Thirty years and thrashing harder than ever: a chat with Overkill

With the rise of the new wave of thrash, which has taken the world by storm in the past two years or so, it becomes easy to forget that some of the earliest thrash bands are still going strong. Enter Overkill: old-school thrashers with a long history.


I recently caught up with both Bobby (vocals) and DD (bass) to chat about Overkill's latest release, Ironbound, which is taking people by surprise left, right, and centre; their change of label – they're now with Nuclear Blast; and the impact touring has on the Overkill sound.


Much of the critics' take of Ironbound – which has been a good take – tends to pass by such veterans of the scene as Overkill. As Bobby commented, 'It's obviously flattering – but inconsequential unless stuck on the toilet. Then a good or bad review holds the same value...'. 


While many critics find themselves wanting more by the end of the release, the structure of the album wasn't planned so deliberately that the band was consciously trying to create such a yearning in the listener. 


'It wasn't planned that way, but the result is awesome,' Bobby enthused. 'If the opening track The Green & Black clocks in at 8+ minutes and feels like 5 – that's success. Having time pass without it noticeably passing, then it's a score. I suppose it's also about having less rules, formulas. Makes the game that much more fun to play.'


DD was a little more dismissive. 'How long or short a song is doesn't really matter. I'd like to say there is some magic formula, but we just kind of put them together until they feel right.'


This latest album is Overkill's first release with industry giants Nuclear Blast. This is a label that, for those of you who haven't been watching movements of bands throughout the industry too closely, has in the past year seen the signing (or re-signing) of tons of acts, amongst which have been Suffocation, Annotations of an Autopsy, and Exodus. Clearly this can only mean one thing – that the label really has its shit together. I asked Bobby and DD whether this new label relationship bodes well for the band.


'Nuclear Blast has been amazing!' DD stated. 'Not really much of a change in the way we go about business, as far as writing and recording material. But they have so much experience specifically promoting metal that is really a breath of fresh air. They know all the band young and old, every tour. They are really plugged into everything, so it's great to have good, experienced people to work with.'


Bobby agreed, pointing out that even the way the staff at Nuclear Blast present themselves makes a huge difference.


'Sure,' he said. 'You walk into the Nuclear Blast offices and everyone you meet is in 'black', you know, 'the uniform'. It speaks volumes toward understanding,' he said. 'If I'm chatting to a 'suit' about the promo, as opposed to a guy in an Overkill/Exodus t-shirt, I think that says it all.'


Given that Overkill has been doing its thing for so long, I had to ask Bobby and DD whether the past thirty years has felt quite that long.


'It doesn't feel like 30 years, that's for sure!' DD said. 'I never tire of this: it's the music I love, all I ever wanted to do since I have been 15 is write music and then go bring it on tour; and I have been able to do that for a long time … I feel lucky every day,' he explained. 'I take my kids on the road sometimes, and the wife. Dave has his family around sometimes, and Derek. The band over the years has developed into more like a family, and the lineup we have now and the guys are really great. We have a lot of fun and a lot of laughs!'


It was at about this point during the interview that Bobby decided to start taking the piss. Except, it was by email, so it didn't really have the desired effect.


'Sorry … dozed off … happens you know,' he said. 'I tell you, this is much funnier on the phone … when the question is asked and I reply with silence: “Hello? Bobby?'


'I don't know, I don't have problems, we are about energy-action-killing,' Bobby went on in answer to the question. 'To me, it always seems new. But then again, touring and thrashing is like an old friend or a great drug. “Did you cop?” - “I copped. Did you?” - “I did”.'


It's the current, stable, lineup that Overkill have now, to which DD referred, that both he and Bobby believe is partly responsible for the sound of the band as it comes across now.


'It's about understanding and dependence of, and on, each other,' Bobby explained. 'We are at the “machine” level. 2008-09 presented a lot of touring opportunities: each show that passes reinforces and increases the strength. That's what it's all about for me: the power.'


DD was a bit more specific about the sound of Ironbound, pointing out that the band had the ability to work on the songs in rehearsal prior to recording them.


'Honestly on this one I think the biggest difference was actually rehearsing the songs before we recorded them, and we haven't done that in many years,' he explained. 'Usually I demo everything up and sent it to the guys, and they learn 'em and fly into the studio and we go for it. This one we spent maybe two weeks or so just playing and throwing around ideas and changing tempos big time. The more you play and get comfortable, the faster and more “live” the songs feel, and I definitely hear that in the tunes.'


The live feel is potentially also a result of how hard Overkill have been touring lately. In the past three years, these guys have been touring harder and more frequently than perhaps ever before in their long history. DD puts that live vibe on the record down to the hunger that touring gives you.


'It does make you hungrier a bit, I think, and there is an energy that only comes from playing. So with all the touring we did, I am sure some of it rubbed off on this record,' he said.


Bobby, on the other hand, calls it the 'X-Factor', and highlights that work for Overkill is a bit Zen.


'It is, it's the X-factor,' he said. 'If you can bring the road to the studio, in feel, it adds to the excitement, makes the final product feel that much more natural. We are over 3000 live shows. It's really about not thinking about it, just doing it – and hearing some of those 80s tunes in my sleep!'


And the touring isn't about to stop any time soon.


'Right now the album is about to be released, so we have a ton of touring coming up starting in Europe, then South America, then back here in the States, then back to Europe this [northern] summer for a bunch of the festivals,' DD explained. 'Then we'll see. We're talking to Japan, and maybe a second leg for Europe. Lots of touring right now is the best way to promote the new record.'


For Australian thrashers, there is hope on the horizon that they will see Overkill on this tour cycle. It's one place that the band has never been to in its long history.


'Hope hope hope!' Bobby emphasised. 'I love new territories. You'd think after 30 fucking years there would be none left. Ah, but we are wrong, and Down Under would be right!'


DD agreed, saying Aussies can count on seeing them. 'We'd love to come to Oz. We've been having some great talks, so looks like it will happen on this record. We've never been there, so look for us to do something very cool!'


And, as always, as the interview came to a close, I asked these guys if they had anything to add.


'Yes,' Bobby said. 'Another 30 years.'


Overkill's Ironbound is out now on Nuclear Blast/Riot.