The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

THE ROCKPIT INTERVIEW - ZAKK WYLDE

by Shane Rockpit

 

After getting through to guitar god Zakk Wylde twice, only to have my handset cut out almost immediately, swapping the handset to a backup, and then dialling 5 more times to find his line engaged or not answering, I had pretty much given up on talking to the man who for nigh on twenty years has run parallel careers as Ozzy Osbourne’s right hand man and Black Label Society grand pooh bah.

 

Luckily, one last try got us through, and even though I lost a third of my allocated half an hour slot, Zakk brushed off the problems as if they were nothing, and generously let us carry on until I was done.

 

 

Passionate about what he does, but laid back and without an ounce of the “rockstar” or primadonna about him, Zakk seems an extremely gracious man, and I was most impressed with his friendliness, even when I asked some questions which some rockstar types might have chucked a tantrum over.

 

Zakk has a reputation for being voluble, and isn’t one to pull his punches – he calls a spade a spade and pitches in on every subject I raise, as well as a few I didn’t!

 

With a new BLACK LABEL SOCIETY album “Order Of The Black” just out, it made sense to discuss that first, and I suggested that it sounded like he was reinvigorated after a few albums which had started to sound a little samey.

 

“Thanks man, I appreciate that brother, thanks a lot”

 

Could it be that not having to focus on Ozzy’s touring and recording schedule that he cn now put a bit more effort into Black Label?

 

“Nah, whether I’m playing with Oz or doing Black Label – its like playing sports, you don’t show up to come second, you show up to win. It’s not like I’ve got something to prove now – I’ve always had something to prove!”

 

 

Zakk has never made a secret of his primary influences, and “Order Of The Black” revisits the early Sabbath meets Zeppelin template he made his own over the past two decades – was that a conscious decision, I ask?

 

“Well no, but that’s always running through everything I play, that’s how I learned to play music and I still love those records and listen to them all the time – I was weaned on classic rock and it’s what I still listen to to this day - whether its Zep, Sabbbath, Skynryd, The Allmans, Elton, Neil Young, I mean – it’s all top grade, A quality beef, man!”

 

I’m keen to get something out of the way early - there have been contradictory rumours flying around about why Ozzy dropped Zakk for a new guitarist after 22 years and 7 studio albums. One popular rumour says that Ozzy couldn’t stand being around Zakk’s constant drinking any more – but more on that later.

 

“Well Oz just wanted to get a new guitar player, he was thinking things were sounding a little like Black Label. I remember he told me years ago “Zakk I don’t wanna be the lead singer of Black Label”. I remember he asked me one time, “Is that [riff] one of yours, or one for me?” I just said Oz, it’s ALL ours! I don’t just horde riffs for Black Label then offer up the leftovers, ya know? I just said – Oz, what I got is what I got…”

 

So you don’t write with a specific project in mind necessarily?

 

“You just write [everything] the best way you can write it!”

 

Have you listened to Ozzy’s latest album?

 

“I’ve heard a few tracks, the single – they’ve been playing the ass off that man, and Gus is playing is ass off, Oz is singing great – we’re gonna see Oz and the gang [on tour with] Ozzfest, so yeah I’m looking forward to seeing Oz!

 

So is it all classic rock for this imposing Viking of an axe-wielding behemoth?

 

“All the classic rock, and I listen to flamenco guitarists, I like Sarah MacLachlan – I love her, I think she’s amazing. I like Beck – aside from Jeff beck, Beck the artist, you know his mellow stuff – “Seachange”, that’s an amazing record. When we’re on the tour bus I’ll throw that in when we’re on a twenty hour drive, ya know”

 

Does Zakk have any tips for budding guitarists?

 

“Yeah – you just gotta practice, man. I mean, look at it like you’re playing video games – its not PRACTICE, it’s you playing, you know what I mean? You get out what you put in.”

 

Not only that, but Zakk says practice can lead to the discovery of new artists as well.

 

“Just play the music you love and then you’ll find out about other players… My guitar teacher turned me onto Frank Marino and Robin Trower, all these amazing guitar players, then I found out about Al Dimeola, John Maclachlan and Paco de Lucia, Joe Pass – all these amazing jazz guitarists, players outside of [rock]”

 

Wylde’s first solo project was the three piece Pride & Glory, who released one self titled album in 1994. Full of hard southern fried licks, it’s one of the most popular releases Zakk has been involved in, yet tensions between the band members dissolved the project far too quickly and only the single album remains.

 

 

I asked Zakk if he would ever consider revisiting the sound of the Pride & Glory project?

