The man, Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth, lead singer for Overkill agreed to a one-on-one sit-down with yours truly on the bus before their gig here in Dallas at Trees!
THIS is the band that inspired Amps and Green Screens.
The very idea was hatched at my first Overkill show in Texas on May 6, 2012, and I vowed that one day I would have a conversation with Blitz. I stammered through telling him all that, and he was genuinely flattered. Shit, we even had a beer together!
As you will soon find out, we laughed…a LOT!! He is without a doubt the coolest guy on the planet, and this may be, along with DORO and Lita Ford, one of THE coolest interviews I’ve had the privilege of doing. See for yourself:
Amps: It feels like in the second part of Overkill’s career that you guys are doing some of your best writing, particularly since Killbox 13. You’ve written some of your strongest material yet. How do you keep it so fresh over and over so far into a career?
Blitz: Well, it’s strictly based on good chemistry. If you have a good chemistry you get good results. You know, the idea is that you go in to win, go in to lose, so whether it be something that’s not as strong or something that’s as strong as The Electric Age or Ironbound or Immortalis, that the idea is you’re still going in there with the same philosophy. So if you keep that value or that ethic that sometimes it actually pays off, but I think that the real idea here of why is because the band has gelled. This version of Overkill is the longest version of Overkill with regard to guitarists, D.D. (Verni, bass) and myself, Ron (Lipnicki, drums) being the newest member, but new is 2005, so it’s not yesterday.
So this chapter of the band is playing at a high level, and I think when you do that, and enjoy spending time with each other it becomes, uh, you get good results. And when you’re getting good results it’s fun to do, and when it’s fun to do you wanna keep doin’ it; one thing leads to the next and before you know it, a year and a half after seeing us here with God Forbid, it still seems to be rollin’. And that’s kind of how I’m feelin’ about it, too.
Amps: Plus, you were here in February at House of Blues, before you got sick.
Blitz: Yeah, House of Blues. Actually they think I caught pneumonia IN Texas. And I said, “I thought those dirty bastards liked me!” (Blitz laughs hard; it’s contagious!). I canned a show in Long Island, actually. I pulled off the one in New York City, came to Long Island, couldn’t walk up the stairs, then I think D.D. stuck a broomstick up my ass for the Worcester show so that I could at least stand there and sing, and by the next day I was layin’ face down in the snow in Buffalo with bubbles comin’ out of my nose and ears. It was a long process, too. It wasn’t like taking some antibiotics and back in a week, it took me three months to recover from it. This was heavier than all the other shit I had ever gone through. Because with other shit I knew what the result was and I was starting on the upswing after a week or two. But this was like three months of sitting around going, “Oh, fuck! Somebody shoot me!”
Amps: OK. So how’s the health now, what with the rigors of touring?
Blitz: Good. I’ve been off tobacco for a good period of time. I’m a tobacconist, I love the stuff. I have kept my nicotine addiction with my vaporizer, but no carcinogens or carbon monoxide. I actually caught pneumonia when I was tobacco-free. The idea is that you’re clearing your lungs out so you’re susceptible to germs, and that’s why it hit me worse than anybody else. A couple of the other guys went to the hospital afterwards, too. But it’s better. This shit’s motivational, you know? I sat down with a doctor who said, “You can do this, or you can do that (perform)” and I chose to do THAT. I like to play, so tobacco went out the window. Things have been a lot better. I’ve been able to play at a higher level, obviously more lung capacity and energy, so no complaints.
Amps: What’s the vocal regimen now to keep everything tight?
Blitz: I’ve always kept it pretty much the same. Not to harp on it, but stopping the smokes REALLY helped because you’re constantly bathing yourself with some kind of poison and I have to think of it that way, no matter how much I love it (laughs)! When you’re bathing your vocal chords in this it has adverse effects and I haven’t had one bit of trouble vocally since I stopped. I warm up for 30 minutes before the show, I take Aleve’s before the show, they’re an anti-inflammatory, but I’ve been doing that for years. It’s kind of a pro-active way of keeping your vocal chords from getting swollen. If you take an anti-inflammatory before you work out, it helps you perform again the next day. It’s just a little trick I do. The warm-up, the anti-inflammatories, no cigarettes, and I just try to keep my shit together as a relatively older middle-aged man (laughs).
