OVERKILL

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TARTAREAN DESIRE WEBZINE

It has been almost exactly two years since Killbox13 came out and Chaly’s Wrecking Crew are ready to go once again with ReliXIV. Tony Belcher caught up with vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth on all things Overkill -- and they even made time to wax nostalgic on Pantera, discuss the band’s peers in Testament, and maybe even mock a couple of bands that start with M, namely Metallica and Mötley Crüe -- via telephone on February 28, 2005.

How the hell have you been?
Keepin’ above ground. Haha.

That’s good.
Which is good right now. I think the band is in the underground, but we’re all walkin’ on the earth, which is real positive. Twenty years for us now, 14 records…. Uhhh, we take the same approach, or, the same energy, anyway, and life’s good.

That is good. Where are you at the moment, are you back home?
Yeah, I’m in [New] Jersey watchin’ the Nor’easter that just went through you guys [in Virginia] up here dump like ten feet of snow on us.

I was gonna say I hope it ain’t as shitty up there as it is down here or has been.
[Being sarcastic:] This makes those Swedish winters look mild. Hahaha.

Haha. Yeah, we can be thankful for that. I’ll send Vince [the founder of Tartarean Desire who lives in Sweden] a little note that says “Blitz says….”
Hahahahaha!

By my count we’re creepin’ up on your 21st year, right?
Well we were signed in, ’04, uh ’84 and released Feel the Fire in ’85 so that’s really the professional beginning of the band.

You’re discounting that first [self-titled] EP?
Yeah, I guess you can [count it]. I mean I count [the years] since I knew D.D. [Verni] and that’s 25 years.

Mm-hmm.
Y’know, so it’s however you see it. I just feel that our professional career was launched with Feel the Fire.

Right.
The EP we just kind of hold dear because it was something we sunk our heart and soul into, like everything, but it was our cash and…

You were cuttin’ your teeth.
Yeah, I tell ya, man. I mean it seems like yesterday, which is even funnier than the God damn 21 years it’s been, or whatever. Haha.

Right on, right on.
Or whatever the hell it was. Hahahaha.

I tell ya, what a long, strange trip it’s been.
Yeah, but it’s not that long! That’s the thing, and so I must’ve been enjoying myself if it went by in the blink of an eye.

Hey, you’re doin’ it right.
Right! Hahahaha.

So how do you account for the longevity of Overkill? Obviously there have been some line-up changes [but] you and D.D. have been in the band forever. Do you just get a couple of guitarists [and a drummer] here and there ?
It’s just all about bad memory. Hahaha.

Okay. Haha.
I mean, I don’t remember the good or the bad, that way.

Right.
Longevity -- I think, well, first of all there’s a huge amount of trust between D.D. and myself.

Right on.
I mean beyond the fact of being songwriters for that amount of time, we’ve been friends for over a 25 year period. I think, also, we’ve always had a very “day to day” attitude. So I’m squeezin’ the shit out of the opportunity, really hammerin’ it on the head and makin’ it ours. Uh, and I think we don’t take ourselves too seriously. I think there is a combination of things. I mean we take the music seriously, of course, that’s quite obvious with the releases….

Right.
But the other side of it is, what world do I choose to live in? Do I choose to enjoy this or do I choose to put myself on that list of persecuted [bands] who should’ve been bigger? Hahaha.

Right, right. I gotcha.
So I think that -- y’know, I choose the first one. Hey, it’s a long, strange trip, but the other side of that is it’s successful in its own right based on its longevity. And man, this is the job I held since ’85. That’s not a bad thing to say after a 20 year period of makin’ music.

Yeah. That’s bad ass.
Yeah, I mean, I’m happy with it. I wouldn’t’ve changed a step in it.

Good, well, that kinda naturally segues into this one. You always hear about the so-called “big four” of Thrash. Of those, Megadeth and Anthrax recently had pretty solid “comeback” records, for lack of a better term, while Slayer have essentially stayed true to their sound since day one, as have Overkill. And we all know what happened to those other guys with their $40,000 a day therapist…
HAHAHAHA!!!

Y’know, the word ‘compromise’ comes to mind. So why has Overkill not gotten the respect you guys perhaps deserve, or at least that I think you deserve? I mean people often talk about Exodus in the same breath as the “big four” but not Overkill. What gives?
Nah. Y’know, how do you change people’s opinions? It’s not really up to me. Back to the previous answer, I’m doin’ what I like to do. I give answers like I’ve given before, which probably got a little bit of an “I don’t give a fuck” [attitude] attached to it, and maybe people don’t like that all the time. And maybe when it comes to larger amounts of success, maybe in the category of “what could’ve been?”

Mm-hmm.
Maybe we were our own worst enemies but maybe we were also the most serious about what we were doin’. That it wasn’t really about shaping a trend, it wasn’t really about a reunion, it really wasn’t about turnin’ on the pop world. Uh, y’know, Testament doesn’t get a good rap either [and] those guys are great.

Absolutely.
They’re a great fuckin’ band! The fuckin’ flag of Metal was waved -- as far as, y’know, [someone said] Metal was dead and someone waved a flag -- there were a few U.S. bands that hung in there and did what they did. And [along with Overkill,] Testament was one of them, too.

