Many bands come and go, but a selected few manage to entertain their audience for decades. And yes, Overkill is one of these bands. Obviously. This is also why Power of Metal used the chance to need only do a live review of Overkill’s current tour, but also to do an interview with Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth about what Heavy Metal means to him. What does music mean to him? How does he see himself as an artist? What keeps him going? Are you curious? Then keep on reading!
Living the dream
PoM: Good to see you!
Bobby: Good to see you too.
PoM: So, how has the tour been so far?
Bobby: Oh, happy to be here. Always a good feeling here in Deutschland. That’s where we got our start back in 1986. Our first show was in Munchen, Alabama Hall. It was good. We have done shows prior to that obviously, but they were local shows from New York, Jersey to Baltimore and Boston. But this was our first world tour as a band. I think it was called the Metal Hammer Road Show in 1986. So, to be back here always has that special feeling and I think that we’ve carried people with us since ’86 and also new people so there’s more generations involved that gives the tour its value. So the tour’s been good so far.
PoM: Great. Heavy Metal has been running for decades now. Heavy Metal is also an art though. What does art mean to you? Heavy Metal as an art.
Bobby: I don’t ever think of it as an art. I think that is one of my keys to enjoy. I think artists can be frustrated. I think craftsmen make things better and I can as a craftsman from my contribution to the band, trying to do it a little better, trying to push it a little further. I think at the end of the day it is always Overkill. I think it is identifiable and I think easy to pick up. We’re kind of a brand even with our sound. But if I think of it in terms of “the artist” I think of it in terms of dissatisfaction. When I think in terms of a craftsman I think in terms of satisfaction.
PoM: Personally I believe it is actually both. You’ve got to take care of your voice..
[interrupted by a laugh after which Bobby puffs demonstratively from his e-cigarette]
PoM: It is not a cigarette, so you do take care…
Bobby: Well, think that is also age. I’m 57. At this point whether I was in rock n’roll, or something else, I would have to make adjustments by this time. But you know, part of that is luck. You are getting into a routine over touring for 30 years where you can say “you know you need to be hydrated during the day”, you know that you have to drink 6 half litres of water, you know that you have to have fruit. You just know this. Your body tells you. It would tell me this if I was an athlete, it would tell me this if I was an accountant.
PoM: In a way you are an athlete.
Bobby: That is just the way I am. So I think that it is paying attention to what your body tells you. Trying to stay in shape. Vitamins… all the little tricks in your head that make you feel better.
PoM: How do you feel about all the other aspects like the clothing, the light and such. You are not a country music player who just sits there on a chair and plays his music without moving around. There are so many little things that come together. Also what about the artists who draw your album covers?
Bobby: Well, I think you have to take a look at the scene. You know, the scene is about explosion. You know, it’s not about necessarily what I do alone. With this form of music involved as its 6th member is the audience. IT is about simultaneously exploding. That’s where the release comes from. You know, I always say in interviews over the past years that I was lucky that the only drug I ever really got hooked on was banging my head. [laughs] Because it was the best I found. And playing live on stage I always searched for that first high again. So it is not really a bad addiction and I think it can become very motivating to continue on not say for a decade, but maybe three, maybe four. I don’t know. We’re also a band that’s been involved in every aspect of our presentation and that from the beginning. We’re even self-managed and have been since the 90s. So when you see an Overkill shirt, when you see a banner, or a backdrop, or artwork for the record, it all goes over my desk, D.D.’s desk and gets approved. So I think when we are involved in writing, managing, art, planning the tours, doing the budgets there is a pride when it succeeds. And I think pride and Heavy Metal really go together, because I think that the audience and the bands are proud of each other, realising you don’t do this by yourself. Artists together, groups together.
PoM: Well, it is always a group experience. If the audience was just sitting there, heads nodding “Hm, nice”… You would probably be like, well, what would you be like if the audience wouldn’t move even a bit?
Bobby: Well, it would be so hard for me to even speculate about this. I’ve only seen it the other way. I think it would be the weirdest thing if they just sat there on chairs and clap politely. [laughs]
PoM: Maybe it would be worth it.
Bobby: Women in evening dresses and men in tuxedos. [laughs]
PoM: Maybe we shouldn’t get into that. Anyway, you said that it is always an explosion. For me it was a Saxon album that gave me that feeling like somebody had picked me up and smashed me against a wall and I just wanted more.