 

“I dunno, I’m so busy bleeding Black right now, and I still do mellow stuff like ‘Darkest Days’… I mean, Pride & Glory, that was like a three piece power trio – there was a lot of improv going on, and jamming… Black Label’s almost like, kinda like with Ozzy – it’s a set song and there’s really not a lotta room for improv, you know what I mean…

 

I explained that it was the more southern sound of that record that people were really taken with, but it’s obvious he’s here to discuss Black Label Society and doesn’t want to delve into the unlikely possibility of revisiting Pride & Glory. All he will be drawn into saying is “Yeah, we had a great time making that record.”

 

A quick glance through album covers shows that over the 8 Black Label Society albums, the band has hosted Nick Catanese on rhythm guitar, 2 bassists and 4 different drummers. I wonder what is the official band member policy?

 

“Once you’re in Black Label it’s your home away from home - nobody’s ever been kicked out or fired.”

 

 

So it’s just a matter of availability then?

 

“Look at it this way, if you’re making $100 with Black Label and you could be making $500 going out with Celine Dion, then go for it – I’m not gonna stop ya, you know, and you can always come back. When you got a family to support you gotta do what you gotta do – and like I said you can always come back to Black Label, there’s never any hard feelings about it.”

 

I tell Zakk that my impression of it is that it’s almost like a fatherly role for him…

 

“Well everyone in the band has other bands going on outside of Black Label… JD [John DeServio, bass] with Cycle Of Pain, Nick with Speed X [with Mike Stone from Queensryche. The other member of Black Label Society is new boy Will Hunt, who also drums with Evanescence]… like me with Ozzy – with The Boss – I’d only be dealing with the music department. With Black Label though, [I deal with] lyrics, melodies, production, mixing, album artwork, t shirts, all the merchandising - everything man! [It’s] like how Led Zeppelin was with Jimmy Page, that was his baby – it was like a vortex, everything Led Zeppelin revolved around him.

 

“And with me, Black Label, I bleed it 25/8, 366 days a year you know what I mean – there are no weekends with Black Label!”

 

Apart from obviously being great musicians, what personal traits do you look for in a band member?

 

“Well its just two things: you can’t be an arsehole and you gotta know how to play your instrument, that’s it! That’s the reason the colours are black and white, there are no grey issues. Well, the grey issues are [going] from point A - us waking up in the morning, to getting to the gig – people don’t care if we got held up in a liquor store, or the bus broke down or I got shot twice – people don’t care, what they want is the end result, you know what I mean…all that grey issue in between, nobody wants to know!”

 

In August 2009 Zakk was discovered to have 3 serious blood clots behind his knee, and later more were discovered in his chest. His tour was cancelled for fear that his passionate singing would lead to an embolism, and a course of blood thinners was started. Moreover, this meant a serious lifestyle reassessment for rock’s leading advocate of the beer and weightlifting daily program. Zakk explains with his usual good humour...

 

“Well, when I had the blood clots it was just like, ahhh, we were out on the road, and I was like “my leg is killing me”, I just kept trying to ice it down, [wondering] what the hell did I do to my leg, you know, but I figured, did I go out drinking one night, jump off the bar doing a David Lee Roth split or something? [He laughs heartily]

 

 

“This went on for about two weeks, and I was just trying to… well, I just sucked it up, ya know what I mean, sometimes you just gotta suck it up and go do what we gotta do. I figured I musta sprained it or pulled something or whatever, then the next thing you know I went to an ER and… what did they do, uhhhh… a sonigram on me, and the guy says, “Oh yeah, you got three blood clots behind your left knee”.

 

“I mean – how the hell do I get three blood clots?! I said, I’m forty three years old, I thought you usually get those when you’re in your eighties or something? But then he goes, no – truck drivers get it, airline pilots get it – if you’re stationary a lot.

 

“And he asks, “Do you travel a lot?” Well yeah I do travel a lot – I’m a musician, man, and he said “well you might’ve gotten it from that”. I said, it’s weird - I work out, I do cardio, its not like I’m just sitting around all day… then I just [started] thinking about it - when I’m playing the piano I’m sitting down, when I’m playing the guitar I’m sitting down, when I’m at the pub, I’m sitting down, ya know [Zakk laughs heartily again] – I guess there IS a lotta sitting down!

 

“So, I’m just taking the blood thinners [now], and I asked him, Doc, could I have gotten this from all the years drinking alcohol? The doctor said “No way Zakk if you had this hereditary, then if anything the alcohol was thinning your blood [and] it saved your life”!

 

“So I told the wife, ya know – see, alcohol IS good for ya!

