Out of all of the thrash bands out there, Overkill has been persistent as they’ve managed to unleash nineteen albums spanning their near-forty year career. What makes these New Jersey thrashers stand out from the rest is, they’ve never given up nor given into anyone else’s style. Meaning: they’ve always stayed true to what they stand for since day one. With that being said, on February 22nd, the group’s new album The Wings of War was released via Nuclear Blast (order here) as it marks another strong effort from the band. Despite the group’s always-busy-schedule, we were lucky to speak to frontman Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth on the album, embracing the present, quitting cigarettes, and more.
Compared to other bands out there, Overkill has never seemed to have never given up nor take much of a break between albums. I believe your material range between one to three years apart from each other. It’s been 34 years since your debut, and now you’re up to number 19 with The Wings of War. With that being said, has the writing process become more difficult for you guys?
I don’t think so. I mean, it obviously runs on a clock of approximately every two years or so. Occasionally, there’s a longer break, or sometimes there’s a live record that shows up at a shorter break. And I think that what we’ve done is that we’ve kind of established a routine, but picked up things along the way. You have to remember we started when it was two inch tape, and edits were done with razor blades.
We’ve taken some of that mentality with us, because that required four or five guys to be in the same room, accomplishing the same thing. We take the old mentality of the four or five guys in the same room, but we also use the modern technology. So I think that as time has gone on, we’ve been open to, let’s say, accepting technology, but use it, our songwriting process, and our recording process, as kind of a combination of what was, and what is.
Awesome, I like that. And yes, technology has definitely changed over the years. Now, you just push buttons, instead of using razor blades.
It’s a good point. A lot of people can do great stuff with it. I think it’s probably a little harder in terms of the band, because a lot of people can do it now. It’s not just those that the record companies pick out, or those with unlimited funds.
How would you compare the writing process of The Wings of War to 2017’s The Grinding Wheel?
Well, it was a little bit different. The chemistry was different. The addition of Jason Bittner made that change. We were all, obviously, aware of his talents, and he’s been a friend of ours for a long period of time. But I don’t think you get a wild horse and appreciate its beauty when you put a saddle on it. So my point is, “How would you do this, Jason?” You know?
And I think that actually helped, and sure, there’s a chemistry change, but it’s also exciting to be, let’s say, in a career that spans 19 records and still having new things thrown into it. I mean, we may be what we are. No identity crisis. It’s always Overkill at the end of the day, but the nuances from the inside out are what still excite us. And I think having Jason in there was probably the biggest change with regard to anything we’ve had in the last 10 or 15 years.
Are there any specific lyrical themes that you want to share about this record?
Well, I write from two perspectives. I mean, I write from what I’ve accumulated over the years, and that could be considered weight in some cases, but also principle. I think anybody who’s done this for a 34 year period is … As myself, I know I’ve established certain principles, whether they be loyalty, whether they be commitment, or purity, or honesty. I think that these are a lot of the things that Overkill has always taken with them. I think we’re aware of what goes on around us, within the scene that we’re part of.
I think many of us are the same. You put the uniform on, I can recognize you. You can recognize me. So I sing about a lot of that stuff, how this kind of becomes that spiritual fulfillment for all those involved in it at a deep level. But I pair that with … oh, gosh, I suppose the tribulations between the prior records and the present. I also feel that the people that listen to this are very much alike, that I can touch on things of personal triumph or failure, and they can get it.
For instance, “Head of A Pin,” is a personal situation that I had to see on paper before I actually recognized what the solution was gonna be, and how I was gonna be able to get through that problem. It was just a question I had posed to myself. But I also realized by doing that, that I didn’t do it alone. So in that, you also hear me asking for help with it. So let’s say, personal, private, but also with regard to understanding the community that I’m a part of.
Overkill seems to be one of the busiest bands out there, and what do you do to keep your vocals intact before touring?
Well, I knocked off the cigarettes. I did that in 2012. I’m not one of those guys who worry about it. I like the cold weather. I like motorcycles. Sometimes I like them both together. So I don’t really care if I have a scarf on or not. I’m just that kind of guy. I just happen to be relatively healthy with regard to how I live my life.
I don’t like junk food. I do walk. I do work out. So I think that it kind of takes care of itself. More so, by my likes, and probably my dislikes, because the stuff that I dislike is usually … I mean, if you’re eating lousy food all the time, you’re probably not singing as well, because you’re just not in as good a shape. So when you’re in good shape, it just kind of works out pretty well.
That makes a lot of sense. And how is it for you since quitting cigarettes?
I hear it instantly. I mean, it was right after … I think there’s three records I’ve done without it, and the last record I smoke on was The Electric Age in 2012. I heard my voice get cleaner. I’ve heard my low end not get rubbery. When you smoke, it just kind of limits what you’re doing. It takes the top end off a little bit, and the bottom end off a little bit. So this opened up for me, and is … geez, this late in my career has given me chances to challenge myself, to, let’s say, become to some degree a better singer, like a pursuit late in life. It’s been pretty cool.
Awesome. And in addition to the new Overkill album, how was it laying down guest vocals for the new Metal Allegiance album?
Oh, it’s cool. I mean, that’s like a pickup softball game to me. It’s just like, everybody obviously knows what they’re doing. You know what position you’re gonna be in. My biggest attraction to it is not necessarily that whole All-Star vibe. It’s just that I get along with Mark Menghi so well. I mean, we’re just kind of like each other’s arch nemesis. You know what I mean?
