And now, ladies and gentlemen, would you like to take a look at good old OVERKILL from a bit different viewpoint than the one we more or less used to, the one presented by Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth and D.D. Verni? Not that I’m about to unleash some holy war and try to divide OVERKILL fans into two camps, nothing that deadly serious. I’ve just always felt it wasn’t fair to forget the man who had written four definitely best OVERKILL albums so quick after his departure from the band. Even though OVERKILL has been existing without him for some 13 years now and have released around a dozen of albums, I believe all of them taken together aren’t worthy of one single "Feel The Fire" or "Taking Over" album, however cruel it may sound. Perhaps the fans of modern Metal and modern fans of OVERKILL would not agree, but those who followed the band from the very beginning surely would, I believe. Current OVERKILL’s persistence and efforts to keep to the roots demand respect, that’s for sure, but songwriting talent seem to be something you either have, or you don’t. In fact, it’s already my third attempt to entice an OVERKILL musician into the pages of this magazine. At first Blitz and then D.D. have ignored my endeavours before, plain and simple. Of course, I’d like to believe that they found my questions too straight, provocative and dealing too much with the times they were trying to conceal, that must get on well with my self-esteem. Another option is, though, that they simply found our magazine too insignificant to spend any of their precious time on and me just another stupid but curious little bastard. Who knows, who cares? Anyone is free to worship his own OVERKILL, so mine was born the first time I ever heard them and died soon after "Horrorscope" album, therefore the band’s guitarist and songwriter at that time Bobby Gustafson for me represents OVERKILL just as much, or even more than his namesake Blitz does. The man kept silence for far too long, the time has come for him to speak and his guitar to kill. To kill again.
Bobby, when did you begin to realize that you are doing exactly what you were destined to do in this life?
"Very early on in life, maybe around age 12 or 13 music and guitar became an obsession."
Have you ever put your guitar aside and thought: "Oh, My God, why have I lost all these years making music while I could use them much more reasonably, like the ordinary people do…"?
"No, never! I can do many other things but guitar is still it for me."
How did a guitar first fall into your hands and what made you stick to it for years to come and never let it go?
"My dad had a guitar under his bed, he tried to teach himself but gave up, so I found it. As I got better and better, I couldn’t put it down. I’m always learning something new."
What has Metal (or rather Hard Rock at the time) attracted and fascinated you with? How and when did it happen for the first time?
"I think I heard ‘Smoke On The Water’ on the radio and I said: "That’s heavy, I like this".
If my information is correct, you came to OVERKILL from the band called THE DROPOUTS, didn’t you? Is there anything interesting to tell your old fans about that band, any releases, etc.?
"Yeah, THE DROPOUTS were my first band. Just high school Punk playing with friends. We did 2 shows, the drummer got chicken pox and we gave up".
Are you familiar with "pre-Gustafson" period of OVERKILL, from it’s forerunner under LUBRICUNTS name up to the day you came into the picture?
"Not really, it was only one year before I joined. They were a going nowhere cover band".
No original songs written or anything serious going by the time you joined the band?
"Not that I remember ".
How exactly did it happen? Had you been familiar with the other guys or at least their music before you came to the audition?
"They were playing PRIEST and MAIDEN covers and a friend turned me on to them".
What did you like in the band’s chemistry at that point, how did you feel that it was exactly the band you should stay and conquer the world with?
"They just enjoyed the same music I did. But I changed the cover music to original when I joined".
You were the last one of the classic OVERKILL line-up to join the band, how long did it take you to adapt to the band, to feel yourself completely "at home" in OVERKILL?
"I think they adapted more to me. I started up with the originals as soon as I joined. They really didn’t know how to put a song together".
Has OVERKILL always been like Blitz and D.D.’s band while the rest of the musicians were more of a "hired guns", or maybe things were completely different when there were you and Rat in the band?
"Rat was more of a driving force than anyone. At that time we were all equal".
Was it mainly your decision to stay the only one guitarist in OVERKILL after your colleague Rich Conte left the band shortly after your coming? Had you ever toyed with the idea to add a second one during your time in the band?
"I don’t know of this Rich person. We were wasting time so I said I can handle this by myself, so we tried. And we never mentioned getting another guitarist again".
