Overkill is going to be coming out with their new record, Ironbound, in February and it has been labeled as a “thrasherpiece.” I listened to it and it’s definitely incredible. How would you describe the the new album’s sound and how does it differ from previous Overkill work?
“It’s a life-changing work. (laughs) You know what I think about this– we’ve been around for quite some time, obviously– and every year — or every couple of years — we get the opportunity to, let’s say, reinvent ourselves. And I think the beauty of Ironbound is that it’s rooted in the old, but if you add reinvention to that, it becomes kind of a contemporary work. So, rooted in the old with contemporary kind of production, it makes it almost like a contemporary history lesson. So it really has this ‘why the revolution started’ feel to it, which is unique within itself. It’s not a rehash, but again, a reinvention.”
It retains the classic sound, but at the same time sounds like something completely new. What are some of your favorite songs from the album?
“You know, one of the things I like about this record — I kind of think when I first got into this — you know, we’ve been around 25 years, so prior to those 25 years, 10 or 12 years prior to that, I played air guitar in my bedroom at my parents’ house to Black Sabbath records. And the thing I liked about the vinyl I owned as a kid was that they always felt like cohesive records to me: that the first song depends on the second, the second depends on the first and the third, and so on. So I think one of the cool things about this record is that it’s cohesive. It starts hitting, and it continues to hit and hit and hit. And the idea is that it almost becomes an increase of intensity from, let’s say, when you press play ’til when the record ends fifty-five minutes later. So I can’t really say what’s my favorite song on it because I’m always thinking in terms of, ‘Wow, it’s really finally a complete work from us,’ with regard to that cohesive feeling that I have.”
That’s true, it all flows really well, and like you said, one song is not complete without the next.
“And I think that’s necessary, you know. It’s great to have good songs and it’s hard, I think, for bands to write good songs. But I think it’s even harder to come up with a full work that is positive. And that’s really — you can’t set that as a goal. I mean, you want that as a result, but that comes from, let’s say, everything lining up correctly. The correct chemistry in the studio, the correct chemistry with writing. Everyone learns a little bit more. I think this is a band that’s not afraid to learn, regardless of, you know, how long we’ve been around. I sat down with an engineer prior to recording the vocals, and I said, ‘Listen, it’s our first time. I’ll tell you this, really simply. I’m not thin-skinned. Tell me if it’s wrong.’ (laughs) You know? I want it to be better. So I think you take those attitudes into a studio and you go with the opportunity to create something, let’s say, bigger. Bigger than what you’d done last time, or at least a chance. At least a chance to do it.”
One of my favorite songs, I have to say, is “The Head and Heart.” And I was wondering, is that a guest vocalist doing the harsh growls at the beginning?
“That’s your humble host, Bobby Blitz. (laughs) I started working on that — and that’s my point about learning — I started working on that a few years back, and I’ve been using it as… well, I don’t know. A support vocal. I did a side project called The Cursed a few years ago, it’s kind of a rock and roll, kind of a doom/swing record. I mean, there’s saxophone solos and death-metal vocals. It’s really kind of a strange record, but a lot of fun. And I started studying some death guys — some more contemporary artists. Randy Blythe, I worked with — from Lamb of God. I’m a big Johnny Cash fan — to understand the low end of the voice. And I thought it was time. So, on ‘The Head and Heart,’ instead of it being just a nuance, it took the position of the lead vocals. So it was a lot of fun for me.”
That is really cool. I like the versatility in the vocals.
“And that’s me doing the Frank Sinatra part in the other song. (laughs)”
Which songs from the album are you most excited about playing live?
