avant-garde, we were aggressive, we were anti-society, we were anti-culture, we were from the gutter! And now we are on cruises, so you have to be a pretty successful person to be able to be on something like this. And probably a good thing for the scene that people have moved ahead in society. It's not supposed to be peaceful, but it is. And then you get your opportunities like to see CARCASS and SATYRICON, both of which I was looking forward to. Both of them had fantastic new records. So you get thrown mentally into that pit of what it is all about."
Like all bands, Overkill played two sets and to this day, the Jerseyites haven't missed a beat. Blitz, along with his partner-in-crime bassist D.D. Verni and trio of cohorts, guitarists Dave Linsk, Derek "The Skull" Tailer and drummer Ron Lipnicki, offer up a live spectacle which is virtually second to none, unless your name is SLAYER or AC/DC. In our little interview cabin, I explain to Blitz another tale. And it's rare to have these revelations when witnessing a band. It was during KREATOR's set on the main stage at the Wacken Open Air 2008 and I turn to Gromen and simply state in my stupor, 'do you think even Mille knows how good he is live?' And that was my reaction upon witnessing Overkill in their element on 70000 Tons 2014."Well, it's all about experience I suppose," Blitz says humbly. "I remember the guy from GAMA BOMB called Phil (Philly Byrne), and I like some of the younger bands and the fact that they've got tenacity and they've got teeth. You know what they remind me of from talking to them and watching them perform, is why we started doing this. They are a little bit of that voice in the dark from the angst of a young man. And Phil and I were having a conversation because we were on tour together and he asked me, 'what is it with what you do out there on stage?' I said listen, 'let me tell you something, I didn't create this, I stole it. But I didn't just steal one thing, I stole a collage of different things. Watch from the side, take the good stuff and put it in yours.'"
And of course another ace in your hand is the immense and consistent Overkill catalog. You've worked hard on every one of those records. Now you are reaping the rewards."I suppose, but we're still in it to win it, " Blitz spits. "I love the sense of community, but we don't do this to lose. It's great that Carcass are playing, but I still want to beat them to a pulp. And that becomes the motivation. D.D. does this thing sometimes called stay down, it's a boxer's mentality. If you know a boxer, the only reason they stay down is because they can't get up. But if he can get up he will. I remember him saying on the bus one day, just stay down, just stay down. And I was saying back, 'I can't!' (Laughs) I think that the idea is that you are reaping the rewards, but the other side is that you want to win. I remember touring with Gary Holt (EXODUS, SLAYER) - and I love those fucking guys, there's a great sense of community with Exodus; we're fucking cousins from different coasts. But the reality is, when he comes off stage and he gives you that fucking Billy The Kid cross-eyed smile that he has, and I'm thinking to myself, 'you think you're fucking big now don't ya!' But he does it the same way I do it, he wants to win. Great sense of community when we're sitting around in a room - and we all want the same results - but the reality is you go in it to win. And that's one of the things Overkill has always had, we want to win."
Any other bands to come up to for advice?"Occasionally, but it's the band. I don't think it's just me, obviously it's the band. How does Overkill present itself as a band? I think we carry the banner of Overkill, way above who is in the band. Obviously D.D. and I have been there forever, but we don't write music that's based around Bobby "Blitz" and D.D. Verni. We write music that's based around a heavy metal band. How do you make a heavy metal band rock? You concentrate on the relationship between the guitars and the drums. And that's what we concentrate on. We are really the cherries on top of what that cake is that we're eating."
Talk to us about the follow-up to 2012's The Electric Age and the delay you've experienced."We don't like to delay, we like to work on o'clock. It's very blue-collar mentality, but we like to punch the clock. When we set something up, we want to deliver and do it. And I suppose that time is money. One of the things that we've always held in higher esteem than Overkill or money, was family. And that is why Overkill can survive. We've never had a conversation where we overlooked family, no matter who has been in the band. Family issues are always taken care of. You can't have anything unless you have family first, and I know that that sounds cliche, but it's what we've lived by. Whether it be my personal health problems, or things that D.D. has gone through. I have something going on at home right now that I need to be involved in. I have to be there five days a week sometimes. I have to sleep over at my parents house. It's just not possible to write what we are doing right now in my mothers house during this particular time. I have brothers and sisters and we're all helping out. So we had a delay based on that. It's not me personally, there are no health issues. It's just the way that we run our shit. I think you'd probably run your shit that way to, you are one of those cats. We spoke about your love of animals for instance. The reality is that some things take precedence over this. And the reason this works is because those things take precedence. Because if you are that kind of a guy, or that kind of a girl, then all other shit falls into place afterwards. Maybe that's why Overkill didn't have to take a break. Maybe that's why all these people went home and worked for Mom and Dad, had to get jobs as roofers or accountants or in factories, or attorneys or doctors. Overkill could do what they wanted to do because we took care of our business in kinda the correct order for us. And that's why there is a delay, it's that simple. By our own principles."
