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Rat Skates – Former Drummer for Overkill



Date: 03/17/08
Interviewed By: Rich Catino

 
 
1. So what have you been doing since you were in Overkill?

RAT: Well when I left, as I described in my film “Born in the Basement”, leaving the band was my decision and a very difficult one to make, I did some things in production. I was also a drum instructor for seven years. I raised a family and worked in television doing some commercials. At the time I was very discouraged with the music industry and that kept me from doing music professionally. When I left Overkill I was extremely frustrated and pissed off about how things were run in the music industry and I still am. None of that has changed in the music business.

2. Have you played in any bands since you left Overkill?

RAT: I did a lot of session work and some things outside of the metal genre. I love to play the drums and enjoy all kinds of music. I was also in a band called Bomb Squad, which at www.ratskates.com you can listen to a sampling of some of our music. Bomb Squad was straight ahead rock music, and that was something I had missed playing, the kind of music us thrash guys grew up on. It was refreshing for me to go back and play that kind of music instead of always trying to play music faster than the next guy. I am looking forward to releasing some of Bomb Squad’s material in the very near future.

3. So what is the understanding as to why you are no longer in Overkill?

RAT: Overkill was my band. I left it to everyone else to do whatever it was that they wanted with it. The bass player DD and I went to the same high school and we had a band together, it was a punk rock band. Too bad you haven’t seen “Born in the Basement” yet because all of this is explained. We got really heavy into Judas Priest and the Heavy Metal thing. I ran an ad in the paper that was answered by a guitar player from up state New York and his friend was Ellsworth (Blitz). He brought Blitz along, who was a bass player first and ended up being the vocalist later. So it (Overkill) was something I put together with DD supporting me. I left because of my dissatisfaction with the road and the business, which eventually resulted in me abusing alcohol. I left everything to my band-mates. I didn’t take anything, didn’t sign my way out of it contractually; which was my mistake. I said these are my friends and I just can’t do this anymore guys. It has had a punishing effect on my life, it really did and it’s hard to talk about. I thought if these guys want to continue with Overkill I’m not gonna stop them. After that things obviously changed quite a bit.

4. On your MySpace page you have several of these really vintage Overkill promo shots with the band in theatrical makeup pre “Feel the Fire”. So my question is do you have any rights to any Overkill product?

RAT: Well….”Born in the Basement” really explains what was happening at that time growing up in the 80’s trying to develop a band. I drew the Overkill logo, its’ mine. I have the original artwork, but let them continue to do whatever they wanted, take the green logo and use the songs its ok. Do I have rights? See, when you are younger, and for me this was in the 80’s, you also have to consider that you are excited about playing and doing what you are doing; you don’t really think about the future. I didn’t look at the whole picture from a long-term business point of view. At least not as deeply as I should have and that is true for a lot of musicians. So instead of me worrying about signing a contract when I left to make sure I was going to get this and that, I just said “Hey, these guys are my friends. I established this band and put it on the map, there’s no animosity, they’ll take care of me.”

If anything they were upset because they lost the manager and a writer, I was the guy who made most of these random parts come together into songs, and I had put everything else together that we needed. So, I was the guy who was managing the band up until we got signed and then its like they had to pick up the pieces. So at the time I felt these are my friends; they will take care of me and I will leave it at that.

5. How long have you been working on “Born in the Basement” and does it include any live footage of Overkill from those early years when you wore makeup?

RAT: There is an enormous amount of stuff that people have not seen because its’ mine. Through all of the years of trying to get Overkill signed and recognized I was doing most of the work, and DD did some things too. At the time my girlfriend, who is now my wife, was our photographer and took those pictures. I have so many pictures people have never seen its crazy! A lot of it is in “Born in the Basement” and it shows Overkill’s development from when we wore makeup, which a lot of people have never seen. We were a very heavy theatrical band. There are pictures when Danny Spitz (Anthrax) was in the band and people are like “wow that’s Overkill”, but it’s great. We were young and we didn’t give a shit, we were just going for it. Just like Slayer, when they went through their makeup “Show No Mercy” “Haunting the Chapel” period.

6. On the DVD you have many many pictures of Overkill’s peers like Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Nuclear Assault, Kreator, Sodom, etc that people probably have never seen. Have you ever considered releasing a “History of Thrash”/ “80’s Thrash” pictorial book?

