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Exclusive! Interview With Overkill's Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth

By Krishta Abruzzini, Pacific Northwest Writer
Tuesday, June 3, 2003 @ 0:10 AM


Overkill Vocalist Bobby "Blitz

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Screw compromises. Overkill has and will remain on the forefront of metal composition, superceding many their peers who have given into the commercial promise of celebrity; only to succumb to a quiet demise, or worse, selling-out to their fans.

With years of experience, integrity and honesty, the boys from Jersey are back with their 13th album, titled Killbox 13 (Spitfire, 3/2003). While the tunes still provide the familiar metal these boys have given us over the past couple decades, they succeed in breathing a more modern approach with the latest release. Tracks like ďUntil I DieĒ and ďCrystal ClearĒ are vibrant examples of head-bashing, heart quickening songs that have enabled Overkill to remain one of the longest standing metal bands still around.

Between his busy schedule, Bobby (Blitz) Ellsworth took some time out to chat with meÖ

ELLSWORTH:: Hi Krishta, how are you doing?

KNAC.COM: Hey, Bobby, Iím well.
ELLSWORTH:: Hey, have we spoken before?

KNAC.COM: I donít think so. This is my first interview with you.
ELLSWORTH:: Well, itís a very familiar voice that you have. All of a sudden bells and whistles went off.

KNAC.COM: Nah, I would remember you. You get lots of interviews and havenít a clue really who your talking to. Iíve got the advantage in that I know what you look like, and with a little research, hopefully a little about you as well.
ELLSWORTH:: [laughing] You probably know more about me than I do.

KNAC.COM: Do you like the interview process?
ELLSWORTH:: Well, I donít dislike it. Iím certainly used to it being 20 years in this business and 13 releases. Iíve actually been the main promo guy since the beginning. I think Iíve done 2500 shows in the career of the band and probably done about 2510 interviews. So at the very least, that means Iím well versed at them.

KNAC.COM: Same old questions have got to get old occasionally.
ELLSWORTH:: Occasionally, Iím surprised.

KNAC.COM: Unfortunately, Iím afraid Iím not that clever.
ELLSWORTH:: I personally review the interviews.

KNAC.COM: Good God, no pressure on me. Well you were right on time with calling me todayóso youíre proving to be great on the business end.
ELLSWORTH:: Not only smart and good looking as my mother says, but punctual as well.

KNAC.COM: Well that doesnít really go along with the rock & roll lifestyle though, does it?
ELLSWORTH:: There are a lot of things that donít. That probably accounts for our longevity.

KNAC.COM: So a little about your historyóyou guys have been together about twenty years?
ELLSWORTH:: Overkill has existed, releasing professionally, since 1985. Feel the Fire was our first release on Megaforce Records. I met my partner D.D. Verni in 1981, through musicians classified; bass player looking forÖ and it said, singer looking forówe matched up adjectives and it seemed like a pretty good match and weíve had a relationship ever since. I donít necessarily recommend [the classifieds] for love, but for finding a band, itís a great idea.

"...we eliminated popularity from the equation. It was just really simple. This is what we like to do, and who gives a rats ass what anybody else thinks about it."
KNAC.COM: So you were the typical young boy interested in music, playing in a garage band?
ELLSWORTH:: Pretty much. I think it starts standing in front of a mirror with a broomstick doing guitar riffsóusually in your underwear before school. The specific reason I got a paper route, was because I joined the Columbia Record House and got my 14 records for a penny, and I needed to pay these people and my old man wouldnít do it. So I actually put work into this at an early age, you see. I look back and really, thatís the first time I worked for music. I needed that Black Sabbath collection.

