Overkill (Bobby Ellsworth)

"It happens to be a good time for metal and to some degree we take advantage of it"
on Tue, 08/12/2014 - 10:41

I had the chance to talk with Bobby a couple of years ago, when Overkill was promoting "The Electric Age" and it was then that I realize how fun, honest and friendly guy he is. With "White Devil Armory" coming out in July, it was Blitz that called me again in a hot summer afternoon to talk for the new album, his partners in crime and of course about thrash metal in general. Read below all the interesting things we talked about and you will again realize that he remains a fun, honest and friendly guy...

Before saying anything else, I want to mention that "White Devil Armory" is your seventeen studio album and it's a killer! What the fuck is happening with overkill man? Did you find the recipe for the perfect album and you will continue recording according to it until the end of all days?

We spend more money in good drugs (laughs)! I think that it happens to be a good time for metal and to some degree we take advantage of it. To some degree we manipulate it a little bit. We are part of the scene for a long time we have a great line up at this point and we like working together. The last chapters in our history have been like "hey, we are in a good place right now because the scene is in good place right now".

What we hear in the new album is obviously thrash metal with some more groove and mid tempo cool down songs. It differs from "The Electric Age", but sounds exactly like it in terms of production. What has changed? I sense some old school Overkill elements in your new work.

Yeah, I think that's a good point. I think you get the groove and the half tempo of "Bitter Pill", but also the chaos from songs like "Pig" which have a punk rock kind of a vibe. "Armorist" is a classic thrash tune... there's heavy metal elements and a little rock 'n' roll. I think that what we had is for the tracks we have a wider weapon meaning, there's variety. When it comes to production I think you're right. We are about the same, but one thing that I know is that it's a tighter production and what happened was that we're doing the production with focus on better performing and we did this from song to song. We did many takes of the songs and all was great, but we try to figure out which was the better performance when we were mixing the album. I believe we have a better starting point from "The Electric Age", which is a great Overkill thrash record, but this one have a wider element and better performances.

Did you produce it again yourselves? Don't you think that a third person's opinion perhaps could help thing up?

Yeah, I know what you mean and it's a good idea, but for us production is about getting the simple elements. D.D. has a studio named "Gear" and we recorded there, so that means we had the luxury of time. So, here what is producing a record in our own estimation: You go into the studio and get great sounds, great tones and great microphone placing. From there you want great performances and someone must keep this performances organized and that's all about producing Overkill. Then we give it over to someone else to mix it. But, when it comes to production and thinking about bringing someone in, I don't believe it's necessary a bad idea, but I think when it come to tones, organization and good performances we have as much experience as most of the people (laughs). I mean we kind producing ourselves from the beginning and more so from the '90s until now, so our experience is not limited when it comes to this.

You are now in your 6th decade of your life, but man you are sound angry and mean like a fucking teenager. Where all this energy comes from?

I think there's a difference between youth and experience. I think I talked earlier about the scene being kind of healthy and a lot of new bands come up and try to do great albums. But, there are also very experienced bands, whether these would be Overkill, Exodus, Death Angel or Kreator that know how to make that happen on a high level. I think that is what really happens. It is youth vs. experience, which is better. And although the audience is widen with more younger people there's still older guys around like myself (laughs) who can say (he changes his voice) "Maaan, let me tell you something about that fucking Exodus record, that's the way to make thrash metal and let's talk about an Overkill record, that's the right way to do it". So it becomes our experience, because we are the ones we've done it the most time it's gonna be you and I, you and Gary Holt or you and Chuck Billy. So I think that's what you're hearing, experience vs. youth.

Another highlight of the album is Ron's drumming. The man is a beast. Do you consider yourselves lucky to have him aboard?

Absolutely! I think that as the scene was getting healthier, Ron joined the scene right about that time. It was something that Overkill has lacked. You don't really see it because you're involved in. You don't see your house is dirty, because you're living in that house, but other people see your house is dirty (laughs). When Ron came in we said "oh my god look all this energy this fucking guy have!". And you know, the beauty of wild force is that is wild and not having the saddler on. And I think that we understood that this was the way it was and this was going to be our new drummer and that was what we liked to be brought to Overkill, because we wanted to run wild man. That was what we wanted and that's the element he adds and you're right... he is a beast and I believe he is somebody who will get more and more appreciated with every new Overkill album.