Bobby: It sounds good.
PoM: Yes. [Bobby laughs] That’s something that people who are not into Heavy Metal completely fail to understand. Well, what was your first album and how would you explain why this is such a great feeling?
Bobby: I don’t think that you can explain it verbally. You have to experience it. You have to have it in you before. It think if you are a Metalhead it must be part of your DNA, because as many people as it turns on, it turns off more of them. I remember how somebody asked me what I really did for a living. I said “I alienate the masses, but I endear myself to a special few.” [laughs] If you think of it that way, that is why it is special to us. Maybe that is why you want to be picked up and thrown against a wall, because *we* understand. [laughs] And my first record was… Well, I was more… When I was growing up as a kid my first job was paperboy. I was 14 so it was 1973. Heavy Metal existed in some form. We saw the birth of Deep Purple, Black Sabbath had some records out so I remember what I did was join a record club so you could get 13 LPs for one cent and then you had to buy another 13 for regular price over the year. So picked 13 with anything that said Hard Rock, or Heavy Metal. So I really had no experience at this point. I was only 14 years old. This wasn’t played on the radio. And I had Led Zeppelin and I had Black Sabbath, I had Deep Purple and early Alice Cooper. And these were the records that took it to the next step from my dad’s Johnny Cash and the Beatles to “Oh my God, I have a secret!” And from there, by the late 70s the New Wave of British Heavy Metal started. And I was in High School and said rock n’roll is my destiny and I want to be thrown against the wall again and again.
PoM: Yeah, it is always quite an experience. But what about touring? I mean, I suspect that you see mostly the bus, hotel rooms, rooms like this one here, but do you sometimes take time to take a look at the city you are in?
Bobby: Yeah, I can tell you I’ve been on tour since the second of November and I have already seen the highest church in Ulm in Bavaria. I did that because my wife came out and then a friend took us air ballooning! [laughs] So we spend time over the Alps. I do things. I think that is one of the things that makes it interesting. If you travel and you consider travel as something really negative then you will never enjoy it. If you consider travelling an opportunity you can see different things, you can go to the pike market in Seattle. You can go to the Sunset Strip, Downtown New York, walk through Berlin, go to where the Wall was, Checkpoint Charlie. I see these things! It is not about getting to my destination, it is about enjoying the journey. And if I enjoy the journey for 30 years and then my wife comes and says “Let’s go air ballooning in Germany!” [laughs] “Okay”! So to answer your question, you can probably see it in my face!
PoM: No doubt about that! But since you are already talking about your wife. She is running a chocolate store in New York, right?
Bobby: It was a family business. We owned two shops, one in New York, one in New Jersey. I handled the things behind the desk. She handled the customers. We sold it approximately a year ago. It was so that she could come air ballooning. So it was for a good reason! It sold in two weeks which to me was amazing. So, it was a great business and I really accredit her for building it, but life is about enjoying and she said that she was working 7 days a week and that she wanted to see her husband and see the world again.
PoM: There is something I wanted to point out here. We have a chocolate museum here in Cologne.
Bobby: Oh? I haven’t seen it though. My wife was here until this morning. We could have gone there before she left.
PoM: Next time you are here you know where to go!
Bobby: Yeah. I have it in my head filed away.
PoM: Just take some other clothes with you. They have a tropical house there and you will likely sweat enough on stage. [Bobby chuckles] By the way, the first fans are already waiting outside. Does it give you a fuzzy feeling when you know that your fans are waiting outside in this weather?
Bobby: The fuzzy feeling is more about the show, but we really are an accessible band. I’m not going to stand in a rain storm under an umbrella but if there is no rain, even when it is cold, I usually walk around and shake hands. It is not necessarily for them, it makes *me* feel good. The thought that anybody would spend so much time, energy, commitment, money on something that *I* do. So, it is not a fuzzy feeling, it is a warm feeling.
PoM: And what about Cologne Cathedral?
Bobby: Of course! I’ve been there two or three times. I like to see things. When you are so central then it is easy, when you are out there in the farms then you see nothing.
PoM: How about some final words for your fans?