Around the time of OVERKILL rising there was another American band called OVERKILL which later turned into WARGASM and also less known ones from Sweden and Germany. Were there ever any problems with the rights to that name or anything of that kind?
"No, not really. It was like who ever got bigger first kept the name".
How did the ‘Death Rider’ track end up on "Metal Massacre –V"? Was it really a matter of "pay $500 and play" deal? Anyway, was it exactly the same version of the track with the one we can hear on the "Power In Black" demo?
"I think Brian Slagel called us or we called him and he just liked the song, so we used the demo version. I never heard about $500.00, maybe OVERKILL owes me more money now, ha ha…"
Did you participate in any other compilations besides "Metal Massacre" and "New York Metal ‘84"?
"No, just those two."
"Feel The Fire" – the perfect headbanger devoid of any weak points musicwise, though not so bright productionwise, I’m afraid. Anyway, what’s your view on that album now, it’s terrifying to think how many years ago? And can you remember your feelings back when it was just released?
""Feel the Fire" musicwise was much heavier than the production. It was sad the way it turned out. I was not happy with it at all, the recording was much heavier before it was mixed. But I was still proud of doing an album."
Don’t you have anything interesting but maybe not so well known to tell about your debut LP?
"The cover was my idea, but when we went to take the picture we were standing too close to the fire. I think Rat got first degree burns. The picture failed so we begged Jon Z. for more money to do it again and he agreed, so when we took the pictures again we were not in the studio when the songs were in final mix. They said we couldn’t remix, but it was a lie, so we ended up with those dry sounds."
Your guitar was payed much more attention to on "Taking Over" record, and all in all its sound turned out to be extremely powerful and thick. I believe you must be quite pleased by the final outcome of the album, do you?
"Yes. Much more of what we sounded like."
Quite an interesting track on that album is the gorgeous and bombastic Metal hymn ‘In Union We Stand’, wasn’t it strongly influenced by Manowar, a kind of tribute to the Kings Of Metal?
"No, not at all. If anything, it was JUDAS PRIEST I always thought."
Are you more a studio musician or rather a live performer? You’ve toured quite a lot with OVERKILL and afterwards, do you generally enjoy a life on the road or prefer quiet studio work?
"I love them both. I love to create and later to play the songs in front of people."
One of your biggest tours must be the European one with ANTHRAX and AGENT STEEL. John Cyriis, the frontman of the latter, besides being an unique vocalist is said to be very strange kind of person and very difficult to deal with. How was it for you, are you about to confirm or disprove those rumours about him being a bit unusual?
"I don’t know him now but back then things were a bit strange."
The first signs of the fans’ discontent appeared after the release of "Under The Influence" album. How do you see that one compared to the band’s previous works yourself? Did it really lack anything?
"Once again the music was killer but it got too cleaned up after "Taking Over" was a little too raw or reverby. I still love that album, the solos were in your face."
And generally speaking, when writing a song, what are your demands to it, which qualities should it necessarily have to be finalized and presented to the audience?
"Every song I do must be unique in its writing, nothing that sounds like a song we already have. There always will be a style to say "Yes, that’s definitely Bobby G, but not repeating over and over. I like strong intros, middles and killer endings."
Your songs are full of great melodies, yet those melodies are never cheesy or sickly-sweet sounding; your songs are extremely "headbanging-friendly" and full of power, yet they never sound powerful for the sake of it only. How do you manage to keep that perfect balance between melody and power?
"Great question… I don’t know if something feels good or moves me, I just have a gut feeling and I know it’s right."
"The Years Of Decay" turned out to be unusually gloomy and dark record, as if it could foresee the forthcoming end. Was it just a coincidence?
"Yeah, just coincidence. "Under The Influence" was more up beat so I felt the need for a change."
Which of your albums do you feel the most close to? Which of them has taken the most from you?
"Probably "Years Of Decay". I created every part of that album: music, the cover art, ‘Elimination’ video concept and mixed it closely with Terry Date. It was all just great."
Did you feel that something deadly important was missing in your life since the day you left OVERKILL?
"I guess so. I was there from the start, but I moved on."
