The only Overkill interview you ever need to read
When guest contributor Turk Durmac pitched an interview with Overkill, we thought we'd be reading Bobby Blitz's thoughts on their upcoming album and tour (which includes two headlining NYC dates). We did not anticipate reading an album-by-album rundown of the band's 17-album (including their still-untitled 2014 effort) career. "Overkill" has taken on a new meaning for me. Pour some coffee, fix a snack, and enjoy. —DM
It’s difficult to talk about thrash metal legends Overkill without acknowledging the breadth of their recorded catalog — seventeen albums (plus a new one in the works), not to mention several EPs and two live albums released over the past twenty-eight years. Their relentless schedule of recording and touring is a marvel in and of itself; even more impressive is the consistently high level of quality the band has achieved across these many albums. Even diehard fans have a hard time wrapping their heads around the band’s catalog. It’s a fascinating trajectory: from their beginnings as a NWOBHM/hardcore hybrid, through their first-tier thrash albums like The Years of Decay and Horrorscope, through the metal dark ages of the ‘90s when the band made some of its most crushing, valuable music — all of this leads up to to their current masterpieces Ironbound and The Electric Age.
Hailing from New Jersey, Overkill is a true working-class American story, a band whose relentless work ethic and commitment to hard and heavy labor has yielded a self-made career that has survived and thrived outside the influence of the mainstream. Bobby Blitz, the band’s vocalist and mouthpiece, is one of thrash’s most visible and accessible heroes. In his mid-50s, the guy remains battle-ready: feral-eyed, with an ironclad stack of abdominal muscles and the off-the-wall energy of a man half his age. Not to mention that voice: grinding and gritty, instantly recognizable, toughened by the years. Anyone can name ten singers whose voice has degraded over the decades; Bobby still shreds vocal tissue on a nightly basis. Listening to the band’s recent albums, you have to wonder how they’ve done it.
I called Bobby at his New Jersey home at 11am on a Monday. Unfortunately, he’d not been alerted to my intention to discuss all seventeen albums with him. But Bobby’s a man of the people, of the fans. And we wound up talking for two and a half hours throughout the course of the day. Somehow, I had the sense he’d accomplished three times as much as I had in the intervals between our phone calls.
"We like working," he said, "and it’s not about anything but successful results."
Feel The Fire 
The classic first album, and the result of Overkill building their own stage sets, headlining clubs as an unsigned band, and getting in Johnny Z.’s (Megaforce Records) until he had no choice but to acknowledge this burgeoning New Jersey force. It features the “classic” line-up: Blitz, vocals; D.D. Verni, bass; Bobby Gustafson, guitar; and Rat Skates, drums.
It wasn’t about taking “no” for an answer. We might not have even understood what we were doing musically, but I think we understood that it had some kind of charm or power to it — that other people would be attracted to what we were attracted to. So, yeah, we relentlessly called this guy (John Zazula), who was selling our demo out of his record shop. Eventually we were sending him cases of the things (demos) and they kept moving out of his store — so, you couple that with phone calls, knocking on his door and jumping him at Anthrax gigs… he and Marsha (Zazula) were attracted to that tenacity and that “we’re not gonna take no for an answer” ethic we had.
When I think of Feel the Fire I think of chaos. It was chaotic, there was no plan. There was no map for the kind of music we were doing. I’m not saying we created that map, but it was being created simultaneously in different parts of the world. We were involved somewhere along the line — obviously we weren’t the first — but somewhere in the first handful of bands that were doing this.
In the early days, my father used to accuse me of doing this for free beer and girls, and to some degree that was true — it was just a cool thing to do. On Feel the Fire, I approached my vocals wide-eyed, just wanting to tear it up. Not over-thinking anything, just standing behind the mic. I remember in those days, I’d push so hard that I’d lose my voice. You know, I’m in my early twenties and I should be losing my voice, but I’d scream so loud or sing so hard that I did. But that was the approach: action versus reaction. Action was the tape I was hearing in the headphones and the Reaction was the vocal I was laying down, trying to match that energy.