That’s right.
And I tip my fuckin’ hat, I say “Y’know, regardless of me likin’ or hatin’ every song you’ve ever done, that takes a lot of fuckin’ nuts. Good for you.” But there’s a lot of other ones that didn’t. And a lot of other ones that went on to [so-called] ‘bigger and better’ things. I mean, you can laugh me to the bank, but the other side of the story is: “Gee, integrity lasts forever.”

That’s right.
Hahahaha!

That’s right. You can look back on it.
And it’s the only pool I can swim in right now. So I’m gonna accept that and I’m gonna take it. So, uh, y’know fuck the ‘big four’ kind of a thing. This is always about the ‘big one’ and that had to do with what we were doin’ on our front porch, not what fuckin’ Megadeth was doin’, or arguin’ with Metallica, or vice versa, or Anthrax chasin’ rap songs.

Right.
It had nothin’ to do with that.

Do what you do and [keep your] nose to the stone.
And I think that’s why we survived. Because it was about us and had nothing to do with them.

That’s great. Well, let’s get into the new record then. How do you pronounce that sucker? Is that Relics-14?
We just did that so we could really have fun doin’ the Asian interviews. Hahaha!

Hahahaha. Alright.
See? That’s what I mean by not taking ourselves too seriously. Uh, it’s actually [pronounced] just “Relics”…

Okay.
And we just changed the “CS” to an “X” and added the “IV” [in Roman numerals] for the fourteenth record.

Gotcha.
So it’s just a little puzzle. A little tongue twister, it’s a visual funny [thing]. The idea behind the title is, I s’pose again we know what we are. Hahaha.

Yeah, I was gonna say “Do you really consider yourselves to be relics?” ‘Cause it doesn’t sound like it to me.
You know where this comes from? People come up to you and they go “Dude, you’ve been doin’ this for a long time.” I say “for 20 years.” [They ask] “How old are you?” And now I always tell ‘em I’m older than I am.

Hahaha.
[I say ]“I’m 56.” And some of them say “Gee… Gosh, you look fuckin’ awesome!” Hahaha! [Note: Blitz is 42 years old -- 43 on May 3rd.]

Hahaha. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that, right? A compliment’s a compliment.
Right. Same thinkin’ behind ReliXIV [-- we look and sound good for doin’ this for so long.] Hahaha.

Okay, okay.
But, y’know, a relic, on the other hand, is not necessarily an old piece of shit. I think the thinking behind a relic is that regardless of its age, its value is timeless.

That’s right.
So I think that it was just kind of, let’s say, an assessment that we took for the title of the record.

Well, I think you guys are certainly as relevant today as in 1985. What do you think about Overkill -- and Thrash, in general, maybe -- 20 years later? How does it compare today versus ‘85?
Y’know, in my world, or our world, it has the same value. It maybe doesn’t have the same impact, ‘cause it was new then…

Right.
And that scene has gone around the block. But that value transcended the impact and it stayed, which is a great thing. But I don’t think it’s gonna over-run the world, I think it’s just gonna say “Hey, good music is good music” across the board, and honest aggression, honest energy, honest speed, honest sledgehammer type rhythms are what it’s about. And if that’s what you’re lookin’ for, maybe you’ve come to the right place. So it’s really kind of a simple thing for me. I really can compare it. I know we hold it in the same esteem. I know we hold it to the same standard, and hold ourselves to that same standard from years ago, and I think that that’s what it’s about. I don’t think Thrash is ever about this universal sharing -- of letting the water flood into the masses.

Mm-hmm.
I mean, dude, y’know, we’re like this for a living -- I alienate the masses and adhere myself to a minority.

That’s right.
And that’s what it always was about.

Take it for what it is.
Yeah! Y’know, we were above ground for just a little while, and it was really kind of an uncomfortable place, y’know what I’m sayin’?

I’ll tell you what, man. I watched those old videos and you guys, haha, you looked kinda like “What the fuck are we doin’ up here filmin’ a video?!”
It was almost wrong for us. And you know, we were an underground band, and sure, I have to live in this world that I’ve created for myself, but the other side of it is that where we’re comfortable is where we have full rule, full reign. It’s not Atlantic Records where somebody was telling me “Delivery’s around the back, kid.”

Yeah, haha.
I’m more comfortable runnin’ the ship with D.D. as the navigator, or vice versa -- or Dave Linsk as the navigator -- and doin’what we want to do. So it’s a good world to be in right now.

Cool. My first comment [on seeing the new release’s art]…. If you’re a kid in a record store and you look at it, and if you bought the previous record, you’d notice that it’s basically -- the new one is kind of a destroyed version of the previous record [Killbox13]’s art. Is that symbolic in any kind of way, or it just seemed like the thing to do?
Wow. Can I use that?

Yeah, absolutely.
Hahaha! No, because that was never aforethought. It was to keep, uh…

[Visual] continuity maybe?
A certain theme throughout it. I suppose there was some subliminal justice to what you just said, but by no means was it our intent to make it look as if we destroyed the record that was previous to it.

