Thrash pioneers OVERKILL formed in 1980. During the 80's, the band struggled along-side bands like METALLICA, ANTHRAX, SLAYER, EXODUS and TESTAMENT to bring Thrash to the people. Few, if any, would believe that the band would still be standing strong 2012, much less still deliver some of their finest material ever; OVERKILLs last album “Ironbound” was praised by both fans and critics, and the initial reactions to the band's just-released sixteenth album “The Electric Age” have been just as good.
Singer and main man Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth explains what he believes is the recipe for success, and how the band balances between progress and heritage trying to create a record that sounds fresh without sounding like something they're not:
– If we ever had goal with any release at any time in our history, it's been to have it sound contemporary. Sure, we have a past, and those roots will show on almost every record, but I think that the important thing is that the approach to each record is fresh, that it should be contemporary, and it should have value in its time. We don't want to reinvent the wheel, but still have it sound up-to-date. It's much more important to be what we are, as opposed to what we were, you know.
–The biggest challenge is doing something we haven't already done. I have notes all over the room I'm sitting in right now, in my office, and all the notes say "Don't repeat yourself". (laughs) It's a constant reminder; it's on the bulletin board, it's taped to the window, it's taped to the studio I have here, it's taped to my books, and on the walls. It becomes the biggest challenge, but it also becomes the biggest motivator, and knowing that it is possible to repeat yourself, repetition is wrong, but style is a very close cousin of repetition. I think that, on this record, we have achieved style as opposed to repetition.
Bobby repeatedly mentions the word “timing” as being a key factor to the band's longevity and success.
– If "Ironbound" had been released in 1997, it might have been overlooked. The entirety for that record and its success, is the quality of the record combined with the timing of the release and the health of the scene. And I think that "The Electric Age" has a lot of those similar qualities; it's a great-timed record with regard to what's happening in the scene today.
“The Electric Age” was, just like “Ironbound” recorded and self-produced in bass player D.D. Verni's GEAR studios, so the band was able to spend six months making the album with having to worry about budgets or studio deadlines. With an even bigger sounding production than OVERKILL had on “Ironbound”, the band decided to have Greg Reely do the mixing.
– We had Greg Reely mixing the record, which wasn't necessarily an obvious choice. One of the things I liked about him was that, having worked with acts like SARAH MCLACHLAN and COLDPLAY, he's not pigeonholed as a Metal guy, but he could still make the MACHINE HEAD and FEAR FACTORY stuff happen. I actually listened to his Pop records as well, just to see what Greg's input would be for "The Electric Age".
Bobby Ellsworth sounds confident when he tells me that almost everyone he's talked to about this record has had a different favorite song. He feels that is a sign of the band having made the right choices both for material and sound.
– Yeah, I think that's a pretty good testimony to a well-rounded record, I don't think there's anything on this record that's unlistenable or a filler track, which is kind of a cool feeling. Of course there are gonna be tracks that will be appeal to people more than others, but my own favorite tracks would probably be "Electric Rattlesnake" and “Drop the Hammer Down”.
The latter song has a stand-out middle section which doesn't really sound like anything we've heard OVERKILL do before.
– When I listen to the guitars on "Drop the Hammer Down", I think that's probably some of the best guitar work we've ever presented. And that middle section; as soon as it was completed between D.D. and Dave (Linsk, lead guitar) I called both of them and said "You know, I want this played at my funeral", just looping it and looping it, you know. Dave has put so much to this party, and he's part of the chemistry that makes these records happen on a positive level. He can do the dirtiest lead, like on "Electric Rattlesnake" which sounds like a Rock'N'Roll lead on steroids, or he can do something that is so graceful and classy as you hear on "Drop the Hammer Down", I mean you can play that lead on bagpipes! (laughs) When it comes to guitar leads and guitar work, it doesn't have to be the fastest or the virtuoso that plays it, I can appreciate (YNGWIE) MALMSTEEN for instance, but I can't tell you that I remember more that one or two of his leads. I remember his style. With "Drop the Hammer Down" I feel that that lead is something people will remember the song by, it's just spectacular.
Do you ever get writer's block trying to come up with new songs? Do you listen to other bands to get inspired musically?
– When I'm writing, I try not to listen to that much Metal, as I think no matter how much I say it won't influence what I'm doing. I think to some degree it does, even subconsciously. When I'm stuck musically, I listen to THE BEATLES or BOB DYLAN or something like so. If I'm gonna steal something, it's gonna be classic! (laughs)
Lyrically, Bobby “Blitz” approach the new songs the same manner that he has done for a very long time, mixing his emotions and experiences from the past two years into reflecting lyrics, without bringing up his fairly vocal political views.
