Hammerfest XI headliners Overkill recently released their latest studio album “The Wings of War” via Nuclear Blast. HRH Mag’s Neil ‘Not’ Coggins spoke with Blitz from the band about the album and how touring is different now from the 80s…
- The new album sees a continuation of a creative resurgence for Overkill, the last 4 albums have been real highlights in your discography. Surely after such a long career the ideas should be drying up by now, but your creativity seems to be at an all-time high. What do you attribute this to?
High quality pharmaceuticals, nothing from the street. I do get your point, I think it’s a combination of things. Firstly we were prepared, as in, had never taken a hiatus. Secondly, regardless of being identifiable, we have always embraced change within our ranks. Which for sure helps with the ‘dry-up” reference. Thirdly, a damn healthy metal scene. I think with The W.O.W, we finally broke the template of the last 4 or 5 records, not intentionally per say, but by ’embracing the change”, Jason Bittner.
- ‘The Wings of War’ is a rare album in today’s music scene, in that the whole thing feels complete with no fillers. Do you set yourselves strict quality control guidelines as to what songs make the cut?
It is about 10 songs, 5 guys, all hands on deck. The best way to succeed for us is for each to know his job, simple, uncomplicated. It starts with DD and ends with me, in the interim morphs, and develops at the hands of the others. Let’s say a singleness of purpose without a specific vision. That reveals itself during development. Thus exciting for us to find out what we are actually creating. Once we taste the blood in the water it’s a f***ing feeding frenzy to the end. Add a high level of presentation, we are likely to succeed or at minimum hold something we are extremely proud of.
- One track that stands out is ‘Welcome to the Garden State’. What influenced you to write a homecoming song?
We have always thought local, but acted global. We have worn it on our sleeves and breastplates for decades. Homecoming? Don’t think so, more like; defining, informational, a glimpse; “we sound, talk, think and act this way because of where we are from”. This area is the original location of the big immigrant wave. Those who wanted better for themselves and their kids and kids, kids. Mine and DD’s grandparents included. It instilled a great work ethic in our communities, imported from Europe. In Jersey we grew up in the shadow of the posh and monumental NYC… they picked up their garbage, they built their towers, they ran their trains… it is about having ‘class with in what was a class”, by our own definition. Maybe brash, rude at times. My mom was first generation American, Irish. Married my dad who worked his way through law school. It was all about progress without complaint… we get it done. I remember an uncle saying to me when I was a young teen; ‘it’s easy Bobby, work hard, don’t take any shit and keep your fucking mouth shut”. Hope that helps…..hahahaha.
• It also seems like you all had fun making this record, and it shows in the playing and the song writing. Is this the most solid Overkill line up to date?
I would not insult past line ups. They all had their peaks and valleys. I love playing with new energy, new chemistry. I really think that is what you’re hearing. Listen, Ron was top of the line too, in a different way… and those last 4 or 5 records you mentioned, having a great feel, early on in the interview, much of that should be attributed to him. I do think having fun is the name of the game… it’s what keeps us in the game. The work is rewarding, it doesn’t feel like work. The real work is getting tours in line, merch, contracts, etc. Playing writing and recording… it’s like spending middle age as a juvenile delinquent… a fantastic way to stop the aging process.
- How has having Jason Bittner being in the band influenced the record? Did he bring plenty of his own ideas to the table?
Sure… you don’t saddle a wild horse… it’s beautiful because it’s wild. He had the fever right from the start. I remember one day, in my office, I got 6 different demo versions of ‘Head of a Pin’. That type of enthusiasm is fucking electric. If we could only bottle it, we’d all live forever…you included.
- There are quite a few potential anthems on this album, have any been road tested in a live setting yet? Which songs can you not wait to play?
I agree, it was one of the characteristics that showed itself in development. One; brutality behind the drum kit. Two: infused with musical and vocal melody. Almost creating a 3rd entity. It’s going to be hard to choose which one, but for sure ‘Last Man Standing’ will be a staple for years to come.
- With so many albums under your belts, and each new record containing good songs, is it getting harder to pick your set lists?
What do you think? I mean really it’s like to the point where I go… “you sure that’s ours”? We love the new stuff though, that is where the risk comes in, referring to live… untested. That’s what trips the trigger. I really love that this band has spent its career as what is, as opposed to what was. That said of course some classics and hidden in the attic tracks. But the point of pride now, is The W.O.W.
- Having been an active band for so long, what differences are there on tour now from the tours in the 80s?
Pretty simple…in the 80’s, I’d walk into each venue with a beer in each hand and a hard on. Now I have a cup of coffee and ask where the toilet is. That said; the shows are the great equalizer to commonality. Sure shit is different, everywhere, but I think “all of us”, including those in attendance, do it for that trip back in time, then realizing after it was the present and we are all still getting it done….amazing!
- With record sales dwindling and the consumer opting to stream their music instead, how much more important is it for a band of your stature to tour nowadays?
You know, I guess it is, but we do it because it’s enjoyable, part of our fabric. Listen I am not allergic to the Dollar, Pound, Euro or Yen but if that was the motivation, it would have been over a long time ago. I do think in as much as we have always protected our love of this, we also understood the biz side. Maybe attributed to The Garden State, the upbringing. This band made shit happen when metal was a dirty industry word… how? Positive cash flow, simple. It fed the machine. Obviously not alone, there were others too. But we did it self-managed; it is another proud moment in our career, those dark late 90’s… wasn’t easy, it didn’t matter, we got it done.
- What’s the strangest thing you’ve witnessed/experienced at one of your gigs?
Oh boy, my mind is racing… I was given a prosthetic leg from the front row, not knowing what the fuck to do with it. Not even sure why I took it. Well, all I knew was that I couldn’t toss it into the crowd, or this poor bastard would be crawling home. It all worked out, I signed it for him after the gig.
- If Overkill were asked to curate a 6 band tour. Which other bands would you love to go on the road with?
I’d love a 2nd tier thrash-a-ton. I tell you what, I’ve toured with most of ’em. Kreator, Death Angel coming this May in the US, Exodus, Destruction, Sodom, Testament. We could call it the ‘next 6’ or “666, this is how we get our kicks”, “6x6x6”.
- You’re quite renowned for recording cover songs, but which song would you personally love to cover but you know the rest of the band would point blank refuse to do?
Shit, I am going to get hell for this one from the band. I’ve been on about it for years. “Dude we can’t, it’s in a major key!!!!!!!!” A thrash version of “Psycho Killer” Talking Heads. I have finally shut up about it.
- Finally, with Slayer soon set to hang up their spikes and leathers, how much longer can you see Overkill continuing as a band, either live or in the studio?
Is this a trick question, feels like it? You know, I never knew it would go this far or long. I think I was more consumed in the moment than looking to the horizon. Maybe that’s why it has worked for me and still does. Why I can feel as if it’s all brand fucking new again, 19 records deep. I’d be a fool to project at this point in my life, it would do a disservice to my past and spending my adult life in Levis, engineer boots and smelling like 50w oil.