 

[we both laugh loudly at this one]

 

“Needless to say THAT didn’t go over too well! But the whole thing is, well the doc said Zakk nothing for nothing - he goes, “I’m sure you don’t drink [just] one or two beers a day?” and I go, nah probably one or two CASES!

 

“He goes, “Zakk put it this way – if you’re out drinking with the guys, watching the fights or something, you might just start internally bleeding, and Zakk, you ain’t gonna STOP bleeding – you’ll be bleeding outta your eyes, your ass, your dick, you know! Put it this way – it’s best of you just STOP.” I said “So the bar at the pub is closed?” and he said, “It’s closed. It’s done for remodelling bro!”

 

“Then somebody asked me, so you’re with the 12 step program? I said “12 step program? Black Label ONE step program – we’re done, man! [More laughs all round] You know, I had to stop drinking – it’s easy, you stop! I don’t know what to tell ya, I mean, put it this way – I’m not gonna give someone $40,000 in a rehab to tell me to stop drinking!! I mean, c’mon! Take the $40,000 and go buy yourself a hotrod, or put forty grand down on a Les Paul, go buy a vintage Les Paul!

 

“Still haven’t had a drop. Yeah of course I’d still love to… I mean, every day, just chillin’ out man, relaxing, practicing… I still go to bars, just to chill out, and ahhh… I like the social thing about it too, hangin’ out, talking to people…”

 

 

For all Zakk’s levity on the subject, he achieved what many, many rockstars and normal people simply cannot – he went from drinking well above the average pretty much every day, to simply… not. To me, that’s pretty inspirational, plus it’s a testament to the man’s willpower that he can still hang out with friends in bars and not have a taste – I tell him that would be the hardest part of it for me…

 

“I mean, put it this way, if I brought Ozzy to a bar he’d be like, forget about it, Zakk - I gotta get out of here, man, I can’t be hangin’ out in here!! I got other friends too, they can’t hang either man, and I’m like, are you kidding me? And they’re “Nah man, I cant take it!” “

 

No willpower!

 

“I guess so, yeah… whatever! I mean, I’m just – can’t drink, can’t drink, and that’s that.”

 

So with Zakk clean and sober for over a year now, that should finally put to rest those rumours that Ozzy ousted him for his drinking! I want to talk more about influences, so I ask Zakk is there a song or an album which you wish you had a hand in making – and his sense of humour bounces right back into play again…

 

“I was very proud when I wrote ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and ‘Black Dog’, they were really crowning moments for me”, he jokes, laughing hard. “I was very happy with them!”

 

‘Time Waits For No One’ on the new record really stands out, it’s a beautiful piano driven track – is that about your recent health scare?

 

“Well I love a lot of Elton John and Motown stuff – that’s just about life in general…”

 

Black Label have never sounded better on record than on “Order Of The Black”, but it’s live where they have made their reputation as leaders of uncompromising sonic brewtality. I ask Zakk about his touring plans for the album?

 

“We’re doing Ozzfest all throughout August then September through to Christmas time, it’s gonna be all Black Label Bezerkus, we’re gonna be out with Children Of Bodom, we’re gonna have Clutch and 2 Cents”

 

 

Are you coming Down Under at any stage?

 

“Oh yeah, without a doubt – we’ll be down there before you know it. We’re gonna be cruising up until Christmas with Black Label Berzerkus after the Ozzfest… then you figure, probably, February 2011 we’ll be down in Australia – we look forward to hangin’ out with everyone from the New Zealand chapter and the Australian chapter, you know, we had a blast last time we were down there”

 

I tell Zakk that I have on my shelf a set of the hot chilli sauces that the Blair’s Death Sauce guys made bearing his name – was that just a licensing deal or were you involved in the process of creating them?

 

“Well the guys that were making it – Blair – he said Zakk, I’d love to do something with you, and I said, yeah man without a doubt – it’s not like we don’t eat the stuff, you know what I mean! So right now I’m in the midst of stuff – we got Blair’s hot sauce, we’re doing beef jerky, we’re gonna be doing coffee and beer as well…

 

“And we’re talking about opening up Doom Crew pubs and stuff like that as well!”

 

It sounds like Zakk is building a Black Label Empire!

 

“Yeah, I mean, without a doubt it’s cool – I always said Black Label is more than just a band, right”

 

I suggest that with CD sales going down the gurgler you have to do something to replace that income, and we end up talking about the pros and cons of the internet on the music industry…

 

“Yeah, there’s always touring and merch, but it’s really sad for younger bands, as opposed to acts that are already established – ‘cos they can always make a living touring – but for younger bands… I dunno. I was talking to Rob Zombie the other day and he was just saying, “I dunno where I’d start, Zakk, if I was eighteen years old again”

 

“But at the same time, you know, if you’re a younger band – think about it kinda like I was saying to Oz, I said Oz, well the days when you’re selling a million records, those days I guess are over, [but] look at it this way – can you imagine if you guys had had access to put up a Black Sabbath website?

