Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society:
Ass Beatings and Beer Drinking
Interviewed in June 2000 by EvilG
When I think of Zakk Wylde, I think of blaring ripping solos, ultra-thick rhythms ripe with cool artificial harmonics and of course the image buried in my mind of the head-banging maniac in Ozzy Osbourne’s “Miracle Man” video. Zakk is still playing metal and still searing his fretboard on his new solo CD Stronger Than Death for his band Black Label Society. You will find a mixture of metal styles reminiscent of his work with Ozzy and his Sabbath influences coupled with a drop of Pantera and some groove / southern rock orientated music. I was given the chance to talk with Zakk about the new Black Label CD, metal, beer, Ozzy and of course guitar!
Dude the first thing I have to ask about is what’s up with you starting a brewing company for BLACK LABEL beer?
It all started because me and the drummer, Filth (Phil), we?re ah? (Zack say’s in an insane voice) just crazy about BEER! (Laughter).
So the whole thing is just brewing stuff here at the house and I?ve got a microbrewery about a mile walking distance from my house. This guy, Rob, down at Wolf Creek, just brews up some ass-kicking beer. He does the whole seasonal thing. I?ve been brewing at the house and that’s like the apex. People are like ?you?re gonna brew your own beer?? Well dude let me tell ya something, I?m gonna make a hell of a lot more dough brewing beer than I will making music if ya understand?the DEMOGRAPH IS A HELL OF A LOT BIGGER!!! (Laughter). So we?re talking about brewing it. This stuff is going to be ass kicking. What I eventually want to do is have Rob brewing the stuff. He?s actually a brew master. I brew stuff around the house and the stuff I brew, you can drink a pint and a half of this stuff and you?ll be fucking tanked! As far as taste-wise ? I haven?t got it perfected yet. It tastes all cidery. It?s more of a sweet thing cause of the sugar and shit like that.
What is your favorite beer?
Actually, check it out; we were trying to get a beer endorsement with Sierra Nevada. When we were talking about a beer endorsement with the record company I was like ?If I?m gonna get a beer endorsement, it?s got to be stuff I?m going to drink.?
If they?re going to be peddling case upon case of Coors Light on me, then I?m liable to either you know?. I can use that stuff for an enema, but that?s about it! I?ve been drinking Sierra Nevada, which is ass-kicking beer, the seasonal beer?s and everything man. And that stuff tastes good, if I want to drink water, I?ll drink water.
Or try some Canadian beer eh?
Exactly, Canadian stuff is good as well.
So lets talk about your new album…what is “Stronger Than Death?”
It?s just a good stout (laughs). As far as I?m concerned, Black Label is a lifestyle; it?s bigger than a band. Put it this way, if you?re in the Marines, it?s bigger than just being in the armed service. It?s a mentality you carry with you for the rest of your life. You can?t be a candy-ass. If you want to howl with the owls, you gotta scream with the eagles. There?s no ?I?m not feeling good today.? If you got interviews to do ? get your ass up and do them. So that?s the whole thing with the Black Label philosophy. It?s stronger than death and just can?t be stopped.
Can you tell me what some of the fuel is (besides beer) for the new CD?
Listening to CRAP bands like Third Eye Blind and Blink 182. The whole thing is, I have to thank these acts because without their CRAP music and WHUSS philosophy, I wouldn?t be inspired to write the songs I write. After I hear a couple of their songs or BackStreet Boys I just get a penchant for violence and I just start writing riffs. As far as I?m concerned, it?s gonna be like the whole disco thing. There is going to be such a backlash right now because if this planet needs to hear another boy band or these chick bands? I?ve got an 8 year old and a 6 year old so I can understand Brittany Spears or the BackSteet Boys, maybe one or two of them. But every other one of them! I can?t tell it apart it?s so fabricated. First off, none of these people write any of their songs so I have no respect for them whatsoever. The whole point is to write your own stuff. It?s like painting a picture and somebody else paints it for you but you color it in. There really isn?t much of a difference between them and Milli Vanilli. It?s a factory. I?ve seen this ?Behind The Music? thing and it?s just like this guy has a choreographer working with people. He gets the people, he submits them, he goes through the whole thing and each guy has to fit a certain criteria. Like, the girls will like him because he?s kind of butch, this guy they?ll like because he?s sensitive, this guy whatever! It?s absolutely hysterical man. Back in the day when I was buying Black Sabbath records, I was buying them because it says written by Toni Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Terrance Butler and Bill Ward. I?m actually getting a piece of them. At least that?s what I felt like. If it was like Sabbath was working with songwriters ? well give me a gun because I need to kill myself now. Like when you get a Zeppelin record, it?s written by the band. There is going to be such a backlash against this. The whole metal community is going to rise up and put a severe ass beating on all this crap music!