Okay.
But, boy, I tell ya, that’s a cool [way to look at it].

Hey, man, that’s free for you for 20 years of makin’ great records and keepin’ me happy.
Hahaha! Y’know, I gotta tell you somethin’. If somebody said that to me and I gave that answer that would make me a liar and everything I toldja prior to this would be void. Hahahaha!

Yeah, but you could say “I talked to this guy who I thought was in Sweden but who’s actually in Virginia, and we kinda discussed it a little bit like this….”
Yeah, I’ll give ‘em your take on it. Hahaha.

Alright! Overall the riffs and songs seem a little bit more straightforward than anything from you guys in a long time. What was different this time around and did you maybe want to step away from the sound put forth on Killbox13? Y’know, maybe I’m lending a little bit too much credence to that sort of concept of the destroyed version of the previous record’s cover art, but was there something different this time around or was it still just five dudes crankin’ out Overkill?
I mean that’s the formula it always has been, and it’s not broken so we’re never gonna try to fix it. But, y’know, as it progresses into a record, the record kind of rules itself as you go along. You kind of become tools of what’s around you, you have to adjust to what’s here and what’s there. I mean, D.D. and I do the majority of the writing and the other guys come in and add slants to everything…

Mm-hmm.
And you adjust to those slants and that’s what gives it personality. And we’ve stayed with that formula. I think that what happened on this record was, y’know, Overkill in its own right has always had progression to it. I don’t think you can last 20 years and release the same record that whole time.

Other than AC/DC maybe?
Well, right. But that is just cut for rock radio.

Yeah, yeah.
And some of that shit is just awesome, but I think that in our case, the idea is to let the record form itself with us kind of guiding it along the way. There’s like two versions of Overkill. There’s that thicker, heavier, groove, sledgehammer Overkill that’s mid-paced.

Mm-hmm.
And there’s that faster, speedier Overkill -- that thrashy Overkill. These are probably the two most prevalent elements that we have. I think those two worlds kind of collided on this record. Y’know, I think the best example of this is track 4 and track 5.

“Bats in the Belfry” and “A Pound of Flesh” [respectively].
[“Bats in the Belfry”] is just this hooky, kind of a sledgehammer [song], almost written from the perspective of a pop song, melodically because it keeps going back to the chorus.

Yeah, it’s cyclic. It’s got that hook.
It keeps going back to the simple hook with a big sledgehammer behind it that’s hitting you in the back of the head. I mean, you can’t even headbang to this song because it’s such a sledgehammer. You’ve got to move side to side.

That’s right.
After that comes “A Pound of Flesh” which is cut from a whole different world but quite obviously being performed by the same band because of the style. So this is my, like, example about those two worlds I just mentioned.

Right, okay.
But those songs to me are cohesive. When I put on the record -- after I was done with the mix, I went to these songs more often -- 4 and 5, let ‘em run concurrently sayin’ “That was a fuckin’ 9 minute experience!” Because it was two different worlds. And I actually got the opportunity to see the elements that make up the band from what was, compared to what is. So I think that what happened here [with ReliXIV] was those two worlds collide, ten pieces come out, they’re the ten songs, [and] we just kind of control where they go and the next thing you know, you have something that is a blend of what this band is and always was. So I think it’s kind of a cool result, the final result.

Definitely. It sounds like you’re lettin’ the music kinda breathe and live a little bit and you guys are just kinda guidin’ the flock, almost.
Well, it’s kind of…. You know, of course it’s hard work and it’s making demo after demo after demo. But, you know, it’s not one writer’s idea. It’s three guys comin’ together tryin’ to make this happen on a higher level and I think that’s why it works. But the music itself does have the opportunity to breathe, there’s no doubt about it.

Killer. You touched on it a little bit, how was the self-production this time around and is that something you guys would want to do again? I mean obviously this is gonna save you a couple of dollars, right?
Well, of course it saves you money, without a doubt, but the other side of it, too, is we take longer than some of those other guys [i.e., other producers]. So what we save we end up pissing away. Hahaha!

Hahaha. Maybe you need just a little quality control in there with some guy saying “alright, shit or get off the pot.”
Y’know, there’s an insanity thing that goes along with doing this music, there’s a control issue. We’ve done 14 records [and] we’ve done production to some degree on all 14. Only full production -- y’know, from first hitting the record button to the final mix, on two, and that was W.F.O. and ReliXIV. It’s fun to steer the ship sometimes, too. I mean, there’s both sides to the coin. If we produce it, mix it, write it, [then] we’re not objective.

Okay.
The other side is, if we produce it, mix it, write it, we control the motherfucker all the way through.

That’s right.
So, working with guys like Colin, who are just fuckin’awesome -- Colin Richardson is who I’m referring to….

Right.
Chris Tsangarides from The Killing Kind, and for Judas Priest he did Painkiller and [he also produced] early Thin Lizzy…

Yeah, yeah.
And Terry Date…

Who’s done it all, right?
Oh, forget it! I mean, you pick up shit if you sit next to these guys.

Definitely.
…Y’know, more than just a few dirty jokes! Haha.