It’s well-known property of human’s memory to keep the pleasant experiences and erase the negative ones, so I wonder with which feelings do you recall those years spent under green-eyed skull-bat banner of OVERKILL? How much did they change you as a musician and a person in the end?
"Sorry, but I tend to remember more bad than good. But if it wasn’t for all of us getting together, none of us would have a career in music."
What’s the history of appearance of that famous symbol of the band, by the way? Whose idea it was and who did draw it?
"That I don’t remember. We kept advancing on it so much with the help of some comic book artist."
Just like any young band, in the beginning OVERKILL was all about pure art and fun. When do you think business found its way into the band?
"When money started to show up. At the end of the fourth album we were going to finally all make some cash, but before the fifth album that’s when D.D. and Blitz got to thinking too much."
Wasn’t it with a sort of gloating delight for you to learn that OVERKILL had had to take two guitarist to replace you alone? Well, seriously, what were your feelings when listening to "Horrorscope", can you remember? Somebody in similar situation said that it was something like seeing your ex-girlfriend kissing someone else, what about you?
"Yes, I was flattered by 2 guitarists, but I never listened to "Horrorscope" and the girl was never as beautiful since I was on top of her…"
When you left OVERKILL I guess everyone expected you to form your own band straight away, but instead of that you just took part in some projects, nothing that serious and nothing with you at the helm. Even your current band, RESPONSE NEGATIVE, is the one you joined, not formed. Does it mean that you don’t consider yourself to be that leader type of person?
"I’m very much the leader type. I did I4NI in NY and SF and now I’ve taken the job of leading this band too. But I know I’m in better company with the guys in RESPONSE NEGATIVE."
How come that your well of great tunes has dried so suddenly and quick after departure from OVERKILL? Were you so discouraged with all that business shit that it even influenced your sonwriting talent?
"My well has never dried up. I’ve always hated the business end of music, that’s why I got so screwed over. I never learned the business end of music because I didn’t want it to influence my writing."
CYCLE SLUTS FROM HELL, I4NI, SCREW – did you take any of these projects as serious as OVERKILL?
The only stuff from your post-OVERKILL period I’m familiar with is the I4NI demo-CD, but I can’t say I was impressed by it at all. Sure, your guitar made the second demo sound way more intense and powerful, but the songs themselves were nothing to make the old OVERKILL fans go for it. Did you really like that stuff yourself?
"I tried something different and I guess the guys I played with were not at my level yet except Tom and John from S.F."
Was the period of your retirement from the scene any good in terms of rethinking the true values in your life? Did it, in any way, help to bring Metal back to you (or bring you back to Metal)?
"I needed a break to get my life in order. At 30 I was tired of sleeping on floors. Once I got my life together in Florida I was ready to come back. But I really wasn’t looking for it."
What did make or at least simply help you to summon your strength and finally come back into this ungrateful business?
"I want to see my friends in the new band enjoy music without making the same mistakes I did. I’m sort of their mentor that I wish I had back in the day."
I’m not sure about the younger generation of Metalheads, but many fans in their fourties will check out RESPONSE NEGATIVE for your name in its line-up alone. I wonder how the other guys in the band feel about it? On the one hand it’s a good selling point, on the other it may be a bit frustrating for them to have their band mostly referred as "the one featuring Bobby Gustafson", if you see what I’m trying to say.
"Yes, they know, but they understand that before I joined. They got real balls about it."
Besides being a guitarist, you’ve tried yourself as a vocalist (in I4NI) and a producer (with INSULT II INJURY), but in the end you resurfaced with RESPONSE NEGATIVE as a songwriting guitarist again. Seems like those try-outs didn’t turn out to be your cup of tea, anything exciting and serious for you, did they?
"I guess not since I’m not doing either one."
That incredible Thrash spirit of mid-eighties, whose gleams are still visible here and there in the music of old bands and musicians coming from those times, do you think it’s destined to die together with the last one of them? Or can you see any new bands, maybe even RESPONSE NEGATIVE, able to catch up the flag and hold it high?
"Well, we are going to try. THINGS THAT ARE GOOD ALWAYS COME BACK!!!!"