The engineer was Alex Perialas (who later produced Anthrax, Testament, S.O.D. and many others), who was working with a lot of the Megaforce bands and produced the next two Overkill albums. It was the old school way: two-inch tape, minimal effects, and big-size equipment. You had to get the take correct; it had to have the energy, and it had to be in time. You know, it wasn’t the modern way. And in some cases, the modern way isn’t always the best. What we’re cut from that idea of: make the take great.
Taking Over 
Prior to the recording of Taking Over, Overkill toured Europe with Anthrax(the Metal Hammer Road Show) and the U.S. with Slayer. MTV invited the band to come on the air, and played the “In Union We Stand” video on a semi-regular basis.
It was kind of a wall of sound. We became a bigger band. We started getting a plan. The whole thrash genre had taken form and individuality was coming in. There was, for sure, a Bay Area sound that had taken shape. There was a Slayer sound. And I think we were developing our own wall of sound. I’d taken vocal lessons and came into the studio and lost my voice again. That was something new for me; I realized I had to learn how to sing properly. So that was part of Taking Over for me. I was taught to sing — or I at least touched on the beginnings of those techniques.
I always looked at what I did with regard to vocals as being not just a singer, but a part of this band. Part of the effect. It was my job to create, as you call it, “grit,” or as I see it, that explosiveness when the vocals happen.
It was a scene born unto itself. Twenty bands that knew each other and what the others were doing. It wasn’t instantaneous, like today. You couldn’t just log on and see what the new Testament single was going to be. You had to wait to get it through Megaforce. But Exodus would come to town and we’d hang out. We were excited about what they were doing. I’d like to tell you that every band was original, but there was a certain degree of borrowing that happened in order to allow that sound to come to fruition.
Tours ensued with Helloween in Europe and, in the U.S., with Megadeth, whose infamously debauched first line-up was coming to pieces.
They were coming off the rails and they were a really exciting band because they were coming off the rails. There was something really charming about that explosiveness. You know, I remember standing in Philedelphia and Dave saying to the audience, “You’ve just witnessed the last performance of Megadeth." And this was 1987! I think there was a great camaraderie between the bands. Even with Dave and Junior, there still is. They’re great guys and great friends. I still think of that tour fondly, one of my favorites.
Under the Influence 
Original drummer Rat Skates is replaced by virtuoso Sid Falck for this “fan favorite” album, which is perhaps the band’s most “traditional” thrash album.
We lost Rat Skates at the end of the Megadeth tour. We got out to Long Beach and played the show and he packed his bags and left. We’re sitting there in our RV, you know, and the lighting guy we had was like living with a pirate and he said, “It’s no time to be crying, boys!” and bought us a case of beer and two bottles of Crown and we drove back across the country. I remember sitting with D.D. and realizing this wasn’t going to be the end of it.
Sid Falck had been involved with Paul Di'Anno, and prior to that, he’d been in bands in Denmark. We’d had open auditions and forty kids showed up in leather outfits. And we’re sitting there in jeans and T-shirts, like, “What’s up with these guys, I guess they’re trying to make an impression.” Sid was suggested to us. He was untapped, and hadn’t reached his full potential yet. We saw it right away.
Sid was a unique drummer. He wasn’t really cut from the scene and wasn’t aware of what thrash drummers were doing, which was the cool thing about him.
Under the Influence is not one of my favorite records, though — it’s in the bottom. Some outside influences started coming in. What we had accomplished on Taking Over, we were losing on Under the Influence. I can only see that in hindsight, but when I think about the record, it just never comes across as a truly original piece of work. But Sid added to it, and he progressed with every record.
Years of Decay 
Career-defining fourth album produced by the legendary Terry Date and featuring the songs “Elimination,” the video for which was in regular rotation on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball. The album also features “Skullkrushers,” a nine-minute groove dirge unlike anything heard on a thrash record. It marks the first of many record Overkill would make at Carriage House Studios.
We couldn’t measure our position then — where we stood in the scene. It was telephone calls and print ads in magazines. We had to wait to get the sales figures and all that. But, yeah, creatively we really came into our own on that record. Bobby Gustafson was a big part of that record, and D.D., of course. I’d become better at what I was doing, writing melodies. Ideas were flowing and we brought Terry Date (Soundgarden, Pantera) to produce the record. When I think of that record, I think of it as an end of the first chapter of the band — a great end. Because we walked away from that Under the Influence thing, you know, doing what everybody else was doing, and really came into our own as a band.
