Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth - Overkill

March 24, 2003

Let's start off by talking about the band's background for younger folks who are just discovering the band.

Well, that's a beautiful thing. We've been around since Elvis. Nah. I met my partner DD in 1981 and that was the start of Overkill in as much as a cover band. We were doing Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and Motorhead and all of this stuff we grew up on that was even current at that time. It developed into an original band very soon thereafter. We made a name for ourselves through demos and such in the NYC/NJ area where we're still located. Actually a couple of us are in NJ, one in Florida, and one in Minnesota. The band has gone through many transformations since then. Our first release was in '85. It was called Field Of Fire on Megaforce Records who we stayed with until Atlantic Records in 1990 with the '91 release called Horoscope. After Horoscope, we had CMC as our U. S. label and we also are now on a label called Spitfire. Through that let's say 20 year period of releasing professionally, this is the 13th studio release by the band. Two live records, a live EP, a record of covers, and various and many bootlegs. Just recently last year, a DVD that we released called "An Evening in Asbury Park, NJ". It's quite an extensive career. It's always been a metal band. Many different changes in lineup over these years but still I think, the same principles and standards we had as far back as our first release.

You mentioned that you have members who live in New Jersey, Minnesota, and Florida. How well does that work having people in different locations?

I think a lot of stuff changed over the years for us. I think as a band, we first got together when I met DD for instance, it was about rehearsing every night and drinking beer on the hood of the car after we were done. Talking it over and listening to the latest release that one of us got. Whereas now, there are other things in life that we do but it doesn't necessarily mean that we can't still do the band. These guys just fly in. It's just that simple. We rehearse for a month and then we go on the road. We rehearse for a month and then we go in the studio. It's very easy to transfer files to each other from our computers and drop them in the mail. They have my CD-ROM. Whatever songs we were working on or vice-versa. It's really not that hard. It's just been something that we adapted to as time went on. Now that adaptation has let us keep the band alive and well over these many years.

With the advent of the Internet, it makes it a lot easier to stay in contact.

Sure. I do business overseas all the time. A big part of that is business through the computer whether it's confirmation of dates through a booking agent or whether it's talking to someone who has a management interest in the band or a record label overseas. It's just that easy to do now. Things have changed since we first started doing this. Since the carrier pigeon days.

Paul Revere on his horse. There have been a lot of different changes in the music scene. How have you guys adapted to these changes? Have you kept the same formula in your band or have you experimented with some of the changes?

I think it's really in hindsight I can say this. That we just really have had the same standard as we had at the beginning. The same value for this. This is something we love to do. Just quite obviously so. If we do it this long and never broke commercial success, maybe we're not trying to or maybe not actively not trying to. If we do what we do, you get purity. It's not about popularity. We let that go years ago. It's not part of the equation so if you eliminate popularity from the equation, you're not really unduly influenced by anything around you. It's just about making the music that you make. In Overkill's case, knowing that we are not having that identity crisis, not having to chase our own ass around in a circle, it becomes very, very simple. it's not about pleasing all the people all the time. A guy asked me once, "What do you do for a living?" I said "well really, I guess I alienate the masses and endear myself to a small few." There's something really special in that. Again, this is in hindsight. I never would have known this in 1987 or 1989 or '95. This is more of looking back and saying gee, I think we just concentrate on what we do and leave all the rest of what surrounds it up to other people. That's their decision. You like it, you like it. You love it, you love it. You hate it, you hate it. That's up to you. I think with taking that attitude int it for this many years, it's given us a kind of freedom to only expand ourselves as opposed to chase a trend. Which in this case makes us a lot less disposable than let's say the trendies. Because you know and I know and most people know trends are disposable. Up to an 18 year period of releasing professionally, we haven't been up until now. It's quite a testimony to those values I talked about.

You guys got your mainstream exposure from places such as Headbangers Ball which has been off the air. From what I understand, they're fixing to go back on the air. What do you think about that?