Can you share some information about the lyrics? Why are you a "Pig" after all?

That's a fine question. What I did with the lyrics was that I was trying themes with the word "armory" in mind and that was the starting point. Then I began writing sort stories and I came up with the one about the man in the first song which is "Armorist" and he is an emotional beast. I remember watching a documentary on the Tate murder by members of the Manson Family who took place in the early '70s [editor: actually, the eight month pregnant Sharon Tate and three others was murdered in her house on August 9th 1969]. In the documentary there's an image flashing on the television with the word "pig". That word was written in the wall by one's victim blood. I thought "oh man that's disgusting". There was also a book I read when I was kid. The book was cold "Animal Farm" and was written by a man called George Orwell. It's talking about a political and social situation in a farm and how all the animals have roles and how pigs are ruling the region...

Yes I know. I've read the book too. Great allegory...

Oh so you've read it too, great! So, in any case, I took these two stories and try to combine it with the word armory. So, I put this man Armorist outside the room watching the pigs collecting the bodies (laughs). I try making as disgusting as I could (laughs). So, the idea was come up from watching the documentary and the Orwell's book.


I saw that you have recorded two bonus tracks and one of them is a cover of one of my all-time favorite Nazareth songs "Miss Misery". I believe that your voice fits perfect with McCafferty's. Also the song is a duet with Mark Tornillo from Accept. Can you share some details on that?

I think it had to do with not doing a cover song for such a long time we wanted to do one in a classic song. I was in side project called The Cursed and we were playing "Hair Of A Dog" and playing around with "Miss Misery" while we were rehearsing. It was D.D. who said to slow it down and try and make it really heavy. I said that it would be great to have a duet with somebody else who has a McCafferty kind of voice and that would be Mark. Mark is a local Jersey guy who I met in a party in New York City [editor: on the Eddie Trunk's 30th anniversary] where I was doing some songs with Twisted Sister and he was doing some songs with The Winery Dogs. So I asked him if he was interesting in doing this and he said "sure, what day and what time, no problem". It was a really simple negotiation and was not lot talking about it. I think the cool thing in this cover is although there's a remarkable differences in our voices we're still kind of "cousin" in some extent, so when we sing together we create a third voice but when we sing apart we are identifiable to each other. I think it was a great cover to do. In fact Mark and I are going to performed it together before anybody hears it on the record next week in a benefit show.

Can you say that perhaps Overkill was influenced by other bands during all this years?

I think I'll be lying if I said no, because you must have shut your ears off then. I have my ears open, so there always something new. I try to think...obviously, bands like Pantera was playing great metal in the '90s. We didn't copy the Pantera formula but the impact to our music was there. So, there were bands that we liked back then. I remember liking bands even like Green Day or Blink 128, because I like the pop rock. For me I just liked that kind of melodies. Did they influence Overkill? I don't think directly, but somewhere I must have been listening to the Green Day CD while writing a new Overkill record (laughs) ... so I'm sure there is somewhere a word or two or even a melody. The cool thing about these bands that we welcomed to our ears, even if it influenced us at some small degree, is that at the end of the day when the recordings and mixing is done it still sound like an Overkill record and that's the important thing about it.

Do you made music for yourselves or for your fans? If a band made a huge change in his music approach would you consider them like they betraying their fan base or you think than musicians must follow their instinct and don't be afraid to change?

I think I'm in music for pride. I think I'm doing it probably for myself in some degree. There's no thing that I have to do this. D.D. or Dave doesn't have to do this. We are not locked in for this. We do this because we are doing this. That's the bottom line. We're proud of what we do. It's not Overkill have two hundred albums. It's not that. Overkill is relevant with "White Devil Armory" in 2014, whether be Greece whether be Germany, whether be U.K. or United States or South Asia, we' relevant because we release something we are very proud of. We released something that has modern and contemporary presentation, which has great execution, which has energy, which has experience. All of these things make me proud to do it. So, I think that probably I do it for myself first, but I think I'm also a reflection of the audience and I think I'm part of that audience, there's a grey area. But, the main reason of doing this is pride... for myself...