Hahaha.
And these are great teachers for people like us who have been around for so long that it’s possible for us to do this. So if it’s possible, why not do it? It’s very much like the song “Old School” -- if it’s possible, fuck it, do it.

Do it. Right on.
You know, it’s really, really simple.

Well, that kind of leads into this one: Was there a definite purpose in making the record? Was this just a “We’re Overkill and we’re still here doin’ it” kind of statement?
Well, there’s a purpose there. I mean it’s not a concept, it’s not anything beyond, hey, extending this ride and still having something valuable to offer. Y’know, if we rewrite Killbox[13] it’s not worth it. If we try to do a Horrorscope record again, it’s not worth it -- it can’t be outdone.

Right.
These are etched in stone. The idea is to try to move somewhere a little bit different and I think it’s something we’ve always tried to attain, was a little bit of difference from record to record. I mean, we may be looked at from the outside, and say “How can you say that? It’s the same.” Well, from the inside it looks really different.

Absolutely. I get that all the time. People say “How can you listen to this band, that band, the other band?” [I say:] “Because they don’t sound anything like each other.” And even one band, [from] record to record, they don’t sound anything like each other, but to the ignoramus, that doesn’t know Metal, they just don’t know.
Sure, sure. And it’s the nuances that make the differences, it’s the approach that makes the differences. Metal is this interesting thing. I don’t think it’ll ever be able to be explained. Why was it just supposed to be for the youth? The reality is I know more guys in Metal bands in their 30s and 40s…

Yeah!
Hahaha. They have offspring who are youth!

Yeah, definitely.
Their youth listen to this shit, who have transcended it, and therefore the value is at a larger level than first thought or anticipated and it’s transcended generations. That’s a wonderful thing from where I sit to be able to say: “Wow, this has really had impact.”

Well, you’ve been reaching out to people for 20 years, so kudos on that. [About ReliXIV,] was there any specific inspiration for some of the lyrics on the new record? Like “Wheelz” -- is that back to your love affair with bikes?
Well, y’know, I equate everything to bikes for some reason and that’s just my twisted thought process, it has nothing to do with anything “like a bike.” Hahaha.

Right, okay.
My wife will say to me, “What do you think of this?” And I’ll be like, “Well, it reminds me of a bike!” Hahaha.

Haha. It’s got a fork, got some goosenecks on it….
Hahaha! Right. Occasionally I get this look like “You’re a fuckin’ moron!” Hahahaha!!

Well, comes with the territory, huh?
Yeah. But you know, [“Wheelz” is] not really [about bikes]. What I did lyrically on this record, and I think it got to me, I really tried to stay away from outside influences. But I thought that this was personal enough to take to lyrics, and that was the fact that this was 20 years of doing this -- 2005 was 20 years after Feel the Fire.

Yeah.
And I was thinking, as I was just jotting down -- listening to the demos and just jotting down thoughts -- that a whole bunch of the principles and standards that I hold dear, personally, and that the band holds dear to the band, started coming out and they became topics. And it was, “A Pound of Flesh” -- that is to not sell one’s self for any price.

Right.
And this is a principle that is beyond just Overkill’s longevity. This is a principle that can walk into life. But if you really wanted a reason that we’ve survived for a 20 year period, it’s about “Wheelz” -- which is, when that man’s in trouble, get that man out of there. Haha.

Right on.
Y’know, it doesn’t matter if he’s not in the band.

Yeah, yeah, definitely -- man down.
You follow my thinking. And “Love” was not necessarily about love. It looks weird sittin’ on the song list….

Yeah, you look at the card and you’re thinkin’ “Is this a Van Halen rehash?” Haha.
“What’s wrong with this?” Well the song is actually about control, or a distorted view of love. And I think that, to some degree, we were so chaotic at the beginning of this [career] that we didn’t know what we were doing. And we can still appear chaotic to this day, based on knowing how to control that chaos.

A little organized chaos.
It really is. And that, to some degree, becomes love. Because I know I think that it gets there. Hahaha!

Haha. Alright.
I think it became our principles, our standards, our values, maybe our twisted morals, on this record and that was the majority of the lyrical content.

Cool. Well, the notion of “Old School” and even retro has certainly been pretty celebrated as of late. I mean, Anthrax’s last studio record’s got a song called “Strap It On” [formerly “Strap On My Old School”] and John Bush is reminiscin’ on “‘85 to ‘89” and some other periods of time in there. And we’ve got some reformations of lots of different Metal bands -- obviously everybody’s hero, the Metal God, is back in Judas Priest and that’s big time.
Sure, sure….

But you’ve got all these Thrash bands from the Bay Area that they’ve come back together, like Death Angel, for example, and certainly Exodus has resurrected themselves, I don’t know, 13 times by now….
Right! Hahaha!

But your song “Old School” to me, and I’m not a tri-Stater myself, but it seems to hearken back to The Ramones, maybe some CBGB’s, that NJ/NY/tri-state area of the late 70s/early 80s -- y’know, kind of a fun, punk vibe. Was that just a fun song for the diehards and for you guys in the band?
Well, y’know, D.D. sends me this song and he goes “I don’t think it’s really worth anything. I think that maybe we should do it as a bonus track.” And I started messing around with it and I said, “Dude, y’know we’ve been around 20 years. We can do whatever the fuck we want.”