Every step is necessary to be where we are today. I was never a really big advocate of promoting ourselves that way. You can't get to East Bumfuck so you have to show it on MTV. It's that simple. It was a great tool for the record companies at that time. It really did very little for the bands. I think it was really about playing a single over and over again like a jukebox. It if comes back, it comes back. I don't think it's going to be paying attention to bands like Overkill. I think it'll be paying attention more so to bands that have come since or bands that are current today. The newer, extremer type of metal. I was never really comfortable in that whole Headbangers Ball type thing. It was more about for me going out and doing the shows. I always thought that was sometimes the best promotion that we could do. If you could see the band, hear the band, smell the band, have the band sweat on you, it becomes a hell of a lot more unforgettable than something as generic as, and it became very generic, metal videos. They became interchangeable after a while. I'm much more an advocate of the live theater than the video end of it.

You guys recently released Killbox 13. How does it compare with your past releases and how does it differ from past releases?

I think it's a good blend of let's say our past and our present. One of the things this band has always done was to not forget where it came from. Not dispose of that. We've kept that core within us and expanded around it. It's not an evolution that's happened in big steps. It's been very small baby steps as our evolution. Over an 18 year period it's really quite evident. I think this record, we were able to incorporate let's say negative evolution or going backwards through time and blending that with where we are today and kind of reinventing it. Making it fresh. I think it's a great representation of all the personalities that this band has and had possessed over the years but with a contemporary vibe to it all the way across the board.

Tell us about some of the tracks on the album that stand out to you.

t's about the riffs for us. That's where the song starts is the riff. This is always asking me to choose between my kids and say which is the best looking one, which is the smartest. It's really kind of hard for me to do because they all have an equal value to me. We make records, we really don't make songs. I know it's a collection of songs that makes that record if we have to work on each one individually. Really when it's done, for me, it's a full project. If track eight which is a track called "Struck Down" was missing, the record would have less value to me so it's really about the complete thing. I write the lyrics and I write the melodies to it. From that standpoint some of them have more value to me than others. Not record value but individual achievement value throughout the making of that record. What I like to do when I write those lyrics is to do it introspectively. I liked to look inside. Since the early '90s I considered it a journey for me and had the balls to be able to look inside and see what makes me go because I don't think of myself as much different than anyone else. I think pretty much we're all the same across the board that we do have a lot of the same hopes and dreams. Just fill in the blank of what they are. We also have the same fears I think. I think that having the opportunity to look inside gives me the opportunity to dispose of a lot of those fears or expose them. That's what I do when I write the lyrics. Naturally they become a lot more personal to me. On this one in particular, what I did was I'd taken a step in deeper and I wove the seven deadly sins through the whole scope of the record and how it applied. In some cases I found that I celebrated many of them. In some cases I found out that they were really the direct cause to where I needed improvement. I thought it was kind of a cool thing for me and every year I get done with a record, every two years, it's like a shedding of weight. I think if we all are the same to some degree, even thought I write very abstractly, that there are identifiable pieces if not whole songs to the people who are really into this. I think when you identify, it becomes that much more special to you. Stand out tracks to me from that perspective would be "Devil By The Tail", "Crystal Clear", and "I Rise". Or envy, lust, and pride.

You learn a lot more about yourself.

Sure, it's been a twisted therapy for me. If I take this as an opportunity to really look into myself and write more about what I know or about what I find out, it becomes a lot more real. I think the word real is misused very much these days. "I"m keeping it real." That can apply to just about any god damn thing including a cell phone. The point is that the reality as opposed to the real for me is about what makes me go. Me being not different or me perceiving myself not different then for instance you, makes it a commonality especially if you're into the music bit that maybe someone else says what you'd maybe like to have the opportunity to say or be able to look into. I think that that's what makes some of this stuff real.

Because you can identify with it.

Identifiability is the greatest asset we all have into love or hate something. It motivates us that way and it's because we can identify. That for me has been something that I've used as a tool throughout these years of lyric and melody writing. I'm eight years sober. I'm not judgmental about it. It's really just for me. Occasionally I say it in interviews just based on the fact that there are other people out there who are too and they go "oh, that's cool. I never knew this was." I ran into people on the road who go "hey, I heard you were sober. So am I." I'm like "don't say it too loud, they'll throw us out of the club."

You've gone through different lineups. Who are your most recent additions?

