BOBBY ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth is the front man and architect of long running thrash metal pioneers Overkill. Blitz has been at the helm of the band through thick and thin, surviving over 30 official releases and multiple line-up changes. It could be said that Overkill is joined only by Testament- and possibly Exodus – in having built a legacy unwavering in commitment to forging a career built on the foundations of thrash and speed metal.
Blitz joined HM at the very un-rock’n’roll time of 5:40am to share the good word on Overkill’s new album The Grinding Wheel among a myriad of other topics
“I’m going to change that answer, Andrew, fuck you!”
Blitz japes in that famously broad New Jersey accent, followed quickly by a roar of laughter after learning that this scribe is usually up at dawn to take advantage of the wonderful surf and beach conditions this part of Australia offers, after initially offering a humble enquiry into the time of the interview local time.
This is the first interview that this representative of HM can say he is genuinely nervous about participating in, given the opportunity to meet the man behind classic albums such as Horrorscope and The Years of Decay. When I mention this, any fears about the interview quickly subside.
“I appreciate it, I know how you feel, because I am obviously a fan of this music also, and I have had experiences in my life where I have got to meet the people that inspired me and gave me solace in times of despair and excited me. But I would meet them and I say ‘I don’t know if I even want to talk to this fucking guy because he might be an absolute fucking asshole, and I have to go home and break all his records’ “
Cue even more laughter, and that dear reader is a big part of Blitz’s charm.
For those who have yet to become acquainted with Overkill, Blitz formed the band with bassist DD Verni around 1980. Inspired as much by the full throttle roar of Motorhead, as CBGB house bands The Ramones and The Dead Boys, Overkill occupy a similar timeline as Anthrax and Metallica.
HM asks Blitz his thoughts on the bands working class roots and if it is this characteristic that is chiefly responsible for contributing to the bands enduring success.
“I mean for sure it’s what we understand and I think that’s evident in the music. We come from an area in New Jersey that is common to the working man. My mother is the first generation in her family from America. I would have my Irish uncles and what they would say to me is ‘You work and you keep your fucking mouth shut’. That was kind of the way – we’re taking that somewhere, and made that work for us.”
The next comment sounds like an affirmation, and as far as HM is concerned it could even be a statement separating Overkill to a certain other prominent former thrash band whose career has played out very differently.
“We don’t air our dirty laundry in public and we put our noses to the grindstone. It has paid off for us in time and with time comes that fulfilment of feeling successful. Everything in my fucking life has come out of this band, that’s because I treated the band with respect and with a high degree of passion and I think the people I have done it with, especially DD Verni with regard to longevity is equally as solid, if not more, and that’s the way it should work.”
Would Overkill entertain a departure from their traditional sound, similar to what Metallica has done and perform with an orchestra or release an ‘experimental’ album like Lulu?
“Oh God, no [laughter]”. I still have to look at myself in the mirror in the morning when I’m brushing my teeth, you know what I mean?”
Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax participated in the ravenously received ‘Big 4’ concerts in 2011, so what does Blitz think if Overkill, Testament and Exodus who are universally lauded as the next tier of bands in the halcyon hall of eightiss thrash originators were offered a similar opportunity?
“Yeah like the little three [Laughter]! Let’s call it the red headed step-child!
“I mean, I would love to do something though. I think that, if I had to pick my favourites out of that set then, us aside, obviously Exodus and Testament deserves kudos and I think the band that one of the bands that gets less kudos when thinking of that is Kreator.”
In a telling compliment to the Teutonic thrash masters, sincere praise is afforded to Mille and co for enduring through the decade that was all about grunge and electronica. (continued below)
“I think that Kreator … I remember the ‘90s … because you had to go through the ‘90s like a bulldozer, you couldn’t stop because it wasn’t easy to do …. it was my most proud ever of this band in the ‘90s because it wasn’t given to you, there was nothing given to you then, you had to go out and you had to steal it or borrow it, you had to make it happen. I think of Kreator, they had quality releases.”
Perhaps intimating the difficult decisions that bands labelled as thrash faced, Blitz rounds on artists who may have failed to appreciate the sacrifices and decisions necessary to survive the determinedly hostile decade.
