Overkill Break Out of Thrash Box With The Grinding Wheel

Overkill is ready to assault your town: D.D. Verni, Derek "The Skull" Tailer, Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth, Ron Lipnicki and Dave Linsk.EXPAND
Overkill is ready to assault your town: D.D. Verni, Derek "The Skull" Tailer, Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth, Ron Lipnicki and Dave Linsk.
Photo by Mark Weiss/Courtesy of Nuclear Blast
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When last we checked in with Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth, the leather-lunged lead singer of East Coast thrash-metal legends Overkill, we asked what advice the 2014 Bobby would give his counterpart from 1980, the year the band formed. His answer?

“Give up the fucking cigarettes, man. Throw them away,” he said in his distinctive accent. “I smoked for 35 years and was chained to the things. I’d have a nicotine patch on while chewing nicotine gum with a Marlboro hanging out of my mouth!”

So, Overkill is now touring in support of their new release, The Grinding Wheel, and the question persists: What would the 2017 Bobby tell the 2014 Bobby?

“Thank you for giving up the fucking cigarettes!” he laughs. “I’m approaching my fifth year right now being off them, and it’s given me a bit of youth. I was reborn in 2012. But I still take, like, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories like Aleve before a show. I’m not wearing a scarf or not talking to people. I’ll still walk outside with wet hair and no shirt! And at the age of 57, that’s a pretty good thing!”

That Ellsworth’s voice is in fine form and performs sonic gymnastics is evident throughout The Grinding Wheel, Overkill’s 18th studio release. But while the record maintains the thrash vibe the group is known for, the musicality has widened to include nods to NWOBHM — New Wave of British Heavy Metal, for you folks following along at home.

So while the music sounds like classic Overkill, there are elements of groups like Accept, Motörhead, Judas Priest and even Johnny Thunders in tracks like “Goddamn Trouble,” “Mean, Green, Killing Machine,” “Shine On” and “Come Heavy.” The current lineup includes Ellsworth and fellow original member D.D. Verni (bass), along with lead guitarist Dave Linsk (since 2000), rhythm guitarist Derek “The Skull” Tailer (since 2002) and drummer Ron Lipnicki (since 2005).

Ellsworth — who writes all the songs with Verni — says that when the riffs started developing and the beats per minute changed, it started sounding a bit different to his ears, with more punk and rock and roll sounds. He says they didn’t consciously try to do anything different, but that it developed naturally.

Two songs on the album are noteworthy for their lyrical content. “Let’s All Go to Hades” references the death of Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead, the massacre at the Bataclan during an Eagles of Death Metal show, and the increasing difficulty heavy-metal bands are finding touring the Middle East.

“It’s about being part of the metal community and keeping your eyes open [during shows]. It says that we can have a great time on the fast train to hell as long as we’re with all our friends,” Ellsworth offers. “As misfit as this group of individuals, the metal community, appears to those not in it, we’re pretty level-headed, friendly individuals when we’re in each other’s company.”

In “Red White and Blue,” the very pro-military Ellsworth pays tribute to the troops in America's armed forces as the nation's first line of defense. “They are always in my mind and I think underappreciated," he says. "I’m not an alt-right guy. But the reason an asshole like me can run around being an asshole for more than 35 years is because they make it possible. The song is about a soldier’s view down the rifle barrel, in the foxhole, getting the job done, and the result and consequences of that. It’s an homage and an appreciation.”

As for their current concert audiences, Ellsworth says it’s a mixture of original fans who look like him and younger folk given to more active participation in the show. “I’ve seen the bottoms of more work boots on this tour than ever, because the younger people are stage diving during the show!” he laughs. “So the audiences are a good blend, and it’s crossing generations. And this is not a career for us; it’s a lifestyle.”

Overkill will perform about 100 shows in 2017 and, when the current leg of the U.S. tour is over, head overseas for gigs in South America, Japan, Russia, Denmark and a slew of European festivals, before another U.S. run in the fall. And they’ve just gotten an offer in China...and then another European run to end the year.

Of course, the way any band’s music, whether that of long-term veterans or new groups, gets heard these days is often via social media. That's a lot different from when Ellsworth would pass out homemade, photocopied flyers for gigs on the streets of the East Coast trying to get somebody, anybody to come to the show.

“That was 1982 social media!” he laughs. “And then you’d run into a guy and ask about his sister and tell him you liked her, and he’d say he thought she liked you too! That was it. But you have to adapt to what the modern world embraces, or you get left behind. You have to embrace the YouTubes and the Facebooks and the Twitters and the Twatters!”

Finally, fans of Overkill (or, really, any band) often mistakenly assume that, in their leisure time, their favorite artists only listen to like-minded groups. Given that, we ask what kind of music we might hear blaring from the stereo speakers at Chez Ellsworth on a typical Saturday afternoon?

“I’ll give you a scenario!” the vocalist offers. “I’m in the garage, I’ve got my shirt off, I’ve got my bike up on the rack and I’m working on it. I’ve got six cold Heinekens and I yell up to my wife, ‘Hey! Put on Who’s Next! Do you have my Stones Greatest Hits?!’”

Overkill performs with special guests Nile, Dawn of Dissolution and Suicide Pandemic Wednesday, March 1 at Scout Bar, 18307 Egret Bay Boulevard. Tickets are $13.50-$30; doors open at 7 p.m.  For more details on Overkill, visit wreckingcrew.com.

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