Bleeding Green and Black

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I last interviewed Overkill vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth for the Killbox 13 album in 2003 and since that time have held the man in even higher esteem, not only for his steely resolve and unwavering devotion to thrash metal, but also for the enthusiastic and amiable way he comes across. Why I waited seven years to interview him again is beyond me. His is an interview to which you look forward because you just know it’ll meet the gold standard. This time was no different.

Even more exciting is that Ironbound is among the best Overkill albums ever released and I can say that with the utmost sincerity, considering that I’ve been listening to the band since 1985’s Feel the Fire. It is a bomb blast of searing thrash riffing and overflows with some of the most memorable songwriting the band has ever penned. Anchored by D.D. Verni’s monster bass lines and Blitz’s distinctive voice, which has never sounded better, Ironbound is now sitting at the top spot of my 2010 year-end list and I wouldn’t be surprised it if it stays there until the end. It is the album to beat, no question about it. And now ladies and germs, I give you Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth!

This is the 25th anniversary of Overkill.

Yeah! Quarter of a century! The big news is that D.D. [Verni] and I both started the band when we were 11 [laughs]. Twenty five years since Feel the Fire and I knew D.D. almost 30 years now.

Going into the writing and recording of this album, did that milestone weigh on you at all?

I don’t think so. When the 25th anniversary is really being brought up to me, as opposed to me thinking about it prior to going into the studio… I’d say the reason for longevity of this band has been really about today and making the day big. Love us or hate us, we are what we are and always put as much into it as possible. I think that to some degree that’s the reason of let’s say longevity versus success is that it is really about the day. People have brought the anniversary up as opposed to us thinking about it as a prerequisite to the year or record.

Even without thinking about the 25th anniversary there is an aggressiveness inherent on this album that is even more intense than what I’ve heard over the past several albums. That’s one of the main vibes that really jumped out at me.

You know what it is? We came off the road and started assembling this. We didn’t start writing it as soon as we came off the road. It was being written in pieces as we were on the road with riffs being collected, etc. We finished the last shows in March 2009 and started assembling in April, so I really think that when you transfer that energy from the road into the assembly of the record and you start pressing the record button the X factor is that you were just on the road with everybody. So that’s a huge dependency that a band has. It’s got that all for one feeling, it’s got that “hey, I’ll watch your back” feeling, it’s got that “if you fall, I’ll pick you up” feeling. I think when a band records under that philosophy you can’t discount that X factor of energy in there. So for us Immortalis touring was a thrash and bash ‘em up year with Exodus and some of the newer bands like Gama Bomb, Warbringer, and then we’re assembling a record, so I think it really transferred.

Right, as opposed to not doing anything for six months and then going into the studio.

Sure! Then you’re really more meticulous and calculated about what you’re doing, whereas coming in off the road it’s more about feel, and I think that just really put all the chemistry for five individuals in focus and all in the right place.

In addition to D.D. it seems like this lineup has been pretty stable for quite a while now, hasn’t it?

Yes. D.D. and I from the beginning. Dave Linsk is the longest standing guitar player in this band, over 10 years now. Derek [“The Skull” Tailer] for eight and Ron Lipnicki since 2005 and this is his second recording, so he’s a youngster I think at 37 [laughs]. We always call him “the kid.” [Laughs]. But it has for sure gelled. There has always been a generalization about us that those who are in this band always understand the definition, which is that live gelling, that over the top thing, and the people who have been here have wanted to play live. This band has gelled live. With the completion and offering of Ironbound, we’ve gelled in the studio too.

The title Ironbound would seem to indicate some level of long term toughness. Was that the idea about choosing it as a title?

Well, it’s twofold. Yes, obviously bound or being tied to, not as a complaint, but as an acceptance of being tied to the scene. I think the scene itself is one of community and that many within it right from the beginning with that revolutionary feel back in the 80s. It felt tied to the scene and it’s become a lifestyle as opposed to necessarily just the love of the music. And the other is really quite simply is that Ironbound is a neighborhood in New Jersey [laughs]. So it’s a common expression to us and the neighborhood was an immigrant neighborhood, European, and it’s in the Port of Newark and it’s very close to the port. If you look at the neighborhood from the sky, from a helicopter or a plane, there are so many railroad tracks through it that it looks like it’s tied to the earth by iron ribbon [laughs]. So let’s just say that there is a correlation with us being tied to the scene by iron ribbons.

I can’t imagine you have many interviews where someone doesn’t bring up the power of D.D.’s bass lines on an Overkill album. They are really pronounced on this album as well, that big iron clanging sound.

