Prior to Overkill’s inception what were you doing?
I was a college student. I went to Manhattan College; I worked on the loading dock at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I worked in construction, post construction- a lot of different jobs. I was a garbage man, ran a truck stop- but it was all during those kind of formidable student years. And all through those things I was interested in and played in other bands. Just whether it be in college for beer money or for fun, playing at the college mixers and that kind of stuff. But it was all cover stuff until Overkill- kind of a wide scope of different things.
And who were your musical influences when you were growing up?
It all came out of originally, not the British Invasion but everything from the British bands like Deep Purple and Judas Priest, which you might want to call the precursor to the NWOBH. But I also loved punk rock. I was a Ramones fan, a Dead Boys fan.
Misfits are okay to me. But I was a big Ramones fan- I was going to school in New York City so it was really easy to access that kind of stuff. There was plenty of clubs down there. CB’s, the Mudd Club- jeez, I guess The Ritz was down on 3rd street. Wait, 11th street. Yeah, 11th street and 3rd avenue. There was a lot of fun stuff down there.
How do you go from being Bobby Ellsworth to being known as Bobby Blitz? Where does that name come from?
I only answer to that name now, even at home with my wife. Of course I don’t, but everybody had nicknames back then and mine came from an exorbitant lust for the wilder things in life with regards to partying etcetera etcetera. It was tagged on me early on and they said ‘oh, that’ll fit him!’ and they gave it to me. Everyone had a nickname in the band and that was mine.
‘Power in Black’ and the self-titled EP were both successful in their own ways, but when did you think Overkill first found success?
Signing. Getting signed. I have a picture of it in my office. There’s a picture of me holding a beer in a bag and signing the first contract with Megaforce and that to me is the starting point for everything to follow. Within a year I wasn’t working after that, I was just doing this. I always look at that contract as being the beginning of everything that followed it- decades.
And looking at all 18 studio albums that you’ve released, which ones stand out to you as being your best work and not the best?
The most exciting is the new one, just because it’s new. I don’t know where it stands among the best or worst. Probably, and they’re right around each other, I really like the ‘Horrorscope’ record. And I like it because of its production, the song writing to me is really cohesive on the record. It has, I don’t know, but it has a roar to it. It comes out of the cage like a lion. It doesn’t creep out. The worst to me is probably an album called ‘Relics’ which was released in 2006.
Why do you feel that way?
Production’s fucking awful. I can’t stand listening to it. It’s just like ‘oh god, turn that crap off!’, you know?
It’s part of history so I guess it’s important in its own way.
It’s obviously necessary to make better produced records afterwards. I don’t really think of it as a mistake, I think of it more as a necessary part to finding identity and you can still be finding identity that long into your career. So I think we learned from it to NOT do production like so.
And throughout the years Overkill has had quite a few lineup changes with the varying rhythm section. Do you feel that that’s ever negatively affected the band?
Negatively? Eh…not to date. I think that people always brought something good to the party. The lineups are always different but I think that this is the most cohesive lineup. We just lost Ron and we have Eddie playing drums, Eddie Garcia who was our sound guy- but I mean, we’ve known him for as long as we’ve known Ron. So on a personal basis he slides right in, we like him. But I don’t think anything’s affected us negatively. I usually think the new guy brings a new found energy. And then I think that the old guys use that as kind of a benchmark. You say ‘oh god, I’m not pulling my weight. Look at the energy of the new guy’ and you try to raise the bar, get it to at least equal that. So I do think that there can be really positive results in regards to having a new guy come in.
Upon the departure from Atlantic Records- how were you feeling? What would be the next step for the band? Did that stress you at all?
I don’t think it stressed me. You know, it was weird. They were a money machine. That’s just as simple as it is. I knew that the business had been changing and what was once underground is now underground again. I don’t think we were foreign to that. Now this was the mid-90’s and somewhere I think to myself that it’s one of my proudest eras of the band. Both personally and with D.D. Verni because shit wasn’t that easy to get done. And a lot of people just said they quit. You know, I’m going home. I’ll work for my mom, I’ll work for my dad, I’m gonna do whatever- collect unemployment. Whatever it may be until somebody recognizes my genius again. But with Overkill it was a time where it was a true test of the metal, if we could push through this we knew anything was fucking possible. So I really don’t have a problem with Atlantic leaving, but it was for sure a sign of a changing landscape in regards to this music.
Especially with what you were just saying and going back to the various lineup changes, was there ever a time where you were like ‘let’s call it quits’ and you wanted to stop doing it?
