As one of the most iconic thrash bands to emerge from the genre, Overdrive had many questions for the vocalist about the bands forthcoming Historikill release, their legacy and involvement in the formation of thrash metal and their plans to return to Europe for some headline club shows.
OD – Let’s talk about the Historikill release which is set for release on October 16th. I remember buying your stuff when I was 16 or 17 years of age and when we got the press release for this, I though “Jesus Christ!” When you look at the concept of this box, it’s such a statement about how long you guys have been going for. It must have been mind-blowing for you to look at the box almost as a finished product, and say “Christ Almighty! It’s a statement of Overkill as a career!” Do you feel like that when you look at this as a collection of work?
BOBBY – Well, I can tell you for sure that it carries some weight (ha ha). There has been a long road traveled here and I think that when you put 11 CD’s in 1 box, it speaks volumes obviously. I think probably one of the more interesting things for me on this, I mean obviously it doesn’t encompass our whole career, because the newer records on Nuclear Blast are not included and some of the Atlantic Records stuff isn’t included, but it encompasses a period of time, especially in metal, when “metal” was a dirty word with regard to the masses and to above-ground press.
Overkill, as a band in the thrash / metal community, we don’t go away; we’re here and we have always been here. I think that popularity has waned on the scene during the years, but it has come back and is nearly as strong as it ever has been. There’s a whole new wave of metal fans out there right now, that didn’t experience those darker days. Those darker days had some really good shit in it and I think that’s the weight that this box set carries. Historikill shows that sure, there were some heavy pieces of real estate being released like Killbox 13, (2003), From The Underground And Below, (1997), or Necroshine, (1999). So I think it gives you the opportunity, especially if you’re a new guy, or an old guy, who didn’t experience that, it’s like “hey man – I can catch up in one box set!” it’s good news for everybody across the board here.
OD – One of the most impressive things about the Historikill box set, is that it’s only a half way point in your career and there is still a huge body of quality work there. There is no doubt that you are one of the hardest working bands from the thrash genre.
BOBBY – Yea totally, we just keep going! One of the things that I’m most proud of with this release and that time period, is that there was a certain staying power that we had. I don’t know if it was something our parents instilled in us when we were growing up (ha ha). You know that thing you get from your dad or mom, that transcends into you by osmosis: “find something you love doing and you’ll be happy every fucking day of your life” and this was one of the things that Overkill was always about from day one.
It wasn’t about what was popular, it was about us making the best with what we had and we started managing the band during that period. I really feel that that’s one of my proudest moments, because it was a darker day’s of metal. There was a whole bunch of bands who were our contemporaries, who went home and started living in their parent’s basements again. During this time we said, “you know, the fight is gonna get a bit tougher, so if we take the gloves off, we’re gonna earn this decade!”, and that’s one of the things that I’m most proud of about this band and what we do. Looking back at that time brings back memories that were tough for us as a band – it wasn’t easy then, that’s for sure. Thrash wasn’t widely accepted and popular anymore, but the other side of it was, hey this is what we wanted to do, so it wasn’t like we had an identity crisis where it was spawned from the rock star gene. It was about a work ethic that we had regardless of what the circumstances surrounded the trends.
OD – I’m drawn to the bonus material on the box set. How did you guys decide what to include from such a vast amount of material, from the likes of the Blood Money demo, Killology, Old School, Skull and Bones etc. Was it a time-consuming process to pick stuff for the bonus material?
BOBBY – Well to some degree we got lucky with that demo, because it was just floating around. But most of the stuff that we have recorded as songs, have been released. There are different versions that have been released here or there which have been floating around and usually fade into obscurity, disappear, or spontaneously combust over the years, or we just cant find the fucking thing (ha ha)! In this case, D.D. (Verni, bass), found the Horoscope (1991) tapes, and we thought that it was an interesting element to it, because it was one of our biggest selling records from the Atlantic era, when metal was on top of the world, the pre-dark ages of it. It was just interesting to find this shit and say “wow I didn’t even know this existed”. So as much as it is a surprise for fans of the band and fans of Horoscope, it was a surprise for us too! For us to get our hands on something that we were historically involved in, but also something which we thought was lost was very cool to be surprised also.
OD – How did D.D come across the tapes, was it in a dusty box in an attic or something?
BOBBY – I’m pretty sure it was in his garage down near Point Pleasant Beach in New Jersey, next to the baby clothes (ha ha)! He was probably looking for 3-in-1 oil to grease up his lawnmower or something and goes “holy shit! Look what I found!!” (ha ha). Honestly, I think it was kind of cool that we were planning this prior to him finding it and then when he found it we thought “hey how about a bonus disc?” So we threw some other shit on there as well like the Johnny Cash cover of Man In Black.
