If you’re a real fan of old-school thrash metal – especially those pioneers who staked their claim in the ‘80s – then your allegiances might fall into different regional camps (So-Cal, Bay Area, NY/NJ, Europe, etc.), or you may just be partial to what historians dub the “Big Four” (that being Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax and Testament). But regardless of where you plant your flag, you have to give proper credit where it's due, and Jersey-founded thrash icons Overkill deserve a major salute.
Core members D.D. Verni (bass, vocals) and Bobby Ellsworth (lead vocals) have been doing their thing for 25 years now, and next Tuesday their fans will be marking the occasion with the release of one of Overkill’s strongest records, Ironbound… and when I say strongest, I’m not yanking your chain here. If you love classic thrash in any shape or form, then you are personally obligated to check out this album.
In the run-up to that historic release, I had the good fortune to get in touch with D.D. himself, who graciously agreed to a little Q&A with us about Ironbound, Overkill’s 25th anniversary tour, his favorite horror flicks (of course), the origins of the band’s skull-bat logo “Chaly,” and D.D.’s many side projects – including involvement in the soundtrack to Nick Palumbo’s notorious splatter epic Murder-Set-Pieces. Interview begins after the jump!
FEARnet: Congratulations on Overkill reaching the 25-year mark.
Does it feel like a big landmark to you and Bobby, or just business as usual?
It's an accomplishment, I guess… but we’re much more focused on right now.
A lot of your '80s peers are making a comeback, and a lot of kids are discovering that style for the first time… plus there’s quite a few new bands paying homage to that era. But Ironbound feels like you're saying "Listen up: this is how it's done."
This record for sure leans more old-school thrash, and that felt cool right now, so we ran with it. Nobody can deliver real thrash the way the bands that came up through the ‘80s can, I think, so it's just us doing what we do… and the younger bands that hear it hopefully will be diggin’ it too.
Was it part of the plan to go back to your roots?
I don't think there was specific intention to do anything, really. We approach every album the same for the most part, and whatever feels cool at the time, that's what we go with.
Every band likes to declare their latest record as their heaviest, but in the case of Ironbound I think that description fits. While writing these songs, did you set out to create your most aggressive sound?
No, I really just follow my own compass. I wish I could say we had some great plan or scheme, but it really is that simple. I personally could care less if the record is the heaviest or lightest or most groove or whatever… I never wrote a song in my life trying to be heavy; I just write what feels good. Sometimes it's heavy and fast, other times it’s a slow and “Sabbath-y” kind of groove.
I know it will feel good to the fans too. They’re already talking about your big anniversary bash in New York... can you give us a sneak preview of what's going to happen at that show?
Free beer for everyone all night!
Just kiddin’... but how great would that be? [It’s] always good to play at home, whether it's Jersey or New York. Friends and family come down, and this being the 25th year of the band… I don't know if there will be anything specific for that show; we'll just have to wait and see how it works out.
The first time I learned about Overkill was in the mid-'80s, when I saw lots of people at a horror convention wearing “Chaly” t-shirts and tattoos. Who came up with the Chaly design, and what's the story behind his creation?
I actually drew the first Chaly. We liked the mascot idea, like “Eddie” in Iron Maiden, to have a symbol that represented the band… and it just developed from there.
I see a big horror influence in a lot of your art and stage design.
We always loved the whole skulls and horror thing. When we first started, we had skulls and cobwebs on stage, and the drum riser was a dungeon with gates on the front... fun shit!
So it’s probably a given that you’re a big fan of horror movies…
Sure...who's not a fan of horror movies?
Good point. So what are some of your favorites?
I tend to like the devil and Satan-edged stuff better… that freaks me out more than chainsaws. To this day, The Exorcist is still the benchmark. Bram Stoker’s Dracula I liked a lot; The Prophecy, with Christopher Walken; Devil’s Advocate… all the Omens... that's the horror stuff I like. From Dusk ‘Til Dawn is also a classic. There’s a lot of ‘em!
You took part in a horror production yourself, when you contributed to the score for Nick Palumbo's Murder-Set-Pieces [as part of side-project The Bronx Casket Company]. What brought you aboard the film?
Nick actually contacted me out of the blue. He got directed to The Bronx Casket Co. site and listened to a bunch of music clips, and just loved it. So we went back and forth on emails, and eventually we got a deal in place to do it.
Was he an Overkill fan too?
I’m not sure if he even knew who Overkill was!
Have you seen Nick's final uncut version? People have pretty strong opinions about it one way or another.
Ya know, I’ve had a million people come up to me and ask me about that film and my songs being involved in it… and I've never seen it! How weird is that?
I don't think Nick ever got me a copy! Then Overkill got busy – you know, the regular shit – and it just never happened. I’m going to have to make it a point to see it now.
Would you be open to composing music for another horror project if the opportunity came up?
Oh yeah, for sure. That's something I will definitely be involved with. I love writing different things, and I like being challenged. I would love to write for other artists as well. I did a musical recently – also called The Bronx Casket Co. – and that was a great experience, although very different form Overkill… kind of a twisted vampire love story.
Sounds very cool…
We had a bunch of musicians from Trans-Siberian Orchestra involved playing the songs, really cool stuff. I actually just finished up a new Bronx Casket Co. CD and I’m shopping it now.
I’ll definitely be checking that one out. So to wrap up… what’s your biggest fear?
The scariest thing that could happen to me is if something happened to my kids.
I usually ask if an artist’s own fears inspire their work, but I’m thinking that’s not the case here.
No, I don't think that really applies to me… not exactly inspiring.
Understood. D.D., thanks so much for making time for this little Q&A… and I’m looking forward to more great music from you guys in the new decade.
See ya on the road!
[Be sure to check out Overkill's official site (http://wreckingcrew.com/Ironbound/) to preview tracks from Ironbound, which hits stores next Tuesday.]