Bobby: Early on we realised that this got us high. When it got other people as high as us we realised that a bond had been formed. And from this comes the principle that this works better when both sides are involved and you can appreciate that now since the Metalhammer Roadshow. So this is one of the principles that we have that keep us going at this level. We never went through the stratosphere, but we never went down. We never had to stop working and that is because people appreciate us.
PoM: That is one of the things that many fans love about Metal. It is not that much underground, but it is not mainstream either. People who are there know what they are doing and want to be there.
Bobby: You know, there is an expression “Preaching to the choir”. You are not trying to sell yourself, the fans are there because they “know”. So it is always a great experience to tour and do our shows! Also, our record will come out February 10th. We did release a single for the record titled “The Grinding Wheel” and the single is titled “Out Finest Hour”. So, that is the only real news we have. We do a US tour after the release, but will be back for summer festivals, but that is always easily accessible information on the web.
PoM: Thank you! It’s been an honour to meet you.
When the interview was over worries started to creep up. Would I have to go outside into the rain and wait for the beginning of the show there? Fortunately the tour manager allowed me to wait inside, which allowed for some interesting insights. Yes, basically the final preparations for the gig looked just like one would expect with people walking around setting up the merch booth, stage hands doing final adjustments and the final sound check, but it was still interesting taste of the level of professionalism that goes into a show. Maybe this is part of what got Bobby to see himself as a craftsman? It would definitely make sense.
After a time that felt like an eternity the audience began to enter hall and a bit later Shredhead opened the evening. Shredhead delivered an energetic gig that showed why fans should never dismiss the opening act. Unfortunately this is what many fans did though. Those who were there were obviously entertained, but just as Bobby said in the interview, Metal is also about interaction between the audience and the band. One can hardly blame the band, or the fans who were actually there for this, of course. Also, there was a huge gig on the same day in major arena that day (Vollbeat & Airbourne) which was likely also responsible for the fact that there were less fans than one would have expected. Anyway, Shredhead did the best they could and that was a lot. Seriously, do not dismiss these guys. You would miss out on some serious fun!
Website: Shredhead (Facebook)
The next band to hit the stage was Desecrator. If you are into Old School Thrash Metal with occasionally high pitched vocals then you will definitely not want to miss this band either. Super-fast paced drums, extremely fast guitar solos, pretty much everything that an Old School (Thrash) Metalhead could ask for.
Website: Desecrator (Facebook)
After that Crowbar came on stage which was nice for a nice change of pace. Heavy and brutal, yet considerably slower. It is Doom/Sludge Metal bands like Crowbar that proof the fact that you do not have to play extremely fast to fascinate a Heavy Metal audience. Atmosphere is just as important and that is what Crowbar delivered. Atmospheric and brutal Doom/Sludge Metal that helped to make this show an emotional roller-coaster ride. So yes, whoever made the decision to hire a band like Crowbar that is so different from the rest of the billing was spot on!
Website: Crowbar (Facebook)
And then, finally, the headliner: OVERKILL!
After Crowbar’s slower set Overkill felt like an energy infusion! The band running around on stage, the music, the light, Overkill really started with the proverbial kick in the butt and they kept it up! Be it D.D. Verni on the bass, Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth behind the microphone, or Derek Tailer with the guitar, they all did their share. Now, you might wonder why I only mentioned three of them. The reason for that is simple. Ron Lipnicki, their regular drummer, is not able to participate this time for undisclosed reasons and was replaced Eddy Garcia. Garcia did an excellent job though, but then, what else would you expect from Overkill? The band would never pick a drummer who could not keep up. Another replacement was Waldemar Sorychta who stepped in for Dave Linsk. And again, good choice! But then, given his experience this was hardly a surprise.
But maybe it is also Overkill’s music that helped there? Overkill means energy, lots of energy with Bobby Blitz and the rest of the band betraying their actual age. Remember how Bobby mentioned his age during the interview? It did not show on stage. In fact there are likely many younger vocalists out there with considerably less energy! So yes, the band and the fans obviously enjoyed their shared experience, their shared bond and maybe that is what Heavy Metal is actually about? To experience music together? To get electrified and to scream for more? To experience the exhaustion that comes with a Metal gig? Maybe every fan must come to his/her own conclusion there.
Last but not least: Can I recommend for you to go and see Overkill? Well, what do you think? YES, OF COURSE! Go and see Overkill, go and feel the energy! That is what Heavy Metal is all about!!!
Website: Overkill (Facebook)