KNAC.COM: Did you actually pay for the whole thing, or are they still haunting you today?
ELLSWORTH:: Yeah, I think I did. At least there not chasing me down anywhere. Itís funny though, I still get letters from them that say, ďCome back to us.Ē [laughs]

KNAC.COM: So, given your longevity, and success, do you guys have a formula?
ELLSWORTH:: First and foremost, itís something we love. Weíve always had a very high standard in how we present it. So our values are the valuesóand this is in hindsight, because I donít think we really had them in the beginningówe donít release anything that weíre not into or satisfied with. I also think that a long time ago, before the nineties, we eliminated popularity from the equation. It was just really simple. This is what we like to do, and who gives a rats ass what anybody else thinks about it. The bottom line is that whether we knew it or not, we kind of instituted purity into it. By having that in there, it gives us the opportunity to make music thatís really honest. I think that also translates when people listen to it. It was never really about what the fashion or style was, or what band X, Y and Z were doing, it had more to do with what we were doing and how we could further ourselves as opposed to the scene, or the fashion fads.

KNAC.COM: I interviewed a guy once, who had been in several popular bands; who now plays with various Ďprojects,í as the media would so quickly categorize it, but who is so much happier with playing what he essentially feels. Interestingly, he told me that even if youíre not making a million dollars, or selling a lot of albums, if youíre doing what you love to do, there is a way to make that your career. It wonít be measured monetarily perhaps, but again, you can make a living doing what you love.
ELLSWORTH:: In our case, that success is more in days than in dollars. And some people think, and in the beginning it was predominately my family, that I did this to avoid manual labor. Which is probably true. Dad says, ďIf youíre going to live here, youíre getting a job,Ē Öwell okay then, Iím starting a band [laughing].

KNAC.COM: Iíll do that gypsy thing.
ELLSWORTH:: My father says it was about beer and girls, and he was probably right about that, too. But the point is that as it becomes something and we recognize the value in it, whether that be to the people who listen to it, or to ourselves, then you kind of protect it. What I mean by protecting it is that you seize opportunity, you take the day and put as much as you can into it. Itís not about tomorrow, itís about today. I think Overkill has strung along twenty years of history based on today as opposed to the grand scheme of world domination. Really what comes out of it is this bombastic, aggressive offering, album after album that evolves at its own rate as opposed to what the popular opinion dictates. Or the short version is called, ďFuck Ďem!Ē

"Letís be honest, grunge kind of stepped all over [metal], but never killed it. It doesnít make sense. Usually when one genre comes in, it kills the genre that precedes it."
KNAC.COM: I like that version best. Does categorizing within this industry ever drive you crazy? I mean today its metal, tomorrow itís emo and who knows what itíll be next week.
ELLSWORTH:: Well, you know itís on a clock. I mean, sometimes itís six-thirty, other times itís midnight and itís awesome, you know? I think that [metal] always had its best and its purist in the underground. So when it comes to popularity and whether or not itís celebrated on wide level or scale, itís never how we perceive it to be. Letís be honest, grunge kind of stepped all over this, but never killed it. It doesnít make sense. Usually when one genre comes in, it kills the genre that precedes it. But metal has kind of always been here. When Marshall speakers were ripped by Hendrix and you got this whole distorted vibe coming out of his amps, itís been around ever since. It never really goes away. The thing I like about it is that from where we sit, itís always been underground. In the underground, itís really easy to have the philosophies I have because if Iím talking about purity -- who cares about whose feelings I hurt. Itís not about shaking hands with some big wig record execs. We can say, if you donít like us, weíre going to another label. I donít really care where it goes or what subdivisions itís divided into, or whoís listening to it. Rolling Stone wrote an article I think in í94 that said, ďMetalís dead, why donít you guys pack your bags and go work for your dad.Ē Well quite obviously 95% of the bands did. But out of the 5% who stayed, grew kind of a newer movement.

