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OverKill

Overkill staat al 37 (!) jaar garant voor kwaliteit en zit vooral in de afgelopen jaren weer aardig in de lift. Nou heeft de band mijn inziens nooit een slecht album afgeleverd, maar vooral sinds het ontzettend sterke, en agressieve ’Ironbound’ (2010), en de nog sterkere opvolgers ‘The Electric Age’ (2012) en ’White Devil Armory’ (2014) heeft de band de ene gave album na de andere uitgebracht. En verdomme zanger Bobby “Blitz” Elsworth en bassist D.D. Verni deden vorige maand de monden weer openvallen met hun achttiende langspeler, ‘The Grinding Wheel’, die vorige maand verscheen: een album die weer net iets anders is geworden dan diens voorgangers, maar toch weer op en top Overkill is. Een kans om Bobby te spreken slaan wij natuurlijk nooit af, en ondergetekende ging een wederom bijzonder aangename conversatie aan met de zanger, die op dat moment nog volop bezig was met het voorbereiden op de band’s optreden op de laatste editie van de 70000 Tons Of Metal.

Door: Nima | Archiveer onder speed / thrash metal

So after a bit of “chitchat” and so jokes in Dutch – as some of you might know, Bobby is married to a Dutch lady and speaks a little bit of Dutch – we take off…

So Bobby, how’ve you been, man?
Good, good! Obviously as you might have noticed in the past two minutes not much has changed with me. I’m still enjoying myself, and obviously I’m very excited about the release. I really think we have something special here. As for the rest, we’re getting ready for the road and business is business as usual. So yeah, it’s a busy time again.

Yeah, you’re about to head for the open seas again for the 70000 Tons Of Metal…
It’s funny with the 70000 tons. I mean, you’re in the middle of nowhere and it takes you totally out of what you’re used to. A little bit of metal, a little bit of vacation… It’s a bit of both. It’s a really unique experience and a lot fun as well.

So is there a lot of preparations going on at the moment?
Well I’ve got my sun lotion packed, haha. No but seriously. Of course we’re rehearsing for the 70000 tons, and after that we’re heading back to the rehearsal for the upcoming US tour. So there is a lot going on at the moment, and as I said it’s busy times for Overkill.

The album is about to be released in two weeks, and I’ve gotta give it to you, man; you’ve done it again…
Haha, you know, I can always tell by the excitement whether or not the project is going to be something special. And that excitement always comes from within. It’s that internal excitement, that special feeling you get in your gut. And when this record was being written I could feel that this was going to be something different. It wasn’t the “old dogs, same tricks” kind of situation, if you know what I mean. This record has a lot of different angles and dimensions, and everything that makes us, us. I think this record is a great accomplishment, and Andy (Sneap – Nima) has done an absolutely great job on the production. The result is definitely something special.

Oh, definitely! In the beginning I had a bit of difficulty to put my emotions about the record into words. After ‘Ironbound, ‘The Electric Age’ and ‘White Devil Armory’ I had very high expectations of the album, and ‘The Grinding Wheel’ definitely meets and exceeds them. However, I had also expected another extreme album, but the striking point is that this one is in fact groovier and more versatile than the last three… at least in my opinion!
Well, I think you have struck something there. The last three records were very much “sister-like” to each other, or “the father, son, and the holy ghost”… I don’t know. But I think for those records there was a template in mind, and I think we used that template for recording and writing new songs, and developped them within that temple. I think with this record, maybe expect for the song ‘Our Finest Hour’, that template has been set away. I mean, on this record I hear thrash, I hear traditional metal, NWOBHM, and I hear blues and rock n’ roll. So yeah, I definitely agree with you that this album has more diversity in it.

You know, we talked about this subject in the past, and I remember asking you if you had any set course or a blueprint when working on a new album, to which the answer was that you never actually work in that way and what comes, comes. But with this album, at least to me, sounds as if you wanted it to go into a certain direction, or directions…
I think the blueprints were our influences. You know, as D.D. (Verni, bassist and along with Bobby original member and the main songwriter – Nima) started presenting me riff after riff to and I had a whole collection of them, and the drum machine was added, and then Dave (Linsk – Guitars) started to bring in some ideas and the songs started to take form – and the template and the tempos of some of the original ideas and demos where different than the final result – I was thinking that for the first time in a long time I was hearing a traditional metal so that I though D.D. had a blueprint. But as the songs developed and the templates changed, for instance songs like ‘Red, White And Blue’, ‘The Grinding Wheel' or ‘Mean Green Killing Machine’ changed from their original form, I started hearing different things. For instance hardcore, traditional heavy metal, thrash metal, punk, etc. So I think as the songs developed you started to notice the differences in each song and could tell them apart from each other and as individual pieces.