Working with Terry was a step up, but the thing about Terry is that as talented as he is, and with the way he could twist knobs on an SSL — you know, you think of this super insane genius thing going on — but Terry was the most relaxed motherfucker on the face of the earth. He made you feel comfortable in the first two minutes. And after that, every time you walked into the studio you felt comfortable. And he got great results out of us.
My kid was five at the time, 1989, and I used to love talking to him. He liked it when I talked like Sylvester the Cat, slurring the S sounds. I’d say, “Come on son, let’s go get a mouse… all the other cats have a mouse,” you know? And I get into the studio, and I’m doing the song “Elimination,” and I can’t understand why I sound like shit. We’re listening back and I’m getting all uptight about it, saying, “I just don’t get it, the demos sounded good.” So Terry solos my voice and three minutes later we’re laughing so hard because every vocal in the fucking song sound like Sylvester the fucking Cat singing. Now, in front of anyone else I might have been embarrassed, but we just cracked a couple of beers and laughed. My point being that, to be able to make that kind of mistake in front of such a high-level producer and to feel relaxed about it says a lot about what kind of a dude Terry is.
It was fun working at Carriage House. We could drive there and get him. We’re married guys and could get home after if we needed to. It was secluded and it had the equipment we liked: an SSL board, state of the art at the time, an edgier board. It didn’t round out the sound like the Neves did. I liked to make it sound like professional, like we knew what we were doing, but that wasn’t always the case. I remember Sid Falck counting the cases of beer we’d gone through in the first two weeks. You know, it felt great. We were making this powerful thing, but we were still living like juvenile delinquents.
I don’t talk money — it’s my Jersey genes. But we had apartments, enough to get by. I wasn’t driving a Ferrari. I think I had a 1985 Renault Alliance because it was car of the year. D.D. bought the same car and it broke down two weeks later. “Car of the year, my ass,” he said, and I said, “Hey, I got mine for $3,000.”
During Under The Influence era, we’d started off at L’Amour’s in Brooklyn, and then we got sent to the Uptown Ritz on 54th street. By ’89 we’d sold out 54th street, the biggest rock club in New York. So, yeah, we felt like we were making a noise that was bigger than just our inner circle.
At what felt like a peak in the band’s career, guitarist and songwriter Bobby Gustafson leaves the band and, in an unprecedented move, is replaced by two guitarists. Megaforce Records is skeptical of the line-up change, until hearing what would become one of Overkill’s finest albums.
Bobby left the band, and it wasn’t the most amicable circumstances. There are different stories about what happened, but I wanted to play with D.D. We started the band and I trusted his ethic and songwriting. We knew if we replaced Bobby with one guitarist, we’d get compared to what we were. So, it seemed like to logical thing to bring in two players. We didn’t want anyone to say, “Bobby was better than this new guy.” And we wanted to perform old stuff with two guitars to keep in fresh. We realized that change isn’t a bad thing.
Merritt Grant and Rob Cannavino came in really seamlessly, because the band seemed to carry what we’d done on Years of Decay into Horrorscope. If I attribute that to anything, I attribute it to D.D.’s songwriting. He was the sole riff writer in the band after Bobby Gustafson left. Also, Sid Falck’s drumming. He really reached a new level with Horrorscope. You can talk about Lars and Lombardo, but Sid wasn’t afraid to do other things, to think outside the thrash box. He was really outstanding by that point.
Megaforce Records, however, wasn’t so sure about keeping the band after Bobby Gustafson’s departure. It marked the seriousness of the line-up change, but also the label’s underestimation of the band’s tenacity.
I was so insulted. We were getting the Horrorscope stuff together and Megaforce said, “We’re not sure we want to keep the band.” They wanted us to audition for them. And I said, “You’re kidding.” We had some people in our corner, for sure, but we had to stand in front of fifteen Megaforce people and play the Horrorscope record on a stage in Brooklyn — that’s not well known, but now it is. I was so insulted, but the amount of energy I had for that record…I remember standing next to D.D., who’s always calm and collected, and I said, “I’m gonna shove my fist so far up Johnny Z.'s ass…” (laughs) It worked out pretty well. They were blown away by what we’d achieved with the new guys. But that was what we learned: We’re gonna shove this thing up your ass, we’re gonna make you love it.