RAT: Yes, I have…fortunately I own quite an extensive archive of old school Thrash stuff; pictures, magazines, shirts, even some video, never-before-seen. The cooler thing though, is my loyal ”network” of friends/ traders/ fans/ collectors from the day. Between us, we undoubtedly have THE mother load…I’ll be releasing more historical stuff, you bet, perhaps even another movie…I’m still thinking about it.

7. On “Born in the Basement”, as being part of the rise of the Thrash movement you recall events from the decade very well. Aside from Rock n Roll Heaven and Vintage Vinyl who catered to the underground metal scene, do you also remember a small record store on the border of the towns Union and Irvington that specialized in Metal music and imports?

I remember going to the store and discovering bands like Venom, Savatage, Grave Digger, Destruction, Running Wild, Helloween, Celtic Frost. If memory serves me correctly (going back to the age of thirteen or fourteen), that Megadeth made an appearance also.

RAT: I’m pretty certain that the store that you have in question is in fact Vintage Vinyl, in it’s original location, on Springfield Ave. in upper Irvington, a real sleazy area. Yep, that was THE store, along with Bleeker Bob’s in New York’s lower east side. Those two stores are what inspired Zazula’s Rock ‘n Roll Heaven. At the time, in ’80, ’81, ’82, they were the single most important places on the planet for me, that was the only place to get new metal and punk imports, singles, and Kerrang! Magazine. So, being a 20-year-old metalhead with a heavy addiction, that’s where I would go for my fix…also, these underground record stores were a key component for me in launching Overkill; I was selling our “Power in Black” demo tapes at these stores on consignment…without them, I don’t know how I would have done it…there was no internet back then.

8. How close is this period of the band to the release of “Feel the Fire”? This is during the “Power in Black” EP correct?

RAT: The lineup of Overkill started with the guitar player I was telling you about who brought Bobby Ellsworth. That was in 1981 when I drew the logo and the band started. It was in late ’81 that we started with the makeup and theatrical horror show stuff; from late ‘81 until it started to slowly go away. Yeah we were hanging with Metallica doing a show with them and Cliff is looking at Blitz putting on his makeup saying “What are you doing?!” All these little things led to us not doing the theatrical make up and stuff anymore, just like Slayer. You know you listen to the fans, most bands do, instead of making your own decisions, and so the makeup slowly came off by 1985 for the release of “Feel the Fire”.

During the “Power in Black” demo and EP, (ha-ha-ha), the makeup was kind of just smudged on and if you look at us closely, you could see we were into this whole Alice Cooper meets the Misfits thing. Rich it’s really a shame you have not seen the DVD, we’ll have to make sure that MVD gets one out to you. I am sure it will answer all your questions and you may even have a few more (ha-ha!)

9. Yes I know I am really looking forward to seeing the DVD. Well when I saw those old pictures of Overkill, and one in particular from 1983 with the skulls and spider webs, I immediately thought it was like Motley Crue meets W.A.S.P.

RAT: Totally absolutely. Here’s the funny thing about that and this is totally true. In 1981 when we were thinking about and trying out this stuff, it was DD and I who had the vision. The other guys in the band just kind of went along with it and we actually lost some members because of the theatrics. To this day I still enjoy the theatrical aspect of it and I look back fondly at those pictures. So in ‘81 we had this whole presentation with the skulls, spider webs and chains, all this Halloween store horror stuff. I am looking through an edition of Kerrang magazine and I see a picture of this new band out of L.A. called Motley Crue. In the picture I see the same exact thing we are doing the skulls, spider webs, makeup, but they were a little different. At the time they looked a lot like we did but they had a lot more colors and animal patterns in their clothes; we were strictly about the black clothes. W.A.S.P. also did the same thing but they were even more over the top with the saw blades and stuff. Then when the Slayer record “Show No Mercy” came out it was like a Misfits” spin off like we were doing, but Slayer’s music was much heavier.

What happened, and this is a fact not my opinion, whatever movement is happening at the time, happens as a group. See when we were doing this theatrical thing, Thrash Metal wasn’t actually a word yet, it didn’t have its place as a labeled genre of Metal until like 1985. Metallica always being the leaders and at the forefront of the movement, had the tight black stretch pants with the high top Nike sneakers. So everyone in Thrash followed that trend. Now it’s different, everyone wears shorts on stage. So, the music industry kind of moves in waves or trends. The early 80’s were a real interesting time for Overkill.