Unfortunately Skype isn’t as reliable as a good old-fashioned phone connection can be, so we fade to face some technical difficulties

I’m sorry Bobby, can you hear me? I think the connection got fucked up a little bit and your voice changed there a little bit!
Bobby without a second of hesitation: But they always tell me that my voice never changes! …and he bursts out in laughter…

band imageHaha, okay, okay, speaking of your voice: something I mentioned this in my review as well, is that listening to the new record I must say that I have never heard you sing so fucking brilliantly so far! And the striking point is that you keep getting better and better with every record. You’re almost 58 years young, but vocally you are stronger than ever and at the top of your game; you sing higher, and with a lot more emotion and aggression, and a lot more powerful, even more than in the 80s!
That’s a nice compliment. Well, I’m always open towards learning new things, and I’m not afraid of trying new things. And that for sure is an important part of it. Some of the softest vocals I’ve ever done are on this record, and those are the hardest parts to sing. So I’m not painting in blacks and whites, but I’m painting it in shades of grey, so to speak. And it’s fun, actually. I’m not sure if I’m “proof” that it’s possible at 58, but I sure want to proof that it’s still fun to do at 58… or 28 or 18. That’s all part of the idea, I mean, this shit is real to me. It’s all about learning and the learning process. If I stopped learning, then I’d have to start teaching, and I’m not ready to teach. I enjoy learning new stuff and trying out new things, and to push myself on every record.

Do you nowadays have anything to keep your voice in shape and intact? Did you start smoking again? Haha!
Bobby again bursts out in laughter: Haha, funny! But no, I haven’t. It’s been a couple of years now without any tobacco, and let’s say it feels more fresh rather than new for my voice. But I don’t do anything special for my voice and I rarely notice it when we’re on the road. Of course, I get a sore throat like any other singer, but I never cannot sing. I think it’s proper use and technique, that’s all there is to it. I’ve been just doing it correctly now, and not smoking on top of that, I think my voice benefits a lot more from it these days.

Was it also difficult to adapt your voice and technique to the diversity of the new material?
No, not necessarily. We’ve talked about this in one of our past interviews, that I come from a life of different styles of music. For instance I’m known to be working on my motorcycle listening to The Rolling Stones hits, or The Who, and I love classic rock n’ roll. I also listen to ‘Repentless’ (the last Slayer album – Nima) and the new Exodus record for example. So, it’s quite a wide range of music styles that I enjoy, and a diverse type of approach that I have for the love of music. So I think when given the opportunity it’s easier for me to adapt to, and it’s not horrid to put myself in a situation that it’s different from Overkill.

Let’s get back to the musical part of the new album. As you mentioned there are a lot of different styles like traditional heavy metal, punk, rock n’ roll etc. to be heard on this record, all merged into what is Overkill. How important is it for you guys, and for a band like Overkill to merge these versatile influences into your music?
I think it’s important based on the results. And I think in the case the results were great for us. You know, it was never a forced influence. The influence is the seed, and it only starts as a seed. How is it gonna grow? Will it turn into a small tree, or will it be part of an oak… no one knows? You put the seed into the earth, water it and take care of it, that’s all there is to it. The key to success is to make sure that it happens on its own; it’s not about forcing it.

This may sound as sound as a strange question, but while merging these diverse influence into your music, it is sometimes difficult to maintain the Overkill sound and feel and not deviate too much from it because of the different influence?
In this case, no. I think it’s pretty evident when you hear the record that it’s us. But I think that’s something that is just a given. I think we know who we are and when add the correct amount of energy to any formula, it sound like Overkill. We did a bonus track for the extended version, and that’s Thin Lizzy’s ‘Emerald’. You would never think that a band like Overkill could handle a Thin Lizzy tune. But it sounds as if it’s us doing it, and not as if we’re trying to be Think Lizzy. And that’s the key.
That’s true, and that’s actually something I also mentioned in my review as well, that no matter how different or regardless of how many different influences, the total picture is utter Overkill. Something else about this record is the fact that it’s a more complex record, and contains a lot of different layers that you don’t recognize on the first spin. Yet the album is so energetic that its instantly catchy, but every spin offers something new to discover, and therefore the album remains fresh and new every time…
And isn’t that the fun of listening to music? If it continues to grow in your ears from listen to listen, I think that’s a part of where success comes from. You know I’m learning to the songs that we’re going to play live and there’s just so many things going on in there, but as you said it has the instant impact. And somewhere in that statement is the key to what makes a great song for us: that it’s more than it appears to be and something that keeps growing with time.

