Technology is advancing at a faster rate than most of us are ready to accept. It’s no secret, music has been hit hard by these advancements. Consumers are constantly bombarded by advertisements demanding we stream or download. We are caught up in the ingenuity of getting the goods and forget the artistry that went into it.
Don’t you realize somebody other than a computer manufacturer thought up and preformed the songs this new technology has made so easily available? Shouldn’t the artist get paid handsomely? Without the art, there’s nothing to download or stream. Today’s musician must adapt, navigate and utilize these technological advancements.
Overkill has been around in some form since 1980, before satellite television, cell phones and the internet. They are pioneers in the world of thrash metal. When I heard I was going to interview Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth, I actually imagined him calling me from an old rotary phone somewhere deep in the bowels of New Jersey, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The day before my scheduled interview, I received a strange email with a phone number and access code. This kind of ‘technology’ is more typical for the business world than the music business. Phone interviews or ‘phoners’ as they are affectionately called, are typically conducted by the artist calling the journalist at a specific time or vice versa.
I was leery about using this technology in an interview setting, not to mention the instructions, which were phrased in such a way to make one believe this might be a conference call with multiple journalists battling for Blitz’s time!
Ten minutes before the interview, with my stomach in knots, I dialed the number and entered my magic pass code. A voice told me I was the first to enter the conference call. The next ten minutes felt as if time stood still, suddenly, I heard a ding on the line.
Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth made it on the line. He was initially as freaked as I was about this new technology but our interview revealed he’s highly adaptable and keenly aware of the impact of these new innovations and their implementation. Please enjoy some excerpts from our July 17th interview…
David Halbe: Hello?
Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellesworth: Hey Dave, Bobby ‘Blitz’!
Dave: Bobby ‘Blitz’, Dave Halbe with MetalRecusants, how are you today?
Blitz: Good, man, it’s a beautiful day in New Jersey. Where are you calling from?
Dave: I’m in Chicago actually.
Blitz: Yeah ok, this is weird for me, calling into this system. I usually have people’s phone numbers, I’m thinking, this is so fucking impersonal.
Dave: I am so glad to hear you say that, I was freaking out man. I thought this was going to be some kind of group conference call.
Dave: I’m serious man, I thought I was going to have to battle other people to ask you questions, not to mention give them my material.
Blitz: (Laughs) I hear you, I looked at it and said what the fuck is this?
Dave: (Laughs) Hey, I wanted to let you know I’m a long time Overkill fan. Overkill was the second concert (Saxon – Rock the Nations #1) of my life, I saw you guys play the Aragon Ballroom on the Taking Over tour, supporting Megadeth (Peace Sells). A local act from Chicago opened. (Zoetrope)
Blitz: I remember the show; that was only our second time ever through Chicago. We played through about a year and a half earlier with Slayer I think but I remember that Aragon show, that’s a big place. I remember I was so happy to go back to it because it reminded me of the interior design of Walt Disney’s: It’s a Small World.
Dave: (Laughs) Hilarious, I never thought of it like that before. So, do you got time for a couple questions today?
Blitz: Yeah man, no problem.
Dave: Perfect. “White Devil Armory“, what’s the meaning?
Blitz: The meaning is creation unto itself. When we start writing, we need a thread, a place to start. D.D. (D.D. Verni) records the riffs, he shows the rest of the guys and he threw the idea at me, armory, armory, it’s all about armory. He’s got me thinking, I’m thinking armory and he (D.D. Verni) starts sending me pictures and I’m like man, this guy is really enamored with this word, with this concept, so I start messing with it. I start adding adjectives, numbers, colors, looking for a situation. One day I sat down and scratched the word white devil on my phone bill and I thought there’s something going on here, you know when you get the whole Tarantino playing in your head, you know you kind of hit something special but it’s really creation unto itself. If I know he’s (D.D. Verni) using a particular word on concept to write with then I’ll also use it so it becomes a common thread for both of us with regards to lyrics.
Dave: Will there be any European Dates?