Amps: Hey, you’re in better shape than most of us! Now, you’ve got a huge body of work. Are there maybe one or two songs that get you a LITTLE bit more amped up? Like you look at that setlist and it’s go time?
Blitz: You know, it’s funny because I’m always attracted to the newer material because it’s new and we’ve done it less times. I think that’s a no-brainer. I see something from The Electric Age and I’m like, “That’s cool!” What we like to do is throw things in and out. On this tour we’ve changed some songs as we went along, changed some encores. We have two nights coming up in New York, so the idea’s gonna be to do two different sets. So we started throwing in “Who Tends the Fire” from The Years of Decay-
Blitz: Yeah, we’d done it in Europe over the last tour, and it was really fun to do, and I’m really excited about doing it. In the current day, in the present, after soundcheck, the idea is that songs like that; it always feels like you’re playing with time. You’re actually manipulating time, you know? It’s a song from the late 80’s and it’s not something we even did as a band back then. And now doing it live, it feels like playing with time. We have this contemporary line-up that’s gelled, like we just talked about, and we’re taking a song from then and placing it into today, with today’s presentation, and that’s when I start getting excited about tunes.
Amps: I remember back at Sundance in 1990, you did all ten minutes of “Playing With Spiders/Skullkrusher” and my buddy Steve and I freaked! I actually do a Classic Albums segment every Thursday and over the summer I did one on The Years of Decay. The few readers I DO have went nuts (laughing).
Blitz: Nice! My READER went nuts (busts out laughing)!! Somebody asked me once, “You have Facebook?” I went, “I have enough fuckin’ friends!” (More laughter from both of us) What did I call it, Sit-On-My-Facebook??
Amps: You said that we’re looking at a March release for the new album and then what? Take a little break, or right back out on the road?
Blitz: The record drops on a tour. We’re gonna start in Wales at a festival called Hammerfest which is a Welsh festival that’s been running for about ten years now. They’ve been trying to nab us year after year and we said, “Well, the timing’s right to drop a record”. We’re gonna start there, go through the UK and do our first Scottish shows. We’re trying to get the guys from Nazareth to come out and team up with us on “Hair of the Dog” or “Miss Misery” and we’re actually gonna cover “Miss Misery” for the next record as a bonus track. Then we’re gonna pop over to the mainland and I think we’re gonna take Skeletonwitch with us, so it should be a good tour. Those guys caught a great wave, there’s really good buzz. They’re hard-working, same kind of ethic we have with regard to that blue collar let’s-get-it-done, let’s get out there and play as much as we can. Overkill has always had that about them, and you’re from Long Island, you know. You grew up with these people. You’re happier with your tools on than with tools off. You have your weekends to relax, but those five days, that work ethic in the Northeast, especially in the Tri-State area is something that all of us living in that area should be very proud of, because it’s not everywhere else.
Amps: You mentioned Skeletonwitch, who I love. What do you think of some of the newer thrash bands now like Havok, Warbringer, 4ARM carrying the torch?
Blitz: Out of all of them I toured with…well I haven’t toured with Havok yet. I like the Havok stuff. The 4ARM guys I think have a unique approach to what was done prior. I like their tenacity. They’re nice fuckin’ guys, they were on the Testament tour with us, and we’ve done festivals with them over the last summer. The Warbringer guys I know for three tours and I love the fact that they progress every record and that they have-and I don’t mind somebody trying to grab the ring- I’ve never grabbed it, you know what I’m saying? I’ve taken shots at it, but it would be nice to see a young band grab the ring and keep it going. There’s been a great value in this music that’s transcended a long period of time. And I think the proof of that is in the 4ARMS, Havoks, and Warbringers. If you want proof of that look at the fact there’s guys in their early 20’s playing this shit!