And people can relate to the human nature of the beast that is Overkill."But isn't this beast greatly humane? That there is that sense about it that we don't do it on our own. When you walk around on the boat, you see that there are uncles and there are nephews, or you see grandma and grand daughter. Just on this boat. So we are holding something here, whether it be BraveWords or Overkill, we are in something that has transcended generations, which is something that you cannot put a price on. The reality is, do what you have to do first. But the album is coming out really killer. We haven't released the title yet, but the word armory is in it. That's the first time that I've released that. I don't want to throw the whole thing out there, because it's going to be about seven months before it's in the stores."
How can you keep reinventing this thing they call thrash?"Well you know for me, you know how I do it personally - and I have had harder times writing the last three records - because I really hate repeating myself. Obviously I'm going to reuse words; I call that style. But there is a really fine line between repetition and style. I don't want to repeat myself. There's going to be stylistic things that are happening, but I will put signs all over my little office studio saying, 'Blitz don't repeat yourself' and I'll put the words 'fire, fire, fire!' (Laughs). So it just kind of hits me. So it's not about reinventing, I think it's more about trying to push the envelope a little bit differently. To look at things a little differently. We've never talked about social or political issues, maybe just a little bit we skirt on them, but we are here to entertain. It's really simple, it's a powerful type of entertainment to get your heart rate up, get your blood pressure up, makes you feel really different. And how do you make that happen? By not repeating and maintaining a certain style. And that to me is the hardest part about doing this this long."
What's your feeling about the spotlight being shone on thrash via all this Big Four stuff."Who? (Laughs!) I'm sorry, I just like doing that! (Laughs harder!)."
Is that a sore spot?"No, no, no. I just like doing that. I think that they've done great things by leaps and bounds. Does it bleed into where we live? I suppose to some degree it does. I think where we live, many of the people have foregone the Metallicas, definitely not the ANTHRAX or the SLAYERs. I think Slayer is in some kind of a weird spot right now. Talk about reinvention, I don't know how you can reinvent where they are right now. We're talking 50% of an original band. And not by choice really. And 50% gone in a matter of months of each other. Do I think the guys that are filling in those positions are qualified, of course. Paul (Bostaph) and Gary (Holt) are fucking great musicians and their hearts are most certainly in the right spot. And Slayer are Slayer. I think that they bleed in where we live, and where 70000 Tons lives. I think the Big Four helps us to some degree. I think the fact that they are out there, they're bringing that attention to this. I think that even when people quibble and quibble about the fact that EXODUS should be in there, or Overkill or TESTAMENT. I think that to some degree helps us. Come on, you're a journalist, if they're not talking about you, they aren't thinking about you. (Laughs). So if they are throwing that out there saying that the Carcass record is the best album of the year and it blew away anything that Metallica did in the last ten years … and to some degree it did. If you have that dialogue, sure it's helping us. It equates to that larger sense of big business, but we still retain our integrity on our small ship of 2500."
And that remaining part of the Big Four - everyone is crucifying the new Megadeth record and I said my year-end statement that there comes to a point where you just can't keep beating a dead horse."I think Dave and Dave love that attention regardless. They don't want to do something that is expected. They want to do something that's different, and they know by doing something that's different, they are going to get that attention. I like both of the dudes, but let me tell you something, if I was as religious as either of those guys are saying, I wouldn't tell a goddamn soul, because it would've been my private part of my life. That would be the thing that made me me inside of me, as opposed to outside of me. If I have a family problem at home, I'm not going to mention who that person is, I'm going to give you the outside of it. The beauty of life is that we have a private side, where we celebrate and we also mourn. And not all need to know that. I don't know what they do with their records. I like both of those cats, and they both have treated me really well. But I think they really love the fact that they take that chance."
A Risk!"Right! Professionally and personally!"
(Top two live photos by Håkon Grav; bottom one by Mark Gromen)