Blitz: Absolutely, we have a good mainstay in Europe, I still think it’s a US market for us, just thinking demographically in regards to people, but by the end of October the beginning of November we will be touring Europe with Prong, who will be supporting us for the US dates as well.
Dave: I read you recently shot two music videos (simultaneously) for the new album. What can you tell me about that?
Blitz: Well, the song “Armorist” was the first track. It was released about two weeks ago, sometime around the 7th July. The second track is one called “Bitter Pill”, there’s a contrast between the two tracks. One is a ‘thrash is the pecking order of the day track’, that’s “Armorist” where “Bitter Pill” has more of a Witches Hammer vibe to it, we picked a fast one and one with a mid-tempo.
As far as shooting two videos in one day we really wanted to capitalize monetarily. You really need something extra these days, something that separates the men from the boys. There was really a push to make it all happen, to roll and advance. Promoting yourself in 2014, especially in this musical genre, I think it’s a necessary promotional tool. This was a unique opportunity for the band, to have two videos for one release so that’s why we shot those two simultaneously.
Dave: What’s the value of a music video today when stations like VH1 Classic – will only play the old shit? I recently saw the video for “In Union We Stand”.
Blitz: That’s a good point but I really think the definition of a video has changed in regards to promotion. We live in the world of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube the world is now instantaneous and information is the key here. You’re on YouTube or Twitter and you say ‘Hey my new video is out, here’s the link’ Bang! You see this notification on your smart phone; you’re looking at it almost instantaneously.
It used to be something you had to plan. In the old days you’d get a case of beer and a couple of pizzas and you and your buddies would all hang out and watch Headbanger’s Ball.
Dave: You are so right!
Blitz: That was the ‘old thing’, it was almost a reason to get together and party but life has changed now in regards to that, I know I’m only stating the obvious but life is now instant. I think there’s the key, a band like Overkill wants to embrace those changes, embrace the modern day, we’ll still have the pizza and beer but now it’s anytime we want, that’s the key today, you’ve got to be in it so you’re abreast of all these new technological changes.
Dave: My White Devil Armory promo packet mentions two bonus deluxe songs, can you tell me anything about them?
Blitz: One is called “The Fight Song” , it’s one we really dragged out from our punk roots, the sing-a-long type of chorus, really punky guitars, a punky approach to the vocals and a straight ahead beat to keep it all in line. I don’t know if you’re familiar with a song we did called “Old School” off the album RELIXIV?
Dave: I think so, last track on the album, kind of a hard-core punk thing?
Blitz: Yeah, but with the sing along elements
Dave: Sounds fantastic.
Blitz: The second one is a cover tune from a band called Nazareth, the song is called “Miss Misery”, its old school rock and roll with a definite heavy metal vibe.
Dave: I know them well, great track off Hair of the Dog.
Blitz: I’ve always enjoyed Nazareth, I’ve always felt like I was cut for that kind of vibe with my voice.
Dave: Hell yeah.
Blitz: I did it as a duet with Mark Tornillo of Accept and TT Quick.
Dave: Sure, I know who Mark is, Metal of Honor, great album.
Blitz: That’s right, it’s me and Mark and we switch off verses and we do the chorus’ together, it’s kind of a unique thing, we have similar types of voices, it’s kinda different creating that third entity by singing together.
Dave: When does a band earn the moniker legendary?
Blitz: Man you know, I don’t think in those terms because I think I’m still in the game.
Dave: You are!
Blitz: (Laughs) I think the answer to that, Dave, is in how you get ready for a show. I look at it as kinda like a prize fight. It’s a championship fight and I hold up my hands in front of the tour manager and I say tape these fists!
Blitz: But I really can’t say in regards to Overkill because I’m still in the thick of it but when I think about bands that are legendary, I think they’re the ones that have managed to transcend generations, having been able to keep a dignified picture of themselves throughout the years, I think one of those bands would be Black Sabbath for instance.
Dave: You’re right.
Blitz: And I think the proof of something like that could be found in their last record 13, that album is just incredible. It knocked me right out of the water and turned my boat over, I mean with an effort like that, you’re just legendary.