The most recent is Derek Tailer on guitar. Derek filled in for my partner DD in 2000 when DD was called home. His wife was having their second child. We knew it was going to happen so we were prepared for it. DD flew out of Switzerland and Derek flew in. We were in the process of changing guitar players at the time. The guitar player we had, had another opportunity he wanted to take and Derek was really a guitar player, not a bass player. We just asked him to stay on and he's been with us since. Prior to that was the addition of Dave Linsk in 1999. Both Jersey guys. He's all over Killbox 13. That's the best way to put it for Dave. This was the first record that Dave has done with us where he has a free hand and probably has grown to understand the band since '99. His additions are only positive. If you listen to the record through and through, you can hear where the guitar is back for us. It disappeared for a little while and it disappeared due to let's say the guitar players we had prior. Their interpretation of our music. We didn't think it enhanced it. We thought it was just there. Whereas Dave is an enhancement from the word go. Not just selling Dave here, it's really press play and tell me if I'm wrong. I really think that his contributions to the record are what helped that reinvention I spoke about earlier.

I think heavy metal has always been about guitars.

To a certain degree but it's gone away. The rhythm has been there and the riff has been there but the guitar overdub went away for years. Not just for us but for many bands and it's just due to the fact that the guitar players we had available didn't understand the overdub and didn't understand the lead. They only understood the riff and the rhythm. The guitar was there as a whole but the extra guitar was not there and this is very evident on the Killbox 13 record.

You wrote the lyrics and the melodies. Do some of the other guys contribute?

To the lyrics? I won't let them contribute to the lyrics. They can't come into my little world. You can't look, it's not done. DD, Bernie, and myself have been together since 1981. To have a song writing partner for that long is amazing. To have a friend for that long is really amazing too. I think that we're friends first and foremost. The song starts with DD and ends up with me eventually. Between the beginning where DD comes up with the riff and I pen the last words and melodies to it, it goes through a transformation with the other players. It goes through Derek Tailer and it goes through Dave Linsk and it goes through Tim Mallare, the drummer, for interpretation, for the adding of parts, for rearrangement. Everybody does have input. The process is not he writes this part and I write that part. It's really about it going through the network of the band.

You do a lot of business overseas. Do you have a larger overseas audience?

No, not necessarily so. We manage the band ourselves. We have business interests with managers who have helped the band over many years and have certain investments within the band but I handle the overseas end of the management. It's mostly in Germany and in England. I coordinate all the press. I do all the promotion. My partner DD handles the U. S. and he does the production. When I say business, it's actually really everything from contract negotiations to what time is that interview. It really is a full time job but it's really an enjoyable one. It's not like this great feeling of weight. "Oh, I have to go to work." It's much more about making the band go and I think that we've always had that day to day attitude. If it's the 24th of March at 5:24 EST, I'm putting what I can into the band by talking to you. I think that's what has carried us over these years. We take that attitude from day to day whether it be in the business end of it or whether it be in the song writing or performing end of it. You look back and you have longevity. What the fuck is this 18 year thing here? What happened? Last thing I remember, we were sitting on the hood of a Vega drinking Budweiser.

Do you feel you have more control over the band by doing things yourself instead of having a lot of outside management?

There's both sides to it. There's a conflict of interest with labels actually because you're the artist and you also are the management. They like to endear themselves to the artist. "Hey, it's good to see you. Let's all go out and have lunch. We'll get you drunk." When you're the manager, they go "hey, it's great to see you. Where's the fucking money?" It becomes a conflict. Our feeling is that you go around once and we're involved in every aspect of this band. What you see from this band, unless it's stolen from the band. There have been tapes in the past that have been cut up and been re-released as fakes and we've had no control over it. Legal issues. We've sued since but when it comes down to what you see about this band, everything from the first note you hear to the last one you hear, the way the band is standing in front of you in a live situation, the artwork on a T-shirt, what shots were chosen for a DVD, the production of the record, the contracts against all these points, the shows that are put together, it all funnels through us. Naturally we have great people working for us. Great attorneys, great booking agencies, good relationships with record companies, and that's what makes it work. What you see from Overkill is Overkill's idea of how it should be, not somebody else's. There's a great amount of satisfaction in that. For me, I'd have it no other way.