KNAC.COM: Are there ever days that you think it would just be easier to pull a pop song out of your hat and reap the benefits?
ELLSWORTH:: Iíd rather work for my dad. The way we write music, the end result is music. We know weíre a metal band, we know our end results when writing will be metal songs. But with that, when we are writing songs, they are just songs. Good songs are good songs across the board; itís just how you present them. I donít think for instance that Tony Bennett could sing anything off of Killbox 13, but somebody might be able to take it and rearrange it and say, ďWow, under different circumstances and arrangements, this could actually be a popular song.Ē

KNAC.COM: The genre of metal itself seems to be really emotionally serious. Are there ever times you want to tell your audience, ďHey kids, lighten up a little, would ya?Ē I mean, thereís a whole lotta man heat going on out there during a show.
ELLSWORTH:: Isnít it great to see that emotion evoked? Thatís one of the things I look at it as; is that if you can bring that emotion out in people, itís great. And letís be serious, Iím a headbanger. I was in Row 3 giving Lemmy the sign of the devil during the ĎAce of Spadesí tour, and then five years later, Iím touring with him. This is awesome. So I consider myself lucky to be in this position. I think thereís a good sense of community around metal-heads. I mean, youíre going to get a jerk out there every other week, but these are predominately people who will pick you up when you fall down based on your common love of the same music.

KNAC.COM: Thatís true. But youíve had your teeth knocked out by that jerky, zealous fan before, havenít you?
ELLSWORTH:: Well yeah, among a few other things [laughing]. Iíve have a few battle scars. Given a few tooóall in self-defense, Iíd like to add. But thatís all part of it. Itís the emotional high and the adrenaline gets going, it goes through the roof. And everybody explodes and once, being the band and the audience, itís a force to be reckoned with. Thatís the excitement about doing this stuff.

"...most of the [decisions made by members who have left], have been about life decisions. These guys are out starting families and businesses."
KNAC.COM: Your band has had quite a few personnel changes through the years. Do you feel like itís has gotten betterórealizing that you canít really say youíre unhappy with your current line-up, because that would be un-cool, but was there a personal favorite line-up youíve had?
ELLSWORTH:: Each line-up through the years has had its high point for me or been endearing for me. Strong points, weak points; the line-up we have right now, Dave Linsk, has brought us back something we havenít had in quite a while and that is the rebirth of the lead guitar, the overdub. I think itís something this band needs. So I am happy with this lineup. Really, when it comes to lineup changes, itís a misconception about D.D. and myself, being here for a long time; we donít chop heads. Thereís only been one head chopped in this band and that was the first member that left, who was Bobby Gustafson, and he was asked to leave. But everyone else has left of his own accord. So our rule is that you have to want to be here. So if you canít really commit to it the way that everyone else is committed, then itís probably best you leave. But most of the [decisions made by members who have left], have been about life decisions. These guys are out starting families and businesses. I mean, weíve been doing this a long time and to expect people to stick with us over that twenty-year period, I think is irrational.

KNAC.COM: I think a lot of people are into the instant gratification of it being a success overnight also.
ELLSWORTH:: A lot of guys think like that, but the bottom line is that when a new guy comes in, like Derek Tailer whoís are newest member, and Dave Linsk who joined in í99, they really raise the level of the whole band. Because they come in with this drooling hunger, and it really reenergizes everyone else.

KNAC.COM: Now personally, youíve gone through quite a bit, just to be where you are now. From my understanding you had quite a struggle with alcohol and substance abuseóand now, onto sobriety. How long has it been for you, being sober?
ELLSWORTH:: Eight years. Iím on my ninth year now. It was something necessary for me, a personal choice. It became a rebirth. Iíve had the opportunity to do Overkill on both sides of the fence, and if I had to look back as to which side I would choose personally, of course itís clear headed. Itís the way to fly for me. I donít like to sound like a preacher, and thatís why itís personal and very near and dear to my heart.

KNAC.COM: Being in this industry, you probably see a lot of people still going through abuse. Is that ever frustrating for you, or how do you deal with it?
ELLSWORTH:: I never see people who need the help, but then again, who am I to judge? The point is that the industry, letís say has always been known for upping the vices. Itís acceptable. It was the only job I could have through the eighties and half of the nineties where I could show up loaded, and no one could tell me to go home. The show must go on. My nickname, being Blitz, is actually an endearing part of my past. It was actually shortened from, ĎOh My God, Heís Blitzed Again.í My life has certainly changed, though. And the music industry has certainly claimed its fair share of casualties.

