Interview with Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth (Wacken, August 3rd 2007)

It’s 2:30 PM on Saturday at the Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany, and the sun is beating down, when I meet with Overkill front man Bobby Blitz, who’s in very good form and mood.

Overkill had been added to the bill at the last minute, just a few weeks before, and had played a show last on Thursday evening (see review elsewhere on this page), unfortunately with some delay because of some technical problems.

I had, with some awe, been given the opportunity to talk to one of “the grand “old” men in Thrash”. Having been a very big fan of Overkill, and Bobby Blitz in particular, for more than 20 years, I had been looking forward to this interview with great expectations, but also a bit of tension: How would the person behind, in my opinion, one of the most outstanding voices in Thrash metal be like?

After a brief presentation we sat down at a table outside in the burning sun, Bobby with a coffee and a cigarette, and then just started talking: 

First I’d like to tell you, that I’m a huge fan of Overkill since “Taking Over”, so this meeting is very special to me.

Bobby – We’ve gone through a lot of shit together, haven’t we? Whether I know it or not. Hahahaha

You had a concert here on Thursday, how did that opportunity arise?

Bobby – We pushed for it. We called here, you know, we have a new label in Europe, Bodog, Bodog its parent company in the US, run by Jon Zazula from Megaforce, from the old days, “Taking Over”-days, and we pushed for this, so that we could make the product more special and film the DVD. So it’s going to be digipack material, it’s gonna be…make the release more valuable: its 2007, you can’t just do ten songs anymore…it has to be more, or it’s stolen. Hahahaha. I’m an honest man in a dishonest world, huh?!

So some of the tracks you did here will be on the new album as a bonus?

Bobby – flick-tracks, yeah. Two tracks we played from the new record in the concert, but I don’t know how many we’re gonna include as a bonus on the new record, I’m not sure.

What do you think of your live performance here at the festival?

Bobby – You know, I’m a big critic when it comes to self performance, and I’ll never give it a 10, I mean, never have, never will. This was a 7.Technical difficulties are always gonna happen, but what does a band do, to react to those technical problems. I think we pulled 7 out of 10.

The reason for the delay was…?

Bobby – Drums, a drum problem…we use triggers on the drums. So you have to pull a live mic up there in a song, so maybe by the second song, everything was a little better, so that makes me say 7 out of 10.

Do you get annoyed about things like that, or…?

Bobby – We went up there, and went like “oh oh”, hahaha. I was actually holding up the module, and the drum-tech was going: “Okay, okay”, hahaha. You just have to get through it. What can you do – go home? And to complain is not our style. It’s still an opportunity. You have to deal with circumstances, if it’s our own tool; we have more control over it. That would have been done at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. When you share the stage with 6 other bands, you just don’t have that opportunity, so we know this. So we can only prepare as much as we possibly can, and that was just not enough for this particular show. But I still think the live performance with regard to energy, with regard to a coming together around the third song was spectacular.

How do you keep the spirit of playing after so many years in the business?

Bobby – You know, I think it’s recognizing what your graces are, and we’ve been graced with the opportunity to perform and playing this industry for over two decades now. And it’s nothing we take for granted. You know, metal was dead in the US, killed by whatever… we really didn’t pay attention to that indicator, we kept on working. A lot of bands folded up, and went home and worked for mummy and daddy. We said: this is what we’re mint to do, so we obviously had to keep going through that time. So in the phase of coming back around, you see a lot of bands making a reunion – for us it was never an issue to go away. If we can get a record deal, we can do what we want to do. That being a lot more important than anything else that goes along with it.

We always had a very working class kind of an ethic about ourselves, it’s very simple, it’s not complicated, you know, in the 25 years I’ve been here, there’s maybe been one or two rock stars in the band, and now they’re gone. So it’s easy to work under that premises. So how do you keep 25 years going, and stay excited about it? You take that opportunity when it arises, rock in 2007, and you grab it by the neck, and you squeeze it ‘til it chokes. Hahahaha…I take that opportunity into the next opportunity, maybe I get 26 years, you know, so it’s a nice feeling…

So you can make a decent living on playing music?

Bobby – I’ve been living at it since Taking Over, and everything else I have, other businesses I own, all has been financed through Overkill. So it’s a work ethic, it’s based on life. You know, I mean, it’s not about what people think about me, it’s what I think about myself. If I please myself first, it’s really easy to translate that to other people, whether that is on the stage or on a record.

So total honesty all the way…?