Something else that is a lot of fun listening to on this record are the lyrics. As far as I can hear and interpret, you’re dealing with a lot of serious subjects such as our current bullshit that’s been going on around the world, but bring them with a humorous approach. Songs like ‘Goddamn Trouble’, ‘The Long Road’, or ‘Come Heavy’ are even a bit autobiographical as well…
That’s a good point. I like to sing about what I know, and I think what I know best are the principles that the band lives by, and that we live by as people. And I think that if you take yourself too seriously, you miss the point of life is about. It’s supposed to be a bit of a big joke… on you, haha. Well, yeah! What I mean is that not everything goes correctly or your way all the time. And if you’re serious all the time, you wear yourself out in just a few years. I have a decent sense of humour and I can laugh at myself, and I think that’s they of understanding how to enjoy life. And to appoint that back in the lyrics is the right thing to do. In that way it’s natural, and an honest lyric. If you look at a song like ‘Let’s All Go To Hades’, the basic idea is that I can have fun on a fast train to hell, as long as all my friends are there with me. I mean, there is a lot of shit going on, whether there is a terror attack, or a natural disaster, or people losing their lives because of illness… but SHIT, I can have fun… on a fast train to hell, haha.

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Can you explain a little bit about the subjects you’re dealing with on this record, and your sources of inspiration this time around?
Well, as for ‘Mean Green Killing Machine’, if you take five fingers you have five individual fingers, but when you put them together it becomes a fist, it becomes a sixth entity. And I’ve always considered the band a machine; and I’ve always considered it a machine of individuals that comes together. The sixth entity actually becomes a community; a scene. The whole reason the song hits that hard, is because the scene hits that hard, and the community hits that hard. It only works if all the elements of the machine are together. ‘Our Finest Hour’ is a very simple conversation between two: one has super confidence, tons of experience, and no fears, while the other has no experience, no confidence, and is full of fear. Those are just a few examples of what I deal with, and these are the things that I know and can relate to.

Well Bobby, I know for a fact that you don’t like to talk about politics too much, but I gotta ask you; looking at the political situation in the US, which actually affects the world, did the elections have any influence on your lyrics this time around?
I can tell you this: I love politics. I don’t like talking about it because I don’t think I’m qualified. I shouldn’t influence anyone on how they should live and how they should think. I that free thinking is the best way. You know, what often happens is because a guy makes a few records and becomes really popular after a few records, he immediately thinks he’s smart. Well I think I’m exactly the same asshole who wrote some of the songs on ‘Feel The Fire’ (the band’s 1985 debut album – Nima). That’s the way I think about it, so I don’t think I’m qualified to talk about politics. But regarding what’s happening, I can tell you this: I’ve always believed in a democratic system, because I love history, and in order to learn history you have to follow politics to understand why turn out the way they turn. But I believe that it’s also fragile, and I believe that democracy only works if you accept the result of an election. No matter who your candidate is, you have to be able to accept it, otherwise you’re just not democratic. So I think that’s the biggest problem in this particular situation. But to come back to your question: no, it didn’t affect my lyrics, haha.

Haha. Well you just said that you think you’re the same asshole as back in 1985. And there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you, but forgot every time. And I’m not sure if it’s a rumour or the truth, but I’ve read that in the beginning you got fired from the band because of your extreme lifestyle, and that after a couple of days you re-joined…
That’s true. And if wasn’t only a couple of days, by the way. It was still before we were signed and were a cover band, and I was asked to leave. And that was because, well like my father said: “are you sure you’re not doing this to meet girls and drink for free?”, haha.

Haha, well I guess that says enough… Ok Bobby, I think we’re running out of time, so let’s make it fast with one last question. You’ve been doing this for so long now and no need to say that you have earned and deserved your status as a band. But is there, after all these years, still the need to proof something to yourselves with your music?
Oh yes, for sure. The whole joy of this whole thing is the journey, not the destination. I mean, if you’re still on the journey, it’s still exciting. And that’s where the proving ground comes from. I think you know that even if I don’t take myself too seriously, I’m very competitive. I think it’s evident in Overkill’s presentation as a band, not just mine; we don’t take a stage with an attitude that we do not have to do our best. We take the stage and say this is ours, if you don’t like it, you can leave, haha. Well for us the most important show is always the next show. Yesterday’s show is history, today’s show is the most important one. And that attitude is the key, and it’s a very simple principle.

I don’t know if I told you this story, but back a few years ago we were on tour with Exodus and some younger bands, and one of them was Gama Bomb. And I remember that Philly (Byrne, Gama Bomb vocalist – Nima) was every night watching and watching and watching. So one time backstage I told him listen, I didn’t invent this shit, just steal the good stuff, haha. I said steal it, but make it your own, and we had a good laugh and we’ve been friends ever since. And he says I still do some of the stuff I stole form you, haha. But that’s the beauty of it, as it gets passed on. Oh, I also remember one time in Spain on that same tour, Gary Holt (Slayer, Exodus) came walking off the stage and he’s always cracking a sideways smile, you know that always cracked smile on the side of his mouth, and I’m standing at the bottom of the stage waiting to go on, and he goes “well yeah, mister Ellsworth, try to beat that”, and I said my fuckin’ pleasure, I’m going to bury you Gary Holt, hahahaha. And that’s being competitive, it’s a friendly competition, but he’s the kind of guy that likes to compete, haha.

And with that we have to call it a night as our time is running out and Bobby has to get ready for the next interview…

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