And I think that one of the things is that when those bands first came around, to some degree they were carbon, it was the traditional and it was almost like they were paying homage to some of the older bands with their riffs, whether it be a Testament or an Exodus, or Death Angel. But I think that some of them are getting their personalities in line and finding an original bone and trying to expand on that. And that’s where it’ll take it into that next generation. So I applaud it. I don’t have any problems with it. I love exposing ourselves to-not literally (more laughter)!-but I like being exposed to the younger Warbringer-type fan, the 4ARM and Havok fan, on and on. So I think that’s a good thing for an older band to increase its depth with regard to a base. You’re not gonna grow with older people, you’re gonna grow with younger people. So the idea is that they do this whole scene a great justice, I’m a fan of the younger ones.
Amps: You mention finding their own sound, and I think that Havok really found the perfect blend on Unnatural Selection.
Blitz: It’s funny, they were on the bus the other night in Denver and I sat there, and I’ll always put up with maybe ten minutes of ass-kissing and then I finally stopped one of ‘em and I said, “That’s it, you’re done. No more ass-kissing, you’re the competition now, buddy!” (Raucous laughter from the bus at this point!)
Amps: Could you tell me a little bit about your chocolate shop?
Blitz: The story’s pretty simple. My wife is an immigrant, she’s from Europe. We had huge immigration trouble. We were married at the time, we married around 9/11; we actually married because of 9/11. We had a great relationship, making all these plans for the future, never with the thought of marriage; it was good as it was. So we married because we knew that the immigration situation would change immediately after that. And it changed for the worse for us because we didn’t file the right papers, and we had to get lawyers. She was deported, she was out of the country for about a year and a half, but we were still married. I’m not gonna complain about it, because a guy who’s working in a cardboard box factory is gonna have a harder time getting his wife back, but I’m over in her country at least three times a year and I would make more trips.
In any case, I was putting a studio together and I had everything set up, location, etc. And we knew that our visa was gonna come through, and she said, “Oh that’s great. Where do you see me in this?” And I said, “I don’t know. You could work there.” And she says, “I’m not gonna work in some studio.” And I said to myself, “You know, I really am a selfish fuck (laughing)!” I’m out there lookin’ for slave labor. So we retooled the whole business plan after she got back and got her green card. She had done a business plan for a chocolate shop, and it was a love of hers. I was always picked up by U.S. Customs with two suitcases of chocolate. They thought I was trying to sell it, there was a lady at JFK who’d be like, “Oh, there he is!” and she’d pull me aside, and this was pre-9/11, so she’d open it up and take two chocolate bars for herself.
But it really became a love of my wife’s and I cross-marketed it with her and it became a Mom & Pop business that’s very successful with a bunch of employees. It’s primarily Belgian imports. I used to be in the shop occasionally to help. I still go down with my tool belt to work on the electric or whatever else she needs, or clean glass, or help with deliveries, but the idea is that I’m better off out of the shop not dealing with the customers because I use the word fuck too much!! It’s a real high-end eclectic town, very bohemian, very musical, it’s got great theater and fantastic restaurants, all Zagat-rated stuff. The thing that makes me the most proud is that it’s the real immigrant story. The girl from Europe came over here and really made it happen. She deserves all the credit much more than I do.
Amps: Anything you’d like to say to the Overkill fans?
Blitz: It keeps coming and coming. I always say it’s nice to be here, but it’s nice to be anywhere at my age! Seeya on the road!
THIS was an absolute dream come true, I have to tell you guys. Plus, as soon as we finished, D.D. comes back to grab something, and Blitz introduces me as a fellow New Yorker, and D.D. says, “I could tell just by lookin’ at him. He didn’t even have to open his mouth!” to which we all laughed some more! I guess it’s true. You can take the boy outta NY, but ya can’t take NY outta the boy, huh? Overkill went on to fucking destroy Trees that night, too. And as you can see from that goofy grin on my face, this was truly a night I’ll never forget!