Since their humble New Jersey beginnings in the early ‘80s, instilled with a solid blue collar East Coast work ethic and desire to make heavy, catchy, riff-driven thrash that crowds around the world have moshed to, Overkill vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth and bassist D.D. Verni have stayed true to themselves, their fans and their hometown sound. They haven’t reinvented it yet, but they continue grinding the wheel three-and-a-half decades into their run.
For 18 records and counting they’ve cranked out screeching, reliable working man’s metal led by the rasp of Ellsworth and bellowing vocals and bass lines of Verni with an evolving lineup of musicians. The Grinding Wheel is their 2017 gift from the gutter.
They’re currently on a U.S. tour with Egyptian death metal historians Nile. Screamer was in Columbus for a tour bus chat with Blitz.
Going back a few years, Overkill was one of the first nationals to play the Alrosa Villa after the Damageplan tragedy. “I remember, of course. It was a weird vibe; you’re walking on hallowed ground. It’s not like it happened around here, it happened right here. I’m not gonna say it was a bad experience, it was a sad, hollow feeling walking on that stage. Even at sound check I had that feeling and you think about it the entire night. So sure, it was a unique experience to play there soon after Dimebag’s tragedy. I really didn’t know Darrell, but I think we all knew him as metal heads.”
On eventually playing Rock on the Range, “We just flopped agents and switched to a different agency and I do see that stuff coming in our direction, Rock on the Range, Rocklahoma, all those U.S. festivals.”
On playing larger venues, “The criteria is ticket sales and selling records. This band has always maintained. There’s not ever been huge increases, we’ve always been about this size, these size venues. When we go out on the road, it’s clubs and small theaters.”
How Blitz keeps the pipes clean, “I don’t smoke anymore and that’s huge. This is like five years now. I started getting benefits out of stopping smoking and starting vaping almost instantly. So without the carcinogens going in and the physical carbon monoxide and smoke, my voice just feels better. I’m not abusing it anymore.”
On staying in road shape, “I’m down to a four pack now,” he jokes. “I get off on energy, that’s my thing. It gets me high. I do workout. I work out less because you need to do it less as you get older. Instead of working out four times a week for two months before the tour, I do it maybe two times a week, or once a week. Do more cardio stuff. So my lungs, stomach and backs in good shape. For me it’s not necessarily all good genetics, it’s paying attention to it and doing a little working out.”
The longest stretch of shows they’ve done is… “43 shows in 42 days,” he smiles. “We did a matinee in Chicago, that’s how we got to 43. Now it’s usually two weeks a pop or something. This is 25 shows, there’s only one day off so our longest stretch will be about 16 days.”
When people think Overkill, they think Horrorscope, “I think so. A lot of them kind of entered around that era and that’s why I think its special. I’d say it’s the quintessential Overkill record. There’s a bunch of good ones but I think that one contains or evokes the emotion that I think this music should evoke and evokes it correctly. If that’s what they think, then that’s a good thing.”
On the upcoming Feel the Fire/Horrorscope DVD, “We’re gonna start on it after this tour. We wanna concentrate on The Grinding Wheel. It being necessary to put all the efforts into [the] new material as the songs were developing. Even as we were filming, we were in the process of writing those tunes. We said, we’ll do this, then shelve it, then work on it when we get back from the road. So as soon as we get back D.D. and I will go over the parts piece by piece.”
Their VHS companion piece Videoscope hasn’t been officially released on DVD yet. “It’s a snapshot of the era.”
Overkill played 2006’s Gigantour meeting Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe. “He was really into the Overkill stuff and loved coming up singing Oldschool. I don’t think he missed one night on the entire tour so that’s how our relationship started.” Blitz then offered Blythe a duet on Skull and Bones.
A few albums prior, Blitz’s sister Mary did guest vocals on Necroshine’s Revelation and Let Us Prey. “She still does music. She was like the female version of me. I was recording with her and I remember the engineer looking at her, saying, this is hysterical. I go, what? This is the female version of you standing there, same dirty mouth, everything.”
On mixing different influences on The Grinding Wheel and Shine On, “We took a lot of the characteristics we had in the past and gave it a fresh coat of paint. For sure we were influenced by some of our old material but there’s a real fine line between repetition and style. I almost heard something off the Beatles White Album [on Shine On]. I listened to the way that really mellow vocal line went. I said it almost reminds me of something John Lennon would sing. I thought it was cool to have that really heavy part and flip it to that really soft part.”
Blitz can still sing clean when opportunity knocks, “I admire those who sing. The high pitched rasping delivery is just something that’s unto me and fits this music, but I aspire truly to be a better singer. So when I had opportunities whether it be Mean Green Killing Machine or Shine On the heavy vocal lines are really melodic on this record.”
On whether every song is recorded with ‘live’ intent, “I think we do that. I think at least somewhere in your head on your subconscious you’re thinking it as live. The live theater is where this shit’s meant to be played so somewhere in your head you’re thinking live but we don’t do that with any intention. I always know we’re gonna play the opener and whatever the first song that’s released is. We’re doing three right now, we may go to four because we just finished the video for Shine On.”
On a potential Overkill or Blitz biography, “I’m a busy guy, still living my life. I think biographies are for when you kinda stop to some degree. I don’t think I have that many interesting things to fuckin’ say,” he laughs. “Maybe what I just said was interesting. At least I’m honest. I think that people misconstrue, including musicians, misconstrue themselves as being interesting people, when they become popular. You’re not popular, you’re popular because of the music. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t talk politics in the songs, I don’t think I’m fucking qualified. I think your politics should be your own personal thing.”
“We don’t need ideas from… George Clooney. He has things in common with other people with 10 houses and a billion dollars and he’s giving people political ideology, you know, go fuck yourself. Get the fuck outta here. Maybe I should write a fucking book!”
“But you see my point, it makes no goddamn sense to be sitting around, having Oprah Winfrey tell you how to vote. I think one of the biggest sins of celebritism is to feel that you’re now empowered or enlightened because you have all this fucking money. They’ll listen to them and it’s a world of instantaneous information, so when someone is tweeting something, its instant.”
“So my regards to an autobiography would be I just don’t think I’m that interesting. Maybe that does make me interesting, that I don’t feel endowed with huge ego. I’m a hardworking Jersey guy, that’s what I am. If you wanna write a bio about that, I think it’s gonna be boring. We’ll do 200 pages on my ideology and all the people I think are assholes in the world.”
If Blitz or D.D. left, would it be the end, “I think if we’re honest it’d be over. Only because of longevity, because of the two most identifiable qualities, D.D.’s riffing and his bass guitar and my voice. I think that would be hard to do a version without my vocals or him on bass. It’s hard to stay in a band for 35 years.”
On places yet to be toured, “There’s some places in Asia I haven’t seen. I haven’t been to Iceland or New Zealand. Just got offered India and Qatar. That’ll be interesting to go to the Middle East. It’s a strange thing. So we’re gonna see what happens with Qatar but India should happen for sure soon.”
With the trademark Bobby Blitz delivery, to Screamer fans and skullkrusher’s worldwide, “Keep grinding! Grind on, scream and grind on!”