OD – I was just about to ask you about that, how did you come about doing that Johnny Cash cover as it’s not something that you would expect to hear Overkill doing?
BOBBY – Back in ’07 I did a side project called The Curse, with Dan Lorenzo (former Hades and Non-Fiction guitarist). Dan has been a good friend of mine from way back and he’s one of these guys who’s been bugging me for years to do a side project with him. He’s a guitar player who thinks a riff and can play the riff – he doesn’t need to work it out. He’s thought it, and he plays it, instantly, you know? It’s a real gift. So anyway, I thought it would be fun to lay down a few tracks with and I finally said, “OK I’m gonna do it”, but I really wanted to use a different vocal approach to vocals. I don’t want this to be “Overkill phase two”. My voice being what it is, happens to be so distinctive to that of Overkill, so I learned as much of the Johnny Cash back catalogue as I could and I thought ‘this shit is so fucking stellar for D.D Verni’s side project The Bronx Casket Company, so I kept jamming it down his throat like, “you gotta do Man in Black! You gotta do Sunday Morning Coming Down” and finally, he got into it and he said “Fuck it, why don’t we do it together? as obviously learned the catalogue.” So it turned out to be a duet.
We were in the studio one day and out came a clean-sounding electric guitar through a Fender twin-amp and a kick-drum and the only thing that’s missing is a harmonica, but it was D.D and I doing a duet, so there’s two vocals on it. It’s really a kind of a unique approach to it. It was taken seriously. It wasn’t like. “let’s Metallica-ise this”! We took it and respected it with the honour it deserves.
OD – What attracted you guys towards signing with Nuclear Blast records?
BOBBY – Well it’s multifaceted, I mean we had a good label over here, but one of the things about Nuclear Blast for me is, that when you walk into Nuclear Blast offices, you’re dealing with a guy in an Exodus t-shirt, or a Death Angel shirt, or a Fear Factory shirt. Whether its Markus (Staiger) the owner, all the way down to people who are packing boxes…it’s people that – nobody has to ask “who’s that guy?” Even if it’s someone putting tape on boxes, they put out their hand going “Hey Bobby nice to meet you”. You know you’re dealing on a comfortable level.
When we were first brought into the industry, we were brought in through Megaforce records, who were really a fan-based record label. So, when we’re into a fan-based approach to things, you know you’re dealing with people who love the shit you’re doing, so you get that extra bit of a push to it and we thought, if you add the box-set to that kind of mentality, it was kind of a good kick off for both of us to say “ok now it’s worldwide”. Our feelings are like this, we don’t like being told what to do, we know that they love the stuff, they obviously love the decisions we make, they’re behind us. This happened to be a good partnership. I’m not gonna tell you it’s all money or they’re the best. It was just a comfortable place to be for old fucking road dogs like us (ha ha). We can still continue doing what we want.
You know something funny just came to mind. The other day, my niece started her first year of college and in her last year of high school, she talked to all the family members about what she wanted to do because she couldn’t make a decision. So she sits down with me and asks me “Uncle Bobby, what do you do?” and I said “I have spent my entire life irritating the masses. That’s what I do” and she said “that’s an interesting way to look at it”. So when I think about “irritating the masses”, Nuclear Blast accepts Bobby, DD, Dave, Eric and Ron, irritating the masses and dealing with the minority. So that’s where out hook-up comes from and our good relationship.
OD – It’s not the first time Overdrive has heard about the good work that Nuclear Blast are doing for the metal community. It must be reassuring that your music is being handled by people that actually care about it and want to make it work.
BOBBY – Absolutely man, you hit the nail on the head! The first press junket I did for them (Nuclear Blast), I walked in there where everyone is on the phone and doing all their promo stuff and I waited for a second and Jaap Wagemacher said “Hey everyone hold on a second – this is Bobby Blitz from Overkill”, so everybody waves and say hi, and I took a really expensive bottle of Jack Daniels and put it on the table and I said “Boys – here’s to a good relationship!” and one of them stood up and said “This fucking guy is serious!” ha ha
OD – What do you feel for Bloodstock Open Air? You guys played this year, and not for the first time. It caters for so much – it’s such a special festival for metal. How did you enjoy it this year?
BOBBY – It’s definitely one of the cooler festivals. It’s not so big and you still feel that sense of community. It’s not like you’re lost within this huge metallic city, where you need a map. Even the little things like the ferris wheel and the little carnival rides just extend a really great vibe. I mean it’s all about having fun, right? You mentioned it earlier that when you were growing up and buying Overkill records, I think the key to Bloodstock is that when your there and surrounded by like minded people all digging the same vibe, it’s a reminder of why we got into this music and in some way, it’s like we’ve NOT grown up and we are still those metal-head kids, buying records, checking out bands, having a laugh and sinking beers. I think that’s part of the Bloodstock vibe and that’s what makes that festival so special.