– I don't like to get too political or too social in lyrics, I think that your focus becomes the issue as opposed to the song, and the song is really the most important thing. We're a Metal band and we're here to celebrate that, and the music is the most important part, not my opinion or how I think.
With the U.S. Presidential Election coming up, and having heard Bobby express political views and thoughts before, I needed to ask his feelings on the upcoming election.
– I think a change is necessary. I work for myself, which means I have more of a Republican ideology, because that's a smaller government as opposed to the bigger government the Democrats always lay out for the American people. I wish for a change and I feel it's necessary. One in five families in the U.S. have trouble keeping up their normal payments, or their houses are worth less than the money they owe on them, or they're actually already losing their house. That's quite a unique situation when it's twenty percent, so of course change is necessary. When November comes around, I'm gonna involve myself and try to help make that change.
After thirty-two years and a world that seems to have changed a few times over, are there new blood coming into the OVERKILL fan base even today?
– The US has over 300 million people. Unfortunately they're not all Thrash fans or we wouldn't have to worry about doing another thing in our lives (laughs), but there's a great growth here, yes. I think it comes both from newer bands and from immigration. A lot of people immigrate from the Latin American countries and get their first opportunity to see us playing in, say, New York, Los Angeles or Chicago, which really helps us. I also like touring with younger bands as I think it gives us the opportunity of growth, because younger band obviously have younger fans. We've taken out bands like EVILE, WARBRINGER, SUICIDAL ANGELS, GAMA BOMB and BONDED BY BLOOD, so we can expose ourselves to their people. It's kind of a slick move that we can have growth this many years on.
Speaking of touring, OVERKILL is kicking off a U.S. tour in a few weeks, and during the summer the band will be doing festival shows and a few select, smaller gigs in Europe. A full European tour is planned for this Fall and Winter.
– The scheduled time is the end of September, I think we're looking at September 25th as the kick-off date, and it is being booked right now. It is happening, this is not a "maybe", and we will definitely be hitting Sweden.
After three decades, Bobby Ellsworth has a hard time picking just one career highlight, so we let him pick four:
– The first one is from back in 1984. During Halloween weekend, we played a show at L'Amour in Brooklyn, opening for ANVIL. We did two shows, Friday and Saturday, and they had some record companies coming down to see them, and that's how we first got signed. I still have a picture in my office of me signing the contract, drinking a Budweiser. (laughs) I don't drink Bud anymore, though. (laughs) Another, personal highlight is when I met my wife in the 90's while touring. We became really close friends over a long period of time, it wasn't one of theses ignited, immediate romances. I think we knew each other for seven years before we actually went on a date. Another highlight was selling out the Ritz in New York in 1990, which was fantastic. And the first European festival we ever did - Roskilde in 1993.
During the years, Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth has had a couple of health-scares. In 1998, he was diagnosed with cancer in the nose, which was quickly taken care of. Four years later, he suffered a minor stroke on stage in Germany. Neither of the health issues affect him much today.
– Physically, I don't have issues, but mentally I still live on the sick side of the fence. Let's just say I don't have any issues, but do I care - probably not! (laughs) It taught me a lot going through those issues, the first thing is to not live in the problem but to go through the problem, that's the best advise anyone's ever given me. I couldn't change it, I wasn't the person dealing the cards, I was just a player in the game, so I had to play the cards that were dealt to me. It's life-changing as to how I can enjoy the moment, embracing the moment, enjoying the journey, understanding that there is no end, we're not trying to get somewhere, it's about getting there. That's actually what (new song) “Come and Get It” is all about, by the way.
– To sum up, I learned some great lessons from this, but I don't always do the best things for me. I have some bad habits, but for the most part I keep myself in pretty good shape. Not worrying about it is the key. I took vocal lessons way back in the 80's to get rid of polyps, and the instructor taught me how to sing correctly, and he had other guys that went to him that were really kinda famous Rock and Metal guys from that era, and these guys were always sick, and always wearing a scarf, taking something that would keep the germs off of them. trying not to be in the cold, trying not to have too much alcohol, and I was exactly the opposite, I was always more "Oh, fuck it!", if I worry too much about it, it get's worse, you know, and when I said "Fuck it" it never failed, so it's probably just being relaxed with it, and taking care of it to a good degree this many years later, but definitely not worrying about it.
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