I spoke with a number of bands who said "we did this and we signed that and we found ourselves in this strange situation and wondered how we got there."

That situation is usually you grabbing your ankles and wondering how your pants got down there. We've had those experiences. We've not always managed ourselves. I thought that if there were someone to blame, it best be us as opposed to a third party. I can live with the mistakes I make. This was a conscious decision we had made back in 1994 to manage the band but we have had managements in the past. Quite honestly, they were good to us. They were not putting us in that position but we have been put in that position in the past by record companies for instance. This way we know directly what is coming and we know how to avert it if that's necessary. It sounds like a business we're doing here, doesn't it?

Some folks think being in a band is all fun and games and girls and beer. Sometimes it's a good thing to remind them that there's a business side to it. Mistakes can be made and people can screw you over. A lot of folks who read these interviews are in bands themselves and thinking about doing it on a professional scale. It doesn't hurt to ask the questions Metal Edge won't ask.

Most certainly and that's one of the reasons I don't like doing the Metal Edge interviews. I really don't care what a girl thinks about me on a date or what my favorite color is or et cetara, et cetera. I usually say "I'm not doing this one." I don't care how many people buy it. I just got one. "What was your first Halloween costume?" I think I said "you gotta be fucking kidding me, right? You realize you're talking to a man in his 40's." I want to be taken seriously. Not too seriously that we take ourselves too seriously that we cannot enjoy this of course. The idea is that they took us off the front of Teen Beat years ago. We're facing reality here. This doesn't matter to us. The idea is that this no sleep until social security. That's what this is about. That to me is a nobler cause than "middle age girls need love too." It's ridiculous to even put us in that category. Metal Edge called me and they asked me "how do you describe your music?" I said "it's ugly music played by ugly men. Do you understand? No? I didn't think so. Good-bye." My advice to a young band would be most certainly to find an attorney first and foremost that you trust. Somebody that would be able to guide you legally because even guys who are managers don't necessarily guide you legally. That's where you find yourself with your pants down and grabbing your ankles and whistling something from "Avida"

. With this Rhode Island incident involving Great White, I see where these guys have met with a lot of legal issues.

I wasn't there but I have been touring. I've done 2500 club shows, probably more now. A percentage of those were theaters and a percentage of those were festivals. I can tell you that anybody who runs a club knows what goes on in his club. There are rules. There's never such a thing as "I didn't know." It's just that simple. It's bottom line. I'm not saying that to protect anybody. I'm just saying that from my experience, there's not a club owner in the world...think about it. You have a business. "I didn't know." Ignorance is no excuse based on this. "It wasn't us." It was you, it was your place. It's quite simple. Of course there's degrees of responsibility, I'm sure, and it can be separated between both parties but the other end of it is that the tragedy happened in a place that someone owned and that should be known. I think it'll eventually come out that way just quite simply. I don't know if full exoneration will happen for the band. This is really secondary to the tragedy. The tragedy is the tragedy and that's the unforgettable part about it. There's not a club owner I've ever run into and I deal with them continuously who doesn't know what goes on in his club.

I thought it was kind of weird because I go to a lot of clubs myself and I interview a lot of bands at the clubs I go to. I'm familiar with some of the owners and I can't see them not knowing what goes on there. They have employees at the door for load in, overlooking the stage setup, and I understand that Great White had equipment waiting for them when they got there. I guess they call it the backline. I wonder how people can set up the stage without an employee seeing that.

It would be a very unique circumstance in this club world we live in and attend if that was the case. It would not be the norm.

Are you guys touring right now?

We've got some shows at the end of April in the U. S. local to New York. From there two weeks in South America. Back to the States to run into the Midwest and probably as far down as Texas. Over to Europe for the festival season where we will play for our German, Belgian, Spanish, Portuguese, Austrian, Swiss, and Dutch friends and then back here to finish up some U. S. shows. Probably more like September. There's some stuff happening. It's a lot of fun.

Any other thoughts or comments?

I suppose it's really quite simple. Can't do it without the fans.

Overkill