 

“There you are, in the shithole of Birmingham, England, and here I am out in New Jersey in America, and of course you’re down in Australia – and you clock on, and go what’s this band Black Sabbath, we can buy the t-shirts, we can get the records, you’ve got a Black Sabbath store right there – and you guys have never even come to America or Australia, you know?

 

“So you have that – what it gives, it takes away. But like, my nephew – he’s eleven and into all that rap stuff and all his CDs were just blank CDs that said Biggie Smalls, and uh, DMX – all the rap artists. So I go, what – you don’t go buy the records? And he just went nah, and he was wearing a t-shirt – a DMX shirt – and I said, where’d you get that t-shirt? “I went to the show and I got it”, and I said well how about this Matt, how about if you just reached over the counter and grabbed one of his t-shirts and left?

 

“He goes, I wouldn’t steal, and I said well did you steal the shirt? He goes, “Nah, I paid twenty bucks for it.” I said well you paid for his t-shirt, why didn’t you pay for his record? That’s like you stealing a t-shirt at the show! Yeah that’s a scumbag move, stealing a CD, man. I know that Led Zeppelin’s got enough money - I get it - but I still go buy the record, I don’t burn Led Zeppelin IV! Just go buy the record – Jimmy Page has got enough money? He could always use more! Go buy the record!!!

 

“I dunno man, I’ve never stolen a record, I’ve never downloaded anything – I mean I’ve got friends in the music business, I have friends who are like “Hey Zakk, you want that new Sarah McLachlan record? My buddy worked on it I’ll get you a copy”. I’m like, I’ll go buy it! I’ve got fifteen dollars, I ain’t broke, you know what I mean! Yeah well, I just don’t get it. I got told you’re never gonna stop it, you know what I mean.”

 

That’s a good attitude to have, but isn’t it just part of the industry landscape now? To my mind, music is basically free to anyone who wants to go steal it, so a CD has to be considered merchandise nowadays?

 

“Without a doubt, totally - you have to make it a cool package…

 

“Well, unless you just made it all vinyl again and you have buy the vinyl and a blank CD!”

 

Well they have setups now where you can digitise an old vinyl album or cassette in five minutes flat

 

“Yeah but at least you still gotta buy the record”

 

Not necessarily true, unfortunately, as all it takes is one person to buy the album, then digitise it and upload it for thousands of others to download illegally and you’re right back where you started, but let’s not quibble over the details – it’s obvious Zakk’s heart is rooted in the glory days of classic rock albums of the 70’s.

 

Zakk's Guitar Hero character

 

Finally, we ask all our interviewees, what is the meaning of life, and Zakk deliberates for only a couple of seconds before firing off a double barrelled answer for us which shows his serious side as well as his wacky sense of humour…

 

“What is the meaning of life? I’ll tell you what it is, real simple – find what it is you love, what the good Lord gave you, and just run it into the ground. Be humble and be thankful and thank the good Lord for everything you got…

 

[There’s a pause for a few seconds]

 

“…and whatever you do – when you wipe, don’t wipe from underneath up!”

 

[we both laugh heartily]

 

That’s good advice mate thanks – I’ll remember that one!

 

“I just learned it like two days ago!”

 

[more laughs]

 

“I’m like, how come nobody’s telling me this!?

 

“Hey maybe that’s why the boss didn’t wanna be with me any more?”

 

[more laughs all round]

 

He certainly didn’t wanna shake your hand anyway

 

[through the laughter]

 

“He wouldn’t shake my hand – and I noticed throughout the years he’s standing further n’ further away!!!”

 

[laughs hysterically]

 

Well thanks so much for your time Zakk – it’s been a privilege!

 

“No problems – tell the rest of our Australian family down there, the Australian chapter, to stay strong, keep bleedin’ black, and we’ll see you guys in a little bit, man”

 

And with that my day is brighter and happier – Zakk Wylde seems a genuinely nice guy, not at all affected by his stardom and success, and just as passionate as you’d expect from someone who has made heavy metal his life and career for over 20 years now.

 

Furthermore he is not only funny as hell, but as someone who’s not shy of a drink I personally found his willpower and forthright honesty about giving up alcohol to be completely inspirational.

 

Long may he rock!

 

Thanks to Chris at Riot Entertainment for hooking me up with Zakk Wylde

Shane Rockpit

September 2010