was an absolute pleasure to speak with the “Godfather of Thrash”, Bobby
Gustafson, mostly known for his time with Overkill. Bobby was very comfortable
speaking about the past, what he’s doing now and what he plans to do in the
Let’s start at the beginning. Tell me
how you started out and how you joined Overkill.
had a guitar in my hands all the time when I was a kid. I would literally walk
a mile home from school to play at lunchtime and walk all the way back. My parents
saw how much I practiced, and I got this cheap guitar from Sears. I was still
in my last year of High School. Two years later I auditioned for Overkill.
first show was in a bar when I was 15. A DJ friend of mine snuck me into bars,
and I would carry his records in the booth. His name was Chuck, and he later
became the DJ at L’Amour in Brooklyn. Through him, I met John who played in Law
& Order. That band wanted Ratt (Skates), and he tried to steal Ratt for his
own band, but they recommended me for this band he knew that was looking for
guitarists. We tried to find DD’s house for the audition, and we got lost. By the
time we got there it was pretty late, but they wanted me to come back. We had
another guitar player for 2 weeks, he quit, we tried someone else, he quit, and
I told the band I could do it myself. The band was playing covers at the time
but I wanted to play original music. Within 8 months we had everything set to
go and put on our first show.
first show was in August of ’83. Jon Zazula first saw in Jan of ’84, and it was
a blizzard. No one came out. It was a horrible show. The next time he saw us we
opened up for Anvil at L’Amour in October of ’84 and we ripped. We were razor
tight and had more songs. He gave us a contract the next day. But we had to
wait to get into the Pyramid studio until Nov of ’85. We didn’t know any
better. We were kids. That’s where he wanted us to go. We did what we were
told. So it seems like we were a bit later than the other bands, but we were
right there. We could have had that album out a lot sooner.
Then you released Feel the Fire. It was
received extremely well. What did you contribute to that? Did you write lyrics,
did a couple of lyrics, on the songs “Kill at Command” and “There’s No Tomorrow.”
I was really good at coming up with song titles, and Blitz would write the
lyrics on his own and then try to fit them to the title. I think I came up with
the album cover. I was the only one who wanted orange, they wanted green, so we
went with green. Then I told Biohazard why we used it, and Biohazard came out
with orange, so I credit myself for them using it. It really stood out. We
needed a color that would really stand out in a dark club. But then the green
grew on me.
You did some overseas tours, correct?
very first time we went overseas was the spring of ’86. Metal Hammer tour with
Anthrax and Agent Steel. Then with Slayer when we’re doing Taking Over, then
with Helloween was a big one in Europe, then with Megadeth, they were promoting
Peace Sells. We did another Slayer
tour in Europe, and a Slayer/Motorhead tour in the US, going into promoting The Years of Decay.
I remember seeing you guys at L’Amour A
LOT. Overkill and Anthrax were practically the house bands. Tell me about those
became friends with the owners, and then they started managing us. We started
opening for bands, and then they started giving us Friday nights, and when
those would sell out, they gave us Saturday nights. Then we’d sell out on
Friday AND Saturday night. Everybody stopped there, from Queensrÿche to Maiden.
What did you do after you left Overkill?
started with I for an I, did some writing, the Cycle Sluts asked me to do a
solo so I helped them out, but I really wanted a change. I didn’t want to be
thrash anymore. I wanted to do something different. I didn’t want to be
compared to what I did before.
Does it bother you to be referred to as “The
Former Overkill guitarist?”
doesn’t bother me. I’m told that they’re still playing my songs, and that the
majority of what the audience responds to are my four albums. To know that you
have four albums from me, 30 years ago, and you have 16 albums after me, and my
songs are getting the biggest response, I’m proud of that. As far as I’m
concerned, it sustains what they’re doing right now. They have albums they
don’t play any songs from. If it wasn’t for me they would still be a cover band
from New Jersey.
In 2017 you released, Axe to the Head of My Enemies. Tell me
why you decided to do that.
on the internet kept saying, “You should play again.” I had material left over,
so we put these 5 songs on the internet. Unfortunately, we used Tune Core, and
they didn’t do anything with it. There was no distribution. Then I wrote 5 more
songs, added it to the EP, created the album and called them “bonus tracks.” We
decided to sell it ourselves. We made enough money to go into the studio again.
I sat down and wrote 12 songs for the new one.
