Black Label Society (Zakk Wylde) interview
Interview by Davide Sciaky
Puoi leggere l’intervista in italiano qui.
Hey Zakk, how are you doing? How is the tour going?
Hard rocking, brother.
I’m ready for one tonight, then we got a day off tomorrow, then a couple more, then Hellfest.
It’s always a blast coming over here, and doing all the festivals is great.
Let’s start with your new album, “Doom Crew Inc.”. I’ve seen you’ve been playing 4 songs live off of it so far. Are you satisfied with how the fans are reacting to the new music?
Yeah, everybody’s having a great time.
You know, I’d expect nothing less: when we go out it’s another Black Label family gathering, so that’s great.
I guess that making and releasing an album during the pandemic must have been a bit harder than usual. I was wondering if you had to change anything in the process compared to the previous album?
Nah, not at all.
I mean, it’s just pretty much… nah, it’s just like I always do, I just sit there with my practice amp and then I write riffs until I’m happy.
It all starts, it always starts with the riff. Whether it’s “Whole Lotta Love” [by Led Zeppelin], “Into the Void” [by Black Sabbath], Smoke on the Water [by Deep Purple], Mississippi Queen [by Mountain], they always start with the riff, that pretty much dictates the structure of a song, and the melodies next.
But I’ll take what I’ve got and I’ll sit in my truck and I just have a tape, a CD, and I put that in my truck and I come up with melodies.
I love the videos you made for “Set You Free” and “End of Days”, it looks like you’re having so much fun, and it’s so much fun to just watch them. How did you come up with those ideas?
It could be anything, it could be just me and you having coffee, seeing something ridiculous and stupid and you go, “Hey, we should make a video like this”, just as ridiculous and stupid as this [laughs]. Let’s just do it and, you know, it would be just bouncing ideas me and you, just talking, and then when we’re on the set we might think about doing something even more stupid.
You know what I mean? Just making it as ridiculous as possible.
Because, give me a reason why I should watch this thing, right? [laughs]
Right. People wouldn’t expect to see that, and that’s what makes it different and what drives them to watch it again and again.
Talking about that funny side, for a long time Metal has been this serious genre with quite some mystery to it, but today, because of social media, we can always see what happens behind the scenes and the mystery is often gone. Do you think this is a positive or a negative thing?
I think that even if we didn’t have social media or anything like that, I just like the idea of us… you know, to me it’s always the goofier stuff, if I see something freaking hilarious I’d just go, “Dude, have you seen the new Soundgarden video?”, if it was Chris Cornell doing something with Kim, like knocking each other out, I’d be like, “This is the funniest video I’ve ever seen in my life”.
Aside from the song, it can be amazing like “Spoonman” or “Outshined” or stuff like that, but if it’s that much more ridiculous… it’s like when the movie “Airplane” came out, Leslie Nielsen was a classical trained actor and he was doing that movie?! [laughs].
You take somebody who’s a super serious actor and then you put him in some goofy skit, it makes it even that much more ridiculous!
Because of COVID you couldn’t tour for quite some time, and I’ve seen many musicians react differently to that: some just couldn’t wait to get back on the road, while others enjoyed the time they spent at home so much that a few even left their bands to spent more time with their family. How was it like for you?
I’m used to tour 300 show a year, so for me this was the longest break I’ve had in 20 plus years, and I love touring!
That’s the reason why you do it, that’s the reason why you have pictures of Jimmy Page up on the wall, Zeppelin, Sabbath, Randy Rhoads, Jimi Hendrix and all the bands.
I’m blessed, in that regard, I can do what I love: touring, doing shows, making records. I’ve always loved the whole process: I love putting songs together and seeing this thing come together and take a life of its own.
And the whole process of us playing live, I love both aspects.
But, you know, during the pandemic it was great being home! Whenever I’m home it’s usually about 12 days, 14 days, and then I’m back out again, so having almost 2 years at home was pretty amazing.