That’s right.
And the other side of the coin is that this band has always been a Metal band, that’s always how we presented ourselves. There’s no doubt about that. But in the early days, y’know, you go to an Overkill show when we were a cover band and there’d be “Hellbent for Leather” into “Beyond the Realms of Death” [two Judas Priest songs] into “I’m Against It” and “Rockaway Beach” [two Ramones songs].

Okay.
It didn’t make any God damn sense! Hahaha!

Yeah, but you’ve got to fill out that set! Haha.
Yeah. We were a Metal band that loved that energy that Punk had. And for some reason, out of that standard Metal -- of doin’ Priest stuff -- and you marry it to that Punk energy, was born maybe our version of what we think gets labeled Thrash a few years later. You follow me?

Yeah.
So it was kind of a bastard child to some degree. And it’s never been a secret. It’s even shown up as B-sides on things, or on Coverkill…

That’s a great record, by the way.
There’s a bunch of shit that we were doing on there that we [originally] did as a cover band. [People were saying:] “This is fucking insane! These guys are going from ‘Hymn 43’ by Jethro Tull into ‘No Feelings’ by the Sex Pistols. Who would ever have these guys in their club?” Well that was the fuckin’ point. Y’know, we were irritating! Hahahaha!

Hey, y’know, it’s persistence, though, right?
You know you’re making impact then. When it comes to “Old School” and he wrote this, and I said we could do whatever the fuck we want, the idea was, “Hey, this was always a part of it.” We just never had the opportunity to do it, so who’s to say we shouldn’t at this particular time, musically? Let it fly. It was just that simple.

…and the right time.
Lyrically, all it does is mention some people that we know. We’ve had our manager [inaudible] from L’Amours, Brooklyn on there.

Isn’t Eddie Trunk on there?
Eddie Trunk is on there, haha, a close friend.

Okay.
Y’know, the night we got signed [to Megaforce Records] I climbed the PA stack and whacked my head off with their lights. And I was bleedin’ down both sides of my nose and Jon Zazula [founder of Megaforce Records] came up and said “You’re the guy in Overkill!”

Hahahaha!
Hahahahaha! So I think it was a beer stein, kind of a swingin’ the beer back and forth, bar-room, fun tune for us to do.

Oh, you definitely hear it in there.
So it’s, y’know, no other purpose than doin’ what we want to do and we had a pisser doin’ it.

Cool. Switching gears a bit, let’s go back about a decade… You’ve mentioned two of the topics that are in this question already, but what happened with Atlantic [Records] in 1994? They seemingly dumped you and fellow Megaforce Thrashers Testament after very solid releases. Was it the grunge era hurting Metal and Atlantic not seeing enough money on their bottom line or had your contract simply run its course? I was pretty pissed that two of my favorite bands were essentially dropped at once -- and by the same damn label.
Well, I don’t know what happened to Testament, honestly. I don’t know if they were dropped. I think they probably weren’t -- we weren’t.

I didn’t mean to give the wrong impression.
No, no, just to clarify the whole thing. It was just a change in season was happening and it was just quite obvious that the Grunge scene was eatin’ the Metal scene, and it was fine. I mean, it was gonna happen, it was gonna force [Metal] back to the underground as we spoke about [earlier]. But the point was, that their attention goes to the new thing.

Whatever’s hot.
Right. And the new thing was Grunge. We started looking for other deals right at the W.F.O. release because we knew what was coming next and we ended up on CMC [Records] because of their financial structure.

Okay.
It was really that simple. They were getting a huge amount of money from, like, Swiss banks -- I don’t know where the shit was coming from…

Don’t ask, don’t tell.
Right. And it was huge and it was enough to keep everything going when Grunge was gonna kill every other band that had to go home and work. And I really think, I never talked to any of the guys in Testament about it, but I really think the same thing happened with those guys. I think they had foreseen it and went to Atlantic [to discuss leaving the label].

Waitin’ for the other shoe to drop.
We went there and said “You gotta let us go. We know you’re gonna anyway.” So it never was official but they kinda gave us the option to move on if we wanted.

Well, that’s good of ‘em. Thanks for clearin’ the air a little bit there. I don’t know who else perhaps shared my thoughts about ’94 and Atlantic.
Sure. Well, it went into that whole different thing, you know. There was the Alice in Chains movement. There were some great bands that came out of the Grunge scene and then there were the thousands of Alice in Chains wannabes and Pearl Jam clones and it was oversaturated with those bands. I think it was just good planning [on our part]. [When] W.F.O. was released we knew that the promotion would be less for the record. We had to find another deal. We started negotiating with other [record] companies while still on Atlantic just to keep our boat afloat because we knew that the rough seas were coming.

Right.
Quite obviously during that two year period [of the peak of Grunge] -- a year prior and a year after -- there had to be, y’know, 80, that were touring Thrash bands that packed up and went home. It was a few that stayed: ourselves, Testament, and some of the German bands. Kreator was still around. Some real good bands that stayed and I think that they kept that whole underground vibe to this music alive by having the foresight to see there was still value in this [and to say] “Let’s go to another label.”

