New Jersey’s most iconic metal band, Overkill helped put East Coast Thrash metal on the map thanks to their ferocious punk-infused translation of the genre earning them a well-deserved place in metal’s already rich history.
As we greet vocalist Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth in the confines of the venues backstage labyrinth, we are met with the same good-humoured and animated frontman that we greeted in this very venue upon their last performance date in Ireland back in April 2016.
OD – Welcome back not only to Ireland but with a stunning new album. ‘The Wings of War’ just erupts from the get-go and doesn’t let up the whole way through. Considering how long Overkill have been in the game, how do you feel in knowing that you’re are smoking bands half your age.
BLITZ – (Laughing) Its part of the motivation for us. We don’t want to be considered irrelevant in the current day or if we’re just ‘mailing’ in our tracks, or writing half-assed songs, or rehashing what we’ve already done. For us, each new album is a new opportunity we fucking grab that with both hands.
Hey, listen, man, if the younger bands want to carry the flag, I’ve got no problem given it to them but they’ll have to pry it out of my hands. (Laughing)
OD – This album has all the venom that I hoped for with a healthy punk influence to boot which you’ve always maintained as well as that east coast ‘fuck you’ attitude, which to me was, and still is, the absolute antithesis and was most definitely what separated the vibe from all the other thrash bands that were coming out on the West Coast as well as Mainland Europe. It’s a totally unique sound in some ways, would you agree?
BLITZ – Hey, we’re all Ginnies, Polacks and Irish over there (Laughing). Out of that comes a great work ethic. Let me tell you, the New Jersey vibe is blue collar hardworking and zero bullshit. The New Yorkers, especially the Manhattanites, they are from everywhere BUT New York. They made their money and moved there, living among the ‘posh’ and that’s where they can make more money.
These people are from Canada and Boston and fucking Florida (laughing). But the rest of us over in Jersey and the burrows of New York don’t have that fucking chip on our shoulders. At the end of the day what we do and as well as all the other bands that came outta that scene, it’s a great expression of what we do.
I’ve never run into a more attitude-filled corridor than New Jersey or in some cases parts of Dublin and Belfast (laughing). You don’t have to worry about a Jersey guy bullshitting you. On the West Coast, you gotta read between the lines a little more than usual.
OD – This is album number 19!! When you look at other bands that have been going as long as you and seem to take three times as long to write and release albums it’s kind of amazing. I like to think that Overkill has the work ethic from the way bands were back in the ’70s where they just kept recording, releasing and touring. There was none of this 5/6 year wait between albums. Would you agree with that?
BLITZ – Well, part of what we do is that we gotta eat. It’s part of our visibility, do you know what I mean? People gotta remember when we’re writing and recording, we’re invisible and there’s no frontline financial income coming in unless we’re doing a few Festivals or a short tour.
We’re not going to be as visible as when we’re releasing a new record. So, for us to stay at this level, it’s up to us to keep this beast moving. It’s also part of the style of music that we play. There is a sense of ‘Punk immediacy‘ to it and it needs to be immediate. And in some ways that really works for us and is an underlining catalyst to our sound and the frequency of us releasing new studio albums.
OD – From the documentary ‘Welcome to the Garden State’ one thing I noticed was that some of the venues that were mentioned ‘Birch Hill’, (New Jersey) ‘Colony Coliseum’ (New York) not to mention L’Amour’s in Brooklyn, The Tower, The Galaxy, Mingles, The Fast Lane, The Rocking Horse are all gone. No doubt, you’ve seen this happen over the decades, do you feel that things are a lot harder now for bands in the sense that there are not too many venues left for them to do their thing?
BLITZ – That’s a great point and I totally agree with you on this. Those clubs were vital for the metal scene on the East Coast. Not only were they places where bands could get up on stage and rip it night after night, but it was also a major social hub for lots of pocket scenes to come together, meet each other and have a six-pack in the carpark either before or after the show. That’s how connections were made that led to other gigs, tours, finding out about new bands and catching up with old bands.
It was the necessary element that really helped strengthen the metal scene back then. You could go to a whole network of clubs over the weekend and not hit the same place for another six months. It was an awesome time.
Now that these places are not there anymore, I totally agree that it’s way harder for younger bands starting off. The other side of it is, that it’s easier to make a great sounding record, but it’s harder to get it exposed to at a high level because there are so many that are doing it right now.
There are bands that can make a great sounding record in their fucking bedrooms with protools. It’s kind of unbelievable. So, you have all of these new great bands and they have nowhere to actually display their talents.
OD – Do you feel that you had an opportunity that most bands would die for in today’s present circumstances?