You know, walking the dogs, you know, I had my routine and I really dug it.
When touring became possible again, did you ever think that maybe you could slow down a bit with the touring to spend more time at home, or is it something that never crossed your mind?
Nah, I love being at home, but now that we’re back out doing this it’s like we never left.
Like, that quick, it’s like, “Oh my god, it was two years ago?!”. Where did the time go?
It’s like I’d imagine what Keith Richards and Mick Jagger would say, “What, it’s been 60 years? It’s like it was 4 years ago, 5 years ago… it was 60 years ago?! Come on, man!”.
Even when my father turned 80, he was like, “I don’t feel 80”, because your perception of being 80 when you’re 30 years old is like, you’re decrepit, old, and here’s you walking around, doing stuff, taking a bike ride, riding your motorcycle around and you’re like, “Zakk, I feel like I’m no different than when I was 35 years old”.
It’s all perception, man.
This past week I think a lot of people has been worried for Ozzy since he did this very serious surgery, have you talked with him since he’s been out of the hospital?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. His texts… he’s a goofball all the time [chuckles].
I texted him saying, “Ozz, you’re in my thoughts and in my prayers, buddy, when you’re glued back together, we’ll get you back out on the road” and he [laughs] he texted me back after the surgery and he said, “Zakk, I gave birth to a baby neck” [laughs].
And he said, “That’s good, we’ll have to bring the baby out on the road with us”. Oh my god, he’s hilarious, man, but he said his arms are feeling better already, so that’s good.
Recently you’ve been working on his new album, I know there are also a few other special guests like Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Tony Iommi. Were you all working together in the studio?
No, no, actually the guys had all the parts done.
I just talked with Andrew [Watt], I said, “Andrew, just send the tracks up to my studio, I’ll handle everything, I can just work on them, record them here and then I can send them to you and you can tell me, “Zakk, do this part over here””, or whatever.
Andrew and Ozzy wrote the songs, so I just had to learn the parts, send them to Andrew where he could go, “Zakk, that’s awesome! Can you just change this?”, “Yeah, no problem”.
So, that was about it, painless.
A couple of times Andrew came up to the Vatican [Zakk’s studio], you know, we had a lot of laughs, some coffee, we’ve been tracking. It’s been a good time.
Are you involved in the whole album, or is it just a guest spot?
I’m playing rhythm on a bunch of stuff, and Andrew is playing rhythm on a bunch stuff.
Then I’m doing solos on the stuff, obviously there are tracks where you have more Iommi, and Pontiffs Clapton and Beck.
I’m playing rhythm guitar and it’s great, they’re all playing their asses off and I’m beyond honoured.
If you had told me when I was 15 that I was going to be on an album with Ozzy, Tony Iommi, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton…
Yeah, it’s pretty unbelievable.
Talking about that, talking about when you first joined Ozzy, you were 19 or 20. You worshipped Randy Rhoads and suddenly you were to fill his shoes next to Ozzy, together with Bob Daisley too on No Rest for the Wicked.
Yeah, that was pretty amazing!
And on the tour then you were joined by Geezer Butler. How was all that experience like? Were you feeling like a kid in a candy store, or it happened so fast you didn’t even realise what was going on?
It’s like playing for the Italian soccer team.
My whole life, ever since you’re a teenager you dream of that, and now you’re playing on the team, you’re wearing the uniform.
You know how important that uniform is and what it represent. That’s how I’ve always seen it.
I remember when I was auditioning all the guys told me, “Oh, that’s a good career move”, or “I heard that gig pays well”, whatever, I just wanted to play for the team, that was the team I always wanted to play for!
Yeah, it was pretty mind-blowing, it was a huge honour, that’s the way I always lived it.
Were you fanboying, asking Ozzy about all the stuff he had done?
Oh yeah, of course, when you’re around you hear Ozzy telling these stories, and being such a huge Sabbath fan it’s just awesome.