“Well, I think there are some that are screaming ‘Play me!’ I think ‘Bring Me the Night,” the third track, is rooted in New Wave of British Heavy Metal and it also comes across as a rock tune. I think what makes it successful is that we put our stamp on it. And that’s really the key to success. Sure, show your influences, show where you came from, but make it your own. And I think the song ‘Give A Little’ — where I mentioned the Frank Sinatra croon (laughs) — it’s got that live ‘here comes the crowd singing everything with the band’ thing. And I think we’ve always been — we have an understanding that’s beyond the band. I mean, this doesn’t happen without support. And that support for us has been for 2+ decades at this time. So we’re always writing with mind that this is ours, collectively, beyond that of the band. So I think that those songs, the faster ones which give the audience energy that they give back to us, are the ones we’ll see in the live set.”
With Overkill being around for 25 years — most bands don’t even make it for half of that — when you guys first began, did you ever imagine this would last so long? How are things different than what you would have imagined in the beginning, in terms of the music industry, touring, songwriting, etc.?
“Well, I first have to state that when in grade school, my partner DD Verni — he was 8 and I was 10. So that makes me 35 and him 33 right now, so… [laughs] That joke usually works. With regards to the industry itself, the ’80s were the end of excess when it came to what record labels did with advances and money, and I think a developing band like ourselves had the wrong idea of how to do things: have money, spend money, it makes a better product. It’s not really about that. It’s about putting time into it. And it took us time to realize that, and we made adjustments as the industry has changed around us. When I think of 25 years ago, I mean, when we were signed and doing our first record, everyone else is doing the promotion. But for five years prior to that, we were running around putting fliers under windshield wipers at other metal shows. ‘Here comes Overkill the next week.’ So I think that’s also a huge change. And now it’s the age of instantaneous information. You post on Facebook, or you post on Myspace, or you Twitter everybody and — boom! Your promotion’s done, you know, for a newer band. So I think we gained, let’s say, a different work ethic. We were in the New York City area, so there were always shows, there were always opportunities. Maybe there were two metal shows, so the band would split into two groups of two. Myself and DD would hit one show, and the other guys would hit another one. And you start developing yourself, and you say ‘Hey, it’s worth it — doesn’t matter how cold it is.’ [laughs] But I think that’s one of the changes. And I think obviously, technology is a great thing because it keeps us all connected. But I think one thing that it does do, is that it gives us a false sense of security with regard to what our work ethic is. I don’t think there’s an American who works with regard to technology who doesn’t say ‘Oh my God, I’m so busy.’ But when you really think about what technology does — you’re pressing ’send,’ you’re Twittering — your promotion is that easy as opposed to going to the printer, taking everything out, bringing it back, assembling the guys, putting gas money in the tank, going out and putting it under windshield wipers. So that’s one of the bigger changes on that note.”
Everything now is so instantaneous, and that also includes the downloads, the iTunes, the one “click” for a song. What are your thoughts on that specifically in terms of going out and getting physical CDs or downloading copies? Do you think that the Internet, in that way, is a positive thing for Overkill?
“I think for Overkill, it is. Because it’s a very crowded room out there. And I think there’s something great with the genre that we float through, a voice of experience, and there’s something to be said for that, especially in a thrash genre that has resurgence based on newer bands, these bands that celebrate their influence in their songs, whether it’s us or Megadeth, or other bands like so. So I always turn a blind eye with regard to, you know, downloads because I don’t think you can support all the bands that are out there. Because I do believe that the metal community is still a community. Sure, you download it before it comes out, and then if you like it, you’re kind of expected to buy it. And that’s part of the rules. [laughs] So, I don’t really have a problem with that, with the illegal side of it. I do have a problem with the fact that it’s a very, very crowded room, and it gives younger bands less time to develop, where they can immediately be in a position to put their music out there with others who are developed. And I think that, in some cases, it can kind of be the death of younger bands — because they might not be ready. It’s really just that simple. There’s years of development for a modern baseball player or hockey player — years before he makes it to ‘major.’ And I think if he goes too early, you can ruin a great career, or what could have been a great career. So I think there’s ups and downs with that.”
About younger bands, are there any newer thrash bands that have caught your attention, any real standouts to you?
