Sporting a bedraggled beard and fierce axe to stir the envy of Odin and his mighty sons, Zakk Wylde and his Black Label Society have knocked the paisley-mellow orthodoxy of metal virtuoso guitar on its ass; breathing nothing but fire and spittle while shredding up storms of fury throughout his colorful career. Mastering his craft since the age of fourteen, Wylde drops recondite phrases into his genre-spanning career just for kicks as enraptured, raw-throated crowds cheer on. Jetting into Australia for Soundwave, the confidante and doom-driven acolyte of Ozzy Osbourne shoots straight from the hip laying down some real talk for y’all about spirituality, strange times and the Shatner. You’d expect nothing less from the fearless leader of the famed Black Label Order, leading the wounded cult of rock n’ roll back into the darkness.
Hey there Zakk, great to be talking with you – how you doing? Where are you at the moment?
Great there buddy. I’m in California at the moment at the Vatican, jammin’ away on the guitar. Getting ready for when we all roll down to Australia, brother.
How do you feel about coming back?
I can’t wait, man. It’s gonna be cool. Lookin’ forward to it.
First of all, I just want to clarify for some people – you use some really weird acronyms on your Twitter account – what do they all mean?
Oh, the acronyms? Well, SDMF stands for “Strength, Determination, Merciless Forever” and TBLO is “The Black Label Order.”
Oh, good…now it all makes sense. Now make sense of this; tell us about recording with William Shatner.
[laughs] Oh dude, it was amazing. The running joke was how many people can say they recorded with the Prince of Daftness and the greatest Starfleet commander of all time? My buddies were producing [the record] and they asked me, ‘Zakk, what if Bill wanted you to do some guitar stuff?’ and I just said ‘Yeah, of course man. This would be hysterical.’ So yeah, without a doubt.
I saw some video of you two together and it looked like the most unlikeliest pairing I’d ever seen.
[laughs] Well, he’s beyond super cool. He’s just like Ozzy [Osbourne], you know what I mean? They’re both living legends. They’re the coolest guys on the planet. It was definitely an honour.
You’ve been playing professionally since you were about nineteen years of age; people refer to you as a ‘guitar god’ – what’s your reaction to that?
Well, [laughs], I asked Ozzy this; “The singing on Sabotage is amazing. Did you eat your Wheaties that day or take some vocal lessons?” [Imitates Ozzy] “No,” he says, “Lots of drugs.”
[laughs] Well it’s definitely cool and really humbling, but I just practice every day and like right now, while I’m talking to you I’m jamming in the Vatican playing classical guitar. I love playin’ just as much as I did at fourteen years old. You know what I mean?
You say you still love playing, but what motivates you to get out of your bed each morning and keep doing what you do?
You have to have a reason to get out of bed every day, man. You really do. Like when my Dad retired from General Motors, that was like the worst thing that ever happened to him. He was like lost. Once he got a job up at a gas station and he was back talking with people again, he had a reason to get up.
I mean, if you and me opened up a lemonade stand, we’d have the one lemonade stand so let’s open up another one down the road and this n’ that, the whole thing is we gotta get more cups, we gotta get more stuff; it’s all about keeping our business going.
I mean my kids are sittin’ around sayin’ “I’m bored!” and I just say you should never be bored. Ever. I got a million things going on every day on the Black Label shit to do list. A million things going on. I mean it’s everything. Whether we’re doing Black Label beef jerky, Black Label beer, Black Label coffee, new artwork, new merch, I’m involved with everything. And I love it. Aside from us practicing and us doing the band and the music, then we set up the tour and think what we’re gonna do with that, yada yada yada, there’s just a million things outside of even just the music.
Talking about some of your merchandise, I had some of your Berserker hot sauce and I had to sign a waiver to buy it – and it was good, man.
[laughs] Oh man, I remember that Blair sent me this other bottle to the house and it said: “Warning: do not put on skin.” Are you kiddin’ me! He goes to me 'No Zakk, that’s for real.'
Yeah dude, it totally blew me away. But how involved are you in the creation of the food and sauces; stuff you’d never usually associate with music?
Well, with the internet now, there’s no such thing as record sales. The days of Appetite For Destruction are over. No band is ever going to sell that many records again. You have to adapt and do different things. But I gotta be honest with you; if that never even happened, I’d still be doing all this other stuff because I love doing it.
Do you think metal music is a brotherhood? It gets a bit of a bad rap in some places, but do people not understand just how connected the people who are in the scene really are?
Well, it’s just like jazz or anything else. It’s always been the underdog of all the musical fields. For those of us that love it, yeah; without a doubt.
You love your choppers and bikes-
Well, actually, the last time I wiped out on a dirt bike down at the compound and they won’t insure me for it any more. But I got a truck and I’ve been keeping it in the tour bus.
Fair enough. With biker culture gaining a bit more prominence due to the popularity of shows like Sons of Anarchy, and with Black Label featuring a lot of biker imagery, how has that impacted the band?