I love the album opener “All For You” and “13 Years of Grief” also stands out – as you can tell I get off on the more aggressive songs and that is what attracts me to your music! So what tracks are your favorites?
We?re in rehearsals now for the tour and 13 Years is a lot of fun to play because it?s just so stupid heavy. ?All For You? I like playing, ?Stronger Than Death?, ?40 Smiles? is cool. It depends on what mood I?m in. If at the end of the night I want to drink a couple of beers, then I take a listen to ?Rust? or ?Just Killing Time? ? stuff like that. At the end of the night when I?m winding down I can take a listen to the Allman Brothers or Neil Young. Much like when I?m lifting, I?ll listen to Mesuggah and Pantera, it depends on the mood you?re in.
How long was the writing process for this CD?
Let?s see, I had a bunch of songs written when I was on the road. I had some riffs written but until I find something I like singing about… I don?t like writing about, well ?Rust? was about my old lady, but I can?t write songs about, and god bless ?em I love ZZTop, but if I wrote a song called ?Legs? I?d want my friends to all beat my ass. Lyrically, I can?t sing it, it has to mean something to me. It?s more based on reality, things going on around me. Like ?13 Years of Grief? I wrote about these kids that were on, it must have been Sally Jesse Raphael or one of those talk shows?There was one kid on there who was beating his mother up repeatedly and they were all going to go to a maximum state prison and they?re all like ?bring it on man, I ain?t afraid! I?ll go to jail, don?t mean nothing to me.?
Give me a break man. They were all bad asses and were all like 13 years old ? that?s where I got the title from. They all ended up going to jail and the guards couldn?t keep the bucket full of crap behind them. It was ridiculous when they got to jail, their whole tune changed. But there were all just a bunch of hard asses before they went down there. But usually I write about something like that or something I read in a newspaper or something that has happened to my friends or myself. It usually starts with the riff then I come up with a melody and the lyrics over it last.
Were any tracks recorded that didn’t make the CD that you may release on a b-side or something?
Ummm?no, we just did one extra track for Japan and that was it. So we did twelve songs altogether. It?s a song called ?Bullet In Your Head.?
And what?s that song about anyway, the obvious?
Actually it?s about this guy I knew when I was in high school. I was in 9th grade and these guys had just graduated. It?s the whole big bully syndrome. This guy was a big ass bully and him and his buddy were selling weed to this one guy, I didn?t know him, but his name was Brian Warlock. He was a real nerdy guy. He went over there to collect his grass, he must of spent like five-hundred bucks on weed, and he kept telling them to fuck off and he eventually came back with a gun and fucking shot them both man. I remember we got out of school early. At least we got half a day out of school, that?s the only thing I cared about. But the cops were out looking for him around where I used to live it was a real wooded area. They had dogs out looking for him and stuff like that cause he was armed and shit like that. So that?s what I wrote the tune about.
You play just about everything on this CD except for the drums. Is there any reason why you don?t use a full band for recording?
Well yeah, it?s just like making beer. The whole process of making beer is making it yourself. With a microbrew it?s one guy. Like, somebody hovering over a bass player saying, ?no, no…can you do it more like this.? Here dude, do it your god damn self. And like painting a picture. You look at a picture by Salvador Dalai, these guys don?t list co-painters like Salvador Dalai and Andy Warhol. It just says painted by Salvador Dalai. If Salvador had a problem painting skies or something like that you don?t get one of your buddies who knows how to paint that. That?s what it?s like with me. When you come to a part and you get a little stumped, you know, just have a beer and use a little bit of your imagination and come up with the next part. To me, that?s the whole challenge of it. It?s like “I can?t do that, I just did that in another song like two records ago or I did this on an Ozzy record ? I can?t do that because it?s something I?ve did before.”
So it?s like ?alright scumbag, come up with a different part.? That?s the whole fun of writing, is the challenge of it, to come up with something to top yourself or go down a different avenue then you did last time. At the end of the day, I?m still a musician so I listen to my Al Demolia records and Mahavishnu Orchestra and stuff like that. For me the juice is how good you can get as a musician, not about the money and the fucking chicks. That was never my juice to begin with. The whole thing is, if you want to get laid, what the hell do you have to be in a band for? Just go up to a chick and ask her if she wants to fuck, you know what I mean? (Laughs). It?s like oh do I have to learn how to play guitar to do that ? I don?t think so!