“Sure. You don’t keep your finger on the pulse, then you’re not aware of what’s new, and I think that’s always been the exciting thing for me — that this is a constantly changing genre. We’re taking Warbringer out with us — this is their second run with us. We’ve had Gamma Bomb from Ireland with us, we’re taking Suicidal Angels from Greece with us, Bonded by Blood…geez, who else. Airbourne. So I’m aware of some of the — not all — but let’s say, that end of the scene.”
What are some of the absolute greatest places you’ve played live over the years?
“Again, I’m kind of a New York-born-and-bred guy. I’m now in New Jersey. But playing local’s always really cool because if 2,000 people show up, I probably know half of them by first name. So that’s always really fun. Probably, the most standouts…I remember from ‘94, we played a festival called Roskilde in Denmark. It was our first European festival, and it’s probably the closest you can get to what that Woodstock aura was, or the fantasy of somebody who couldn’t experience it. But there were 65,000 people.”
“You know, when you’re used to playing to 2,000- or 1,000+… and you’re now playing in front of 65,000 people, it is a fucking wild experience. It is just as high as high can get, it’s like a drug.”
It definitely has to be one surreal and incredible experience.
“You know what it makes you do? You go, ‘This is it. We live or die in these next moments.’ And that’s so exciting, because it’s so many people. Experience doesn’t matter when you stand in front of that many people for the first time.”
Do you ever do any songwriting on the road? During tours?
“Well, D.D. collects the riffs, so that’s obviously how a song starts, whether it’s three notes or ten notes. It starts with a riff. So that’s being collected by him. I’m being more aware of this as time goes on. I’m collecting ideas. I keep a pad with me, I keep a little recorder with me. His riff-collecting is really the beginning of a song. And after the whole touring process is over, that’s when the assembly starts. And the ideas between he and I either mesh or we fight each other and try to figure out where to go from there, and then involve the other guys in the songwriting from that point on.”
In terms of lyrics, what were some of your inspirations for the new album?
“I collect events in my head — from a personal standpoint. I really like writing about the problem in general, whatever that problem may be. But it’s not necessarily with negative results. I mean, it’s always presented negatively at the onset, from a very dominant perspective. But it’s really about getting around the problem. To understand the problem, you have to face it. If you can face it, you can figure out a way through it, over it, or around it. If you can’t face it, it will always be a problem. So I suppose for being in this for as long as I have, there’s actually kind of a positive outcome with regard to a negative beginning. So these are the things that I write from, and it’s usually from personal experience. I also like to celebrate people around me. I like to give testimony where testimony is necessary, for instance, knowing we don’t do this on our own — that would be a testimony. Knowing that this is bigger than me as an individual, that I’m only a small working part of this…a necessary part, but a small part. The bigger piece, or the bigger picture, is really about those who support this. And that deserves testimony. That deserves lyrical confirmation. So that’s a generalization of how I write.”
Very nice. What would you say is Overkill’s biggest accomplishment to date?
“I’m doing an interview with you and playing with a 90-pound German Shepherd at the same time. [laughs] The whole day, I’ve been doing interviews, and she came up to me and said ‘Daddy, it is time to play.’ [laughs] So that’s probably the biggest one.”
That is definitely something that should be awarded!
“But you know, this is my one of my favorite breeds of dog. I’ve had three, and they’re so intelligent, and they’re so patient, and she waited and said ‘You’re usually done by 5:00.’ [laughs] …But, biggest accomplishment, I would say being signed. Because, you know, it was the beginning of what this was as a revolution. This was the answer to other types of music. This was — oh, God, there were so many social and political issues that were going on at that time that made this so necessary. And I think getting signed back then, and being part of that first or — maybe even that second wave of what this was all about — it was huge. It was all about the timing. So I think 1984, we actually signed a contract in Manhattan. I have a picture of it in my office, and it’s funny — we all look like kids. A couple of us are standing there with — you couldn’t drink out in the streets of New York at the time, but if you kept it in a brown paper bag, you could. So we’re in this really high-class Madison Avenue lawyer’s office wearing our Ramones and Venom T-shirts. [laughs] …with Budweiser Tall Boys in bags.”