Right on. Well, another similarity, if you will, between Overkill and Testament is -- and here’s the C word -- cancer in both bands’ frontmen….
I thought you were gonna say “cunt.” Hahaha!

Nah, nah, nah. Hahaha. Remember, a $40,000.00 a day therapist band is not involved.
HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

How has the cancer been for you? That’s squamous cell carcinoma, right?
Yeah. It’s good. I’ve been clean since ’99. So that’s a good thing.

That’s definitely a good thing.
Yeah, I just, y’know, I went through it, and that’s as simple as it is, y’know? I mean we all have our crosses to bear, which quite obviously comes up in everyone’s life at one time or another, this just happened to be one of mine. Y’know, I had the opportunity at least during it to write Necroshine.

Yeah.
D.D. said “Whatever you need.” I said “I need to do a record” and he goes, “Give me three weeks.” Hahaha.

Alright. Cool. Well, now I’ve got some less bundled or maybe more stand-alone questions. This is maybe an 800 pound gorilla that everyone else has been asking about, but do you have any comment on the tragic murder of Dimebag? Has that affected or changed your approach to doing what you do, or is it kinda, “see what happens when we get there”?
Well, y’know, it’s a tragedy, first and foremost. Y’know, evil is always gonna rear its ugly head and steal from those who appreciate, y’know? Of course, bein’ a headbanger, and bein’ a fan, first and foremost, I feel what a lot of other people felt, which is there is kinda -- [it] left a black mark on the souls of those who appreciated the person who contributed and revolutionized the guitar sound.

Yeah.
I mean, quite obviously that’s what the guy did and nobody can say any different. I mean, people have been trying to copy him since he came out…

Absolutely.
And that was some fuckin’ band! Y’know, they’ve been flattered for years -- for the 15 years after the release of Cowboys [From Hell] they’re still being flattered by bands that say “I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about as far as my influences go.”

Yeah, I actually read that piece where you commented about Pantera bein’ flattered for 15 years and how so many vocalists have obviously followed the ‘Phil Anselmo School of Delivery’ and…
Well, it’s true, though, right? Hahaha.

Yeah, yeah. There’s not, in my opinon -- the same thing [you were saying] -- there is not a singular, more influential band from 1990 forward, then Pantera.
Not a chance. And you still hear it when you put on new stuff. You always hear the Pantera-esque style somewhere, whether it be production, whether it be guitar sound, the style, or vocal delivery…

Right.
And usually vocal delivery, though, is what it’s all about. That was the epitome of angst.

Did you ever get a chance to check out Damageplan, by the way, the post-Pantera Dimebag and Vinnie group?
Only through Pat [Lachman] when he was -- he toured with Halford [as guitarist] and was talkin’ about some stuff, this and that, and what he was gonna be doin’ and said that this was gonna be goin’ on and I only kept abreast of it by the internet. I didn’t really have a chance to check it out, no.

Well, I’ll tell you, Pat himself seems to me to have done a pretty good emulation of Phil, if nothing else…
Well that’s where we’re goin’. [That’s the point.]

Definitely.
Sure, but again, [Dimebag’s murder] was a great loss and I shouldn’t include it in my feeling about how it affects me as a musician, ‘cause it really doesn’t [affect me] as a musician. It affects me more as a person.

Okay.
And I think as a musician, or a guy in Overkill, it should be business as usual. You know, as a person, I think, “My God….”

What a talent….
“…What a talent,” but I feel like saying “They’ve gone insane” y’know? Hehe.

Yeah.
They -- what I mean by the other side, or the rotten side, is the evil.

Alright, cool. Let’s change gears again. Does an Overkill song start with a riff, a vocal line, a lyric, or is that something that changes from record to record or song to song?
Well, [it changes from] song to song, but primarily [a song starts] with a riff. It can be any [of those], but it primarily is a riff.

Okay. Earlier you had said that basically you and D.D. do most of the writing. Is that something that’s pretty much how it is because it’s basically your and D.D.’s baby?
Well, uh, yeah. Pretty much. Now the other guys most certainly have input into a song and do slant the song’s direction. Interpretation is always left up to, y’know, Dave [Linsk] and Tim [Mallare]. Derek [Tailer] bein’ the newer guy has less influence musically, but Dave has a huge impact on the songs. I mean, a lot of my vocal lines are gonna change based on what his guitar is gonna do.

Okay, cool.
He’ll say “Okay, I have this, this, this and this.” And I’ll say, “God, you’re the most musical guy in the band. I’ll change to what you’re doing.”

Sounds good.
So he does have impact on it. But with regard to [other contributions], it’s still D.D.’s and mine as far as the final say.