It’s really probably one of the unique things when thought about this band and I think it has made us identifiable with regard to not just my vocal presentation, but to some degree more so D.D.’s prominence in the mix. I think that is what Overkill is about. Motorhead said “everything louder than everything else” and D.D. actually listened [laughs].

Kicking off the album with “The Green and Black,” there is obviously significance to that song with regard to the essence of Overkill. That sounds to me like one of the next Overkill anthems. And it’s eight minutes!

It’s a pretty intense song.  When we were putting this together and you go into the studio and songs have titles that are working titles, and this was always called “opener.” I was talking to D.D. and I said “wow, eight minutes plus” and he said “I know, that’s a set of nuts if we pull that off” [laughs]. To open a song with something so epic.

It doesn’t feel long though; you don’t even think about the running time.

That’s the beauty of it. If you create something that’s eight plus minutes, but it feels like you want to hear more at the end of it, then that’s success. With regard to this song I think it’s really a declaration of those who support “it” as well as those who do “it,” and therefore we all do “it.” And I think lyrically to some degree I’ve become celebratory more so since the late 90s, as opposed to negative, through personal changes in myself. It may sound nasty, dull, and stabbing, but I think the idea is that there is always recognition and props to those who deserve it and I think this is anthem-like with regard to that.

Speaking of the 90s or any period where there may have been ups and downs, and having lasted 25 years, were there points during the life of the band where you considered hanging it up?

It really never came across our desk like that. When grunge came in and kind of stomped all over this we became self-managed at that time. It wasn’t really for lack of interest from our management. We were kind of looking at how things were changing and we learned from some really good managers and they said “yeah, you’re ready to do it on your own if you’d like.” So during that tough time it really became more exciting because it widened that scope of the value for us because now we had to separate it into the guys in the band versus the guys who managed the band. So that became this new kind of horizon, new mountain to climb, so it was really interesting, even though the time presented itself as being tough. In reality what ended up happening was as grunge was putting the boot print on metal all it really was doing was forcing it back underground and as many bands went home and worked for mom and dad the bands that stayed became very successful during that period because there was a crowded room in ’92 of a hundred touring American bands and by ’95 there was nine of us [laughs]. So it’s kind of cool that the scene still exists, it’s just underground. I remember back in that era we’re starting to manage and we’re getting more and more offers because there are less and less metal bands that are touring. We’re selling out the mid-sized venues when grunge is getting the headlines, so who gives a fuck? It was always about being an underground scene, so for us to start managing at that time and to have those kinds of successes I think just prepared us to go into the next phase, which was the digital age and understand that things can be accomplished, regardless of what the local climate is.

Yeah, my promo of Ironbound is digital and more and more of what I get are digital downloads to review.

It’s a difference scene, man. Before Al Gore declared that he discovered the Internet I was putting flyers under windshield wipers [laughs]. And that’s what promotion was about, as well as writing letters and sending the faxes. With this digital age it’s instant information and I think, again, being self-managed from the mid 90s on it prepared us to say hey, you have to be current and to keep your finger on the pulse you don’t necessarily have to take a forecast of what the market’s gonna do; you have to be able to adapt to what the market is gonna do. That’s what’ll keep us more than just alive, but successful.

Going back to the album, in addition to the aggression there is a ton of memorable songs, like “Bring me the Night.” “Give a Little,” which is arguably the catchiest track on the album has a brief melodic singing part in there. Who does that?

Oh, the crooning! That’s Bobby Blitz [laughs].

Wow! It almost sounds like Danzig, man. I didn’t have any liner note information, so I really didn’t know.

I actually just saw Danzig. He played a one-off in Jersey. It’s kind of cool. There are a couple of things that I do on this record. There is a death metal voice too in “The Head and the Heart.” I started fuckin’ with the death metal voice probably eight or ten years ago and I’ve always used it as support and every now and then it shows up and people always thought it was someone else, but it was me. A few years ago I had done a side project called The Cursed and there was some crooning a little bit here and there because the guy I wrote it with I told him it’s got to be different than Overkill. I went out and bought a double CD called The Essential Johnny Cash and I sang it for three months [laughs], not to sound like Johnny, but to understand the low end of my voice. What came out was this crooning thing. So I used it in The Cursed so I thought why the hell not because I actually got ok at it [laughs]. Dynamics, that’s really what it’s about. That song comes across as a punky hardcore kind of a thing. You can almost pogo to it, as opposed to head bang. That’s one of the dynamics that was added specifically for flavor, but I agree, I love that little crooning part in there.

Are there any guest musicians on the album then?

No there’s not. It’s the five of us playing as a unit.

What about “The SRC?”

