Overkill Vocalist Bobby "Blitz" Discusses New Album "Ironbound"
New Jersey thrash veterans Overkill are gearing up to unleash their latest album "Ironbound" in January 2010 through E1/Koch Records in North America and Nuclear Blast Records throughout the rest of the world. The band will soon be celebrating their 25th anniversary of releasing albums, having put out their debut full-length back in 1985. Overkill vocalist Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth shared with me some of the experiences he's had over those 25 years and how they've all culminated into "Ironbound."
xFiruath: Let’s start out with your back story a bit for metal fans who aren’t familiar with your band. When did you first get started in music in general and metal in particular?
Blitz: It’s been 25 years now so it’s pretty well documented. When I think back about what it was then and what it is now they are quite obviously two different things. I think the original motivation, as my father said as I was leaving for college in the Bronx was “Are you sure this isn’t about girls and free beer?” That really was to some degree the motivation, but I think soon thereafter it changed. This was kind of revolutionary. It was kind of the antithesis to what was popular at the time. It was the answer to what people called metal at the time, what it had turned into, which was kind of this narcissistic “all about me,” party-till-you-drop sort of thing. Whereas we were all about the power that was involved with it.
xFiruath: You guys have been going for almost 30 years now. How has the ride been overall and how do you balance your personal life with your musical career?
Blitz: It’s the life. It’s not necessarily hard to balance when that’s what it is. When you look at it from the outside you think of it as an exaggerated, under the microscope type thing, like its bigger than it is. You have a life, they have a life, I have a life, we have a life. This just happens to be mine and the guys’ in the band. It’s easy, it’s just as normal as it is. If a person grows up and matures and has a kid some day, adding number two isn’t really a burden. Adding a third isn’t a burden. You just adjust to it based on what you love. That’s really the motivation behind Overkill. What it’s given me on a personal end has enhanced the life itself. It’s been a really great ride. When I tell my wife I’m leaving the house she says “I know, if I get hit by a bus put on the grave stone that it’s been a great ride.”
xFiruath: With how long you’ve been doing vocals have you developed any special warm ups or routines to keep your voice where you want it?
Blitz: It’s never failed me and that’s really the thing. I’m really relaxed about it. I think a lot of approaches by different vocalists make them nervous because they think of it as a delicate thing. I’ve always been into physical fitness and I understand that if I’m prepared physically I’m always in a good space to use it correctly. Sure I warm up and I took some vocal lessons really early on so as to not develop polyps and have the polyps turns into nodes. The idea is that I really think less about it than other people think about it. I’ll sit down and have a beer and light a Marlboro. It’s just that simple. Its part luck and part not thinking about. I remember being managed by a group in New York and they had a singer who was kind of in the pop-metal genre. He was really delicate and I was really the opposite. He constantly worried, he was a scarves in June kind of guy. I was thought “this was great.” Sure, you can ride the motorcycle and might catch a cold, but who cares? People catch colds. My idea was just that it’s a muscle. It’s something you use and I plan on doing so.
xFiruath: Before we get into the new Overkill album, what’s going on with your band The Cursed?
Blitz: That’s a fun garage band. It’s a bunch of middle aged guys putting pin-up girls on the wall and opening a six pack. I love writing with Dan (Lorenzo, guitarist for The Cursed), he’s got a great sense of the riff. He’s the one guy I’ve met who can think the riff and then immediately play it. That’s what makes The Cursed fun. It’s just a garage band. I remember a few winters ago my wife was saying “Why don’t you get a hobby and get out of here?” There was too much ice on the roads, I couldn’t go riding the bike, so she asked about music. Music, perfect! Dan and I hooked up to make some rock and roll with a doom sort of vibe.
xFiruath: Tell me about the new Overkill album “Ironbound.” Where did you record the album?
Blitz: It was recorded in New Jersey. We had Peter Tagtgren of Hypocrisy fame do the mix. Really simple setup this time. We’ve doing a lot of touring for the “Immortalis” record and a lot of that touring was thrash based. We toured with Exodus and a band called Mortal Sin out of Australia, some of the new thrash bands like Warbringer. It was the flavor of the year for us with that energetic thrash. As I look back on “Ironbound” it’s kind of like reinventing the past. Making what was sound fresh. With a combination of the great touring we had done it and Peter mixing, I think “Reinvention” is the word for this record.
xFiruath: What are the lyrical themes on the new record?
Blitz: I never write from the perspective of a concept record. I suppose with this being a 25th anniversary for us there is a lot of pride in this record. The record is for those who bleed green and black. We’ve understood that those who do bleed green and black like ourselves kind of hold up this whole thing. I think that’s a generalization with regards to a feeling of the record. I like to think of myself as one of the guys who has the same problems and obstacles as the rest. A lot of the lyrical content is about getting through the problems. To understand that for the light to exist you first have to go through the dark to appreciate it. I touch on politics occasionally, but not in depth. I’m always fascinated with man’s interpretation of God, so I touch on that also. I think it’s linked to many of the problems we have, and I’m not just speaking about the Middle East, but also many of the problems we have in the States also.
xFiruath: I just started listening to the album and I was really digging some of the guitar work and the intro in the first track “The Green and Black.” Is there any song or segment on the album that you enjoy the most?
Blitz: Well the record is cohesive and that’s what I like about it. What I mean by that is that each song depends on the song proceeds and follows it. When I was a kid it was about playing air guitar in front of the mirror listening to Black Sabbath. Those records were cohesive to me. “Vol. 4” was cohesive, “Master of Reality” was cohesive. It was a full record. I had to hear the full thing and I never went to just one track. I really feel this about this record, it’s dependent on each other. The general feel in regard to riffing and guitar work, it lends itself to almost being progressive in regards to the work Dave Linsk puts into the guitar. I hear everything from Jeff Beck to Alex Lifeson. It’s all over the place. It gives it that broader interest with regard to listenability. If it’s brutal on the front end and the back end and in the middle, Dave adds all those nuances that gives the progressive feel to it.
xFiruath: What’s Overkill’s tour schedule looking like?
Blitz: Europe starts in February, then South America, then the U.S. In Europe I think we’re taking a Greek band Suicidal Angels. We’re talking to a couple of other bands in Germany. We should have it confirmed by week’s end. The South American tour is ourselves and the U.S. we take Vader, God Dethroned, and Warbringer.
xFiruath: What bands do you personally listen to in your free time?
Blitz: It depends. I always like to think what did I put in the iPod and what did I forget about it? I put down the Rainbow anthology, I got the last Exodus record, I’ve got Suicidal Angels which is a new band from Greece. Gama Ray from Ireland. I really like Municipal Waste. I think the new Megadeth record has got teeth all over it. It was really good to press play and hear that all the way through. That’s a thrashterpiece right there. Some ZZ Top Live. I’m eclectic though and I’ll go as far as Harry Connick Jr. on occasion.
xFiruath: In all your time of touring is there any one particular show that sticks out in your head?
Blitz: Well we’ve done over 3,000 shows. They blend together after a time but I usually remember every venue and which tour it happened on. Probably the biggest “wow” to me was standing on a European festival stage. They really have it down over there and have had it down for years. We were in Denmark and it was such an eclectic type of festival. Ray Charles was on another stage as we were playing, Midnight Oil had played the night before with Anthrax. We actually played a main stage just before the headliner, which was Chris Isaak. It was really wild to go from Overkill to rockabilly. When we stood up there the thing I remember is that it was the most people I’d ever seen massed. I think the attendance was 65,000 at that time. It was enough to either make you or break you right there. It was a drug high I’ve been chasing ever since.
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