“It’s been one hell of a ride!” That’s what Bobby Blitz Ellsworth would like his wife to have engraved on his gravestone. Nothing really original here, you’d think. The line between what deserves to be call a classic and what is merely cliché can only be drawn based on our own criteria. Nevertheless, when you talk to Overkill’s emblematic frontman, you can’t help but realize that the only real difference between the two is sincerity. A cliché is only disturbing if it’s the only thing you remember from a work of art, if it’s perceived as a grotesque costume. When a work of art is created through pure spontaneity and authenticity, that feeling just melts away. Honestly, would anyone here call Lemmy a cliché?
More to the point, the members of Overkill won’t revolutionize music, but there’s little doubt they do things with passion. They love what they do. Even better: they STILL love what they do, even after the twenty-fifth anniversary of their career. We’ve asked Bobby to give us his feelings, his analysis, his memories regarding this band life. And the main point is pleasure. A pleasure the listener will perceive in the band’s aggressive but still positive music, as well as in the friendship that unites the musicians. What the title of this new record, The Electric Age, describes is precisely the effervescence that goes beyond the album, beyond the stage, and implants itself in the listener’s mind, making Overkill part of a community and of a genre they’re proud of.
On the occasion of the release of The Electric Age, on March 30th, this little chat was the opportunity to look back with an enthusiastic and talkative Bobby Blitz on Overkill’s longevity and its place in the world of music and thrash metal.
Radio Metal : The last tour was the 25th anniversary of the band's tour. How was it?
Bobby Blitz Ellsworth (vocals) : We've been touring for 25 years. Our first real tour has been in 1986, it was in Europe with Anthrax. So it was kinda cool that 25 years later we were back. The tour was very successful, and I think the reason why is that the record was accepted on a very high level. We have a 25-years tour, a record that's accepted and I think we have a very healthy, fresh heavy metal scene. So it went itself to some really good results.
What did you felt when you realized it was the 25th anniversary of the band?
You know, I've know D.D. Verni now for over 30 years, and professionally for 25 years, so seeing that there's still a big excitement that surround this band from within the band. I think when you hear records like The Electric Age, Ironbound or even Immortalis, there seem to be so much of that upbeat energy. Everything that surrounded this tour, that release, and hopefully that upcoming release has been really positive. It's not necessarily a rebirth but this still isn't usual at the highest level.
Did you see it coming or did you just woke up some day and realized “oh my god, my band is 25 years old” ?
[Laughs] You know, I was never the person who looks to the future. I think I am more of an immediate person, I live my life day to day. I think my partner D.D. is a bit longer-sighted than I am. But I think that that combination of personalities works out. I looked back to say “oh my God it's been 25 years”, but I think D.D. looks a bit forward and says “oh my God it's gonna be 26 years” [laughs]. So I think that together, me being immediate and D.D. being more the planner, both of our personalities give us what we need, that formula for success or longevity.
This may sound a little bit cliché but what word or adjective would you use to summarize those 25 years?
[Laughs] Fun! You know, my wife and I have a joke: I like to ride motorcycles and that's not obviously the safest thing to do, and so when I'm on my bike I would say “hey, I'm leaving! And if I don't come back...” And then she answers “I know, put on your grave stone 'It was a great ride'!” [lots of laughs].
At the beginning of the year you played at the 70 000 Tons of Metal. That's one hell of a special festival. What can you tell us about it?
Well I can tell you that it's a little bit harder to play on a boat that it is on land because the boat is always moving [laughs]. There's something about these 25 years that stayed with me the whole time: a very anxious, nervous-type energy prior to a show, which I think works very positively for me as a performer. When I was on this boat, we didn't play until I think the third day, and I had no nervous energy at all. I was lying on the deck drinking an Australian beer and eating tropical mangoes, and my wife said “you're on in an hour!” I said “I don't care” [laughs]. It was so relaxing I would do it again. And I think that the fun part of it was that you're on a boat, so you meet all these other people, you're not separated, there's no backstage. You're at the bar and you're watching Exciter, Venom, Nightwish, and talking to a guy from France, from Australia, from Tokyo... I think that really was a cool event. I wouldn't do every tour like so, but I would do it again in a minute. All they have to do is ask me again, and then I'll be back.
Did you see some musicians from other bands, or some musicians from Overkill that had sea sickness?
Yeah I saw that there were some guys that had the little patch that you put behind your ear. It looks like a little Band-Aid, it's skin-colored, and what it does is that releases a drug into your system that keeps you from being sea sick. I didn't see anybody getting physically sick but I saw a lot of those little patches behind the ears.
How is your drummer Ron Lipnicki? I heard that he broke his hand and that you had to take another drummer for this show...
He's much better. He had to go through therapy. Actually he'd broken his right hand between the thumb and the first finger, and he ripped the ligament that goes from the thumb to the wrist. So it's pretty serious, especially for a drummer. He was in cast for 6 week, and now his therapy is as simple as squeezing a rubber ball so he can strengthen his grip. But his doctor has said that he'll be 100% for the tour which starts in April. The guy we had fill in was actually our sound man Eddy Garcia. He's from a band that's called Pissing Razors. They've actually done a few records back in the nineties and we've had them on tour, that's how we know Eddy. Now he does our sound, but he's a professional drummer, it's what he does. He's been doing our sound for seven years, he knows our set so it was a very easy fill-in. It was much better to have Eddy play the drums than to cancel the 70 000 Tons of Metal.
Since The Electric Age was the first album written after this great anniversary, were you in a special state of mind while writing it?