Cool. Here’s sort of a fan standpoint question, and I know that you’d rather think of your listeners as friends, but are there bands that you are a fan of yourself, or a friend of, or both? Also, who, if anyone, do you consider to be your true peers in Metal?
Oh, peers…. Gee. A lot of ‘em have just gone away. I suppose peers would be bands like Testament. I mean, I know these guys [even though] I don’t stay in touch with them, but I’m friendly with them whenever I see ‘em, of course. We’re goin’ over to do a bunch of European festivals this summer [which puts together a lot of different kinds of bands] -- a fantastic trip, and writin’ for a Swedish ‘zine you probably know a lot of ‘em…

Yeah.
And of course Mötley Crüe are our peers. Hahahaha!

Yeah, okay. Hahahaha!
Hahahahahahaha!!!

Oh, man. Have you heard that new song [by Mötley Crüe]?
No, I haven’t. Hahahaha!!

I tell you what, it makes me want to die tomorrow -- that’s the name of the new song, “If I Die Tomorrow.”
Hahahaha!!!

I was like “This is a pop fuckin’ song with kind of a crunchy, watered down Pantera riff” -- there it is again -- but Vince Neil sounds more feminine than I think I’ve ever heard him.
Y’know, I’ll tell ya. I was sittin’ around on a snowy, Sunday afternoon, and I was lookin’ for a ball game and there was none on, and I was flippin’ through and I ended up on VH-1 and I said, “Gee, that’s Vince Neil!”

Hahaha. Did you see him gettin’ chopped up?
It was “The Remaking of Vince Neil.”

That’s surreal, is what that is.
Was that what it was? It was a kinder, softer Vince Neil -- I mean, right down to his haircut, movin’ his hair around. And, y’know, somebody givin’ him a medicine ball, makin’ him sweat. And I said “This has got to be the funniest comedy I’ve seen in a long, fuckin’ time.”

Yeah. That’s not very Metal. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.
Hahahahahahaha!!!!

“Hey, look at me! I’ve got sand in my vagina! I’m on TV.”
Hahahahahahaha!!!! “What’s new, pussy cat?”

Yeah. Whoa, whoa, WOE. [To make a pun based on that old Tom Jones song.]
Hahahaha!!

Well, somewhat related to the previous question, do you have any ideal tour partners in mind? I would think that an Overkill, Anthrax, Testament bill, or something like that, would be killer.
Y’know, getting that together is a whole different world. As honest as I can be, it’s about control. And I think it is for us as much as the other bands. Once you get three [bands] like that, to [get everyone to] agree on everything is hard. That’s as honest as I can be about it.

Okay.
I’ve tried it in the past. We went after a Testament, Kreator, Overkill setup because that would be a really interesting package….

That’d be killer!
But it just didn’t work across the board, based on just too many politics.

Yeah. [Who decides] who gets the headlining slot, and how much time….
It doesn’t ever really concern us. Y’know, the idea is, that really would’ve been a valuable tour, in the States, especially. But I think it became a fantasy after a while, because you’re not bringing out X amount of semis, or something like that. It’s just not gonna happen. And that’s what was. “What is” is different. So it just hasn’t worked for us. But we always keep our eyes open for it. We’re actually talking [about] one of the Euro tours we’re doin’ will have Metal Church on it, I think, later in the year, which’ll be nice. They actually have a new record….

What is that, Weight of the World -- does that sound right?
Yeah, that’s it.

They were kinda silent for quite a while there, too.
Yeah, this is the Vanderhoof minus Dave [Wayne] fronted Metal Church.

Alright, cool. How about music in general. What do you guys listen to when on the bus, or sitting at home, or whatever?
Shadows Fall… I got the first In Flames re-release from Regain [Records], which I thought was pretty cool. Uhhh…

Got any skeletons in the closet?
Oh, any Vince Neil stuff you mean? Hahaha!

Nah, nah. Nothin’ that gay.
HAHAHAHA!! Uh, I got some Harry Connick [Jr.] layin’ around. What am I lookin’ at? Thick as a Brick by Jethro Tull. Tryin’ to think here. … Have some Saxon.

Denim and Leather?
Haha. Right! [Blitz started singin’ a little Saxon at this point.]

Hahaha!
Uh, some Scorpions here. Oh. I got a lot of Rolling Stones, believe it or not.

Izzat right?
Yeah. I don’t know why. But I mean, I have, I’ve even gone so far as to get a 4 CD set of all their number ones.

‘Cause you don’t already have those [songs] on the original records, right? Haha.
Well, I’ll tell you somethin’. There’s somethin’ about listenin’ to those freakin’ number one hits one after another when you’re twistin’ wrenches on the bike. Hahaha!

Okay, alright. Back to the bike!
Right! Haha.

Well, I wanted to ask you what are some new bands that you’re excited about. I’ve read other interviews where you’ve mentioned In Flames and Shadows Fall…
Oh, those are two new ones to me, yeah.

Which In Flames record is it? Is it The Jester Race, maybe?
No, it’s the first one. Just a second. I got it right here.

Oh, Lunar Strain.
There it is. It’s on Regain [Records].

Is that the only one you’ve gotten into then?
That’s the one I have from them, the new one [which is actually a re-release] and then I have the last release.

What is that, Soundtrack to Your Escape?
There it is.