When you released Axe, I remember you wanted to release it on CD only so people could
have something to hold in their hands. Looking back, do you regret not
releasing it digitally?
really. I hear from other bands that they’re not getting paid from it. Trust
me, it’s a pain packing CDs and sending them out. But I wanted control over it.
Sometimes we lost money sending them to Japan and Europe. I just wanted to get
it out there. These songs that I wrote in my room are now in Japan and New
Zealand. That made me happy.
We have to talk about your band name.
Some people love it. Some people are, “What the hell??” How did you come up
it is right now, it’s super-hot in Florida. Somebody said, ‘Oh my God it’s hot
as hell.” And the way my mind works, I always have to one up it, so I tried to
think of the hottest thing I could come up with, and I said, “Well, it’s not as
hot as Satan’s Taint.” We giggled about it all day, and I thought, “That sounds
like a good band name”, so I wrote it down, along with other band names. I
didn’t want to take it too seriously. There are a LOT of bad band names out
there. Just scroll on Twitter. I didn’t want to be forgettable. I’d rather have
a good band with a shit name than a shit band with a good name. I thought I
needed something that’s gonna stick out, whether they love it or not. People
loved it at first, it’s only recently that it’s been an issue. With a new band
coming out every day, you gotta have something that’s gonna stick out. Do you really think that Pink Floyd is a great
name? I think it’s silly, but they’re one of the greatest bands of all time. I
could make it kind of vanilla, so no one gets offended, I could make it a
little scary, a little funny, but I don’t have to impress anybody. My music
will do the talking for me. It sounds good when you say it, it looks good on a
shirt. The word Satan means nothing to me. It’s just a word.
I don’t think it’s the word “Satan”
that’s making people scratch their heads. I think it’s the other word. I’ve
never heard that word used in a band name.
exactly why I did it! You know what it is…Satan – ooh, scary, Taint – juvenile.
One cancels each other out.
never heard that word until we went on tour with Anthrax in ‘86. I think
Frankie had it scratched onto his bass. Some people think it’s supposed to mean
“tainted”…and I thought, well, that’s pretty cool too, like what would taint
Satan’s thought pattern? What would scare him? But most people don’t go to that
– they go to the meaning of the word. You either get it or you don’t.
So there’s really no relationship
between the name of the band and the music. It’s just a name.
There are a lot of bands whose names don’t match what they play. Like Butthole
Surfers. Metallica’s got metal in their name. At my age I wanted to come up
with some dirty ass heavy name, and I look back at what I did 30 years ago, and
a lot of it’s funny. It’s laughable. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you got a
problem. I wanted to have something fun the second time around. I didn’t want
everything to be so serious. I wanted to make music and have fun. I wanted to
be in control and not have deadlines, not have some manager tell me I gotta get
back on the road again. I wanted to make music in my time, when I want to do it
and when I feel like it’s done.
In your music, there are some Nordic
themes, some Viking stuff, so I’m curious: Do you have that heritage?
My last name is obviously Scandinavian. I’m Swedish on my father’s side. There
were Gustafson’s that were kings in Sweden. I don’t really know much about it
because my grandparents were dead before I was born, but my Dad was always
proud of his Swedish heritage and I love history. I always fell back on my
Swedish and Italian background.
So Mom is Italian?
Italian, yeah. We can trace her side back to the 1500. There were two brothers
who have a music school that’s still in existence today.
the Viking television series came out, and that was pretty popular, and I
always wanted to do this music. Other bands have done it; I know it’s not the
most original thing in the world, but it’s something history-wise that I liked.
When you say, “A lot of other bands have
done it”, that’s true, but they’re mostly Scandinavian bands. I don’t know of
any American bands doing Viking music. OK, Amon Amarth have been here so often,
they speak perfect English, they’re on Metal Blade, they are practically an
American Band now (laughing).
was one band in the early ‘80s called Odin, but since it is my heritage I do
have some claim to it. But we also write about other things, like the raids,
the killing, the exploring, that go hand-in-hand with metal. I actually wrote a
song called “Raid Again” that marries both themes together – it could be a
Viking raid or it could be about a band on tour hitting the stage. It’s just
that explorer type of spirit that a band has, on the road, exploring new
places, new lands, countries, clubs…I thought the similarities were kind of cool.
The new CD, Destruction Ritual, I love
the first single, Desecration.
that’s going to be a video soon. We followed the lyrics strictly, and found
video clips that fit. I try to dig a little be deeper, and do things that
people have never heard of before. I’m always reading and coming up with stuff
that’s not typical. I just don’t want the music to be your typical mind candy.