The most awesome thing with your new music in the last five years I believe is that you are writing again songs that someday the future generations are going to call classics. "Bring Me The Night" and "Ironbound" are profound examples and I think your first single "Armorist" and "In The Name" will also do the job. How you feel about that?

I never thought about it and actually this is the first time that anyone ask this, so I have to answer this immediately and from the top of my head. I don't think about it in those terms. I don't think about it as classic. I think probably because of the answer I gave you before when it comes to pride, I think about it as ... competitive. I think about still needing to prove something, still needing to win. We are the kind of guys that record the "White Devil Armory" like it was going to be our last record and if you go in there with that mentality I don't believe you're thinking yourself as classic. You're more thinking yourself like ... fighting the good fight to make it pure like so other record, to make it sound like so other record. Do your shows like it's your last show. If you get in the game or into the fight like that you're probably going to succeed. So I never thought in those terms for songs like "Bring Me The Night" or "Ironbound" or "Electric Rattlesnake" or "Armorist" are going to be classic songs. But when sit down and think about your question I do know that I'm still proud of the fact that I completed and that those songs have an impact.

Now I mentioned "In The Name" somehow reminded me that I have the obligation to tell you that your voice is an excellent shape! It is truly amazing the way you sing after all these years considering all your health issues. Do you have a secret for that or you're just a lucky a man?

It's funny because regardless to any health issues I still think of myself as bulletproof (huge laughs). Maybe that's the key to it. If someone starts asking me "hey man how your health is going", I'm going to answer him "I'm fine! Why the fuck you're asking? Do I look sick?" (laughs). What do you think I had to answer to that fucking guy? I know the shit that happened to me, but I never think of myself that way. When it comes to the voice... I stopped smoking during "The Electric Age". I smoked for 35 years. I would smoke on stage. I can stand on the stage in Athens and it could be 50 degrees Celsius, my shirt was off, my pants are sweat and I'm still singing holding a Marlboro... (laughs)

Yeah, I remember...

...this is the way I always done it in my life. But one of the differences that I noticed on this record, now that I stopped for almost a two years period, is that when I entered in the studio it was like a third lung had grown in my chest and I said "holy shit! If I knew that I could do those things I should have quit smoking ten years ago" (laughs). So, I think I'm very lucky to have a voice that it doesn't quit, but I also think that I always learning something new, so it feels like I'm progressing every time.

Your new album is a first class opportunity for me to write a buyer's guide for your discography. So, here are a couple of questions I've got for you. Do you think that your first albums are your masterpieces or you can see "Horrorscope" can be one of the two?

That's a good question. I always looking Overkill in chapters and I think the first chapters goes from "Feel The Fire" to "The Years Of Decay" and there's a great charm about "Feel The Fire" and that's because we were kids and we didn't know what we were doing and there's something charming about chaos, because that what all was that time. We had people telling us how we should record and present these songs. We didn't write so much, we just did what we knew and that was chaos. And I think that's the charming for that record. But when it comes to a record like "Horrorscope" ... I believe that it stands out because it was the first record of the next chapter. Bobby had left the band, there was now two guitar players instead of one, D.D. and I we were writing most of the material, the record company was unsure and we were fucking pissed off (laughs)... we were angry motherfuckers, we were "beer bottle throwing and don't get in my fucking way, because I will knock you down and tear your fucking head off on the way". On any case, the record company told us that they were not sure about the band and that we had to audition the material and I said "can you believe these motherfuckers?". They made us audition the new band and play the whole "Horrorscope" record for them. I remember getting in that stage and play only in front of the company's people and I wanted to bury those motherfuckers. I wanted to dig their graves and fucking threw pile of dirt in every one of them! [editor.: let's hope no-one of them is reading this interview] And when we finished that, I knew that this record was going to be great because of the whole attitude that surrounded it. So that's why that record is very special to me, because it was a turning point for us. I'm not that angry son of a bitch I was back then (laughs), but it's a great thing to think about when at some point you feel like having your back against the wall, that there's a way for you to fight all the way out of it and that we never quit fighting for that record and that's the great testimony of "Horrorscope".