It’s really about forgetting everything that you had that prior week, or prior month and getting there and letting it all hang out. I think that when the bands feel that way and get that feeling from the people who’ve paid hard-earned money to get in there, you get this chemical reaction and it’s like an explosion. For us, it’s one of the things I’m very proud about. Metal has gotten grey hairs, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be performed and presented at a high level. It’s one of the things that I’m very proud of with Overkill. When a young band comes off that Bloodstock stage, it’s bare knuckles, man!. I’m like “hey, good show, but I plan to bury you!” ha ha! You take that into Bloodstock with all these other things and the overall result is just amazing. It’s so competitive with all the bands, but there’s still a real sense of community and that makes for a special kind of a festival, which it is.We had a really great time there and I love going to the UK, especially for Bloodstock.
BOBBY – If you look up New Jersey in Merriam-Webster or Wikipedia, it’ll tell you that people who live in New Jersey, continually work and that’s what Overkill do, we never stop working! There are some riffs being tossed around at the moment for the next album and it’s slowly taking shape. It’s not like a plan of “let’s sit down and write a record”, there’s a plan, but for some of a record and the parts all exist to some degree. Everyone is in different studios, just working on their stuff and I’ve had parts presented to me already for songs that will be on future releases, if not this next one as it’s all about developing the material at this point.
So sure, we’re not going to fuck with our formula, we’re guys who have always been happier with our tools on, than on vacation on desert islands with supermodels. That shit don’t happen for us – we just work. It’s kinda cool for us. We have a U.S tour with Symphony X right now, then we’re doing South America and I think we’re gonna be back in the UK in early 2015. We’re gonna do two Irish shows this time around with April 10th in The Academy (click here for details), as we had such a blast on the Dublin date the last time, then we go through Scotland, then through Britain before making a jump over to Germany to do one really big show. But in the interim, we’re gonna be recording the record, so it’s business as usual for us.
OD – You’ve had your health problems in the past, and we’ve seen you twice in a year both in Ireland and at Bloodstock and you were amazing as a front-man. How are you feeling now?
BOBBY – Well I think the proof is in the pudding! Bloodstock was only last month ago, and it’s funny – regardless of what’s happened to me in my life, everyone has their cross to bear, no matter what they are. Mine are no more special than anyone else’s, only mine tend to happen when I’m standing in a stage usually, so somebody knows about it! When I think of it, if it was something I could keep to myself I would, under many circumstances, because it’s a private feeling. But regardless of what’s happened, it’s funny – I’m 56, I’ve had this shit happen, but I’m still standing. I still live like a fucking wild 25 year old! My wife is like “you wear a helmet on that motorcycle?” I say “it’s only gonna hurt me if I fall!” I still feel bulletproof regardless of all the bumps in the road, so I’m just gonna take it a day at a time and whatever happens, happens, and I resign myself to that.
OD – You were there when thrash really exploded back in the ‘80s. When you look back, do you feel that you were part of something really special? Do you have any memories that stand out?
BOBBY – Oh yeah, of course there were. Well, when we first started, the attraction to it was that it had no rules. Whatever the rule was on a Monday, it could be void by Wednesday and there was no blueprint, so it was kind of created out of thin air by jamming different genres together. We were a cover band prior – we were into the N.W.O.B.H.M and the American punk scene, so when you think of it, you go like “well that actually makes sense!” It has that kind of punky energy, but there’s also that musicianship and good song writing quality to it. So when you put those elements together, that’s when it happens, but I didn’t know anything back then.
I actually remember working at the Museum of Modern Art back then and I used to run the loading dock in the back, in New York City. Where we would have lunch, I knew a couple of girls who worked in the record industry and we would sit at this church and eat tuna fish sandwiches and drink beer between noon and 1pm and this girl came up to me and she said, “did you hear?” and I said “what?” she said “Elektra just signed Metallica”! When I heard this, my head spun and I got a hard-on at the same time ( ha ha ). I thought “this could be fucking big!” I was like “fuck this man, I’m not going back to work, I’m going to rehearsal!”
That was the indicator with regard to the entire thrash scene, because it was right there in front of us and it was happening. I could see the Elektra offices from where I worked and I knew a couple of the guys up there, as I had dropped our demos off there a couple of times and when they told me that it was really true and Metallica were signed, we were thinking that this is fucking great, because we were on that same plateau as them during that period of time and then all of a sudden there was interest within the scene in general. We knew all the guys in Metallica and were just so happy for them as were loads of other bands. There was a real sense of community back in those days as we all just really wanted to see each other do really well. Around this time, Atlantic started poking their nose in, Capitol went after Megadeth and I was thinking to yourself, “it’s only a matter of time”. I think that is the moment that I really felt an overwhelming sense of excitement about the whole scene. I probably had tuna fish on my chin and I was drinking warm Budweiser, but it was certainly worth it (ha ha).