Subterranean Resistance Cult. “The Green and Black” starts it and I can tell you where I got the title of that one. In the Ironbound is where the New Jersey Devils play, I’m a big fan. They start their promo commercials off like this, really simple: “For those who bleed red and black” [laughs]. Now the SRC is the other end of that, meaning that it’s the successful end for everything you do. It is a sense of community and with that community we collectively see what we want and we collectively can get what we want. It’s just about resistance and I always likened this scene from the beginning to that of a revolutionary feel and it’s had impact that has transcended more than three generations at this point. So the SRC to some degree grows and grows.

I recently reviewed the new Exodus DVD [Live at Wacken and other assorted Atrocities] and you made a few appearances on that one. It looked like you were having a good time.
Sure, it was fun. I’ve known Gary [Holt] since the beginning of Overkill and I think we released Feel the Fire and they released Bonded by Blood or something like so. It was that sense of community and when the West Coast guys came east you went out and saw them and when the East Coast guys went west they came out and saw you. I became close with Rob Dukes and Rob actually rented a small theater where he lives in a town I own a business in and he debuted the uncut version of that Exodus DVD. It was fuckin’ great! [Laughs] We really enjoyed touring with them last year. It’s funny; we were shaking our heads saying we should have done this years earlier, being cut from the same cloth. You know what’s cool about that too is that there is competitiveness in this, friendly obviously, and I think the people who win over their competition are people that buy tickets. If Gary Holt comes off the stage, holding his guitar and sweating his ass off and giving you that sideways grin saying “beat that,” then I’ll say “my pleasure” [laughs]. The only one who is going to win is the guy in the front row [laughs].

Did you watch the thrash documentary, Get Thrashed?

Sure, I own it.

What did you think? I thought it really captured the essence of thrash metal.

I think so. I think the timing of it was impeccable. There is obviously a new wave of this and I attribute the new found popularity of this older genre to a lot of the younger bands. There are a lot of the same social and political themes that are going on now that happened when this all started and I think that is part of the reason that it carries weight. When there is a voice in the dark, the voice of angst, it should be noticed, especially under these circumstances. So there is a young thrash fan out there who can go see Warbringer, Suicidal Angels, and they also see Overkill and they see where it started, so I think it gives value across the board. I don’t know if Get Thrashed really lit the fire, but I think it gave the newer generation the resource to understand a little bit more the reason for that revolution.

Some of the younger bands were talking about bands from the 8os that I barely even remember from that time.

[Laughs] They’re real historians.. Somebody said to me how funny it is that they actually, to a very large degree, dress like that of the 80s – the high top whiteys and the drain pipe pants and the stretch pants and the leather jacket with denim vest over it. And I said I e-bayed all my white high tops to the Warbringer guys [laughs] because they wanted to be so authentic that they wanted the originals [laughs]. So it’s kind of cool that it’s had that impact to write down the details.

You’ve got a few tours coming up; Europe, South America, and then North America.

That’s correct and then after that we’re doing about 15 festivals over the summer. I recommend that to anybody that’s looking for something to do for a summer vacation and is not strapped for cash. Get over to Europe for a good weekend and figure out where to go. Over the course of nine days you could be in France to see one, two in Germany, etc. And they’re awesome. They go from 15,000 people to almost 100,000 and it’s rockin’ and the beer flows and there is not one fist fight, which is kind of cool. The touring starts February 6th in The Netherlands and runs through Europe for a month and then South America after that. In Europe we’re taking a band called Suicidal Angels, which is a new great band on Nuclear Blast. It was originally configured differently, but the co-headline we had booked dropped out, but we are going to do that rerun in autumn. Through the U.S. we’re going with Vader and Warbringer, God Dethroned, and Evile. That goes into May, ending at the Nokia Theater in New York. It’s funny too, after 25 years we’re getting bumped up to bigger venues. Go figure, eh?


  1. Commented by: gabaghoul

    great interview and he seems like a great guy. Overkill was the first ‘proper’ metal show I ever saw, at L’Amours in Brooklyn. Man, I still remember picking up the tape (tape!!) of I Hear Black when it came out. Will definitely check out Ironbound.

  2. Commented by: Staylow

    Great interview Scott, Bobby definitely seems like an awesome dude. I agree that Ironbound is easily one of their best albums in years, if not one of their best ever. I’ll have a write up closer to the release date.

  3. Commented by: Kurdistan

    happy 25th anniversary of Overkill …i heard its a very good band

  4. Commented by: imh4rdc0r3

    thrash metal is a way of life. i had not been to a thrash metal concert in years and i saw destruction in vancouver…. as soon as the first riff was played it all came back to me. thrash metal is my life blood that livens my way of life – the resistance, the bond, the take no s* attitude and fist raising power against corrupt authority. as manowar sings in die for metal — i need metal in my life, just like an eagle needs to fly. :) :)

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