the AU interview: Zakk Wylde of Black Label Society (USA)


Zakk Wylde: A hero in the metal world for his guitar and song writing work alongside Ozzy Osbourne; as well as for his own music endeavours such as Pride and Glory, solo gems like ‘Book of Shadows’ and the reason he’s chatting to the AU Review’s Ben Hosking, which is Black Label Society’s new album – ‘Order of the Black’

How are you today Zakk?

I’m doing pretty good brother and I’ll give $20 for that intro, too! (laughs)

You’re doing a lot of press today.

Yeah, well right now we’re gearing up for the Ozzfest and we’ve got the new album out – ‘Order of the Black’. Right after that we start our own tour – The Berzerkus’ - right up through to Christmas. We’ll be bringing out Children of Bodom and Clutch and I’m looking forward to the whole thing.

Things can’t be too tense between you and Ozzy considering you’re playing on the Ozzfest tour.

No, no man. I mean, Oz is the godfather of my boy. Between my father and him, he can’t do any wrong in my eyes. I talked to Oz on Father’s Day and he spoke to my wife yesterday. I’ll probably give him a shout later on today after I finish with the interviews. So no, everything is great man. He’s singing his ass off on his new album and Gus (Gus G, Zakk’s replacement in the Ozzy Osbourne band) is playing his ass off. I’m happy for Blasko, because he’s a brother and I’m looking forward to seeing the guys. I know so many other bands that will be on the tour that it’s going to be like one big family reunion.

It must have felt a little strange to have the Ozzy gig for over 20 years and then one day not having that part of your life there.

The way I look at it is that just because you move out of your parent’s house doesn’t mean you love ‘em any less. Oz knows I’ll always have his back and I’ll always be there for him. So while Gus is out there kicking ass, if I have to go feed the dogs for him while they’re on tour, I’ll go do it; you know what I mean?

Your life has been pretty eventful over the last 12-18 months with the blood clotting and having to go sober as a result of that. Has any of that, along with the departure from Ozzy’s band ended up on the new Black Label Society (BLS) album?

No. We were just laughing because it’s been four years since we did ‘Shot to Hell’ and we were like ‘It’s been four years already!?’ But then again, it’s been 22 years I’ve been with Ozzy and my daughter is 18, my son just turned 17 today and our little guy Hendrix just turned eight. So, like two of my kids are getting ready for college.

It’s just amazing how the time flies by and in the last four years it’s been like my family has been gluing me back together. I had throat surgery and wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to sing again. Then I had an umbilical hernia and had to get that operated on. I mean, right after these surgeries I’d go right back out on the road again. It’d be like surgery, then tour, then surgery, then tour. Then I got the blood clot thing and then I was right back out on the road. Then the Ozzy thing went down and right after that my father passed away.

People were like ‘Dude, you’ve had a rough year’, and I go ‘Dude, that’s before lunch!’ (laughs) When you’re in Black Label you ask, ‘Are you sure you wanna put this vest on? Because a lot of burden comes with it’. You gotta be hard as nails and you gotta do what you gotta do. You gotta GI/FD – Get it Fuckin’ Done.

What kind of topics did you cover on ‘Order of the Black’?

I’m Catholic but I read about occult stuff. I read about all religions because I find it fascinating. You can always get tons of lyrical ideas from that stuff. But I also watch a lot of WWII stuff and war in general. Between war and religion and watching the news... Even if I go see a movie and hear someone blurt out a certain phrase – they’re all good sources for material. It might start with a song title or a line in a song and I go from there.

Like ‘Crazy Horse’ on the new record. I have a bunch of friends who are Native Americans and we always talk about was the baddest guy: was it Sitting Bull, was it Geronimo or Crazy Horse? Like I said, between religion, war and stuff like secret societies and the occult – there’s an unlimited resource of topics that you can sing about.

Is the song writing process in BLS more collaborative?

