by Deb Rao
– Senior Columnist —
One band that is responsible for taking the Thrash scene to a new level is Overkill. During the past 35 years, Overkill has taken nothing for granted. The bands blue-collar work vibe has kept Overkill at the top of the game. With the release of their 17th album, White Devil Armory, Overkill has cracked the Top 40 taking the band to a new realm of excellence.
One reason Overkill has survived the test of time is lead singer Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth. His down to earth Jersey Shore roots has kept the band grounded, always looking to succeed and never repeating himself. Hardrock Haven had the pleasure of discussing the making of White Devil Armory in full depth with Overkill singer Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth. Sit down and enjoy the ride, as Bobby talks candidly about 30 years in the music business and still going strong.
HRH: Bobby, great to speak with you. I read that White Devil Armory has cracked the Top 40. Congratulations!
Bobby: It is funny that this many years on that we get this many accolades. It seems to be a healthy scene right now. There seems to be a group that is knew to this stuff. So the combination of that together, we are really happy about it.
HRH: Now the band is getting ready to go on tour correct?
Bobby: We are in Springfield, Va. right now. It is going to be short about three weeks. After this we are headed over to Europe.
HRH: On this tour are you going to be playing a lot of the new songs from the new album? Is it hard to put together a set list? You have so many great songs.
Bobby: It is funny. With 17 records in, you can just barely play one with every record. Our feeling is when you put new songs in that are always the most exciting thing for the band. We haven’t played these songs thousands of times but in rehearsal. We picked three new tunes, three obscure tunes, and couple of ones that we haven’t done over the last album like Ironbound and Electric Age. It is kind of a mix of things but there is going to be a mix of three new tunes on there.
HRH: Do you enjoy playing the new songs more than the older tunes?
Bobby: Without a doubt. Because it is new. It is more exciting to be in territory that you are unfamiliar with. It always seems like a venture. This band started in the ’80s. If we started counting our shows we are probably over 5000 to 6000 shows. The idea when we play the new ones is to come to that fierce excitement that we had when we started this band.
HRH: When you entered the studio to record White Devil Armory, did you want to go back to more old school on this album? What was the vibe?
Bobby: There is not of talking when we go in. It is more about action and reaction. The chemistry between the band members is really good. I think by doing it this way, the songs kind of take shape itself. We are not talking about repeating ourselves, we are just making that type of flavor convey. That is always in your head, that you don’t want to repeat yourself. I do think at the end of the day, whether it be a lottery, or horoscope Overkill is Overkill. It is going to come out as an Overkill album in the end.
HRH: Did you make the new video “Armorist” in New Jersey?”
Bobby: Yes, we did in Jersey. We actually did two videos the same day. The location was a really old factory. I was looking at the smokestack and the date on the factory was 1854. It had a warehouse type of vibe with big windows. Kevin really wanted to use the natural light. It was strictly performance with a lot of close-ups and a lot of natural light. And then we went to the basement. The contents were carved out of stone of the mountain that it sits on. That is where we did “Bitter Pill” in the bowels of the complex.
HRH: Would you say the album has a political vibe to it?
Bobby: I obviously write emotionally. It is hard to repeat yourself when it comes to emotions. Emotions are expressive or can be repetitive. What I did this time was, I kind of created a character. He didn’t get really political. There is a couple of tongue in cheeks kind of shoots in there. But this is no means a political record. Probably the most political song on there is “King Of The Rat Bastards.” All the other ones are about the Armorist. He kind of travels into solitude into a unified feeling finding his value through the strength of others. It was a concept of using some guy who goes through some bitter pill where he sheds his pride. He learns that all positions are not his own. Sometimes it is other input that rules his life.
HRH: How has your Jersey roots kept you grounded throughout your career? Overkill has always been a peoples band.
Bobby: You know something about Jersey and the suburbs of New York you are so close to the one of the biggest cities of the world. Or one of the most International cities of the world. But also in New Jersey you have that serious blue collar work effort. It is really about getting the job done. That has always been a focus. We weren’t there to obtain fame. We started a band because it got us high! We enjoyed chasing that high. To have that high continue you have to get the job done. So there has to be that type of work ethnic in there. To have a future go from point A to B. And from Point B to C. It is not a principle that we sit down and talk about. But this is where we are from. It is what are parents did. It is what Dave’s parents did and Ron’s and Derek’s. Sure it keeps you grounded. It is about doing a good job.
HRH: You have inspired so many bands in the industry today. How has it changed recording wise? Do you find it easier? Back in the day, record companies would give bands huge amounts of money to record. Now today, you have pro-tools and record a lot cheaper. It is a limited budget but you have control and pro-tools. What are your thoughts?
Bobby: I agree with that. When I first come into the music business it was the end of the era of excess. A record deal wasn’t 40,000 bucks. A record deal was six figures. For a very big band it was seven figures. Again that is based on excess. That excess came from a record industry that obviously milked the public. They realized they were charging so much for their product that that could filter into the band. There is nothing wrong with making money, I am a capitalist don’t get me wrong. But I think what ended up happening was technology changed and the record budget shrank based on sales shrinking that people came up with ways to actually make great sounding stuff at a lower cost. It kind of evened itself out. I think the only bad thing about technology is that everyone can use it. Back in the day of excess, you really had to work at playing for record companies to throw that record deal at you. Now you can be made in the bedroom. It is for sure everyone has a shot at it with pro-tools.
HRH: It seems to that you are building your fan base through generations of fans. I was at your show in Vegas and this kid told me that Bobby is the best. It is like a whole new generation of fans.
Bobby: It goes to show me the value that music is transferred from generation to generation. You see a guy bringing his daughter. You are really talking about three generations of people. I think that shows the value. We never jumped into this for fame or fortune. We jumped into this because we were attracted to it. I think this is one of the unique things about this sub genre of heavy metal; the people who like it feel the same way. They listen to it because they love it. Some people play it because they love it. There are not other motivations here. I think that is where that honest value comes from. That is why it becomes Tran generation.
HRH: Now for touring plans, you are touring the U.S. Then you are headed to Europe in November. What are your thoughts on touring?
Bobby: I love traveling. I never had a problem with it. I know other guys in the band that say, “OMG I have been touring forever.” I think it is the way we have it set up. We don’t pull out for months at a time. We are out for a month. We are home for a month. That kind of keeps everything in balance. I love revisiting places like Europe. Or even playing new places even after this many years.
HRH: 30 years in the business. What is your favorite highlight?
Bobby: It is funny. There are so many highlights. There are funny stories. But getting signed still sticks out in my head. Without being signed none of this other stuff is possible. To me it almost feels like yesterday. I was a 23-year-old kid. I had a beer in a bag and I was standing in a lawyer’s office signing a record deal. That is obviously the highlight because it became the door that everything that followed.
HRH: Is there anything else you want to say about the new album to the fans?
Bobby: We are happy with it. And us having the opportunity to chart high on billboard, it is not just us charting, it is the people that picked us up. They broke the top 40 too. It wasn’t just us. It is really a good feeling to know that it is still relevant this many years later. It is still about what today is not what yesterday was.
HRH: I am so proud of you. That is really great 30 years and you are still going strong topping Billboard Top 40.
Bobby: Somebody yesterday asked me,” How does it feel to be Top 40?” I said, “Nothing is different when you are Top 40 and still mowing your own lawn!” (Laughter)
HRH: Thanks Bobby, you’re the best. See you in Vegas in 2015.
Visit Overkill online: www.facebook.com/overkillwreckingcrew