And I mean, he’s always telling Irish jokes when I’m in the room, and I’m always telling Italian jokes. So it kind of works out pretty well for us, that it can be that much fun, at the same time, have an impact with guys who are at the top of their game in the field. But again, my attraction to it is me and him busting each other’s balls. Simple, right?
Very simple, very straightforward. I like the softball reference. Just go in, play ball and record vocals.
Yeah, just fucking do it. I mean, those guys are great dudes, don’t get me wrong, and it never takes out of the schedule, but I just love that kind of camaraderie. I mean, it’s something I have in Overkill is that … I’ve always said that, I tour because I like to tour with these guys. I mean, we have a good thing going on here.
It’s like a middle aged boys club when you’re rolling dice, and playing cards, and taking each other’s money, while you’re smoking big cigars. You know? I mean, it’s kind of a cool thing that all the work is prior to the tour, and then the tour itself is actually about, “Hey, let’s have a good time. You know? We have no responsibilities for a month. This is awesome.”
That does sound great. Do you have any particular plans to honor 20 years of Necroshine, or 30 years of The Years of Decay on your upcoming tour?
Actually, we’ve inserted Necroshine back into the set, but I never thought of it based on an anniversary. But maybe it was something that subliminally snuck into mine or David’s head here. But we just always liked the song, and it had been out of the set list for such a long period of time. I’m trying to think if we’re doing anything special for The Years of Decay. I don’t think so.
I think we’re probably just gonna stick with Elimination, because we like playing the newer tunes. But I think probably talking to me for this last 10 minutes … I’m really about the moment. I like exploding in the moment. I always think that the thing I’m most proud for Overkill is that we’re still relevant in 2019, not that we weren’t relevant in 1989. I mean, it’s a great compliment, but it’s already ancient history, not that it shouldn’t be recognized. But to me, the most important thing is what the moment is about. And obviously, the moment is The Wings of War.
That’s a very good outlook. Nowadays, a lot of bands are doing anniversary tours and what have you, so I’ve seen this new pattern happening. But staying in the moment, and being relevant, or maintaining relevance, is just as important. And speaking of today, there’s a variety of opinions in today’s digital market. In your experience, what’s your opinion on streaming services, such as Spotify?
Well, I mean, you have to embrace the present. I think there obviously needs to be adjustments when everything becomes changed. And what I mean by that is when we got into this early on, and to this day, this was done in contracts. We have to treat this as a business, or we don’t get to do what we like to do. Therefore, a business needs a positive cashflow. We have a business model, we’ve adjusted based on technology. I think that this … the Spotify accounts need to be adjusted to reflect the fact that they support the businesses that they exploit.
So it can’t be one way, saying, “Hey, look how great we are, and all the tax revenue that we’re accumulating, based on our idea that respects not other contracts.” So I think it needs to be adjusted. I think the concept of it, in its purest sense, is just fucking great. I think it’s for sure, it’s the next wave. But I think there’s some dues that need to be paid here, not just, “Hey, we have a great idea and a whole bunch of money, so we’re taking all your shit.” That just doesn’t work out. That doesn’t stand when I’m owning the other side of the business that theirs would.
Do you think between now, with social media, versus how things were back in the day, word of mouth, flyers, is there anything that you miss from back then, that you wish you can add with today’s promotion?
I don’t, because I’ve taken it with me. I’m obviously a handshaker. I come from that era. I still do not have a personal Facebook, or Twitter account. I don’t like it. I enjoy my privacy, but when I see people, I enjoy personal contact. Now, we’re not so out of touch that we don’t have Facebook, and Twitter accounts, and Instagram accounts for the band. We realize these are necessary to reach people.
We’re the last cowboys. We grew up, and the Internet didn’t exist. And when we were 10 years into our career, it was infantile. But we still knew that it was gonna be the wave of the future, and now, the present, that we prepared ourselves for it. So I don’t miss it, because I still shake hands. I just came from a release party, where I shook 250 hands and took 250 pictures, because that’s kind of where I come from. I’m not gonna say it’s a lost art, but it’s a comfortable place for me to be, because it’s what I knew growing up, and what I know even in the present day.
I think it’s actually better, to stay intact in the physical realm than digital. So that’s awesome. And I just wanted to say, is there anything else that you wanted to add, or say, about the album, or what we should look forward to?
Well, I think in as much as that last answer I gave you, that’s personal. And by being personal, it’s a great learning tool. There’s something very cold about anonymous communications. And I think that reflects very much into how we perceive our music to be, that it’s fucking personal to us. Not just loved by us, but personal, not mailed in.
We’re guys that sweat in a room with each other, splitting a case of beer, and there’s half eaten pizzas on the floor. That’s to me, is the way music was created. And I hope people hear that on The Wings of War, that this may be from another era, but still relevant in the present day.
No, it’s definitely a fun album. I was listening to it earlier, and I was enjoying it. My dog liked it too.
Oh, your dog liked it. How awesome is that?
She was going crazy with the toy while the album was playing.
So, nodding head, or the wagging tail?
When she was shaking her head with the toy, it was great. We were all head banging to it.
How awesome. Unbelievable.