The record’s title track features one of metal’s heaviest grooves, a staple not only of the band’s live sets for years, but an essential piece of 1990s metal.
We’d experimented with that low-end groove on “Drunken Wisdom” and then did “Skullkrusher” on Years of Decay, a nine minute monster. By Horrorscope we really understood that groove, and the record at large is a thrash record, but there’s groove in everything. And it’s a cohesive idea as a record. It wasn’t just D.D. writing the songs. It was the band coming together. I’d learned to marry my vocal melodies to those grooves. The Taking Over vocals, for examples, wouldn’t have worked.
Cannavino and Gant were uniquely different unto each other, and together they made that one great entity. Cannavino was a vacuum-tight rhythm player, and when he’d do a lead it had that dirty, almost rock n’ roll vibe. Merritt Gant was a progressive guy, and when he did leads he always wanted to outdo what he’d just done. So he’d play off the top of his head, but he’d prepare to just the right degree — spontaneity and preparation. I remember him coming up with that wailing solo that goes over the bridge on “Horrorscope.” I was impressed right away to hear those two players morph into one great sound.
I Hear Black 
Amidst a rapidly changing metal scene (John Bush was installed in Anthrax to replace Joey Belladonna; The Black Album had gone multi-platinum; Megadeth were MTV darlings), Overkill welcomes new drummer Tim Mallare into the fold for a sludgy, down-tempo record often criticized by fans but containing some of their finest mid-tempo songs.
The times were changing and we were aware of that, but we were also aware that as far back as “Drunken Wisdom,” we’d begun experimenting with groove, and I Hear Black became an extension of that. When I look back on I Hear Black, I don’t think of it as a bad record, I think of it as a record where we didn’t have enough time. The other players wanted to write songs, too, so we deviated from the Overkill formula. The majority of the music was still D.D.’s, but, for example, Merritt Gant wrote the riff for “Dreaming in Columbian” and Cannavino wrote “Just Like You.” For me it became hard to focus, because I finally got a handle on what D.D. was doing, and now I’m hearing riffs from three different guys and I’m thinking, “What the fuck am I gonna do with this stuff?”
The band had brought Alex Perialas in to produce again, as Terry Date’s fees had skyrocketed in the wake of Pantera’s success.
Alex was all about getting the perfect take, timing and performance, but getting a live feel across. I always thought he added something great to the whole scene.
Every once in a while someone will come up to us and say, “I really love the song 'Shades of Grey,'” and D.D. and I will say, “Now that was a fucking mistake.” (laughs) To try it wasn’t a mistake, but with regard to the result. When I hear that record, I hear so much potential. But we didn’t have time. We never gelled the way D.D. and I did on Horrorscope.
“Spiritual Void” or the song “I Hear Black,” for instance — there are some jewels on that record. But those were songs of D.D.’s. When you put it all together, you don’t get a full record. And when we were kids, we didn’t just like “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden. We wanted the whole record. I don’t think you get that with I Hear Black.
Tim Mallare came from M.O.D. More of a hardcore background, and I think you hear Overkill heading in that direction. Tim didn’t have that perfection Sid Falck had—Sid was more of a drummer’s drummer. But Tim had more of a “start him up and watch him go” kind of an energy that was exciting, something different, and the records began to take on a different persona based on that.
Horrorscope was the height of our commercial recognition, and it leveled off by ’94. But you’d hear people talk about MTV not playing metal videos and the grunge thing, but we never really cared. It didn’t change our thinking as far as mass appeal. I remember years later, D.D. and I were discussing an upcoming record, and he said, “We’ve been done since Horrorscope. What do we have to lose?” And I said, “You’re right. We’re doing what we wanna do.” I love living without consequence. We didn’t have anything to lose — we’re making a few bucks, touring the world, making what we thought were great records. Some people love these records, so who cares if it’s not the most popular genre on the face of the earth—let the other guys have that heat.