Man, I’ll just keep throwin’ down and say ‘Here’s the song. Here’s the riff; I’m gonna start singin’ here and I want you to come in over here...’; you know? Man, we’re not doing fusion records here or anything. BLS albums are pretty basic, straight up, in your face rock records.

There are no rehearsals. Rehearsals are for getting ready for a tour. When we’re in there recording... I mean, there was no material [when we went into the studio]. From starting, to writing, recording, mixing and mastering took 94 days.

That’s pretty fast considering you had no new material.

Yeah. We just go in and knock it out and call it a day.

Did you record it in your new home studio – The Bunker?

Yeah. The studio came out awesome. Originally when we did it I was told, ‘Zakk, you’ll probably be able to record in here but you’ll probably want to mix somewhere else’. I go, ‘What’s the point of spending all this money if I can’t mix in here? What isn’t here that I can get somewhere else?’

So we went to another studio just to mix and see what it’d sound like and we were there for three days and the stuff we did in The Bunker smoked it. So I said ‘I’m not gonna sit here and give a ton of money away when I don’t even like the quality of it’. So we went back to The Bunker and finished up the record there.

Was The Bunker something that you’d wanted to do for a long time?

It got to the point where I realised I was going to keep making records and I’m going to record for the rest of my life. Every time you go into the studio you’re looking at US$1000 to $1500 a day. Let’s say you record 15 songs and you’re in there for a month. After that you gotta mix it too. Let’s say it’s around $50,000 per record.

I think for any band, it’s a good idea to own your own recording studio. It’s a good investment like buying a house. You can handle the mortgage payment. It’s just a matter of putting the initial down payment on it that’s the pain in the ass. I was talking to Oz and laughing, saying ‘Ozzy, could you imagine the amount of money you must have spent on records since the first Sabbath album to now?!’ It must have been millions upon millions of dollars that he spent.

I love having the thing. It came out awesome and I can mix in there, I can master. I can do it all.

So, will we see a more prolific Zakk Wylde as a result?

The records are like a snapshot in time. Like the ‘Order of the Black’ record is like just as we were at that point in time. We’re going to tour that now for about 24 months and then take a little break. By the time we record the next one we’ll be in a different head space, you know what I mean. From Led Zeppelin I to Led Zeppelin IV they were four completely different guys...

Are there any plans for another mellow album, like ‘Book of Shadows’?

Well, the BLS album ‘Hangover Music’ was the first one we did where we intentionally went in and said ‘Let’s record an album that sounds a certain way’. Every BLS album is like a box of crackerjacks: I don’t know what I’m going to get until I get in there. It can depend on what side of the bed I woke up on that day.

But as far as the mellow stuff goes, I mean yeah, it’s by design. The older I get, the more likely I am to write and record more mellow stuff.

You don’t just play guitar and sing, but you’re also an excellent pianist. What else can you play and what got you interested in playing music as a kid?

Everybody loves music; who doesn’t like music? I think the first thing I saw and was completely getting chills on was when I saw Elton John on the Sonny and Cher Show. I’ll never forget that. At that point I just bought every Elton John record I possibly could and I still listen to him all the time.

Then I found out about Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, Bad Company, the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd through my friend’s older brothers. All the classic rock stuff, you know what I mean. I still listen to all that stuff to this day.

You were born in New Jersey, yet you’ve developed this kind of Southern biker image, including your famous ‘Rebel’ Les Paul with the confederate flag on it.

Well, the whole thing with the Rebel guitar back in 1990 when I was with Ozzy was just because I loved Lynyrd Skynyrd and loved the Allman Brothers. People ask me, ‘Oh, are you from the south?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, south Jersey!’ (laughs) Man, I’m in Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi land in ‘Jersey.

Have you found that your life has changed much without alcohol?

No, not really. I mean, I always got stuff done. It wasn’t like I crawled up into a corner like a gutter drunk or anything like that. I was always working all the time. The doctor just told me when I was on the blood thinners, ‘Zakk, I’m just telling you right now that you’re done. Your liver enzymes are kinda high and your pancreas... the last thing you wanna do is damage that. It’s just bad news. The guys that get pancreatitis... you don’t wanna go down that road. Half the guys I operate on with pancreatitis don’t even make it out of the hospital’.

