May 8, 2018 Interview – Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth of Overkill
Chances are, when you think of the founding fathers of Thrash Metal, the first to come to mind are Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax. Justifiable, since they have all respectfully been marketed as such, but back up the truck, what about New Jersey’s own Overkill? Going strong since the early ’80s, Overkill are as important to the history of Thrash Metal as any of the aforementioned bands, plus they have the attitude to prove it.
Heavy, loud, and wild, they have been inspiring mosh pits for nearly 40 years, showing little sign of fatigue as they charge toward the future. Building a strong foundation, thanks to electric live performances and their blue-collar attitude, any true metalhead would be foolish not to mention Overkill as one of the best in the Thrash Metal world. Proud of who they are, Leadman Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth took the time to talk about the crazy ride of Overkill, their latest live album, Live in Overhausen, plus much more.
CrypticRock.com – Overkill has been going strong for nearly 4 decades now. One of the hardest working bands in Metal, you have released 18 studio albums, toured the world, and just keep going. First, briefly tell us, what has the journey been like for you and the band?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth – On a personal level, I can tell you it has been hugely self-satisfying. I don’t think there is anything more satisfying than living the way you want to live doing what you like to do. I think, on a personal level, that is the bottom line for me – this is Levis and motorcycle boots for 3 plus decades. I am doing something I like to do – traveling the world, seeing people, making friends, and irritating the masses with loud music. I think, for the band, as a whole, the satisfaction comes from the value lasting that 3 and 1/2 decades. Sure, a lot of it is hard work, but hard work that is unrecognized goes for naught. This has obviously been recognized and that is what keeps that 3 1/2 decade journey going. I think, on both levels, it has been very satisfying.
CrypticRock.com – It has to be after all this time. As mentioned, Overkill is really one of the hardest working bands in Metal. You are tireless and dedicated to the live performances. Was it always clear if the band was going to sustain themselves through the years, it had to via the live performance?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth – Well, it has always been about energy. I think if you really wanted to define Metal or Thrash Metal, you would have to use the descriptive of energy in that description. I think we have always taken that seriously, right from day one when we were a cover band. The idea of perfecting or honing that live performance comes over time.
Something about energy/live performances is really inspired by the adrenaline that is released in the body. The adrenaline kind of becomes a drug and you keep chasing that adrenaline rush. I am not going to say it was ever talked about or planned, but for sure, behind closed doors or behind our eyes, it was because of the adrenaline that it just keeps coming and coming, you just keep chasing that high.
CrypticRock.com – You guys do a great job each time for each and every live show, you never mail it in. Speaking of which, the band is set to release a new live record, Live in Overhausen, on May 18th. This live album was documented back in 2016 celebrating the 30th anniversary of 1985’s Feel the Fire and 25th anniversary of the 1991 album Horrorscope. Two important releases for Overkill, what was it like etching them in stone with a live recording?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth – It was really cool with regards to the entire process first and foremost. We have always been a hands-on band. I think what you see with regards to how Overkill is presented – whether it be merchandise, album artwork, posters, live performances – it has always come through the band. Even when it came down to this recording in Oberhausen, we were instrumental in picking the venue, setting up the production, choosing who was going to record/film it, the amount of lights, approving the backdrop, getting an artist for the backdrop, approving the merchandise. It’s not like, “Wow, this is going to be great in 8 months.” We worked on this fucking thing for over a year. (Laughs) My desk has a lot of yes and nos with regards to what we are going to use and what we are not going to use.
I think, sure, to etch it in stone is great, but that becomes the natural thing for a band like this. I think the great satisfaction is pulling the fucking thing off at a high level – the rest kind of takes care of itself. You mentioned about not mailing in performances, we know that if we get the opportunity, we are going to make the most of it. It’s just making the opportunity correct that makes it of a higher level.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and this new live album sounds great. Interestingly enough, this is only your second live album since 2002’s Wrecking Everything. With all the shows the band plays, is there some archived live recordings over the past 15 years that could perhaps see a compilation release in the future?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth – You know, there are many tours where we will record half of it from the board, but they are primarily board tapes. They are not individually microphoned things where it’s full-blown recording production like it was in Oberhausen. It exists, but I don’t think so. Even doing this, one of the great satisfactions to me is seeing the band in its contemporary, present day chemistry. To present the songs that were written 25-30 years ago, that is really the key to the success for this. How is that interrupted and how does that stand the test of time?