The more metal bands quit, the more opportunities we got. One day there were eighty bands in the room, and the next day there were eight. This music was supposed to be dead, but we were making a hell of a lot of noise for being dead. There was an unspoken business plan — tenacity.
The band’s last record for Atlantic, and a mean and lean return to thrash, mingled with several references to motorcycles and blue-collar living.
Cannavino got me into bikes. He did racing, but I went more into Harleys. But Cannavino had a lot to do with the album’s title and “Fast Junkie,” because he was a fast junkie.
D.D.’s bass is way out front on this record, and it's a unique sound. I’ve heard it described as an “irritating volume.” It was a return to thrash — everything had a hop to it. “Where It Hurts” and “Fast Junkie.” “Gasoline Dream” was a moodier song. I think we accomplished something cool on that one.
I remember getting picked up by the cops, more than once, and the cops recognizing me. One time I got pulled over by a bunch of cops and this younger guy said, “I’ll take care of this guy,” and pulled me over to the car and pulled out an Under the Influence shirt and asked me to sign. That was the ‘80s into the ‘90s. It was pretty crazy then, until I got sober in ’95. Gustafson and I could find trouble, if there was trouble to be found. D.D. occasionally got involved, but he was more about keeping his nose to the grindstone.
We have a huge catalog now, so we try to rotate some of these old songs in, but there’s only so much space.
The Killing Kind 
Signed to the independent label CMC, Overkill galvanize the underground work ethic that will sustain them for the next twenty years. Bobby and bassist D.D. Verni begin managing the band and bring two new guitarists into the band: Joe Comeau and Sebastian Marino.
These were the truly lean years. There wasn’t a lot of metal, or a big touring circuit. We still did big shows, but the opportunities were less. But we were doing the US. We’d stopped doing the West Coast, but we were doing South America, Mexico, Europe and Asia.
D.D. and I started managing the band; which can be a conflict of interest. Because the band needs to ingratiate itself to the business, where the management is supposed to fight for the artists — and that could be a fine line to tow. I remember playing Cleveland and walking into the promoter’s office, and he says to me, “Hey Bobby, we’ve been friends for fifteen years,” and I say, “Yeah, of course,” and he reaches into his pocket and pulls out all this cash and puts it on the table. He says, “I’m not gonna make my nut tonight, but I’ve got your guarantee. Just realize if you take this cash, we’re never gonna do business again.” I didn’t even think about it. I took the cash put it in my jacket and walked out to the bus. We’re a thousand miles from home. I mean, there’s a certain principle you have to have, or you’d get eaten alive out there.
At one point Pantera wanted us to go out with them, but it didn’t line up. As long as we were running our business, we weren’t trying to get the golden ring. We were doing our records at The Carriage House and technology was right around the corner with Pro Tools. We were finding ways to make it work, and we were still selling records. We had the freedom to be what we were, which was what kept us dangerous during these times.
From the Underground and Below 
Perhaps the most underrated of all Overkill records, this juggernaut is as impressive as any metal record released in 1997, and shows the band exploring new grooves and fully embracing their role in the underground.
One of my favorite records. We brought in Colin Richardson in for this, and it had a new groove. It’s a monster and the huge sonics are one of the reasons it’s a favorite. It’s also cohesive from start to finish.
If people didn’t hear this one, that’s the downside of not playing the game, not shaking hands and kissing ass. It’s an ethic that culminated in the attention we got later for Ironbound and The Electric Age.
The album features what is, perhaps, the most anomalous song in Overkill’s catalog: a funereal ballad called “Promises.”
Everybody’s lost someone. That song’s about a close friend. He and I had boxed with our addictions for years — I was never a drug addict, more of a sloppy drunk. He was into everything, though, but he was a great dude. And I cleaned up; I didn’t have a drop for ten years. But my friend would say, “I don’t know how you did it.” He was close to me and my son; he was a roadie. I told him, “You’re never gonna have a chance getting clean if you’re around people who aren’t clean,” and I told him he could live with me. And I remember getting dropped off after a tour and him saying, “I’ll have my bags in two days and I’ll be up here,” and that was the last time I saw the cat. He didn’t O.D. — he took his own life. And this music isn’t supposed to be too serious — it’s supposed to be that emotional outburst we all have. But every once in a while something comes along that lets you know people are special…and this cat was. He tried for most of his adult life to box with demons, and he didn’t make it. And the reason “Promises” is so different from any other song is because the situation was so different from anything else we’d been through.