So you’re goin’ first to last [album]. What do you think about those bookends?
I think it was a surprise to hear what they had done ten years ago. Didn’t even know it existed. Yep, I think they were much farther ahead of their time than anyone thought.

‘Cause I tell ya, I can listen to, I think it’s mid-90s -- ’96 is The Jester Race and Whoracle, which actually sounds like that could’ve been an Overkill title, from ’97…
Haha…

I got those records and then after that, I don’t know. To me they, well, they certainly didn’t go soft, I just think they started incorporating some other elements that maybe I wasn’t feeling at that point.
Well, maybe it’s interesting to me because I liked them and then went back, deeper into it and liked it more.

I understand that absolutely. I think we’ve all done that. Uh, Shadows Fall -- that’s a great band. I managed to find their independent debut, Somber Eyes to the Sky, back in 1998 [on Lifeless Records] when it came out and of course I expected them to blow up and then they did. It couldn’t’ve happened to a nicer bunch of guys, y’know?
You’re deep into this, then.

Oh, definitely. It’s good stuff.
No doubt.

I imagine it’s pretty hard being on tour and whatnot, but is there anything new that you can see coming from the underground and below? [Note: Overkill’s 1997 release was entitled “From the Underground and Below.”]
Comin’ from the underground and below, hmmm…. Do I have the vision? [Pause.] No, I don’t. If you talk to me after the tour, maybe I’ll have something.

Okay.
But it’s been since November ’03 since I was on the road. So this has been a writing period of time for us. Writing, promotion, etc.

Alright. We’ve mentioned Shadows Fall [but] what do you think about some other bands that are flying the banner of the so-called New Wave of American Heavy Metal, like God Forbid or Killswitch Engage or Lamb of God? Have you gotten into any of that?
Sure. Y’know, I think the approach is there. I think the approach is all similar. Y’know, this [perspective] may be from somebody looking in from the outside who’s not into the scene, though. That’s as honest as I can be about it. I honestly don’t think that I know enough about it to give you a qualified opinion because in many cases it sounds very similar [to me].

I could buy that. Well, God Forbid -- they’re from [New] Jersey…
Yeah, we did a show or two [with them].

‘Cause I could see you guys draggin’ them around the country. That’s a solid band.
Sure.

This might go back to the longevity question a bit, but what do you think are Metal's greatest strengths and weaknesses? How does Overkill focus on the strengths?
Well, the strength, of course, is the interest and popularity -- again. And quite obviously because of our longevity we have a place there or a niche. I think [the music industry] has created a situation where if you buy everything else, [why not buy this, too?] That’s over-saturation [by the record labels and music industry]. I don’t know. I mean, how many reunions have there been?

Right.
It comes to a point where they become valueless. Apparently you’ve read other interviews I’ve done. I’ve said “you sucked in ’89” [regardin some reunited bands].

Yeah. Hahaha.
I just don’t necessarily understand the value in that, except maybe for “Hey, one last ride. One more little bit of fun.” I mean that’s fine. Either have something to say, or you don’t have something to say. Time doesn’t have anything to do with that. I just think that when you stop, you stop. I don’t see [the point in] “Well, we’re bringin’ it back.” I mean, once in a while, that’s one thing, but when it becomes a trend… Then we’re not, as a scene, immune to trends. We have ours, y’know? And that happens to be the reunions.

That’s definitely a weakness. Well, I got a couple of quick shots here. Any thoughts on Motörhead winning a Grammy? Obviously the Grammy [committee] doesn’t know nothin’ about nothin’ [about Metal] but that’s sayin’ something to see Lemmy up there pickin’ up one of those trophies.
For Inferno, right? Hahaha. Motörhead winnin’ a Grammy, that would be awesome. I’d love to see Lemmy standing there with Chris Rock. [Note: Motörhead won a Grammy for Best Metal Performance with a cover of Metallica’s “Whiplash.”]

That’d definitely be different.
…having a conversation and not being able to understand each other but still going on. Hahaha.

Let me wrap this up as I’ve taken up, I guess, close to an hour of your time. I’m excited about this new record and the tour. Who are you gonna be touring with in the States?
Still workin’ on that at this point. I mean, even if it’s a headliner we’ll go out [and be the support act]. Yeah.

Do you have a favorite place to tour -- U.S. or Europe? I mean obviously the festivals in Europe -- that’s gotta be madness!
Yeah, the festivals are awesome. You can’t really beat that kind of live [experience]. Probably my favorite shows to do. I still like doin’ the [small] club shows because you can control the evening.

Plus it’s up close and personal, right?
It’s personal, but you control it -- it’s your gig. At the festivals you’re really at the mercy of what the festival promoters are all about. The majority of them in Europe are fantastic. I would love to bring that kind thing over here [to the U.S.].

Oh, yeah. Definitely, definitely. Well, I want to thank you for making the time for this interview. You got any parting words for your fans, friends, listeners?
Oh! We’ll see you on the road.

Absolutely.
You got it.

Alright! Well I also wanted to thank you for all the years of killer music and I look forward to many more.
Thanks, Tony.

Thanks, Blitz.
Later, man.


Links of interest:

Overkill
Regain Records
Spitfire Records