I don’t see us reaching back to 1995 and releasing something from the W.F.O. era that was recorded through the board. I think it has to be done correct and that is all hands-on-deck and full-blown production.
CrypticRock.com – Understandable. As we spoke about, this thing has been going for a very long time. Through it all, Dee Dee has been right there with you. Tell us a little bit about the chemistry you two share?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth – Well, we never argue – he doesn’t speak any English! (Laughs) I just like saying that. (Laughs) Obviously, there is a great trust. I think his wife really summed it up. I have known them as a couple from day 2 that I have known Dee Dee. If I’ve known Dee Dee for almost a 40 year period, I have known his wife for that amount of time too. She said, “You come from the same background, you have the same values, the same goals, it only makes sense that you work with each other for this period of time.”
I think that kind of sums it up, even though we are different, we really have the same outlook on things, which makes this easier. We know if we are ok as people, the band will take care of itself. We know if our families are ok, the band will take care of itself. That will just be the fun end of this, this is not some toiled, hard-labored thing – we are fucking middle-aged guys writing Metal songs, this is fun! We should think of it as such, and we will probably, as we have had in the past, get great results from it, or at least great internally satisfying results for ourselves. The chemistry works based on those goals and ambitions.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, when you have a common ground with someone else, that makes life a lot easier. You mentioned about having fun, one of your most charming attributes is your keen sense of humor. It just seems an Overkill show is not complete without some laughs. How important is it for you to keep it loose and remind people we are here to have fun?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth – You know something, it is really simple for me. I am a very uncomfortable person when I’m not in a situation where I feel people are friendly. When it has to become serious, it’s a different me. When I am with my friends, that including much of the audience, if not all, it’s very easy to have that kind of banter. It is kind of barbecue banter, it’s leaning on the car and listening to the new Slayer record banter. It’s not something I have to work on, it’s the way you talk to your friends – you don’t talk to your friends seriously, unless there is something serious going on. If we are at an Overkill show, it’s easy to be funny, because we are all there for fun! This is not about world domination, it’s about getting away from all the shit you had to do during the 40 hour week. We all get together, we loosen up, we have a beer, relax, kind of make fun of each other and bust balls. If you can’t bust balls and can’t take it, you’re not in the group! (Laughs) Am I right, or am I right?
CrypticRock.com – You are right! (Laughs) It seems like nowadays, no one can take anything anymore. You have to be careful about everything you say, it is very frustrating.
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth – I was sitting here the other day thinking, “What’s going to happen in the future?” If this band lasts for a reasonable amount of time, I am going to have to tell the audience, “Don’t do that or I am telling.” (Laughs) It’s fucking crazy! Being thin-skinned is not what this is all about. We were metalheads before we were in Overkill, I think that is instrumental about how we approach things. We are an approachable band, we are guys who will talk to people in the mall, on the street, at the pizzeria, or after the show. There’s no separation, we are exactly the same people. If I am going to see my friends, that’s the reason that it’s easy for me to have a banter with them.
CryypticRock.com – Absolutely, and people gravitate to that. Being real is what it is all about and you guys have done that all these years. Overkill certainly is high-energy night after night. You, yourself, have proved to be a warrior surviving several health scares, including an on-stage seizure in 2002. That in mind, you really appear to keep yourself in tremendous shape. What is the key for you to remain healthy?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth – Well, to stop chain-smoking was one of them. (Laughs) The problems are just problems, everybody has a cross. If you talk to the people who come to these shows, they all have crosses one time or another in their life that they all have to bare. That doesn’t separate us from humanity. A guy taught me this when I was going through another health scare, he said, “Bobby, it’s not the problem you’re afraid of, you are afraid of what is on the other side of the problem.” You really just have to go through it to see if your fears are confirmed or there is a positive end to this.
It actually, for me, helped me to say, “Hey, this has nothing to do with anything. My fucking problems are very little compared to many other peoples.” That is why it’s easy to kind of celebrate this stuff. When it comes to problems, health, whatever it may be, family issues, we all have it. If I understand that I think I kind of become a better person, it comes to interacting with other people.
When it comes to health and staying in shape, it’s kind of a lifestyle. I live in Northwest Jersey. I have always been an outdoor guy – I love riding motorcycles. I love hiking with the dogs. I have always kind of worked out. I am not against fast food, but it just doesn’t appeal to me. I am not… “Oh my god, they are giving you 2 Big Macs for a buck, I’m in.” I don’t give a shit if they are giving them away for free, I don’t want them. (Laughs) That kind of helps.