Bobby’s well-known cancer diagnoses occurs during the writing of Necroshine, and contributes to the album’s lyrical content: “Don’t you worry about me, you know I’m doing fine / Basking in the light of a Necroshine.” It's also Bobby’s most experimental vocal effort, an unprecendented display of unique singing styles.
That thing (cancer) snuck in there and knocked me down prior to recording. It wasn’t an easy time, I suppose, but I was never afraid. It was relatively serious because it was in my sinus cavity and it was 1999 — they didn’t have what they have today. They had to do blood tests constantly to see how much cancer they’d removed from my blood, and the cancer was sitting on the edge of my skull and my brain. But I always thought to myself…it was more of a nervous energy I had. I was sitting in the same I house I live in now, probably sitting in this same chair, and I’m thinking, “This is bullshit. There’s nothing to do, you know, and Dr. Death is creeping into my thoughts, rattling bones.” So I called D.D. and he asked what I needed and said, “Send me a couple songs.” He sent me “Necroshine,” and I wrote the lyrics during that time. So you can read what I was going through at that particular time. I was stone cold sober. You know, four years sober and I’m writing this stuff. But sobriety had given me perspective: I wasn’t the dealer of the card game anymore, just a player, and I had to play the cards I’d been dealt.
It showed me that D.D. would do anything for me. I think it showed him that, "Man, this guy really is as fucking off-the-wall as they come, writing these lyrics with all these bandages wrapped over his face."
Andy Katz was this great engineer at Carriage House whose work ethic matched D.D.’s, and they’d stay up all night making sure it happened. I brought my sister in to do some backing vocals on that record — she’s thirteen years younger. And I’m sitting in the control room in a pair of work boots, a black t-shirt, and Levis, and my sister Mary is doing vocals behind the glass. Every time she screws it up, she leans into the microphone and says, “Fuck, give me another one.” And Andy looks at me and says, “Isn’t this weird to you?” And I look in there and my sister’s in a black t-shirt, jeans, and work books, and Andy says, “It’s the female you, right down to the mouth.”
So it was a special record. I’m not gonna say it's the quintessential Overkill record from that time, but there’s some good stuff on there.
Guitarists Joe Comeau and Sebastian Marino leave after three records and are replaced by the incredible Dave Linsk, who begins his career as what some consider the band’s finest lead player.
I don’t know about this record. I like the record and the material, but it’s kind of lost record. The last record we did at Carriage House. Andy Katz decided he couldn’t do the record — he became a banker or something. So the new engineer wasn’t great and there was a family issue going on with him, a huge issue. His head wasn’t on the recording and I don’t blame him. But the guy winds up holding our tapes hostage — I had to go up and get the tapes, grab them out of the studio like one of the guys in Goodfellas, you know, duct taping the guy’s mouth and sticking him in the back of the car. (laughs)
But Colin Richardson came and saved those mixes. I was really excited about the record because we were working with Dave, but it became a lost record. We wound up repairing our relationship with the studio — we got our tapes and everyone got paid. But there was a time when I was lurking around the back of the studio with burglar’s tools, trying to get my tapes.
D.D. had to leave a tour in Europe to be there for his child being born. So we flew Derek Tailor in to cover — he’d played bass with Dee Snider — and we booked a small show in Switzerland so he wouldn’t have to play a big stage first. Derek comes in, and for the first time in my career, I look over and there’s no D.D. Verni to my left. There’s a hundred kids at this show — not all metal kids, just whoever showed up — kind of a dance crowd. And Derek’s playing on his side of the stage, and I look over, and right in front of him is this guy in a latex body suit, as tight as it could be, and the guy was really dancing, really digging whatever Derek was doing. And we finished the song, and I walked over to Derek and he said, “What do you think?” and I whispered in is ear, “You’ve been in the band for fifteen minutes and you’re already ruining our reputation.” (laughs) That’s when we knew he was going to be playing in this band for a long time.