Bobby – It’s too hard to fuckin’ lie, you know. I mean, you lie once, and you have to lie twice to cover up the first lie, it doesn’t really make any sense. And this isn’t something…what’s important about what we do, is that we love doing it. And the people that follow this band, loves that we love it. So I think that becomes a very contagious attitude, and maybe even to some degree refreshing, in a world where…or a scene where some people think they should be higher than others. If I don’t give a shit, I’ve got nothing to lose, hahahaha. 

On the internet I’ve read that a lot of Americans think that the metal scene is more or less dead in the US – do you agree with that?

Bobby – No.

It’s coming back or…

Bobby – Totally. I mean, you know, in the nineties when…I think it was Rolling Stone Magazine, hung out a flag that said: Metal is dead, and they called all the metal bands and said: Don’t even bother pickin’ up your instruments anymore…well, we never took the phone call you know, hahahaha. But we worked through that whole time, and it was a very fruitful time for us, with regard to longer tours and so on…So of course there was a metal community, it was just an underground community, and it was thriving underneath the surface, just not in the main press. So when it started coming back around again…in the US it came around with a newer kind of metal, and let’s say this is in the late nineties, and that newer metal didn’t recognize bands…Oh my – I’m sorry (a very gorgeous girl, (un)dressed for the weather just walks past us.)…the newer metal... (Laughs)...didn’t recognize….djjededer (babble sound) haha… didn’t recognize bands like ourselves, the bands like Slayer that proceeded us, and we always recognized the Judas Priest’s and TheNewWaveOfBritishHeavyMetal.

But then a new scene came around, the newer new metal, that DID recognize guys like us, let’s say Shadows Fall, Lamb Of God, and they take, let’s say inspiration or…from bands that proceeded them like Overkill and Anthrax or Slayer. And what that did to help bands like us, who was still working, showed the younger kids, that there’s a history to this, not that Lamb Of God just created it. And we did a tour in the states with Megadeth, Gigantour, and Lamb Of God was the second on it, and from the first night these guys are standing on the side of the stage with big smiles, calling out what songs they want to hear. By the second night they’re out on stage, singing with us, by the end of the tour every one of them had made it out, so it’s a cool vibe, that kids, who appreciate the newer bands, see the newer bands appreciating the older bands. So with regard to the US metal scene, that helps us immensely. I mean, Randy Blythe (Lamb Of God, ed.) sang on the new record, ‘cause he likes us, not because he wants to make money or he wants to increase his profile. I said: Dude, you wanna sing? He goes: What do you need? What day and what do you need? Send me an airline ticket and I’m there. That’s cool, yeah man!

And the new generation of kids listening to newer metal bands, a lot of them don’t know the history behind it…?

Bobby – Absolutely! I see the same with Shadows Fall…Jason Bittner, the drummer, was in Los Angeles, he leaves the convention he’s at, to see our show with his girlfriend, and asks me in the dressing room: “Can I play drums on one of the songs?” Hahaha. “Sure you can!” Hahaha. But that’s a really great feeling with regard to appreciation, and I think the generation of the music that proceeded Lamb Of God, Shadows Fall…did not recognize bands like us. You know, they had a double bass pattern, and they thought of it all by themselves, not because Dave Lombardo did it ten years earlier, hahaha.

You got a new album out soon (out by now, ed.) – Who plays on it, who produced, and what can we expect compared to the later albums?

Bobby – Well, you know, I think one of the things with Overkill, is that we have a certain formula that we pull from. I think that regardless of how the band evolves, it’s always recognized as Overkill, and that’s a pretty neat quality over a 15 record studio history. So I think, for sure it’s Overkill. What I find about this record, that’s different for instance from the last – easiest to compare to because it’s the two most recent - is that it’s cohesive. What I mean about cohesiveness is that you can write a collection of songs, ten songs that are not cohesive to each other, almost if it feels like they don’t belong on the same record. Maybe two feel like here and two over there…this record to me feels cohesive, from starting to the end, it feels like the same record.

With regard to production, its DD and I – DD has a real lot to do with regard to production. And we take a big pride in that. You know, I think to some degree we gamble a lot, it makes the job interesting. By doing hands on, by making the decisions, everything from production to writing, to business decisions, to managerial decisions, it makes this a that more interesting job, because you’re involved in everything – and that translates into the record. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. And I think it’s always Overkill at the center, and I think, what you find in this record is better production, cohesiveness, and a little bit more draw from where we were then, as opposed to where we are now.