OD – With Lemmy being ill, cancelling his shows, and Black Sabbath saying that “this is the end”, some of those who have been with us since day one will be retiring and leaving the scene, do you think there are a good line-up of bands out there that are good enough to carry the torch forward?
BOBBY – I think it’s yet to be seen because I think this scene is a scene of development. It’s very rare that a band will come on the scene and make a huge splash. If you think about huge splashes over the last couple of years, it’s probably Ghost, or Volbeat, but they still have history to them. It’s not like “here we are, accept us”, as in the pop genre. I was just messing around on the billboard chart and I seen just how high Lamb of God charted and I was thinking to myself “wow!” and I think of them as a newer band in relation to us. But the reality of Lamb of God, is that those fucking guys have been for nearly two thirds of the time D.D and I have been around! So, are they a new band? No they’re not! Have they made an impact on a large scale, based on their development? Yes they have! So I think its yet to be seen what the new breed of metal bands do, because it’s really the development phase for them. Is it possible that they will be regarded as one of the all time greats? Yes of course it is. Is it likely? Of course it’s likely. But I’ve not really seen it yet as of yet.
OD – With all the stuff that you’ve done with Overkill over the years, from tour buses to backstage, have you ever thought about putting some of that stuff in a book?
BOBBY – It’s funny because I’ve been asked by a couple of writers; a guy who writes in the U.K, another guy who writes in Canada, another one in the States and I said “I would never sell the history of Overkill” as I don’t think that’s necessary. One of the things that makes us “us”, is the ability to survive through that time, or those dark days, those non-fruitful days, is the fact that we know how to keep our secrets to ourselves. We were born in a state where if you had a big fucking mouth, you had to move out of it. If I had the opportunity to talk about it, I would only talk about the anecdotes, only about the funny moments. I like telling a good story and there are plenty of good stories, but I wouldn’t sit there and drag anyone through the mud. The sadness, the problems, that has nothing to do with anyone else’s business. We obviously handled all of them – that’s why we’re here. I think somewhere in there is the mystery of it – “how could they have gotten through all that shit?”, is more interesting in a person’s head, than to be reading it in text. But some of those other stories in there are quite funny.
OD – Can you recall any situation that you ever found yourself in that still makes you smile today?
BOBBY – D.D Verni (bass) never drinks…. ever. At the beginning, when we were hanging out as an unsigned band, he might have a few beers at the weekend, but he never one of these party guys. He was always really about the business and that’s why he’s a great partner; he’s 100% reliable, 100% of the time. That’s awesome, but twice a year the guy would go out for birthdays or whatever and have a few beers. Now I got sober in ’95, back when we started managing the band. My fault was, if I was dealing with people, I wanna be reliable too and what I say is what I mean and it’s not said over too many beers. This was a really good move for me and has worked so well for the band ever since.
So present day, Overkill consists of two guys who are pretty clean living, managing the band and kicking ass. So this one time, we go down to Atlanta and I dunno if it’s D.D’s birthday or whatever, but he has a few beers. For a guy that doesn’t drink, it takes something like three beers for D.D to get lit up like the fourth of July (ha ha). He’s absolutely lit up and I’m stone cold sober, in the front of the bus, next to the driver so D.D can’t see me. He’s shouting “c’mon let’s get this fucking’ bus outta here!” and the tour manager is going “but D.D – Blitz isn’t on the bus yet” and D.D goes, “well fuck him, that curly headed motherfucker!, if it wasn’t for me, that fucker would be selling used fucking cars!”. I can’t be sitting more than a foot and a half away from him and I’m just dying inside with laughter. I’m holding my fucking stomach trying to not explode all over the place, laughing my ass off! Like Jesus – talk about not being able to handle your drink!!! That was way back in the ‘90s and I think I’ve seen him have about 2 beers since, so by no means was it a regular thing.
HistoriKill: 1995 – 2007’ which will be released on October 16th via Nuclear Blast. Pre-order your copy by clicking on the graphic below!
For more information on Overkill, check out the links below:
OVERKILL WILL BE PLAYING DUBLIN’S ACADEMY ON SUNDAY 10TH APRIL 2016. TICKETS ON SALE WEDNESDAY 23RD SEPTEMBER FROM TICKETMASTER.IE AND SOUND CELLAR.
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