And in the context where now I’m in the band, you know what I mean?
Yeah, because I guess on one hand you want to play it cool, but on the other hand you just want to ask about everything.
Yeah, totally, but that was great!
A few years back you launched your guitar company, Wylde Audio. The guitar world is manly dominated by very few, very big players like Gibson and Fender. Why did you choose to jump into this new challenge?
I love doing it, just having different models, different things.
It’s sort of the same thing as being with Ozz: with Ozzy my job is in the guitar department, but if I want to produce, if I want to write lyrics, if I want to come up with melodies, if I want to sing, come up with all the artworks and the merch ideas, you need you own vehicle for that, you know what I mean?
I couldn’t be treated any better by Gibson, I love all my Gibsons, I love all my Epiphones, and everything they made was crushing quality. Gibson, Epiphone, the quality is amazing and they are investments, they’re not just guitars, you have them forever.
Yeah, this is me doing… you know, it was a blast having the signature models and everything like that, but if I want to do all these other things, the runes’ inlays, this kind of finish, that kind of… you know, it’s fun to have your own company.
You mentioned the lyrics, and I was reading the lyrics for this new album just this morning and I was thinking: when you first started with Ozzy you were probably more focused on the guitar playing side of things, but as you started doing your own things you had to deal with everything else. How important are the lyrics to you? Are they as important as the music?
Yeah, I think the whole thing is. Even when you’re mixing a record, you want the whole thing to sound good, not just the guitars. You want the bass to sound good, you want the drums to sound good, the vocals.
And the lyrics, to me, they’ve got to tell you something that I’m interested in.
That why I just sing about fast cars, fast women, and living FAST! [laughs].
That’s what all the songs are about, every song is about that.
Well, it fits well the music.
FAST women, FAST cars, and FAST living!
There is a song which has become a staple of your setlists, “In This River”, a very special song, very emotional song. For me, every time I heard you guys playing it, it was really moving. For you, has playing it every night changed in any way how you feel when you play it?
It gets rough sometimes, when I look at the pictures of Dime and Vinnie.
Sometimes I can’t look at them, especially sometimes when we have the montages up there, I just try to keep singing.
Yeah, it’s awesome, every night the crowd is killer.
It’s just a beautiful moment.
Since I think we still have a few minutes I’ll throw in a little extra question, something I was curious about.
I’ve gotta get moving man, I’ve got to get ready: I’ve got to put my makeup on, I’ve got to put my eyeliner on, my fishnet stockings, I’ve got to shave my legs.
I’ve got to get going too, I forgot to shave my arms!
But back to my question, I know you’re a big Randy Rhoads fan, I love him too, and I always felt it’s such a pity that there’s not a lot of videos of him playing. From your position as Ozzy guitarist, have you ever seen anything that it’s been kept in the vaults?
I don’t know, I think they… ‘cause it’s crazy, I mean, mom [Sharon Osbourne] and everybody, like they said, they didn’t just think anything like that would happen, they just figured everything was going great.
And it’s like I always say, when there’s someone complaining about people filming the shows, “Oh, they have all the phones, they’re recording and not watching the show”… if these phones were around [at that time], we’d have footage of Randy Rhoads.
Because all the footage we have, that you see on the internet, that’s people sneaking cameras in and stuff like that, and that’s why the footage is all kind of messed up.
Any footage that comes up I’m like, “Oh man, there’s new footage of Randy!”.
No, there’s no real pro-shot entire shows, especially of that tour, they had the castle, the production was amazing, but they just didn’t think to do it.
I guess you don’t think that one of your buddies is gonna pass away.
And it all happened so fast, the first two album happened in a matter of a year and a half…
The stuff that you are seeing is pretty much everything that I’m seeing, you know what I mean?
Me and JD, we love Randy, whenever we see new footage of Randy we go, “Dude, you’ve got to check this out!”.