You recently played the US National Anthem at a baseball game. What was that like and how did people react? Were they like “who in the fuck is this guy?” or were they into it?
Naw, it went over great! I just did it at Dodger Stadium. The first time I did it with the Mets, yeah people were kinda like ?what the hell is this?!?? Mind you, I did a Hendrix / Black Label version of it. I didn?t play it like national anthem paint by numbers. I didn?t want to play this super white version of it. But at the same time I thought I did it justice. My old man was there, he?s a World War II vet, so I?m not going to sit there playing a jazz version of it where people wouldn?t even recognize it. The Shea Stadium one ? there was 53,000 people there and they were a little confused. I think the younger people liked it but I think the older people were like ?get this asshole off the field.? But I did it again just on Tuesday night right after Memorial Day at the Dodger Stadium with the Mets. They are 2 and 0 now, so hopefully they will use me for a ringer in the playoffs (laughs).
Something else I wanted to talk to you about is your part in the upcoming film – Metal God (loosely based on the Ripper Owens story).
Yeah, I just got back from wrapping that up last night. It will be coming out around spring break sometime and it?s with Mark Whalberg and Jennifer Aniston. It was a great experience man.
Do you think the film is going to accurately portray what life is like in a metal band?
Put it this way, if a 15-year-old kid saw it, it would be like me in the 80?s if a movie came out about the 70?s. I?d be psyched and I?d go check it out. Let?s say if it was about a band based around Led Zeppelin or Sabbath that would be a real cool movie cause of the clothes or whatever and just because I wasn?t there. I think for my niece, who?s 19 now, for them (her) the 80?s was like the Culture Club and Duran Duran and crap like that. This movie is based around metal and I?m playing my ass off on the soundtrack so I don?t care what anybody says, they can?t take that away from me. So if somebody?s like ?this is a cheesy movie?, they?re missing the whole point. It?s supposed to be a timepiece around the 80?s. The band is supposed to be from like ?75 to ?85 and we?re going near the end of our career and we?re older guys. Then we get Mark Whalberg in the band who?s this huge freak for the band. He?s in this tribute band (to Zakk?s band in the movie) and we eventually get him into the act. The movie is really about Mark and Jennifer and how they go from Indiana to LA and all the music business crap they have to go through once he gets in the band. Then there?s the booze and the drugs and the whole 9 yards. Then the grunge thing comes around and he goes to Seattle and he gets involved in that crap. We had a great time doing it. Jason Bonham is in it and Jeff Pilson from Dokken. I had no idea, I mean Jeff?s in Dokken so I never really knew anything about his bass playing, but I couldn?t believe how good on the bass he is. He was playing Mahavishnu Orchestra shit and YES and everything. I was just like ?holy shit, dude I never knew you could play bass like that.? And he says ?I?m in Dokken.?
How did you get asked to do this film?
They came down and were talking to me about the soundtrack and seen me doing it and this guy Steve Herrick who seen me doing the Stronger Than Death record just came down to meet me and I was just tracking in the studio and once he saw me playing he was like ?Zakk, do you want to be in the movie??
I was like ?Well I?m sure you have other people to meet.? And he said, ?No I want you to be in the movie.?
So put it this way Geoff, It was the stupidest chump change I ever made in my life. As far as actual output of work and it?s like ?you want to pay me this?? So yeah, fuck me up I can be an actor. It was just ridiculous man.
I’ve heard rumors that they might call the film “Rock God” instead because they are afraid audiences will stay away from a film about heavy metal.
Yeah, I heard them talking about it but it is a heavy metal movie. It is what it is. If it’s a Zebra and it?s got stripes, it?s a Zebra. It?s like “oh let?s not call it that.” So what do you want to call it? It?s got stripes, it?s black and white and it?s kinda horse looking kinda thing?it?s a Zebra. The Warner Brothers people came down and they were talking about this and that and changing the movie name. I was like whatever, I understand. Metal God is pretty cool and rock…well what are you gonna call it rock or metal or “Music God”?ya know??!
So are they definitely renaming it?
Yeah, it?s like you say they are afraid that people?.it?s like metal has blinders on it.
Are Mark Whalberg and Jennifer Aniston metalheads or had they even heard Black Label Society before the movie?