Killbox 13 
A rock-solid follow-up to Bloodletting that marks the first time the band records at D.D. Verni’s Gear Studios, where they will continue to develop their sound and in-house business practices.
Colin Richardson had a great impact on this record as a producer. He was there from day one until the end. This record is a heavy piece of real estate. Something about that record feels heavy in your hand. “Devil By The Tail” and “No Lights.” We did it at D.D.’s studio. And I caught something, was real sick. I was walking around with pruned fingers, and the doctor’s telling me I’m dehydrated, and my voice sounded like sandpaper on sandpaper. So Colin says, “Okay let’s get as much water in you as we can,” and he sang me for two hours a day… no matter what was going on, we’d stop tracking and I’d sing. And I think it’s one of the best records from that period.
You always want to raise the level of the bar. We always go in with that mentality. By this point Derek Tailor was in the band, we’re getting along great, and we were only competing with ourselves, keeping ourselves on top of our game.
Overkill's self-produced Relix is recorded and released on Spitfire Records. A tour with Prong follows, for which drummer Tim Mallare is replaced by the excellent Ron Lipnicki.
You know, on Killbox we had Colin Richardson come into D.D.’s studios for production, and he set up mics all over the room and in every corner and listened back in the headphones. We watched what he was doing and tried to understand it so we could do it ourselves. Relix is 100% proof that Colin was a professional and we weren’t. He could have made a tin can sound great, but we went in there trying to duplicate his process and came out with Relix. People say things like, “That’s an interesting guitar sound,” and I’m like, “Oh, Jesus.” (big laugh) And this was after twenty years in the fucking business. We get good guitar sounds, but we’d never mic’ed these rooms on our own. We made some mistakes and we knew what there were. But there’s some good moments on that record, some good songwriting — “Old School,” which got back to our punk roots; “Bats in the Belfry,” and “Within Your Eyes.” But, yeah, I’m sitting here during the interview going, “God, I hope he skips over Relix.” (laughs)
The great thing about doing this is: we did Relix, and weren’t happy with the production — not the record, we liked the record — but the production. But we learned enough to do things another way from that point on. You know, a “do-over,” that’s for kickball, for kids. I say, “Give me another shot on the next one.” Those mistakes are necessary steps in the evolution. If you fall on your face, do it gracefully. Wipe the mud off and get back up. And you listen to the stuff we’re doing in D.D.’s studio now—we know what were doing. So, it’s worked.
Guitarist Dave Linsk would become an essential part of Overkill’s development, not only in that he’d become one of the genre’s finest lead players, but in his uncanny ability to recall anything from Overkill’s massive catalog.
Dave Linsk knows everything he’s ever played. Five minutes backstage to brush up and he’s good to go—he’s better than I am in that way. Same with Ron Lipnicki. If he’s played it, he knows it. Total recall. We decided to do the song “Who Tends the Fire” on the last tour and Dave sat down for five minutes and said, “I’m ready,” and I said, “I’m going out to bus.” (Laughs) I had to listen to it on Youtube. Then we did it at soundcheck.
The band refines its studio technique for drummer Ron Lipnicki’s studio debut. While handicapped by awkward production, the album features some of the band’s finest work in years with “Devils in the Mist,” the AC/DC-influenced “Walk Through Fire,” and “Skull and Bones” (featuring Lamb of God vocalist Randy Blythe).
Ron brought this lineup to the next level. Dave loved playing with Tim, and he really locked in with Ron. We were all on board. I don’t want to say it was a comeback record, but it was the start of a new chapter.
It took me a record to get used to Ron; I’m not as adaptable as the other guys. But we took Immortalis out on the road and the songs got better as we played them live. We were back with Johnny Z. He signed us to do a record with a gambling company called Bodog. (laughs) And it was great — tour support. The scene was healthy again. We did the Motörhead tour and started getting recognition at a higher level again.
A culmination of everything the band had worked toward over the past decades, Ironbound is released to universal acclaim, and the band charts on Billboard for the first time since 1994. The album tops many year-end polls in metal magazines, and is considered by fans to be one of Overkill’s finest albums.