So I just said OK, that’s enough of that. You don’t need AA meetings for that.

You seem to be a very disciplined guy.

Well no matter how much we were drinking, the next day you gotta GI/FD. You gotta answer the bell. The running joke used to be when you’d wake up feeling like a piece of prison ass everyone would be like, ‘hey, you had a little drinky drinky and now you’re hurty hurty’ and just take the piss out of ourselves. If you’re needed somewhere at 9am, you better show up and 9am, you know. Everybody should have a good time, but you still gotta man up.

It’s no big deal. The doctor said I can’t drink, so I don’t drink. But as far as AA is concerned, that ain’t for me, man. For some people, if it helps that’s cool. But I got so many things on my BLS list of things to do... before I wake up in the morning, before my feet even hit the floor and I hit the john I got a trillion things going on in Black Label. It’s not even 24/7 – it’s like 25/8, 366 days a year! There’s just not enough hours in the day for me to get everything done. BLS is my life and I love that. Led Zeppelin was Jimmy Page’s life and BLS is my life.

What kind of gear did you use during the recording process of ‘Order of the Black’?

I had the ‘Rebel’ and the ‘Grail’ for the majority of the rhythms. I had the Epiphone Graveyard Disciple for some of the solos because I had the whammy bar on it. As far as the acoustics go, I used my Epiphone Master Built steel string and an Epiphone nylon string on ‘Chupacabra’. That’s a beautiful guitar.

And it was all Marshall on the amp side of things?

Oh yeah, of course. I had my signature amp that they made for me and my 200W EVs and my Dunlop pedals. There’s the Black Label Chorus, Zakk Wylde Overdrive, Carbon Copy delay, EVH Phase 90, EVH Flanger for ‘Crazy Horse’ and I used a Rotovibe and I got my wah-wah pedal.

Do you find your live rig changes much from that setup?

No, it’s the same thing. I’ve never understood people who use a certain rig for recording and a certain rig for live performance – I just never got that. My rig is so basic. Seriously, I mean a 15-year-old can go buy my rig, you know what I mean? It’s not like my heads are modified by some secret guy out in California... I don’t have that. It’s just a stock JCM800 with 6550 Groove Tubes and that’s about it. That’s the beautiful thing about Marshalls: you plug ‘em in and they sound good. There are no bells and whistles. I just never understood why you gotta sit there with an amp for 45 minutes to get a sound out of something; that’s ridiculous! It should be like a TV: you turn it on and there’s your picture.

Will we be seeing Black Label Society in Australia in support of the new album?

Oh, of course. We’ll be down there in 2011 because we’ll be hitting everywhere: Japan, China, Russia, all of Europe and definitely Australia and New Zealand as well as Canada and the US, South America, Brazil... We’ll be out on the road for about 20 months.

Do you handle a lot of the marketing stuff yourself as well?

Yeah. It’s the whole thing. It’s like Jimmy Page with Led Zeppelin: With Jimmy – besides the fact that I just love him so much as a guitarist, musician and song writer – the whole thing that he created... I mean, he produced the albums, he mixed the albums. He was there with the artwork, the way the band was carried... that’s his genius.

It’s the same with Les Paul: Besides the amazing guitars, there’s all the things he invented like the multi-track recording, the pickups and the whole nine yards... people like that are my inspiration.

You’re very prolific on social media sites like Twitter, getting in direct contact with your fans. Do you find that has a big impact?

The great thing about BLS is that it’s bigger than a band. We don’t have fans; it’s like one big gigantic family. I think it’s awesome and that’s not by mistake, it’s by design and I did it that way right from the beginning. It’s the way it was meant to be.

Well, thanks for your time Zakk. It was lovely talking to you.

No worries brother. Just tell the Australian and New Zealand chapters to keep bleeding black and we’ll see you down under before you know it, man.

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