Like the name, I just don’t want it to be something vanilla that people pass
over. Whether it’s the lyric, or the song title, people can research some of
the stuff I’m talking about.
There’s definitely some rage in your
song titles: “Spit in Your Coffin”, “End your Bloodline”…
The engineer said that to me one day. He said, “Whatever made you so angry?” I
said, “Living.” He cracked up. There are enough bands that put nothing out,
nothing that raises your interest or gives you something to think about. I
wanted to fill that void.
I think the music will definitely speak
for itself. And you are going to be releasing it digitally, right?
the pre-orders have already started. You get the one song now. The actual
release date is August 2nd. That’s new for me, this gigantic
I know on the first one you played
everything except the drums, right? What did you play on this one?
the first one, I did all the guitar work; I had some guest musicians do some
solos and leads. I had a couple of different drummers. With this one, instead
of having to mail stuff out to other people, waiting for them to get into a studio
to play, waiting to get it back…I could see it dragging on forever. I had the
music all in my head, I can play bass, so I thought, let’s just get it done. I
did all the solos too. Basically it was me and my drummer, Jim McCourt. I used
the same two singers, Dan Ortega and Paolo Velazquez. They got 5 songs each,
one they sung on together, “Forever is nothing.” They both sing in Spanish on
that one. There’s one instrumental. They got to pick out the ones they thought
fit them musically.
Is there any possibility that you might
get out and tour?
working on it. I’m talking to other bands, calling in favors, but I think what
will probably really help is when the album comes out. A lot of the agencies I
spoke to that said, “I’m a big fan of your old stuff” might come around. I’d
love to do a festival or a cruise.
Is there any guitarist out there right
now that you follow or admire?
are tons of great guitar players, tons of players better than me. I learned
early on not to judge anybody. A friend told me long ago that if you play by
yourself, you will develop your own style. I don’t worry about what anyone else
is doing. There are plenty of good players who are just not discovered. But if
you don’t have a song – that’s what connects with people. I’m not worried about
my guitar playing; I’m worried about writing a song, because that’s what people
remember. They don’t remember solos, they remember songs. I consider myself a
better songwriter than I am a guitar player. You need something memorable that
connects with people. Anyone can shred. Look at Yngwie – I think he’s probably
the world’s best guitar player. But what was his last song? Couldn’t name it.
That one from the ‘80s? People will come and watch you play and do a solo for
90 minutes, but are they walking out humming anything? If you just want to see
someone shred go see Steve Vai.
So what’s the plan to get this new CD
interviews like now, the link is out on Facebook, and hopefully get a few shows
in. The video should help. We’re going to try to do videos for two more songs.
I’ve already started writing a 3rd album. I’ve got about a 106 riffs
right now. Every time I pick up the guitar I put something on tape.
Speaking of videos, every once in a while
you catch an Overkill video on a “Metal Hour” on TV, you know which one?
(laughing). I still dig that video.
It’s a great song, it’s a great video.
some history, that song almost didn’t make it to the album. We had all the
songs written except for that one. It was half done. When we went in to go
record, I finished it in the studio. We almost made it an 8-song album, but I
said, “No, I really like this riff.” So I finished it, and we recorded it.
Every song on that album is great, and
it sounds like you have a great album ready to come out.
funny; people tell me there are people’s kids coming to see me. But now kids
are totally getting into the 80’s, and their parents are still digging it too,
which is crazy. I would never listen to the stuff from the ‘60s my older
brother would listen to. But there’s something about metal it’s one of those
forms of music that just continues as long as the songs are good. I think it’s
want to be remembered for putting out good music. This new album is the best
continuation of what I did with my previous band that I could possibly have
And by putting out a second CD, you’re
showing that Axe to the Head of my
Enemies was not a one-trick pony, that it wasn’t just material you had left
over but now the well has run dry.
in the least. Wait until you hear it. It’s all the best from the first album
magnified on this one.
I think that’s a good note to end on.
Thank you for speaking with me about your career, and your history, and your
new music, and what you have planned. I look forward to seeing where this goes,
and of course, to the release of the new album.
very exciting to have something released after all these years. I said when I
first started that as long as people keep buying it, I will continue to put out
music. I’m not looking to get rich off of it, just to make enough to make
Ritual will be released on August 2nd on Megaforce Records.