We came right off the road and into the studio. For me, it was business as usual, but something had changed with Ron being in the band. We were doing better tours, especially in Europe. We took out Exodus and Heathen. And, personally, I started competing again. It wasn’t “We got nothing to lose” anymore. I was boxing with God again, trying to knock down anything in our way. And I love Exodus, they’re cousins, no two ways about it. But I told Gary Holt night after night that “I’m going up there so you can lose.” (laughs) And he appreciates that because he’s cut from the same cloth, and the people who wind up winning are the people who paid to see the show. All that culminated in Ironbound — we took a great energy into the studio.
I said, “Wow, this feels like a full record again.” And that competition made that happen, I think.
D.D. is really the heavier guy. I listen eclectically, you know? I might listen to the new Testament, but I constantly go back to the melodies I learned as a kid — stuff from The Stones, or The Who, or Judas Priest. Not rehashed, but they come out of that era. I try to write, especially in these later years, from a place that brings a smile to my face, and a lot of times that’s connected to those old influences. And I think it creates a unique sound. You know, you listen to a song like “Bring Me the Night” and slow it down, it sounds like ZZ Top, vocally. To some degree, old becomes new again. It’s not a direct rip-off. I just get into that mode, trying to make it sound new again. And Dave Linsk, you listen to the solo on “Ironbound” that’s him at his best.
The Electric Age 
Overkill follows up Ironbound with a record equally, if not more, impressive. The Electric Age again debuts on the Billboard charts, actually beating the sales of Ironbound, and is once again lauded as one of the year’s finest metal albums.
One of the things I haven’t mentioned is that, regardless of all the other stuff, this is fun. It’s fun to do this — and we keep that in the forefront. And sometimes it shows itself. Ironbound might have been more contrived in a way; it’s a three-dimensional record. Whereas The Electric Age is two-dimensional, you know. It kicks you in the face and never lets up — and that’s fun. We were having a great time doing it.
When Ron joined the band and changed our sound, he worked really hard to learn the set and get a hang of the sound. And we were in Europe hanging out with the group of fans that call themselves the Skullkrushers. At this point Ron had notes taped to his kick drums, and he’d turn the pages to remember the songs. And when we finished hanging with these guys, we’re saying goodbye, and I told Ron, “Hey, good show.” And in front of these guys, he says to me, “Hey, Bobby, you too. You have a great voice, come back soon.” And I’m thinking, I’m having fun with this kid. And that’s the kind of energy you hear on The Electric Age — we’re having fun.
And Dave Linsk — when he came up with the solo section for “Drop the Hammer,” he sent me a tape of it. And I called him up and left a message that said, “Hey, that solo to 'Drop the Hammer,' I need it extracted so I can play it at my funeral.” (laughs) And, yeah, when you start making comments like that, you know you’re feeling good. And to hear Dave playing at his best for two records in a row — that’s what I alluded to earlier. Maybe he’s not underrated, per se, but he’s world class. He really knows this music.
The New Record [2014; currently untitled]
This current Overkill lineup bleeds experience, and you can’t feign that. Anything that bleeds and breathes experience has a good chance to succeed. And that’s what I’m hearing on this new record. D.D. is really excited about this record, and he’s not the one to get excited about records — it’s usually me. We’re touring here in October and November, and we’ll get back and see what we’ve got.
One song you’d like to omit from the catalog?
Oh, god — seventeen records, I’m sure there’s more than one. But let’s stick with no do-overs, like I said before. It’s all worth it, all part of the evolution.
One song you thought might have been glanced over and didn’t get the notice it deserved?
A song I always loved that I never thought got any type of notoriety during the ‘90s was a song called “Genocya” from the The Underground and Below.
What about favorite album art?
You know, it’s usually not me to pick the last one, but I have to go with The Electric Age. I think, for some reason, that that is the best goddamn cover we’ve ever had
And I’ll tell you the worst one: Taking Over. With the picture of the four of us holding rifles, and it’s taken through the fish-eye lens so that we all look like Rambo. We all weighed a hundred and forty-five pounds but it made our arms look like we could have arm-wrestled Stallone.
But to talk about these records for three minutes each, you know, it doesn’t really do them justice. And everyone in the band will give you a different opinion. You know, Rat Skates, who was there in the beginning, and Bobby Gustafson. Even D.D. But we love doing this and that’s why we’re here.