"My nickname, being Blitz, is actually an endearing part of my past. It was actually shortened from, ĎOh My God, Heís Blitzed Again.í My life has certainly changed, though."
KNAC.COM: It seems like its so glamorized in rock & roll, though. Itís almost like a badge of honor when a guy dies of a heroin overdoseóit becomes somewhat romanticized in the public eye. And yet itís tragic. Weíve probably lost a lot of very good music because of it.
ELLSWORTH:: It does up your status. Again, when it comes to a personal view on this, I donít need my status upped. I just simply had enough and turned it around. I mean, first of all, when it was gone, I found that it had nothing to do with the booze. The sickness was me. Now I just couldnít hide it behind the booze. The positive thing that I found is that Overkill didnít exist because of the reason I thought it did. It existed because I loved it. Overkill took precedence over it, which was great for me. And I write introspectively, I do the lyrics and the melodies. And Iím going to write about me, because I donít think itís necessary for me to write about things Iím unqualified to speak about. I may have political or social opinions, I may have gone through personal crisesí, but when it comes to how I think and how Iíve changed, thatís what Iím most qualified in. Iím not just speaking about alcohol abuse; Iím speaking about me as a person individually. When this stuff comes out in the lyrics, I think it become identifiable across the board to a lot of people. Itís that connecting element between Ďusí collectively.

For instance, on Killbox, I wove the Ďseven deadly sinsí through what I found and how it affected me. In many cases they are character downfalls or flaws, but with many of them, I seem to celebrate them also, and have no goddamn problem with that, either. I find myself to be a combination of many different things, which I think this becomes an identifiable link between the people who listen to it and who create it.

KNAC.COM: Itís very therapeutic to have an outlet such as this; to be able to write your words and life on paper, in songs, and have people listen to it and identify.
ELLSWORTH:: Itís quite a unique situation to be in for a guy like me, because Iíve used Overkill for years as sort of twisted therapy. Itís not something that everyone wants to read about, because quite obviously, the beast exists. But he is recognized. Heís not laying necessarily in wait, letís say occasionally heís chained and trying to break those chains, but the other side of it is that it is a vent. And by venting, it doesnít stay inside. I had a guy ask me once how I feel after writing a record. And I said, itís like Iím sweating and with a sigh, I go, ďAh, I got that out.Ē Not everybody has that opportunity, and I consider myself lucky to be able to pen a couple of words that are from the heart and the mind.

KNAC.COM: On Killbox 13, did you guys do anything new that you havenít from the past?
ELLSWORTH:: The first time in ten years we used a producer from soup to nuts, Colin Richardson. Heís mixed for us in the past. In í97 he did our record, From the Underground and Below, Bloodletting in 2000, but this is the first time weíve actually had a guy from pre-production, through the mix. So there was really no double-duty. It was really about concentrating on the tracks. I mean, I couldnít believe it, I was in the studio for only six hours and then I was back with my wife on the Jersey shores watching the waves crash. But itís really awesome, because we do not have to do both. Itís really about concentration and it was up to Colin. Thereís a big element of trust when you give this to someone to do. And we had it with Colin. Back in í97, Colin had just flown in from London, and he walked into the studio and weíd be updating him with demos and he wanted to hear the tracks and get something to eat. I had only known him for five minutes and he asked if we could give him an hour to listen to the tracks. My partner D.D. and I left the room, and I looked back through the glass and heís standing on a chair playing air guitar. And I said, we either made the biggest mistake of our lives, or this guyís going to be brilliant! But in any case, it was the latter, and thatís where that level of trust came from. Thatís the way Colin approaches music. I picture that day in my head and realize that he loves this shit as much as I love it. As much as D.D., Dave and Tim and Derek love this shit. I think for us it paid off because there was somebody there to mind the store, where wouldnít do it as thoroughly.