In one of the new tracks you played Thursday, I think I could hear something from the older days…

Bobby – thrashier, a little thrashier, a little bit… you know, you never wanna make it a formula, but obviously you have some kind of a formula. You put on Feel The Fire or Taking Over, and then you put on Immortalis, and you’ll hear the differences, but the beauty is that still, 22 years later, you can recognize the similarities. Same sound, same approach, same goal – and what’s that goal? Probably chaos. Taking Over was uncontrolled chaos; with Immortalis we run our own ship, hahaha. 

Why the line up changes through the career of Overkill, has it been because of personal or musical differences or..?

Bobby – Not usually personal, no. I mean it’s…how hard is it to keep a band together for seven years as opposed to two and a half decade, it’s…I wanna start a family, I’m not making enough money, that’s not a personal difference, it’s a life choice. “I can’t pay you more money” it’s as simple as it is. Joe Comeau: I wanna sing for Annihilator AND I wanna play guitar in Overkill. I said: That’s not okay, hahaha. That’s not a personal difference, that’s a personal choice. Sid, you remember Sid from…?

…Yeah, Sid Falck.

Bobby – Yes, Falck, Danish guy. He was the only one that left really with the frown on his face, and I think he had different expectations, and became very disillusioned. You know, Overkill has always been a slow progress. We know we’re not gonna win the race; we just wanna be in it. So if we’re the turtle, and we can still finish the race, it’s better than being the hare that’s done, I mean, it can maybe take us 30 years to finish our race, but maybe that’s better sometimes, than finishing in two years. So I think Sid was a bit disillusioned with regard to money, with the regard of work that was gonna be necessary before the money’s received, and that was just again… it became personal more so because he made it personal, but we never treated him any different than anyone else.

And there’s been a guy like Dave Linsk, who’s been with us the longest of anyone in Overkill next to DD and me. Before that it was Tim Mallare, who got married. Babies are involved, new businesses are involved. Would you go on the road 140 days a year, when you have a new bride at home? That’s a big decision. That’s personal, not business wise.

This relationship you have with DD, is that a personal friendship or more professional?

Bobby – I think after this amount of time, and I know DD since ’81, so we’re really pushing 30 knowing each other, as opposed to 25 as a band. I think it’s changed, obviously. You know, what comes first for us, is that we’re both okay, and that our families are okay. This is really the first thing, and that’s why two guys can write for this period of time, because the priority is more of a life priority, than it is an industry priority. If it was just a business relationship, and he called me and said: “My daughter’s sick, I have to cancel ‘til she’s better”, and I said: “No fuckin’ way, this is bullshit”, you couldn’t have this relationship. I had some problems with illness in the past. You know, the first person I hear from is my doctor, the second is DD Verni: What do you need, what can I do?” I say: ”Gees man, I don’t know.” He said: “I know we gotta wait a couple of weeks here, what do you think would make you feel better?” I said: “you know, if you start writing a new fuckin’ record, maybe we get it before I die”, hahaha. He goes: “cool, I’ll start tomorrow” so that’s… sure it’s a business relationship, but being friends first, in a business that is slippery, I can say that I know, that I trust one man in this business, hehehe – so it makes all of this possible.

You have a record out with some other guys – The Cursed. Was that mostly fun, or was it a serious project?

Bobby – Did you hear it? 

Yes, I reviewed it on our page.

Bobby – Well, then it’s definitely for fun, hahaha! You know, to do that record, I talked to my buddy Dan Lorenzo; I’ve known him since we had him… for years in the N.Y.-area, but we had him on the road with Overkill, when he was in Non-Fiction. We had them with us for a whole year in Europe and the US, and he has been bothering me ever since, I mean, he’s just an absolute pain in the ass, hahaha, but he writes great riffs, you know, and eh…it was funny, I was sitting with my wife one night, and she said: “You need a hobby.” I really love riding motorcycles, but a lot of the motorcycle time is taken up by the other businesses I do, and I said: “I ain’t ridin’ in the middle of the night; I like to ride at sunny days.” She said: “Why, just get another hobby” and I said: “What about music? Dan’s still bothering me.” So we made a garage band that turned into a release. So it’s primarily for fun. My forefront to the project was to try to eliminate as much as possible what Bobby Blitz’ standard for singing was. So I went and bought a record called “The Central of Johnny Cash”, two CDs with all his hits from way back, when he was on Sun Records, and I tried to mimic his voice in the car, so I could develop a low end, and develop a different style. So it took me two months, and then I said: “Yes, I’ll do it – let’s have some fun!” So that was the idea.