Well we’ve been doing this for about thirteen years now, it doesn’t matter to me. When people ask me what the Black Label Society is I just reply it’s an Illuminati bowling team.
When people ask me or they see me in an elevator, they ask “What’s Black Label Society? A motorcycle gang?” and I’m like "Nah, it’s a bowling club. An Illuminati bowling club. We suck so bad, we just like to keep it unknown so nobody knows who we are. No one’s been able to bowl an 80 yet." [laughs] We just don’t want no one to know who we are.
The secret’s out now! Anyway; you’ve done a bit of acting; would you ever look to expand on that?
Sure; I mean every experience I’ve had doing it has always been a good time. Whether it’s the actors or the directors or producers, everybody’s been super cool. I’ve never had a bad experience. I’ve never had a bad experience making records. I’ve always had a great time with everybody I’ve worked with. If you were directing something and you said “Zakk, I need you to play this drug dealer” or whatever I’d be like yeah. “I want you to act really surprised that the drugs are gone” I’d be like, “Yeah, cool” and roll tape, memorize my lines, practice it a couple times and go action. You know what I mean?
When someone asks you to do that – be it act or lay down a solo for them, how does it all happen? Do you write the solo yourself, usually?
Well I’m a musician so I improvise, it’s part of what I do. Someone just asks “Hey Zakk, can you put a solo on this thing?” – “Yeah, no problem.” Then I just knock one out.
In your music there’s a lot of aggression but there’s a lot of expression. Do you feel, as a man, that rock music is an outlet for expressing those feelings when other ways might be looked down upon?
I think it can be done with any type of music, whether it’s jazz or dance music, or classical or heavy metal. Without a doubt. Whether it’s painting or any of those things, it’s all expression.
You trained under rock guitarist Leroy Wright and we’ve heard your acoustic records and things like that, but what brings you back to heavy metal time and again?
Well, with Black Label we do everything. You know. It’s kind of like Eddie Van Halen when they asked him when he was going to do a solo record. He goes “I am!” [laughs] I do solo records.
What I mean is, in your private time what do you listen to, what do you play?
Well, I’ve been listening to [Procol Harum guitarist] Robin Trower’s solo record a lot lately…classic rock. When I listen to the radio, I’m just listening to classic rock, you know what I mean? Bad Company was on just a little while ago. That’s what I usually listen to.
You said before the days of selling tens of millions of records are over – are you a record collector yourself?
You mean vinyl? Yeah, of course. I mean the majority of records I get you aren’t going to pick up at Best Buy, you know what I mean? Like Robin Trower, I had to go to his website or Amazon or iTunes and buy the record there. Thank God, because half the guys I love you wouldn’t be able to find at all.
Do you still go crate-hunting on tour, so to speak? Like in Japan for instance.
Japan is great, yeah. You can find all kinds of out-of-print stuff and whatever. Without a doubt, man.
I remember – and don’t crucify me for this – but this bootleg video of you in Japan in your early days before Black Label and you had quite a following; do you still get the same reaction from international crowds?
Yeah, it’s awesome, man. Especially now that Black Label’s worldwide. Without a doubt.
The Black Label Order; even when you aren’t touring, do they still gather together?
Without a doubt. Black Label’s one gigantic family. It’s worldwide. To them, we’re just the house band, you know what I mean?
Have you ever played at a fan’s house by request, for example?
No, we haven’t done any bar mitzvahs – well, yet. [laughs]
Events such as being reunited with your prized guitar “The Grail” and when that happened out of the blue; does it remind you how crazy this business can be, for you?
Oh, without a doubt. I thank the good Lord every day. I thank him when I wake up and when I go to bed. I thank him in the middle of the day. I’m definitely grateful for everything I have. Hands down.
I don’t need a tragedy to happen to realize how blessed I am. I don’t need that. I don’t need to beat up an 80 year old grandmother and do six years in jail to realize that beating up elderly people and stealing their money is really not a good thing.
On the road, is maintaining your spiritual side important to you?
Yeah, well, I’m a soldier of Christ, man. Without a doubt.
When you say “Soldier of Christ,” what do you mean by that?
The bottom line is that he’s with me all the time.
Let’s bring it down to Earth a bit – what can fans expect when you come back to Australia?
Aside from the music and good times and all that other cool stuff, I’ve been taking a lot of the Kim Kardashian quick trim, I’ve been using thinning cream and I’ve been shaving my legs so I can whip out the new Black Label lingerie line when we get down there. That’s what we’re looking forward to.
It’s not easy being in this band, trust me! And we expect perfection.
Hey, I’ve got a tagline for your lingerie line; “Unwrap your own Black Label today.”
[laughs] Oh, the brutality!
Thanks for talking to us, Zakk. All the best for the tour.
My pleasure, brother. Tell all the Australian fans about the lingerie line and we’ll see you in a little bit.
Zakk Wylde and his Black Label Society will be appearing nationally at the Soundwave Festival this February/March.