That is classic. A picture says a thousand words, they say.
“Unbelievable, you know. There’s a guy — a lawyer — in a $5,000 suit, and I’ve got a beer in a bag. [laughs]”
What do you feel is the biggest misconception about metal music in general?
“The biggest misconception… I don’t really think there are any anymore. Because it’s transcended generations. I think that when — when did metal start, when Jimi Hendrix blew speakers and it became a metallic sound. And this is even before me listening to music. But I went back and listened to how he played through speakers and created a sound of his own based on that. And I think that was 1969. All the misconceptions, they’ve come to the top, they’ve been confronted by people — because again, it’s transcended generations. If I’ve done this for 25 years, I’ve transcended generations for people who listen to this and like this. And what I mean by that is, sometime we got shows with father-and-son, father-and-daughter, mother-and-son at the shows. So I think that when there’s a mother and son at a show, the misconceptions are therefore gone. You know, there’s obviously blockheaded people who think anything that’s not country music or Christian is immediately the work of the devil. But that’s their fucking problem. Not a misconception. [laughs] They have to live that way, and live in the head that they’ve created, and the world that they’ve created. So it’s not, therefore, misconception. It’s more ignorance. I think the misconceptions have all been brought to light with regard to what happens with this music and what this music portrays.”
I was going to ask about the Killfest tour in Spring 2010 with Vader and God Dethroned…
“Oh, yeah. That’s gonna be good stuff. We start in Philly. I think we come through Texas later for a few dates, later in April. For sure Dallas, for sure Houston… obviously, you’re a webzine show, so everybody’s accessible to it, but for your own information. But it should be good. It’s bumped up to larger venues on the west coast, I think it’s went on sale already. It bumped up to big venues in New York, 2500-seater. So it’s not just a club tour. It’s something special for us this time around.”
What are some of the key differences between the fans and the crowd behaviors in different countries?
“You know, music levels it all. Sitting in Moscow, and you can’t communicate with somebody outside the venue who’s into the band, verbally — you communicate with them immediately after ‘1, 2, 3, 4’ and everybody comes in. And they communicate with you with their excitement for that. So, sure, there’s difference culturally. But I think that when you’re actually playing, there really is none anymore. It’s become — again, it’s transcended generations — it’s had enough time to affect everybody with the right response if you’re into this type of music. So I don’t really notice those differences anymore. When I first went, I obviously paid attention to cultural differences. You know, like they eat mutton. What the fuck is mutton? [laughs] No, but when it comes to the music, I really have realized in time, that it’s become a great levelizer. It breaks down the barriers of language, of cultural differences.”
“Sure it is. Sure. And that’s the beauty of it. That’s why, I think, with regard to misconception — why should there be any when the barriers are broken down? That’s the beauty of it, the value of it. It’s been generational now for probably three, four generations.”
Absolutely. For my closing question, I simply must ask — who do you think would win in a fight, Chaly (the Overkill mascot) or Eddie (the Iron Maiden mascot)?
“Well, probably Eddie, but we’re a lot faster. [laughs] There are some bands that are actually older than us, you see.”
So it would be a close match?
“Well, the whole thing about the wings is ‘live to fight another day.’ [laughs]”
Thank you very much for taking the time to do the interview!
“Hey, my pleasure.”
The new album Ironbound is incredible and I very much look forward to the tour in the spring. Do you have any closing words for the fans out there?
“It’s been a great 25 years, and remember this is done with everyone’s help and under these particular circumstances, at this time in history, good thoughts are necessary for Mr. Ronnie Dio.”
Definitely so. Best wishes for Dio, and again, thank you very much. It was great to talk to you and hope to see you on tour soon. Take care!
“Bye for now.”