No, but Mark Whalberg was in my video man, we just got done cutting it so I should actually be getting the edit today. We did the video for “Counterfeit God.” I figured Mark was cool enough to let me be in his movie, I figured the least I could let him do is hang in ?the society? for a day. Mark?s a great guy, and any guy that?s drinking beer 8:30 in the morning?you open up his trailer, and you know I?m not a pot guy, but its like ?Fast Times At Richmount High.? It?s like this cloud of fucking smoke coming out of his trailer and he?s pretty damn funny man. He keeps it together; he?s not like waste product. It?s nice when you don?t need to drive anywhere, you can take advantage of drinking at 8:30 in the morning.
Now that you’ve had a taste of acting, do you think you’ll pursue any other parts?
Well yeah, put it this way, if Mark asked me to play a drug dealer in a movie or some guy with a shotgun, you know?but it?s not like I?m going to go take acting lessons and learn how to be an actor. I?m a musician, and that?s what I love doing. I can understand why people get into the movie business. The only thing that?s a bummer is getting up at like 3:30 or 4 in the morning and having to take a shower like every other day.
What was the deal with you and Axl Rose? I’ve read you WERE working with him or there was talk of you replacing Slash, what happened?
When we were doing the Stronger Than Death record I saw Axl at the studio. Phil and me were there we just got tanked one night. We started drinking at about 1 in the morning. By the time we got done it was like 4:30 the next afternoon. But it?s like, Del James is there and he was like ?What happened? and Axl goes ?Zakk I heard your people wanted 2 million up front and a tour bus.? And I go ?2 million?!? What do you think I?m some sort of cheap dishrag whore? I?m fucking worth at least 6 to 7 million.? But that was like the running joke when we were there. 2 Million dollars and a tour bus kept me from playing with G-n-R. I told them if I got to publish on a G-n-R record, that?s 2 million dollars right there. And a tour bus, my OWN tour bus? Yeah, like that?s what I want to do ? hang on a bus all by myself. So let me see ? I could be hanging with the guys drinking beer, listening to tunes, playing vids whatever or yeah I?d rather be on a bus all by myself in the back whacking it to fucking porno movies. Give me a break!
So did you ever actually record anything or jam with G-n-R?
Yeah I did some stuff over at Duff?s house and eventually that?s how Black Label got started. I had these riffs lying around and things weren?t?Ozzy started playing with these other guys, Axl and the whole thing with the lawyers just went down the shitter so I said fine, I?m just gonna do it my god damn self. If you?re gonna do something, just do it yourself. I could of wrote all these riffs, it could have been on the new Ozzy record but Ozzy would have been like it has that flat 5 in there, that Sabbath note?well you know what, that?s a good note.
I know you’re a big Allman Brothers fan, and that you got to do some gigs with them. How did this come about and what did it feel like playing with a band you admire so much?
It was awesome man. Dicky Betts ended up getting into some kind of brawl or altercation with some cops or whatever and he was in jail for the night so he couldn?t do this gig at Great Woods in Boston; it?s a 15,000 seater. Their agent, was my agent at the time, that?s how it got all hooked up. He was like ?Zakk Wylde is a huge Allmans fan, he can come out and do it.? So they let me come out and do the show. I just did the one show then they got a guy that they had known for a while. But it was just ass-kicking man. We opened up with ?Statesboro Blues”. it was just awesome.
A couple of issues back in Metal Edge magazine; you were featured with wrestler Chris Jerico and other WWF wrestlers. What’s the connection between you and wrestling?
We all just like putting a good ass-beating on people, that?s about it (laughs). Naw, Jim Dodson, the head of security there, we?re buds with Jim. Jim asked us to come down. Me and the guys in the band just love the WWF. I?m friends with the Undertaker and everybody like that, actually all the guys. When we go down there; man they are just really good people who bust their ass. They?re way into Black Label and we?re big wrestling fans.
There are still people out there, believe it or not, who only know you as the guitarist from Ozzy’s band. When you tell them you?re doing your own thing now they?re like ?Oh really??!!? Do you get a lot of that?
Yeah, but the whole thing is that it?s something to be proud of. It?s not like ?Oh yeah the guy from Ozzy is the guitar player in the BackStreet Boys.? It?s like I played with Ozzy Osbourne and how many other people can say that? There?s only like Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee, Brad Gillis, and Joe (Holmes). So not many people can say it and I?m proud of it man!
I hear you MIGHT be getting together with Ozzy to do a new album again this year?
Yeah Oz and me got together at his house I saw Sharon and his kids and everything and it was cool. I?m trying to figure out what we can do. If we can fit it in, we will, but I?m so busy touring and doing my thing ya know? I?m just so busy bleeding black label, so it?s hard to try and fit it in right now.
