"There’s no fear to try harmonies, there’s no fear to try melodic vocals and there’s no fear to take a different approach just because we’re a thrash band"
Overkill have just released their new album and we contacted with vocalist Bobby 'Blitz' Ellsworth for the details behind the creation of "The Grinding Wheel". Read below all the interest things he had to tell about their new effort, the thrash scene, and his point of view on the music business, among many other interest topics.
Hello Bobby, how are you my friend?
Everything’s well, man. How are you?
I’m fine. How is everything going in Overkill’s camp?
Good! It’s promotion time, so we’re getting ready to promote the record right now, recently shoot a video, getting ready for the 70.000 tons Metal Cruise, we have the US tour, I mean, business as usual. Although I couldn’t say that’s boring, I’d say that’s a good thing.
For which track did you shoot the video?
We did "Goddamn Trouble" and we also shoot one for "Shine On". So, it’s two videos.
The new album was set for a November 2016 release but it was finally set for February 2017. What went wrong?
Fuck up! Just a very simple fuck up! Just a misunderstanding with the part of the delivery. In our opinion, it was not quite done yet. So, do we deliver a record that we say "oh, we should have taken more time with it" or we take the time? Of course, we decided very simple to take more time with the record.
Ron was absent for the most shows in 2016 and also Dave has to skip some, a couple of months ago. Are all good with them? How you choose Waldemar Sorychta as his substitute?
Well, Dave is fine, that was just a personal thing he had to take care. Waldemar was suggested to me by Speesy [editor: Christian Giesler - bass) from Kreator. We were in Germany at that time and he said that if anybody can do this, to learn all your songs in two days, is Waldemar. That was a simple call and he was up for it. He actually told me after the third show "Bobby, this is the shortest tour of my life, but maybe one of the most enjoyable". With regard to Ron, he just can’t tour anymore. It’s a personal issue that obviously I wouldn’t speak for that, but the door’s always open. He was never asked to leave, it was something personal. He just can’t be on the road.
Now let’s go to the album. Congratulations once again for delivering the goods. "The Grinding Wheel" is one solid album full of energetic badass songs. I’m guessing you recorded exactly the same way as always so my question is about the sound. It seems to be a little bit more thrashy, more aggressive, more punkish if you like than "White Devil Armory" but more or less it always sounds like Overkill. Do you agree?
I think that what we showed on this record, when it comes to songwriting, is that we showed a bunch of different tools. I think that Overkill and thrash are synonymous because of our energy. But as soon as some of the speed of that energy is removed, I think that you are hearing classic heavy metal, N.W.O.B.H.M., some punk, some rock 'n' roll, some groove and some epic feel. I think we’ve shown a lot of different elements comprise this band. But I do feel that at the end of the day that makes us what we are because of the energy it comes across as a fresh record. The Overkill sound is pretty identifiable to us, with D.D.’s bass and my voice; I think you know it’s Overkill. Going to Andy Sneap this time gave us not an Andy Sneap sound, but a better Overkill sound. That was really what we’re looking for, deeper and thicker guitars, organic drums and the bass up front. But at the same time we wanted to give it a fresh face for 2017 and I think Andy was the right choice on that. The results speak for themselves.
Does the title of the album somehow reflecting the music?
The title of the record reflects the band more, so that the music itself. The music is the music and develops on its own. The title of the record was picked as something to use as a base. What I mean by that... It didn’t start as a "Grinding Wheel" but it started as the record "Grind". This becomes a base when we’re writing. So, I think that when we had a key word like "grind", or "iron", or "armory", or "electric", there’s somewhere always to go to. It’s not necessary that the title reflects the music. The "Grinding Wheel", regarding the title, it means be never ending, to always been working under all circumstances, slow but sure. But the other side of anything that is manmade is disposable of one time. Eventually we’re out. So, we are grinding for years, enjoying the moment, because maybe we will not be there tomorrow. I think there are two ways to look that.