And I know the cliché that every album is like your kid but which of your 17 bastard sons you think is the ugliest?

The ugliest ... I mean I like the record, but I really wish we had more time to work with "I Hear Black". "ReliXIV" is an ugly son and I don't like this record very much and I'm not a big fan of "Under The Influence". If I had to pick one of those three I probably would say "ReliXIV".


I was looking the other night my Overkill vinyl and remembered that in your first four albums in your thank list you had Metallica. How come? And what was going on with the early '80s thrash scene in the United States?

It was the East Coast and the West Coast scene and to some degree we knew about each other and to a larger degree we were like "music cousins". There were also the guys in Germany, Kreator, Sodom and Destruction, so bands were popping all over. Also, the bands was centralized by area. The Bay Area, the New York, New Jersey and we all have to know each other. And really the whole Metallica thing came by Bobby Gustafson who knew them and they became close friends. Those guys showed up in shows and drink all of our beers. I remember someone of us walk back and forth with James. Bobby was really close to them. Actually, he moved into California and lived in the Bay Area for a while and hanged out with those guys. So he was really the contact to that and that's how the thanks came from. Those guys were doing great things back then. I mean they obviously the change the face of music. They were a garage band and they became the biggest band of all kind in the history of heavy metal. I remember one time I was talking about that old days with the guys from Exodus and someone said that he remembered the time when they were hanging out in the beach with Lars, drinking beers and talking about music and he was saying "wait until my band came out". It was weird because at the time we all was thinking that we had the best band, but obviously he meant it for sure (laughs)

Tell me something that I wanted to ask for many years now. Does DD Verni consider himself as Steve Harris of thrash? I mean man his bass is too loud!

(huge laughs) You know it is funny, but Steve Harris consider himself as D.D. Verni of New Wave Of British Heavy Metal [editor: we laugh for about a minute or so]...that's why his bass is too loud (laughs)

The other thing I wanted to ask is what does the nickname "Blitz" stands for?

Obviously, there are a couple of meanings about it. We were all looking for nicknames back then D.D. Verni and Rat Skates already had nicknames. When we started the band I wanted to be part of the gang kind of thing, so when they suggested it, they did it because it is a loose interpretation to partying too much here. It's the guy who's shit is not together (huge laughs)... The other explanation is that there was the drummer in the Dead Boys whose name was Johnny Blitz and I just loved the way it sounded all together so when they asked me how about that, I was all over it and said that it was ok to call me like that.

How is "the middle age boys club" doing? Are you still throwing dices, drinking whiskey and smoking cigars?

You know, it's funny because we had a situation happened and I'm just going to throw it out. There are two guys who always play practical jokes on each other and they both had beards. The one is in the band and the other is in the crew. The guy in the band said "when that guy in the crew gets drunk in the first night I will tap you in the solder just to make sure that you see what I will do to him". The guy in the crew gets drunk in the first night and fell asleep on a box. The guy in the band goes to him and caught his beard off. He takes glue, the crazy glue and puts a fifteen inch beard in his both eyebrows (laughs)... So the "middle age boys club" is doing fine.

Let's talk about your touring plan now. I hope you're visiting us again...

I think so, but I think on the second round. The first ran is in November, the second ran happens in February-March and I'm sure is going to be on it. I think it's only a matter of organization. The think that happens with us that we're doing sorter tours to keep the energy level high, so we do more of them. That's the way to do it. It's not any more a six week tour; it is three and a half weeks each time. So we are doing a three week time tour in this year and another three week tour in 2015 and I believe that Greece would be on it in the second leg.

Last one... tell me the story behind the "get your own fucking logo" t shirt. Was it really so upsetting for you or you just wanted to make fun out of it?

Oh it was just for fun. It is in some degree something flattering. I think it speaks more about attitude than anything else. It's a Jersey thing like "get your own fucking car, what I am a taxi?" (laughs)

OK Bobby Thank you very much for your time. You can close however you want.

Hey man, I'm looking forward to be in Greece again, it's always a pleasure when we're there. Good to talk to you Kostas...