KNAC.COM: Are you guys going to be touring soon?
ELLSWORTH:: Sure. About mid-May in the States. It will start in the East Coast and take us out for about a month, then onto European festival season, which is my favorite. Then weíll be back in July through the mid-west and push our way west from there.

KNAC.COM: Do you enjoy touring?
ELLSWORTH:: Yeah, I enjoy the shows. Itís a lot of waiting. Itís twenty-two and a half hours to do an hour and a half show. When I think back, now I know why I drank.

KNAC.COM: A lot of time to wasteóor get wasted between shows. I hear you like motorcycles a lot. Do you ever get to take one out on the road with you?
ELLSWORTH:: No, I donít get to take one out. Itís mainly for financial reasons, but Iíd love to have it with me. Somebody told me, ďYou know, youíd be lost on it all the time if you had it with you,Ē and I just say, ďBut you donít understand, thatís the whole idea. You donít buy a bike to get somewhere; you buy it to get lost.Ē

KNAC.COM: So what do you do to fill your days?
ELLSWORTH:: I do a lot of press. The band is self-managed. Myself and my partner D.D. do it. We do have some partners who help us overseas, because we donít have an ear to the ground there. As much as we do love it, it is like running a business and that does take up a lot of the time. Iíve also been lucky enough to separate the hour and a half from the business, and kick it out and enjoy it.

"I think thereís a different approach to [touring], in that when they find something in Europe that they love, they most certainly hold onto it, whereas in the States, it always is a proving ground."
KNAC.COM: Do you find thereís a difference between touring the States compared to Europe?
ELLSWORTH:: Europe always seems like a family reunion. But once the music starts, it could be anywhere. It could be New York or Berlin. I think thereís a different approach to it, in that when they find something in Europe that they love, they most certainly hold onto it, whereas in the States, it always is a proving ground. But quite obviously, weíve lasted this long and are still able to do a hundred shows here in the States, which shows that weíve proved ourselves here, too, year after year.

KNAC.COM: How do you keep up with label support? With bands that wax and wane, how do you keep them on your side and still have the freedom to play what you wish?
ELLSWORTH:: I think in our case, itís always been about the idea. We have a real blue-collar work ethic. Itís constant communication between us and them. We just released a DVD [titled, Wrecking EverythingóAn Evening in Asbury Park], and their mouths dropped when we delivered the product. The reason that weíve switched labels was so we could get the opportunity to get this DVD through Eagle Vision, which is a division of Spitfire. Itís not about radio, itís about ideas and making them happen. Record labels like Spitfire seriously appreciate that based on the fact that the band are doers, not sayers.

KNAC.COM: Last question, a lot of bands are given gifts by their fansÖ
ELLSWORTH:: Iím holding mine right now.

KNAC.COM: [Stuttering] Iím afraid to ask you what it is now. Is it an animal? A baby?
ELLSWORTH:: [Laughing] This woman made a superhero doll of me. She took so much time and actually drew the tattoos in full detail. So itís a guy with no shirt on with these big flame tattoos up his side and forearm, and leather pants. Itís kind of got a little of that Village People vibe going on, but I was really very impressed.

KNAC.COM: So as Iím talking to you, youíre playingÖ
ELLSWORTH:: With my little friend [laughing]. I had this little Japanese woman give me a voodoo looking doll once. That was a little frightening. Oh, and two guys that ran a fan club over in Germany gave me Overkill custom fat bob gas tanks for my Harley, which was really cool. So Iíve been given some nice shit.

KNAC.COM: Youíve got a cool job, man. Thanks for the Q&A session.
ELLSWORTH:: Itís been fun. I hope to see you at one of the shows this summer.

KNAC.COM: You got it, me and all that man heat!


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