10. Are those early pictures, or have they ever, been available to the public?

Rat: Well again all those pictures are mine and since I am not a member of Overkill anymore, I can kind of leave it at that. Only a few die-hard Overkill fans have made the critique about “Born in the Basement” that its really cool but you should of had Blitz and DD in it. My response is that I didn’t because this is MY story, it’s about ME… I am telling the story of Overkill because it’s a part of MY story. I didn’t title it as the Overkill story because it’s not. I would say “Born in the Basement” is my story about growing up in suburbia New Providence, going to high school, starting to make music, the beginnings of Overkill and then what happened when I left and why. Then there is a whole different story after I left Overkill because in a lot of ways it wasn’t Overkill anymore. I mean it has two of the original guys but its still not the same music…that’s pretty obvious.

11. Are there any classic Overkill shows from when you were in the band that were professionally recorded that could see a release on DVD?

RAT: I don’t think so. I mean I have a few single cam really good shows but nothing that was like multiple cam stuff.

12. Does any multi camera pro shot footage exist?

RAT: No it does not, not a multi cam. I do have some footage with the whole dungeon stage set with Blitz with a cape. I gotta think about whether or not I want to release it. It’s like Overkill can release stuff to this day and play songs that I am a writer of, but since I am no longer a member of the band, do I want to release this classic stuff …I don’t know, I can do whatever I want with it, but I’ve also done more than enough to give our fans the real deal, you know?

13. Did you see the documentary Overkill did for their DVD “Wrecking Everything Live” and what did you think of their telling of the band’s past?

RAT: Yeah. I didn’t see the whole thing but I saw enough of when they were talking about the band’s history. They mentioned like a brief sentence about me and that was it, then they moved on to the next guy. It wasn’t long ago when I saw this. Somebody had brought it here when we were working on the “Get Thrashed” documentary so I watched it. A few days later I thought about it and found it to be rather insulting. I know it has been a very long time since I was in the band but I am responsible for there even being an Overkill. I am the reason why there is an Overkill, and again, this is not my opinion; this is a fact and it is not to sound conceited, whether you liked those early songs or my drumming or not, it’s just a simple fact. So yeah, I was pretty insulted. At the time I was thinking about doing this thrash documentary and had teamed up with Rick Ernst to do “Get Thrashed”. As I was working on it I realized that I had all of this extra stuff and I started thinking about doing my own story. That was what motivated me to do “Born in the Basement”, to tell my story, and give a musician’s take on the Thrash culture.

14. How is your relationship with DD Verni and Bobby Blitz today?

RAT: I don’t have one with them, it’s neither good nor bad there is just no communication at all; but that’s on them.

15. Have you listened to any Overkill music since you left the band and what do you think of it?

RAT: I think they ran out of ideas. It sounds thrown together, like learn these parts, let’s just get another record out. The band’s roots were in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, with a punk influence. Things you can hear on the first couple of Overkill records. In recent years it sounds like Overkill has kind of gone along with what all the other bands are doing and these newer sounds. I don’t hear anything that separates Overkill from many of the other bands, but if that’s what makes ‘em happy then to each his own.

16. Current projects, I know you are involved in the “Get Thrashed” documentary.

RAT: Go to www.getthrashed.com to find out information about when it will be released. It was really cool to do both the “Born in the Basement” and ‘Get Thrashed” documentaries; mine was to tell the story of what was happening back then from a musicians’ point of view. I think other bands who went through that era would agree with me. The “Get Thrashed” movie is more factually driven but it’s cool because you have Lars and Kirk from Metallica, the guys from Slayer, and a lot of people who really tell the story about Thrash. Plus, we also have a lot of these newer school bands in the movie to inform and reach the younger audience as well.

17. Any music projects?

RAT: Well I still play and I am working on some music as we speak, but I don’t do it professionally because I have a problem with the business end of it. It’s sad really, because the further I get along with a project, like for example I jam with Dave Ellefson (ex Megadeth bassist) when we hang in the summer, but when you are ready to take it to the next level it becomes very hard. We are all older now and have families, so it’s harder to take things to the next step because of everyone’s schedules. It just becomes a commitment I can’t keep all the time, but such is music. All my musician friends have always said the same thing: love to play, but hate the business.

Official website: www.ratskates.com
 
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