No. Never. It just never came up like that. We knew we had a good team with D.D. and myself and we knew we were always reinventing things. That was actually…what became of that labored time was actually fun. You can pull shit out of your hat or out of your ass and people were like ‘how’d they get this deal?’- you know, that kind of a thing. ‘How’d the fuck did they get this deal?’ or ‘how the fuck did they get that tour?’ Well it was just persistence but it was also being creative and I think even during that time regardless of how hard it got, the fun was that we were doing it. We were managing ourselves, we were doing it- we were coming up with these deals, we were coming up with these tours. We solidified relationships with these people around us to protect our business, therefore to pursue the passion. Once the business was protected the passion could be pursued. The positive revenue stream came and we could say ‘fuck it, we’re doing this because we like it’, you know? So it was never discussed.
And going back to the fact that you have 18 studio albums- how does one create 18 consistently good albums? Has there ever been a time where you’ve sat down and just been like…shit. Have you ever run out of ideas?
Well we do ten songs a record. So, all the way back in the ‘80’s D.D. and I sat down and we wrote twenty records in a row so we have all this shit in the can. We wrote 200 fucking songs over one year and now we’re covered- we said we’re covered for life. You do it because you like doing it! The answer to the question is in some of the answers I’ve given you before. I mean, this is obviously something we like doing. I mean, it’s not the greatest thing in the world to be in your fucking fifties living in a god damn parking lot in the snow- you better be liking what you do and that is the byproduct of what goes along with it. And it’s fine with me, I like the shows. I like to do it, I like to tour. I like to write music, I still think it’s special. It’s that thing that when I was a kid, you know, you would have given your pinky and your left nut to be able to do but the reality is that you’re doing it and you don’t want to let it go. It’s not hard to do, it’s just another opportunity. You just need to squeeze the shit out of it to make it the most.
Considering Overkill was one of the very first thrash bands, why do you think you were never considered in the Big Four?
Oh jeez, I don’t know. I mean, that’s record sales. I have for sure an irritating fucking voice, even my speaking voice.
Oh shut up!
But you know?! Call a spade a spade, it is what it is. I mean, I get it. They had much bigger sales than us, they got better tours- I mean, there’s a medley of reasons but that was never anything. That wasn’t a pertinent question in our house. Our house was our own house. D.D. and I would always say it’s kind of like, we’re not Dominos but we’re that mom and pop pizza store on the corner that they just can’t walk past, you know what I mean? We’re not always packed, we’re not fucking corporate business- but when they want the right shit they come to us. And I always liked thinking of it that way because it gave us, I think, the luxury of paying attention to our own house instead of comparing ourselves. Why aren’t we in the Big Four? That kind of thing. Who cares? I usually go…who?
Moving forward to now you guys just released ‘The Grinding Wheel’, do you feel like this is some of your best work?
Well, it’s exciting. I don’t know if it’s our best work, but I know for sure…when you’re trying to write a record, when you’re on that side of the written record, the idea is that you want something that excites you. That’s how you do eighteen records. You do boring records- then why do them? So I want something that excites me and is valid in the current day. I want something that says ‘Overkill IS’ not ‘Overkill WAS’. There’s a lot of bands that release records and it says ‘was’, it’s a convenient reason to go tour. They put out something that’s mediocre and say ‘now we’re gonna go tour and sell merchandise’. My opinion is that it’s got to be pride driven. Pride becomes the motivation for it. So when you put all that shit into it and then you’re done, you’re on the other side of the record looking back and you’re excited- then I think you’re holding something special. And that’s kind of the situation I’m in now. I mean, the thing’s just released a couple days. So I’m looking now at these couple days and reviews saying ‘boy there’s a lot of New Wave of British Heavy Metal, there’s a lot of the punk rock that you and I just talked about, there’s a lot of the classic heavy metal, there is groove, there is hardcore’, it’s all over this record. And I think that because of that we have an exciting record. So from one side of the writing to looking back at it, I think it’s something that is going to stand the test of time. It’s just the way I feel about it with my experience.
We were listening to it on the way here and it doesn’t at all really sound like 80’s era Overkill which made me wonder if there was anything that influenced it other than just creative direction.
We don’t talk about anything. It’s just not fucking worth it, you know? If you’re gonna sit down and over talk heavy metal you’re gonna ruin it. Let me hear the riff. It’s either ‘holy shit’ or ‘eh’. There it is; there’s the talking about it. But I think I just noticed these nuances in all the riffs, so if I notice the nuances the other guys didn’t- I started talking my contributions and pushing those nuances farther and farther away from each other. Whether it be ‘Long Road’ which is very 1981 Maiden-esque or whether it be ‘Red, White and Blue’ which is very New York City hardcore in the 1990’s- I started pushing them away to give them identities. At the end of the day you have to put a stamp on it that says it’s ours, and I think we did that with the energy and the production. So I think that this is the entire kind of…when you do the full package you feel self-satisfaction, you know. There’s fulfillment in the full package. There’s not ‘I could’ve’, ‘I should’ve’, ‘I would’ve’. There’s more of a ‘hey, it’s done. Who gives a shit if they like it?’ I mean obviously I want them to like it, but it feels right. And that’s a great feeling.