Overkill are a five-piece thrash metal band that have been around since 1980, and are one of the most important heavy metal bands in the Tri-State Area. They formed when two groups of musicians contacted each other through the classified section from a copy of The Aquarian Weekly. Their current lineup has been stable since 2005, and the first album this lineup put out together was 2007’s Immortalis. This past July, they put out their 17th album, White Devil Armory.
Overkill singer Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth has quit smoking in the past two years, and in a recent interview with The Aquarian, spoke about how that has affected his live and studio performances. We also looked at the two music videos, “Bitter Pill” and “Armorist,” shot in promotion of White Devil Armory. In addition, Blitz spoke about recording demos for the album with a Tascam 8-track recorder as well as contributing a song and performing at the Rock Against Dystrophy event in support of muscular dystrophy research. The transcription of our interview is below:
You recently quit smoking. Thinking about how White Devil Armory was recorded compared to 2012’s Electric Age, how much of a greater vocal range have you noticed since you quit smoking when it comes to recording albums as well performing at concerts?
I gave up tobacco at the end of 2012. Obviously I started noticing this in my live performance because we had some other tours to do to finish for the Electric Age. What happened was as time passes, my lung capacity grew. It almost felt like I grew a new lung in there. I think what ended up happening was when I started writing my parts for White Devil Armory, it was approximately eight months to a year since I quit smoking cigarettes. Then I noticed in my head when I was writing, “I can hit that note, I can hit that note…”
You did music videos for “Armorist” and “Bitter Pill” that were both shot in factories. Please tell me about how the shooting was.
We did them in Paterson, New Jersey, in a factory from the late 1800s. We did one in daylight with the lights coming through the windows, and the idea was to look as if the daylight was controlled by the director. So I think that came out really well. That was the video for “Armorist,” which was full performance.
What we had after that was in the bowels of a separate section of the complex, in which the walls were actually carved out of the bedrock in Paterson, New Jersey. The second performance was there. The one for “Bitter Pill” will be storyline and performance. When [director Kevin] Custer thought he could do two in one day, we knew it was going to be him. We said this could work with his confidence in the location and our confidence in him.
Can you tell me about the evolution of the song “Where There’s Smoke” from a working demo to the final product and if there were any major changes that happened along the way?
On my end of things, I found a thread through the original track “Armorist” and wrote a bunch of short stories about it. When this song first came about, I had heard it and I put it to the side. What the guys had done is morph it into something that became more powerful, more to the order of the day, being the classic thrash that Overkill approaches. From my first listen to the listen when I actually sat down and completed my end of the song, it had morphed a little bit into a more aggressive tune. It had that feeling as if it had grown to me because I listened to it with maybe six or eight weeks difference in between.
As the vocalist, how much input did you have with the arrangements on crafting the songs on this album?
When it comes to that, the band doesn’t like hanging out with vocalists (laughs). They consider us second-class citizens. I do have input, but in most cases don’t use it unless it’s a part I really want to get into the song.
I think when it came to White Devil Armory, there was only a part in the arrangement of “Bitter Pill” where I changed it as well as changed an arrangement in a part of the song “Freedom Rings.” That was to regards with time. I wanted one extended, and I wanted one shortened. Just with regard to what I had written for it, one felt too long when I sang over it, and one felt much shorter. That was my only input. They let me have my two cents when it comes to this.
I really like the relationship between D.D. [Verni, bassist], Dave [Linsk, lead guitarist], and Ron [Lipnicki, drummer]. When these arrangements are happening, the demos are coming to life.
Can you tell me the process you went through to pick out the general setlist for this upcoming tour?
We are going to put 17 records up there and see where the darts land on the back of the albums. You know what interests me when it comes to a setlist is the new songs, because some of these old songs I probably have performed in a live situation 7,500 times. If you start counting rehearsal, you are over 10,000 times performing a song.
When you get something that is new like White Devil Armory, “Pig,” “Bitter Pill,” “Where There’s Smoke,” these are the songs that interest the band more, because they are brand new. When you have something that is brand new, it feels like a risk. It feels a bit more exciting, so we lean a little bit towards our later material. Then we pepper it with some of our classics. Then we try to throw in—because of so many records and so many songs—something obscure, save two or three slots for something that would normally not be heard at a live Overkill performance. The order is new, classic, and obscure.
I have heard in interviews you have done recently, you bring around a Tascam 8-track recorder, and use it after your live shows to record vocals. Please tell me about some of those experiences.
I finished the songs “Pig” as well as “Armorist” on the road. I had started the song “Where There’s Smoke.” There was another one I worked on a lot—it wasn’t “Bitter Pill.” Maybe a little bit of “Freedom Rings” on the road. My thinking is that this has always affected me in a drug-like, high-energy kind of way. It takes me forever to come down after the show. What happens for me is however that live energy from that show we just finished with was, leaps into the writing, and transfers itself into the recording.
After this American tour finishes in September, you are heading out to Europe for dates with Prong, Enforcer, and Darkology. What lies on the horizon afterwards for you guys?
Prong is going to do some of the East Coast shows with us too, which is going to be awesome. That will be a great one-two punch. We’ll have Central America knock on the door. We may be going to run down and do some stuff in Nicaragua and Panama is a possibility. South Americans will link to that, too.
By then we will be into 2015. We have set aside two periods of a second European and a second American run. Then we will be looking at the Pacific Rim again. We would like to get the Australians on board. Then we have the beginning of European festival season on the horizon. The idea is to keep White Devil Armory going past a year of what we are talking right now into August 2015.
You got involved with the Rock Against Dystrophy event. Can you tell me what the event was about?
There are two brothers who do rock concerts to support muscular dystrophy as well as some local guys that come together. That’s something musicians can contribute to with regards to performance and bringing in patrons, and that money is donated.
The way I got involved was for White Devil Armory, we did some bonus tracks. One was a Scottish band by the name of Nazareth, with a song called “Miss Misery.” I wanted to do a duet on the record, and the first person who came to mind was Mark Tornillo of TT Quick fame. He is now singing with the German band Accept. Mark and I have been in touch for a regular basis since.
Good to talk to a Jersey guy. Always makes me comfortable.
Overkill will be playing at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ on Sept. 27and at The Trocadero in Philly on Sept. 28. White Devil Armory is available now. For more information, go to wreckingcrew.com.