What are the lyrics about this time? You kinda lost me in "Mean Green Killing Machine" what the fuck you saying there, what is the meaning... (laughs)
Well, you know, I write what I know. One of the things I know the most about is Overkill. Except from my family, I think D.D. Verni is the person I know the longest in my life. He’s the person I collaborate with, a person that is closest to me in a friendship. It’s about to trust, touring for 30 years, knowing people from Greece or New Jersey or Tokyo. This is what I know. I sing about the things I know. I sing about our principles. "Mean Green Killing Machine" is about one of those principles. If you look into the mirror it’s about this, about creating energy out of energy. It’s a fantasy to some degree, something like "feed me, fuel me and I will produce" (laughing). And I will run over you like a motherfucker... it may sound a bit ridiculous but I have proof (laughing). 30 years of proofs. The point is that I write from somewhere I know and becomes interesting to me. I’m writing a story that’s in my head. So "Mean Green Killing Machine" for sure is about the band and what we need to feed us and from specific superhero fantasy specter.
There also a few surprises here and there in the album. First of all we have these great vocals of yours in the middle section of "Mean Green Killing Machine". I can’t remember when you have sung like this before. You sound super confident...
I think the idea of our success, even mine specifically, is that I still consider myself a student. For as long I’ve been doing this, I can still consider that I’m not the best and I could work more than others. I think that gives me the opportunity to progress, because my eyes are open, I’m not saying "Oh, I was great", I’m saying "Oh, I want to be fucking great". I know I’m not there yet. That gives me confidence, there’s no fear to try harmonies because we’re a thrash band. There’s no fear to try melodic vocals, no fear to take a different approach. And this is the case. Also, the other guys feel the same way too, by pushing themselves. Then, we can always have a thrash record, we can always be more valuable in the present day than we were in the past. I think that’s what we are proud for. This is a band that is relevant in 2017, not a band that is relevant in 1990. So, I think that pride and the ability to be open minded, to continue to learn, helps with the vocals and helps the overall feeling of the record.
"The Long Road" is a song that you’re not used to write. It has this epic kind of intro and then comes a blazing solo from Dave... you still got it right? (laughs)
I tell you, man, this fucking song sounds like it could have been written in 1982. But then you take everything I track about, Dave progressing with the leads and shreds, me pushing the vocals, D.D. pushing the songwriting. It was a fresh face of 2017. You know, I’m a firm believer that you’ve got to know where you came from, to know where you’re going. So, if you forget where you came from you didn’t know where the fuck you are going. So, we came from 1982, this was the first type of music, the British heavy metal, it’s all over the long road. This is one of the important factors of why we exist today and why we’re still able to do something that’s valid today.
"Let’s All Go To Hades" is a weird song and we have a strange delivery in your singing. What you wanted to do with that song?
Well, you know, it’s kind of a punkish song. When I first heard the riff from D.D. it reminds me this rock ‘n’ roll sound of the early Motorhead, these kinds of vibes. When the song breaks into its continuous riff I was thought of Motorhead and their synonymous relationship with the Ramones and how Motorhead is an influential band. So, it was a Motorhead, punkish vibe and the songs drops something different to. Lyrically, the song is talking about current events. I consider myself and this band part of this community and I feel that this community and this band could have a great time together, even if we are on a fast train to fucking hell (laughing). That’s what I think. So, maybe we’re a little fucked up, but I think there’s a lot of drinking and lot of headbanging on that train. I mentioned Lemmy in the lyrics, I mentioned the problems that we had as a metal band going into the Middle East, or cities like Istanbul, even that I know there’re a lot of metal fans there. I talked about us as a community in that song by meant the things that affect us.
I want to mention that hearing the "Grinding Wheel" song I found there the thing that the new bands are lacking. When I hear this song it’s like I see you coming out from a corner and I’m shitting my pants on and I feel like "Oh, it’s Overkill, let’s get out of here". This is something the new bands don’t have.
This was a song of musical development. This was the one that took the longest time for us to complete and I think that’s obvious. What I mean by that is that a riff is a riff. And a collection of riffs that make them into a song are a collection of different feels. This one has an epic vibe to it. So, all the way up, I have to admit that I was dropping vocals to that song at the back end, trying to make it more and more epic. If you have to go through it, go the fuck through, don’t go just half the way, make it all the way. So, the feeling about this song it’s a great accomplishment. It developed and came together as opposed of developing and falling apart. But I agree with you, it’s kind of a great feeling, a unique, cool way to end the record.
I saw that in the deluxe edition there’s gonna be a song called "Emerald" but it wasn’t included in the promo that Nuclear Blast sent me so I haven’t listen to it yet. Is it the classic Thin Lizzy song?
It is, yes.
So, the thing I want to know is with which criteria you choose the covers you are doing in the albums?