BLITZ – Well, yeah, we came in at just the right time. It was right before all the big changes. We also had the ability to write engaging music and the vehicle -which was the clubs – to let people see what we could do in a live situation.
OD – Also, it was apparent to me not only from the documentary but also from the press I’ve done with other bands over the years, regarding the lack of radio support now, there’s no college radio anymore or Headbangers Ball on MTV. It’s so much harder to find a new audience these days, would you agree?
BLITZ – It’s hard to see this happening. But yes, all of the platforms are slowly disappearing. I’m not a socialist by any standards but things are totally becoming homogenised with people just asking ‘give me‘ rather than going out and making it happen themselves.
There’s just a lot of middle ground now with no extremes. I think it’s kind of a shame as it’s taking the snot out of life and I think that life SHOULD have it’s fair amount of piss ‘n vinegar in it (Laughing).
OD – When Jason (Bittner, ex-Shadows Fall) was it just an instant fit from the get-go?
BLITZ – Yeah, the fucking audition was done over the phone. (Laughing) We’ve known Jason for years and he was a natural choice. I’m not slagging anything against Ron (Lipnicki), as he gave the band a different sound and now Jason brings a different kind of chemistry to the sound which is a whole other level of brutality.
Jason is a very confident dude. He’s also a fucking ball-buster! He’s in the band for a week and he’s busting balls and doing practical jokes and we said: “Alright, now you’re fair game“. (Laughing)
OD – When you see bands like Slayer calling it a day and other bands packing it in for one reason or another, do you feel that there is a certain lightning in a bottle from an era that kids are not gonna experience, because that Thrash metal explosion was intense back in the ’80s and there hasn’t been anything like it since?
BLITZ – I think it has a lot to do with the way the world is going. Thrash metal was born in the underground and it was raw, brutal, organic and formidable. There was a sense of ‘fuck’ you’ throughout the scene. Things were so different back then. You had to get up off your fucking ass and get something if you wanted it.
There were no shortcuts, it was hardcore touring, brutal live shows, and a neverending struggle as a gang to chase our dreams. Today, you don’t really need to go and get anything anymore as it all kind of comes to you and people tend to sit back and expect things to happen without getting their hands dirty.
OD – Jonny Z is bringing out a book about Megaforce later this year, have you had any insight into the book or was he in touch when putting it together and would you ever consider doing something the same or is it a case of ‘you know where all the bodies are buried’ and think that it’s something that you wish to keep to yourself?
BLITZ – Jonny used to have this brick n’ mortar place over in Clarke, NY and we used to go over there after rehearsal to drink beer and listen to all the new releases that were coming out around that time.
With regards to his book, he never reached out to me for any stories or anything like that. In fact, the last time I heard from Jonny was one night when I was up writing very late and the phone rang. I looked at the screen and I’m like: “Oh fuck, who died?” (Laughing)
I answered the phone and he’s like: “Hey Bobby! This is the year man, this is the year of Bobby Blitz, DD Verni and Overkill” and I’m sitting there like: “Thanks Johnny, so did anybody die?” (Laughing) That was the last time I spoke to Johnny Z.
OD – I remember bringing home a copy of ‘Fuck You’ and thought my parents would be all pissed off but they didn’t mind at all. Even for then, that was an edgy album cover and one that you would never get away with today. The snowflake generation are quite literally the anti generation of what metal is. Do you think that this social movement will ultimately affect the standard of music and art, in general, going forward?
BLITZ – How fucking funny is it that people like you and I are the last cowboys? Under the current regime, things are looking grim. There’s no urgency with young people anymore. Just a lot of bitching and moaning.
One of the best quotes I heard about people being offended was from an interview Lemmy did about 10 or 15 years ago, and he said: “I’m offended that I offend you!” (Laughing)
OD – Finally, if you had the opportunity to create a tour package with any bands on it who would it be or is there anyone that you have always wanted to tour with but have yet to share a stage?
BLITZ – Oh for fuck’s sake that’s a hard one. Let me think. I’ve toured with most bands but I guess it would have to be Judas Priest. I’ve toured with Halford but never Priest. Priest have some great shit to offer, that last album ‘Firepower’ had some serious balls. Also, one of the plus things would be us being the younger bands on the tour! (Laughing)
I remember doing some shows with Deep Purple and D.D said to me: “Hey Bobby, for once, we’re the younger guys on this fucking tour!” (Laughing)
Overkill’s latest studio album ‘The Wings of War‘ is out now via Nuclear Blast. Click here to purchase a copy.
Photos – Down The Barrel Photography © 2019