I don't think so, I mean it's business as usual. We have a process, we obviously enjoy it, we don't try to overthink it. I think that is really the key to success. There's something right now that we have with the band that's a very positive chemistry. I think a lot of that is due to Ron Lipnicki. He's been the last member to join but he's been here for 7 years and he brought the level of energy to a higher level. He's the new guy and he brings a higher energy. Everyone has to match that energy or otherwise you're left behind. And I think that's where we're getting our success from. Overthinking would be wrong. D.D. and I were sitting around and having a coffee and I said “what do you think about the new record?” and I think he took a sip and said: “we are not gonna reinvent the fuckin' weel, are we?” Well I don't think so! [laughs] So it's a very simple process for us. Get the job done, don't repeat yourself, keep the energy level high.
The new album is called The Electric Age. Is this a way to define the current state of the world?
No, not necessarily. This is a really simple way of looking at a time period. I mean we talked about 25 years early on in the interview, and I think that when you start talking about one period of time you're obviously talking about an age. This is not necessarily about electric instruments, but more so about electricity. Overkill is a synonymous with energy. I think electricity is a synonymous with energy. I think electricity is that we've been able to create between band and public that really makes it one. I think that's really one of a key of our success: we know when a room is electric, when a record is electric, we know when the energy is on a high level, and we exploit it! And that's why I think a band like us is still around for a period of 25+ years. We know when the energy's there, and we're taking advantage of it.
Is this a kind of a way of describe the link that you create with your audience on stage?
It's not an audience. I mean obviously, really that's an audience, but I think that's a way to describe a scene that we're part of. You know, I think there's a lot of respect for a band that stays around for a quarter of century and still enjoys what they're doing. But I think that one of the things that get us that respect is that we respect the scene, therefore we're part of that scene, part of that people and part of that audience. So it's more important for me to be thought of as what I am, not what I was. If we were having a conversation that is based on 1999, I wouldn't be really that interested [laughs], it's kind of boring to me. That's nice thanks, but let's move on! But a conversation based on 2012, it means that we have value here. And I think that's where electricity comes from, and that's where that respect comes from. It's about what we are, not about what we were.
Whereas Ironbound had some epic, kind of progressive parts, this new record feels more direct and straight to the point. Was this album written in reaction of the previous one?
Well it's not really a reaction, since I think the record was accepted very well. Regarding Ironbound, it took me one year to figure out what that record was all about. You can't be objective on it when it's new. It takes a while for me to even feel what we've created. I was excited around it. I think it showed many of the different elements of what Overkill's about. But I think that the most important element again is energy. I think that it's an aggressive energy, and I don't mean that in a negative perspective – aggressive energy can be very positive – whereas The Electric Age does have a positive hype-feel. We forgot our most aggressive representations, much like records that have had that feeling in the past, but with a very contemporary presentation. So I think it's rooted in what we've done, but presented with regards to what we are. Sure there's a lot of notable differences between them, but a song like “Electric Rattlesnake” contains pretty much every element that Ironbound had, it's fast and it breaks down to half-speed, then it breaks down to a quarter-speed after that, with slower, more progressive-type, dreamlike vocals, great guitar parts put through them... But I do agree with you that by large The Electric Age is a more straight-forward approach than the Ironbound record was.
Will you record a video clip for it?
We do it on Sunday, for the track I just mention. We're going to do “Electric Rattlesnake” as a video for this record. It will be recorded and produced by Kevin Custer who had done the “Bring Me The Night” video for Ironbound. We liked his work, we think that he has a good feel for the band, he's been a fan for a long period of time, and I love working with guys who do videos who are drummers, because they just understand how to cut videos. They're not thinking only in terms of visual, they're thinking more in terms of visual versus sound. Kevin's a drummer, so he understand what that “1-2-3-4” is when it comes to video editing.
Do you have some live shows coming in Europe and especially in France?
Right now we're putting together a European tour, but it's not gonna be until September of 2012. We're getting venues pretty much as we speak. For instance this morning I had some stuff coming from Turkey, from Romania... We have festivals also in Finland, Italy, Germany, Portugal, but we're putting up the headline tour for September. Prior to this we'll tour in the US and also do some Canadian festivals during the summer. We're actually pretty busy right now all the way until November. Then we're going to try from that point to go back to Australia and the Pacific coast and to do more Asian appearences.
About the heavy metal scene and more particularly the thrash metal scene, since we had for like two years some Big Four shows with Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer, have you considered doing the same thing with thrash metal bands, like Death Angel, Overkill and Testament for instance?
The Big who? [laughs]
The Big other Four!
[Laughs] We grew up in the New York area... We came out from New York and New Jersey and I think that gave us a special tenacity here. I do think that's a great idea to put together a “little four”, to do possibly Overkill, Testament, Exodus (Kreator would be fantastic) because I think that other bands have commercial success... Even if you're talking about the Big Four, it's really the Big One, and then the Second Threes [laughs]. But I mean, that's true. Metallica changed the face of popular music, and the other bands remained, to some degree, thrash bands, with more success than the wave that I'm in. And that's good for them and I applaud them for that success. But I think the underground bands that I mentioned would be a great tour, I think it could really generate a lot of interest. And there's a bunch of them. It doesn't have to be just Bay area/New York bands, it can be bands from Brazil like Sepultura, or from Germany like Kreator or Sodom...
Interview conducted on february, 24th, 2012 by phone.
Transcription : Chloé
Overkill's Website : www.wreckingcrew.com
Album : The Electric Age – Out on March 30th, 2012
This post is also available in: French