..Because it’s still obvious, that it’s you singing, with some experiments…

Bobby – Sure, it’s a stretch. The idea was to make it fun. The idea was to put saxophones in, to sing about girls…you know, I never sang about the softer sex, whether I think dirty about it, whether I think dirty about it as somebody I met in 1985, or whether I think positively about it, as of my sister or my mother. And almost every lyrical content is based on things I never sang about. So for me it was just fun. Fun, little bit of cash, little bit of business.

How do you see your singing and your lyrics? Do they have to carry a message or an opinion, or do you see it more as an instrument to complement the others?

Bobby – You singing complements the others, and what I try to do, I think even since the Horrorscope record to a very large degree, is use my voice as an instrument. Because the words, with the regard to frequency, will always be heard; it’s a higher voice, it’s a higher pitch. So it’s not that low, growling type of voice. But if I use it rhythmically, I fall into the mix better.

When it comes to lyrics, really what I do is…when it’s time to write a record, all the negativity I’ve collected over a period of time between records, is usually what becomes the inspiration. So of course they carry a message. The greater message, the greater procedure, is to dump the negative. I’ve been able to use Overkill as a therapy for over 15 records on myself, and obviously I think I’m a really well balanced person, and have been for 25 years, and I can still enjoy, with much of the bullshit that surrounds the industry. And that I think is because I can take those lyrics and throw it out a go: okay, I’ve disposed of this, and so I can live a relatively happy life. I’m a happily married guy, I do have hobbies, and I have businesses with my wife that I love running. I still love being on that stage. You know, if you give me the opportunity, I’ll probably gonna take it on the stage. And still my stomach will turn upside down, you know, before I’m up there. It’s probably 10 degrees the other night upon that stage, before we went on, and I’m sweating…and I’m going:”huh, here we go!” Hahaha. This is like a fuckin’ drug. So lyrically, if I can dump all that negativity over that period of that year and a half in words, I kind of feel free after the release of the record, after the completion of it…

So it’s sort of a personal release too?

Bobby – I’ve become my own therapist, hahaha! 

Death seem to play a significant role in a lot of your lyrics, is there a special reason for that?

Bobby – You know, one of the most confusing things that I’ve ever found and used as a general topic, is that I have a fascination with religion, though not being a religious person whatsoever, and to see…. I mean even prior to political and religious incidents in the world, whether that be with Islam or Christianity, and the continuous fight that has really been going on for centuries. But it always interested me, and the difference in what people think, with regard to what God is, and really, when you take all of that and put it in a box, really what’s outside the box is the death-aspect of it, because there’s an end. And it seems to be very, very acceptable to those who are comfortable within the box…I’m not uncomfortable about death, I’m just not comfortable with how to get there the correct way. I mean, just death in general for me… I had a conversation with my wife not too long ago. We were laughing about a few things, ‘cause we were doing a life insurance policy, because of some businesses we have. And she said: “I don’t like thinking about it” I said: “Well, think about this: tomorrow, or later tonight, I get hit by a bus and it’s all over, just put on my tombstone: “He had a great time”. Hahaha. So the point is, I’ve no problem with death, I have a problem more so understanding how other peoples perception of what death should be, should affect every one of us in one way or another, directly if not indirectly, politically, socially…it’s crazy, I was in camp the other night with a guy in Hamburg, and he’s a Muslim guy, and I said: “why don’t you come to The States?” “I can’t come to the States, I hate Americans”. “What do you hate me for?” And this is all the fuck I sing about, I mean, I’m as scared of the Christian fundamentalists in the US, as I am for the terrorists in the near east, hahaha.

…so sort of underneath your lyrics, a preoccupation with what religion means to the general society…?

Bobby – How it affects… “Devils In The Mist”, the first song on the new record, it’s very much hoped as the great lifter of men’s souls and also the great destroyer of their spirits, and it’s…I thrive for a better answer now, all I do is using it to highlight, because of my fascination… I find myself happier knowing that I have a higher power, but not finding myself within in any organized sect of what the definition of how it should be is. So in my opinion I feel a little better on my own, knowing it’s just one guy watching me, not having a whole group telling me I’m doing the wrong thing. 

How do you keep fit – you seem to be in good shape?

Bobby – I’m still a good fuck, hahaha! I said it on Swedish TV once, and the guy just shook his head and just smiled. He never heard me… obviously I still smoke, drink coffee, occasionally a good beer… but on the good side, it’s probably 20 km’s a week I walk with my wife, knowing that this is the time we can spend together. That’s 8 months out of the year, as long as the winds are not too heavy. I have a gym, a stationary bicycle that I use before I come out on the road. I eat usually, unless I’m on the road or at festivals, nothing out of bags or…I’m really all about fresh fruits and vegetables and stuff… I mean, it’s not because I have to, it’s really because I like to, and I really never changed anything. I was always the kid, who reached for the apple instead of the hamburger. So it was just kinda normal for me. Over so many years I was a skinny guy, and now, as I’ve put weight on, it looks like: “Oohh, he’s really working out”, but it’s just that I’m putting weight on, hahaha.