It’s really a band’s decision. We could have chosen the song "Sanctuary" by Iron Maiden. These early Iron Maiden records were something we were in. The first two Iron Maiden albums were something we know the entire of the songs of both records. When we’re talking about that record, I was pushing some punk covers and D.D. was pushing some punk covers and Dave was like "we’re gonna do “Emerald" of Thin Lizzy” and I realize why he mentioned to do it. It was obviously because of his guitar style and his work would be amazing on this record and that song. Dave is all about making more out of something. I think that when you hear his work on this, it’s obvious why we agreed. His leads on this one are amazing, I men he even recalls the Irish national anthem (laughing). We love the way the song came out and we actually did it completely live.
I saw you last summer in Hellfest but it was a really bummer. I was there watching you perform with high energy and living the moment but the sound was shit. Imagine that only in the chorus of “Hello From The Gutter” I realize which was the fucking song you where playing. Are you aware of that?
Yes, we were aware of it (laughing). But not until the end of the show. We sat at the dressing room, looking at each other very confused and then our sound person came in and we can tell from her face... (laughing) We were like "come outside we need to talk to you" (laughing). I said "do you want to say something? You’re not coming back"... that’s how aware I was of it.
Last year you performed an anniversary show in Germany for the 25 years since the release of "Horroscope". How did you come up with that idea and why you choose Germany?
Germany was the first place we actually had a real tour as a band. You know, we were a New York/New Jersey band, back in the '80s and our touring, up to our first European tour, consisted of long weekends. We were opened for other acts, we played at local shows and that’s it. So, that was the first tour that came our way and one of the first places we played was a place called “Alabama Hall” in Munich. At the third or fourth show we played at a venue that was at the same area as this, where we did also our first recorded live video. So, it seemed right to revisit the place it all started with regard to where we could record this. The idea of doing two records it was that two is better than one. It’s very simple (laughing). If you look at the definition of Overkill, the definition is about more, it’s not about less. So, doing "Feel The Fire" and the “Horrorscope” as they’re both quintessential records in our development, the one being the beginning and the "Horrorscope" being when we finally understood where we’re going from that point on. I think it was a good thing to do. Two instead of one and really at the place, or at least the neighborhood, that we first recorded them.
Are you going to release it in a DVD format for all of us the dicks that we couldn’t make it to the show?
No, no, it’s only for us, it’s only for the band. It’s only gonna be five copies made. That’s because we are selfish dicks (laughing). Of course it will. You know, the "Grinding Wheel" is more important but a DVD will be worked on between the touring in 2017. You’ll see it by the end of the year, for sure.
Regarding the charts "White Devil Armory" was the most successful album since... forever I guess (laughs) but yet it sold the fewest copies. It’s kinda ironic don’t you think? How the music industry will end up in the next 10 - 20 years?
Sales are relative. It’s relative that it charted in a high position, even that it sold less than records that never charted. But, you know, the world had changed and I think that the idea of reinventing yourself as technology forces you to reinvent yourself is a reason that a band like us can still be alive. So, with regard to the future, I don’t’ really know where it goes from this point, I mean obviously as someone who likes to eat regularly and drive a car and live in a house, I hope these regulations lead somewhere where revenues can be send to the way of me, in guys in the band and guys from other bands. I do think that the necessary thing is not to complain about it, but to reinvent, to understand how a DVD should be made and making sure your merchandise is perfect. So, from a distance perspective, I don’t know where the world goes, but I know that as long as I’m involved in it, I’m open to new ideas of reinvention because that’s the key to survive.
Last year we had some major and fucking great releases from Metallica, Testament, Anthrax, Death Angel…and very shortly Overkill and Kreator are going to release some great stuff too. How you explain that? Too old to die perhaps?
(laughing) That’s very good (laughing). Wouldn’t be great if I had a heart attack right now? (laughing)
No, it wouldn’t... (laughs)
You know, I think this is an obviously healthy scene. There’s a resurgence in the scene and that resurgence is been here for at least a decade at a high level. I think that this resurgence brought a lot of bands back. I mean, a lot of these bands are reunited, obviously not Kreator or Metallica, but you see reuniting of bands because of that healthy scene. This healthy scene comes from younger bands playing with the same blueprint that was created back in the '80s. There’s a young, fresh scene and I think the older bands say “Wow, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be done”. So, it speaks for experience but also speaks for the power of youth being able to reignite something that was valuable. So, I think it’s a multiple reason, I think that youth reignited but experience made it right. That’s why we had these great releases from bands like Metallica, Kreator etc
You promised me last time that in some leg of the tour of "White Devil Armory" you were going to visit Greece again. I’m still waiting man...