When we get together, it’s like the middle-age boys club – we are rolling dice, someone lights a Cuban cigar, and there is a bottle of Jameson being passed around – we are not angels. The point is, can you enjoy yourself, get through it, and have moderation be the key factor in all your vices?
CrypticRock.com – That is true. That is really the key to life – if you live in moderation you should have a pretty good life.
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth – No doubt, it’s not just Overkill, it’s across the board. All I am doing is fitting in and doing something I like to do. I don’t look at it as some huge fucking accomplishment. I think of it more, “Oh, I get it!” (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – (Laughs) Exactly! The band did some heavy touring in 2017 around the USA, but now you have select shows abroad. Can we expect some new Overkill shows announced in The States this year?
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth – Yeah, 2018 is out for us for The States. We are doing demos now, we are on the second demo. It’s a workmen’s clock, we are punching a timecard, we like that. We would love to start recording drums in the next 6-8 weeks with our new addition, Jason Bittner. We are going to do some festivals, we are going to do our first little stop in India. That will be pretty cool, it will be my first time there and I love knocking shit off the bucket list, it is going to be awesome. The release for the next studio Overkill album will be in February of 2019, and following that will be US tours.
CrypticRock.com – Cool, that is something to look forward to. It seems Overkill is right on schedule!
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth – I swear to god, I remember doing an interview in the early days on MTV’s Headbangers Ball. I am sitting there and Riki Rachtman, says, “Wow, you guys have 5 records out already and you have only been around for 6 years, that’s a lot.” Right out of my mouth comes, “Yea, we are like Irish Catholics, every 9 months.” (Laughs) You could hear the producer go, “Shut the curly-haired kid up.” (Laughs) I am Irish Catholic so it’s ok to say it, I suppose. You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings these days, but somewhere there is a great sense of humor that is for sure attached to each and every ethnicity by their own.
CrypticRock.com – Hey, if you can’t laugh at yourself, what can you laugh at? People need to lighten up.
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth – I agree, you go around once, why not do it with a smile on our faces!
CrypticRock.com – Agreed completely. Since you guys have done so much touring through the years, what are some of the craziest reactions you have had. They can really be on both ends of the spectrum – negative and positive. For example, in 2006, you are on the Gigantour and you played Nassau Coliseum around 3 or 4 PM in the afternoon. Tell us a little bit about some of those weird reactions through the years.
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth – Let’s talk about that one in particular. I love doing shows, but when I described how important the preparation is for us… we have always thought of ourselves, regardless of our level of acceptance, to have a level of presentation that more is always better. We want to give them the real deal, make sure you bring an extra set of lights, make sure the backdrops are flying, etc. That Nassau Coliseum show, I think there were 2 lights on us. I remember Dave Mustaine saying, “You are putting Overkill way over there in the corner?” (Laughs) Mustaine actually had the lights from his trusses, which were probably 50-70 yards from us turned to light the band up. It was a hugely disappointing show for us.
Those have happened, not everything is of that grandiose memory over 35 years. I remember playing bars that we had to put the monitors up on bar tables, and then to get it out a little further, I would be standing at a bar table and it’s rocking back and forth. This shit happens, that is Rock-n-Roll. I think all and all, even the bad memories enhance the good ones. It’s not something that I say I wish it was different. Those things and less than perfect presentations are the things that inspire you to be more perfect when you have the opportunity to make it so.
CrypticRock.com – Right, and you have something to look back and laugh at, right? My last question for you is pertaining to movies. If you are a fan of Horror or Sci-Fi films, what are some of your favorites.
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth – Honestly, I’m not. I am much more into Drama. I like true-to-life stories. The best movie I recently saw was Dunkirk (2017), I thought it was done really well. I am a history buff. Believe it or not, I stay away from Horror and Sci-Fi stuff. I think probably the last thing I saw was one of the newer Star Wars. I enjoyed it, but it’s not my thing.
CrypticRock.com – Understandable. History based films are compelling, it teaches you about people.
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth – Yea, I just like it. I am not going to say I sit there and watch the history channel all the time. I don’t have time to do that, but it captures my attention. I am very much a person who likes to know where we have been, to know where we are going. I think that is a compelling statement to the present day and knowing what preceded. I think that is where the interests comes from with these types of movies. In some way, I use them with regards to motivation when writing lyrics.