How do you cope with the personal years of decay?

Bobby – For myself? Over the years, how I change personally?

Physically, mentally – I mean, being in the business for more than 25 years…

Bobby – You know, I think what we’ve touched on in many of the different things, everything from lyrics to disposing of collected negativity, to having a reasonable diet and a happy home life – again it puts the priority or the focus more on me. You know, if I’m not good to myself, I can’t be good to another human being. If I’m good to myself, and can put myself in a better place, I can always enjoy what’s around me, by just being me. I remember, that for a period of time being on the road I said: My God, we’re doing 250 shows a year, and we’re working, and it’s always Saturday night. And every time I look back, I had a beer in my hand, and I knew it was time to jump off, to make a decision to say if I’d continue doing this, eventually that would just wear me out. I stopped, so I suppose I make the right decision for myself, that’s how I cope with it. So I stopped, and I do drink now, but I drink pure socially. I don’t make it Saturday night every night. I mean, I have a couple of beers with the boys, relax, run a game of cards or something, like sober. For ten years I had not one drop on the road, from ’95 to 2005. It didn’t matter what was happening at the tour bus, I was not there drinking. I maybe had a cup of coffee or a glass of water, but I said: if I can do this, I can do anything, you know. So it was a great feeling. So I suppose coping is just adjusting as you go on. It was necessary at the time.

Do you have a Myspace page, and what do you think of this medium?

Bobby – There is a Myspace with Overkill, and it’s necessary for promotions these days. You know, I really just…I’m aware of it since it’s been around. I’m only really into it as of first quarter of this year. ‘Cause when we were negotiating deals, I realized what a weight instantaneous information has. The internet’s there and you go to your MySpace all the time, and so will the people into you. And there’s so many connected MySpaces and links in it, and if you’re checking your MySpace and hear the Overkill thing, and you see all the people into it, or record companies even saying: Okay, let’s give all the Testament MySpaces over to the Overkill MySpaces, so that’s where you get the shifting of people, that’s absolutely necessary to this kind of promotion. I mean, this interview is old as soon as you post it, and in my opinion, in this day and age of instantaneous information, best to be ahead, as opposed to wait and sit back on your own, on your past reputation.

What are your touring plans following up the new album?

Bobby – We’re already booked in the States for the month of October, and then we have some South American dates: Venezuela, Peru, Brazil, Columbia…it should take us into Christmas. January ’08 we’re supposed to be here in Europe, we’re working on a package, talking to some bands…it’s necessary to have a package. Our booking agency actually works through the Wacken-people, that’s why DD could get us on the bill with like two weeks notice, hahaha. But that’s a great relationship, these people knows all these bands, so it’s easier for us, to put the right package together. So after that we do the west coast in the US, probably do the east coast again, now it’ll be May, I’ll be looking at jobs at festivals for a six months period. So it’s extensive planning.

So you have a full program for the next year?

Bobby – We always do. Whether we’re here or not, we’re working. Last year with Relixv, we went through the East Coast three times, and the West Coast twice, and then we went out with Megadeth, so just in the US 120 shows.

What kind of bands would you like to support you – do you have any personal preferences??

Bobby – Not really, but at this point, what I think would make a successful tour, would be a mini thrash festival. I would love…I recently checked with Gary Holt from Exodus, and he was busy during the time we wanted to do it, but I said: Boy that would be great, Overkill and Exodus. A travelling thrash-fest. In our heads we always think that Testament, Exodus, Overkill would be a really great three, everybody’s playing an hour, an hour and fifteen, same gear and just go for it. But it’s always hard to get the Testament guys on the road with us, so there’s a gap…hahaha.

That’s it; we’re out of time – thank you for your time.

Bobby – Hey, my pleasure – it was fun…

Well, what can I say, I’ve met and talked to one of my idols in Metal, and as it turned out, a cool and relaxed guy, really down to earth. The half an hour I spent doing this interview, will probably seem like one of the shortest this year. And sure I’ll be there next time Overkill’s playing, and then knowing a little more about the man behind the voice.

Interviewed by Claus Melsen.

Over Kill - Immortalis

Album available on Bodog Records.

(Album reviewed elsewhere on this site)

For more info on Overkill - click on the album cover.