Well... I should have had this fucking heart attack... (Laughing)
You’re starting the tour in the US next month. Which is the plan? When you hit Europe is it possible to come to Greece this time? Are there any proposals yet or I must book a ticket for abroad?
Well, we’re just going through Europe, but it’s always up to the promoters. As much as we have to reinvent the business with regard to understanding that record sales are less, we have to get revenues from other places. Sure, there’s a love of doing this but it has to be supported. If it’s not supported, it can’t be done. We’ re actually offered two shows in Greece, but the offers were so low that was almost like not working with someone, but working for someone. We have principles. I think one of the great things in Overkill’s career is that we didn’t have to reunite but kept going regardless, we understand the business. This is a really important part of this, but it has to be done correctly. It has to be done with the positive cash flow revenue stream. If that is not happen, making 2, 3, 5 mistakes with no positive cash flow then it goes away. That’s why bands stop doing this. They made those mistakes and the revenue run away and they couldn’t do this anymore. In our case, we understood reinvention right away. So, I want to come to Greece, but it has to be a fair deal. It’s just that simple.
There’s a tour that’s going on right now in Europe. Accept is playing with Sabaton, and Accept, the band that probably taught Sabaton how to play heavy metal, is playing under them. Would you consider the fact that in maybe 5 years from now there’s a chance touring with a band saying Overkill was their main inspiration to play and playing under them?
I don’t know that, I mean I just had a chill when you said that. I’m aware of the tour but never heard any details of it. Put that way on, with my principles I’d say no, because I think principles are important. I think it’s necessary to keep certain principles. But business is a whole other thing and you have to understand there’re two elements here. The love of doing it is great, but the business has to support that love, or else it falls apart. I mean the most noble man does it for nothing, but he dies at the top of the mountain, hungry and naked (laughing). It makes no fucking sense! Nobody even had the chance to hear him (laughing). You follow me, right?
Yes, of course.
So, if I’d do it, the money would have to be fucking great.
Let me reverse this question. When you were back at the '80s and you were, for example, a bigger name than Motorhead, would you consider to take Motorhead under you for a tour?
Oh, I don’t think so. I don’t think I would be able to live with myself (laughing). And back in the '80s I didn’t care about money (laughing). I was the naked man at the end of the mountain ant the '80s.
Is there any interesting music that you came up lately?
I’m obviously attracted by the last Volbeat releases, it’s an interesting band and I like rockabilly. The last record I picked called "Dear Mr. Sinatra" and it’s Frank Sinatra’s songs played by a jazz guitarist named John Pizzarelli. He’s a local guy who’s fantastic. I have the new Alter Bridge, I like Myles Kennedy voice. My tastes are everywhere. I think just yesterday I was listening to an old record, "L.A.M.F." by The Heartbreakers, but I loved it. It was like I was revisiting it. So, my tastes are everywhere, everything from metal to punk or even jazz.
If you even say that Overkill is over, because you’re bored or have a lot of money so you don’t have to work anymore or whatever, do you consider to do what other bands do, like Scorpions did, farewell tour and then change your mind and tour again, make an album and, generally speaking, start again?
When you compare with a band like the Scorpions, I can’t speak for them, but I do know the something I have in common with Klaus and Ruddy is that we obviously did this because we love doing it. It’s the hardest thing to say goodbye to. I don’t think people like them need the money, but maybe need the "drug", and the "drug" is the stage, the "drug" is the studio. The most attractive thing to me is that "drug", it’s not the money. The money is necessary to me to get the drug (laughing). The point is that I can’t say because I know if I was in a situation like this and I was still good, still feeling that I need more of that "drug", I think that I would still do it. It’s something you can’t explain. I get so high the first time on stage, back in the '80s, that I’m chasing that high now for 35 years. And I still think I can get higher. It’s a unique situation to be in, it’s like an addiction.
Ok, Bobby, that was all from me. Thank you very much for your time, I wish you all the best for the new album and the tour and everything, man.
Thank you Kostas, it was a pleasure talking to you. Goodbye, man.