“There are a lot of people who went home to go and work for their mum and dad and smoke cigarettes in the basement and wonder why nobody appreciated their fucking genius.”
So how did Overkill stay true through the ‘90s?
“Well I think that we just had to”
Blitz shares a painfully honest assessment of the bands mindset.
“You know first of all, we don’t have an identity crisis, second of all, we discovered groove on the Horrorscope record, everybody says the Horrorscope record, ‘oh what a great thrash record’ but if you really dig into that record, we started with groove on a song called “Skullkrusher” (from ‘89s The Years of Decay), we expanded that in Horrorscope and by the time it was released it was a groove record, you know, in that direction.
“Now obviously we pulled in the reins a little bit as the ‘90s progressed with W.F.O. (’94) and The Killing Kind (’96) and things to follow. But I think that we discovered groove and I think that was one of the same things that had to help us get through the ‘90s, we could power it, like a sledgehammer. It was a different tool to use and it gave us a light during a time when it wasn’t easy to play under the banner of heavy metal but we still were, we were still a metal band and it’s just the way it was going to fucking be. You know, if you want us to leave the room then you’re going to have to kill us. It’s as simple as that, we’re not leaving easy, you know, so I think something really made us feel a little bit more dangerous.
“I remember talking with D.D. Verni and I love this story, we were getting ready to get the others around and I said ‘so what do you think?’ And he said ‘what do you mean?’ and he goes ‘we’re not going to reinvent the fucking wheel are we?’. And I said ‘no, of course not’ and he goes ‘well there’s nothing more dangerous than two guys that have nothing to lose’. And I said, ‘fuck, he’s 100 per cent right’ that’s what got us through the ‘90s, you know, we didn’t feel like we had anything to lose. We were actually dangerous so it was by discovering groove and not caring, it kind of made us a little dangerous and helped us solidify our plug within that decade, the non-metallic decade.”
So is the new album, The Grinding Wheel everything a fan could expect and want from Overkill according to the imperturbable front man?
“Well, you know, I can only judge by the internal satisfaction, and that’s really our gauge with regard to our releases. We approached this with a certain amount of experience and maturity but inside you are still that hopping-up-and-down teenager kind of thing and that’s the excitement I feel with the albums. So I don’t know, I do know that with regard to our satisfaction, with that gauge, it’s going to be accepted really well. I think it contains many different elements of Overkill, not the two-dimensional Overkill but multi-dimensional which is always fun.”
Referring to the band’s punk and metal roots, not to mention the ‘groove’ element introduced into the band’s sound during the nineties, a broader synopsis is furnished.
“There is some groove in there, some traditional heavy metal, there is some hard-core thrash and there’s rock and roll and punk. So I think there are 10 cuts there that each have an individual identity and enjoy it but we put together a complete record and that was a big success. I hope it does to the listeners too.”
Released in 2013, Live From Oz is a recording of a show in Sydney in 2010. Does Overkill have a special relationship with Australian fans?
“It was the first time, you know, so we thought that that would be kind of special. It was our first time on the continent and the experiences were just killer, you know when it exceeds your expectations it stays with you. When it’s less than your expectations it can be a forgotten issue and you don’t remember you were there, you never remember the show.”
On an encounter with fan at a show in Melbourne, Blitz recalls a vivid memory.
“I remember, I was in Melbourne and we were finishing the show. The shirt was off and everybody was sweating and I launched myself into the audience and I was high above that Australian crowd and as I was coming down, I could see underneath me, I was going to knock this chick out with my knee and I was thinking, ‘oh, no, please just fucking move, just move, and boom, I hit her and knocked her right out’ I got the tour manager and we took her backstage. She’s sitting in a chair and I’m on one knee in front of her, we’re trying to get her to come to, we put water on her face and everything. I’m slapping her hand, we’re calling the ambulance. And sure enough, the chick wakes up, and she looks me right in the face and she goes, “fucking Bobby Blitz, have you got a beer?” [laughter].”
Hopefully Overkill tour Australia in the near future however until then, HM can’t recommend The Grinding Wheel enough to all those who prefer their heavy thrashy and their metal fast.
The Grinding Wheel is released on February 10 via Nuclear Blast.