Dave: I totally agree, I think that album took Sabbath back to their roots.
Blitz: How about Judas Priest? Going top 10 after all these years with Redeemer of Souls, in my mind this is a legendary band, that’s how I think in terms of legendary.
Dave: Will Overkill’s classic works (Atlantic) ever be re-issued?
Blitz: That’s a tough question because we’ve been trying to do that with Atlantic for years. You know, Atlantic holds on to things like grim death.
Dave: No shit?
Blitz: I mean, once it’s theirs it’s theirs, they don’t want to re-release it, it’s a guessing game and you have to remember a lot of the people we knew at Atlantic are gone now, they’ve moved on to different things. It’s as interchangeable as any other business, maybe even more so in the record industry, there isn’t a name to call there. I would absolutely like to do it. I think those records have a value but I also think our focus is on the present day, that’s why we’re releasing records like White Devil Armory instead of worrying about re-releases.
Dave: The reason I mention it is because original releases like Taking over, Years of Decay and Horrorscope are going for big money on Ebay, people think they’re out of print.
Blitz: But they’re not out of print that’s the issue, when I said before that they hold onto it like grim death, they keep it as what’s called ‘active product’ and they have to keep it on as an active product because they have it listed as so even if they are just printing 10 of them.
Dave: Oh my god, really?
Blitz: Yes, it’s a contractual type of loophole.
Dave: That’s ridiculous
Blitz: They keep it as active but it’s scarce so it drives up the prices everywhere else.
Blitz: Like I said before we’d like to get our hands on those records and re-release them properly through Nuclear Blast or somebody else but honestly I don’t see that happening without outside help in regards to legality.
Dave: Understood. How difficult is it getting for Overkill to create a set list and is it better to play your latest and greatest or reward longtime fans with the classics?
Blitz: Well, you’ve gotta have balance. I think for the fans it should be the latest, I mean if you can get five new songs into a set list of say seventeen as a fan that’s the greatest because those are the songs we never play.
Dave: That’s a really good point, it also keeps things fresh and interesting for you?
Blitz: Right and it really juices up the show in my opinion, the latest and greatest are good for us.
The classics need to be in there because they have a historical value. It’s really about balance and I still love doing the live shows, that’s what it’s about for me in regards to touring, it’s playing those five or six new ones live.
Dave: You’re going to sing at Rock Against Dystrophy this weekend, how did that come about? What are some other causes you champion?
Blitz: Well, it’s gonna happen this weekend and it’s also with Mark (Tornillo) of Accept and TT Quick, he asked me to do it and he’s a good dude and a Jersey guy so I said yes. I guess when it comes to helping; all you gotta do with me is ask (Laughs) It’s that simple.
Do I champion causes? Not specifically, but if I’m asked, always, it’s never an issue for me to donate my time and revenue to a good cause.
Dave: That’s very admirable of you. This is my final question, is metal a fad for younger generations or one of the last true forms of artistic expression?
Blitz: That’s a really good question. With any new found popularity, what becomes popular becomes ‘the fad’ but I think there’s something more here. I think once you come through the doors of metal, you realize there’s a longer commitment to it. I guess to some degree I’m living proof of that or DD (Verni) or even guys like Rob Halford, we were talking about Judas Priest a little while ago, but I think once you come through the doors you kind of shed a lot of what a fad could be defined as because heavy metal transcends generations, which I think shows it’s real value, a long term value, which keeps it potent for future generations.
Dave: Damn, that’s an insightful answer. Thanks a lot for your time today Blitz, I hope to catch you on tour!
Blitz: No problem Dave. Thanks and take care.
On a final note I just wanted to thank Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth again for his time. Upon the conclusion of writing this article I discovered White Devil Armory is the highest charting album in Overkill’s illustrious 30 year career. Overkill are certainly still ‘in the game’ and one could argue they’re now at the top of it. \m/
Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth – Vocals
Dave Link – Guitar
D.D. Verni – Bass
Derek Tailer – Guitar
Ron Lipnicki – Drums