Were you prepared for the circus that was being in Ozzy’s band when you first joined?
Yeah but for me it?s always been about the playing. I don?t do drugs and shit like that. I like drinking beer but it?s like you have to drink a ton of it and drink it fast if you want to get completely wasted out of your mind. To me, getting wasted is not part of it. I like drinking beer but it?s like if you can?t walk out of the club or pub or whatever it?s just not being a man as far as I?m concerned. You gotta learn how to hold your liquor. Puking is NOT an option in ?the society.?
That?s one of your 10 commandments?
Yeah, without a doubt.
How would you compare playing with Black Label Society to being with Ozzy?
It?s just that I?m in control and everything is how I want it to be ? the artwork down to the touring, the merchandise, the songs, the production, everything.
What is your opinion on Ozzfest and the lack of, what I?d call, real metal bands on the roster (well besides PANTERA)?
Ummm?the whole thing is that ah? I?m not sure what all the bands are right now. But I guess right now the rap/rock or rap/metal thing or whatever, is kind of the in thing right now. I?m not sure?.put it this way, once those bands are on there and Pantera comes up they?re gonna just mop the floor with everybody! They will show them how its really done. Trust me, I know in Pantera there ain?t gonna be no rap going on any time soon! But we?re also doing two dates on the festival, I think it?s September the first and second, so hopefully I?ll get up and play with Ozzy or something.
Yeah I was going to ask you if there would be any chance of you jamming with Ozzy.
Yeah I think I?m going to come up and do something with Oz, hopefully at the end of the night.
I read that you were supposed to be on the Maximum Rock & Roll tour with Motley Crue, Anthrax and Megadeth…what happened?
Yeah, I called Nikki and he said ?Zakk, all I can give you is like 15 minutes just because of the way the set is.? So I said for him not to worry about it and that I appreciated it and everything. But 15 minutes ? right about there I?m getting through my second beer. At least Nikki called me up and he was cool about it. He was like ?I?d give you more time if we could.? But I understood and I hope those guys have an ass kicking tour.
What’s your opinion on the state of metal today, especially with the popularity of rap ?metal? bands that are (unfortunately) being promoted as metal?
Well it is guitar based which is a good thing. But you always have a backlash against things, you have action and reaction you know? Kids could listen to this rap stuff but if they want to get into something heavier they can listen to flat out metal bands.
What are you listening too, anything new or just the staples?
When I?m out in the garage and I?m lifting I?ll listen to Mesuggah, Pissing Razors and stuff like that. But you know, obviously I?ll always be listening to Sabbath. That stuff is some good ass-whopping that never goes out of style.
Yeah your track ?Love Reign Down? had a big Sabbath feel to it! I really like the main riff in that one.
Without a doubt man and thanks. That?s how I learned how to play, just listening to those records.
About your guitar sound?what is your tuning? Some of the songs sound like you are tuned way down.
Yeah it?s just a ? step down but what I usually do is take the low E and drop it down to a B instead of a D. Or drop it down to A and ?Counterfit God? is in a G.
How many times on the album are you doubling up your rhythms?
Just twice – one on the left and one on the right.
And how about with leads? You do them in one take?
I usually do the one take but for some of them I?ll double. Like on ?Counterfit God?, I doubled that one and a few others. But if it sounds good without the double, then I don?t bother with it.
I was surprised with the lead on the song ?Rust? which is a ballad and the lead fits perfectly but I can?t imagine how something so ripping found it?s way into that song!
Well I just sat out in my garage and did that one. It?s the Al Demolia influenced solo. I doubled that one as well. It was just play it once and listen back to it then double it. That’s one of my favorites, I like that solo a lot.
When you write solos do you just jam out over it?
Yeah I just improvise until I hit something I like because once again, that?s the whole fun of it, is writing it. So I sit out in the garage and keep ripping until I get something I like by starting it off a certain way or I can?t do it that way cause I did that in the last solo.
Well I guess we?re starting our tour on the 14th of June and we?re going to Japan. Then we tour up till about the 22nd then on the 23rd we start out in Anaheim. The name of the tour is ?Penchant For Violence? and we have the brotherhood of brutality and that?s Crowbar and 60 Watt Shaman. We?re just gonna be putting an ass-beating on everyone across the States then we go to Europe then we come back and hook up with the brotherhood then we keep on going man.
Do you think you?ll make it up north to Canada?
Oh yeah, without a doubt man. Canada has been big supporters of the Black and the White so definitely.