JOHN De SERVIO
INTERVIEW AND PHOTOS BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
John DeServio is best known from his long career with Black Label Society. DeServio was the original bass player for Black Label starting from 1998 but he decided to quit with the band in 2000. The man returned into their ranks just five years later following the departure of James Lomenzo and has been a part of “the family” since then. DeServio also has his own band called Cycle of Pain whose debut album was released in 2009 and he’s also been working with such names as Vinnie Moore, Ritchie Kotzen and Derek Sherinian. We had the honor to sit down with the man himself prior to Black Label’s triumphant performance at Sweden Rock – here are the results of that interesting discussion… Read on!
THE EARLY DAYS
First of all, how many years you have been a part of the Black Label community?
Black Label was formed in ’98; so I was there in the beginning with Nick and Zakk, and Phil the drummer at the time. And then I was there until 2000; I left, I just wanted to write my own music and learn piano, drums, play guitar and so on. I wanted to work on me as a musician, as a song writer, as everything. So I left the band in like 2000, you know, wrote a whole bunch of my own music, worked on my own shit and then in 2005 I joined Richie Kotzen’s band and sort of played with him. He’s a great guitar player, singer; awesome. And then later on that year, I got back with Black Label, you know, so I’ve been back ever since and that’s like six years now and it’s been insane, feels like I’m 50 already! [Laughter]
During that your time off from Black Label or he was doing the Ozzy thing did you still keep in touch with Zakk?
Oh, of course. All through, forever, you know, forever… Since we first met, we’ve spoke almost every day. You know what I mean, all the time. When I was in the band and when I wasn’t in the band. We’re brothers, beyond all this bullshit. We’ve known each other before he started to play with Ozzy. I have known him before everything you know, I’ve known Zakk 25 years now. 25 years, man, since 1986.
When did you first get to know Zakk?
We played a similar club back home, a venue in New Jersey. And I heard about this guitar player who was killer, and I was like I’m just going to see him and hang out. And I went, and Zakk was fucking killing it. And I was like, introduced myself and we fucking became friends since then. We jammed that night. I played bass. He played guitar. We just wailed for like hours, you know.
How old you guys were back then?
We were about 17 or 18. We were just kids, man, good looking, sexy! (laughs)
Do you remember the time when he joined Ozzy’s band?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I was going to college. I was going to Berkeley College of Music in Boston, a great music college, one of the best in America. Back then we had no cell phones. We had the pay phones. And in the hallway of the dorm I was staying we had the pay phone and Zakk had the number. We would call because we were friends. One day somebody knocked on my door and said: “J.D… Zakk is on the phone”, and I’m like oh cool. So, I go answer it and he told me he had an audition, and I said you’re going to get it you mother fucker, I was like, fuck that. So my buddy got him an audition twice man, and Dave Feld who worked for Atlantic Records at the time. Dave got Zakk into the audition; he fucking got it man, and here we are. It’s crazy, isn’t it?
Like you said, you have known Zakk for such a long time, something like over 25 years. He has changed externally a lot during the years, I mean, back in the 80’s he was looking just like any hard rocker with “baby face” when he now has a beard and that “rough” image, you know what I mean?
Ah, yeah, but we were kids then man, you know. We were fucking young man. I mean, I had like a 25-inch waist, you know what I mean? Zach was like 140 pounds. I mean come on, we were just kids back then “laughs”
Which look do you prefer more – the current or the old one?
Oh, the current. Fuck, yeah, man. I know so much more now. I’m so much better at everything you know, so, but it was killer, man, growing up. I wouldn’t change who I am or anything, but I have amazing memories, let me tell you, it was fun, and it’s fun now. Now is more fun actually. Now I know what I’m doing.
BLACK LABEL THINGS
How are things different now when Zakk isn’t drinking anymore?
Oh, it’s much better, it’s much better. I get to drink more, so that’s even better. He doesn’t drink it at all, so now I drink twice as much. And to be around him, I have to drink twice as much because now that he’s not drinking… “laughs”
That’s a good thing for you but is it any different to work with him now compared to the old days?
Oh, it’s… You know what? To be honest with you, it is, it’s amazing. It’s a lot better for all of us, everybody. I’m thankful, you know what I mean, that things are the way they are right now. It’s cool, we sound great; our records sound better, I think. The last two records came out amazing and our performances, I think, are great, you know? I think now is the time for us to really start moving on and taking over and taking the next step like we’ve always done, man. But now it just feels better, you know what I mean? It just feels better. It feels like the time is right now.
So, that’s only been a positive thing for Black Label. It’s good to hear that because sometimes creative people can even “lose it” once they do change their habits too much, you know what I mean?
I understand, because I’m the same way. I smoke weed, I love it. But you know what? It’s funny because it doesn’t – it just kind of enhances me; and I’ve smoked weed my whole life, so it’s not like any big deal. Like some people can’t do it and they just feel tired or whatever; for me, it makes me motivated, it makes me want to write and create, you know what I mean? Alcohol, too, it just makes you do things. This makes you a little bit sloppy though, you know what I mean? Weed makes me like this, I’m focused. I’m like all right, I’m doing this. I got A’s in school because, you know, whatever I was focused – you know – playing my instruments, you know. It’s a focus thing. But, you know, everything adds something different though. It really does, man, there’s no denying it, you know. You won’t write something that you would if you, you know, you have two drinks, if you’re going to write something completely different. I’m serious. This is the way it is.
It is, yeah!
It just affects you, you know but – well, you know what, the great ones, you know – we don’t need anything, we create no matter what. But it’s definitely a different thing, you know, for sure. And I’m sure – I know he misses it, you know what I mean, because, why wouldn’t he?
Who knows maybe someday he will go back in his old habits?
Nah, it’s all over. It’s done. He did close that chapter.
MORE ABOUT BLACK LABEL
One thing which is really great about Black Label Society is that you and you your fans are a kind of huge family or a community… Do you know what I mean here?
Right, it’s always a family, that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re not a fucking biker gang. It’s just a band, we’re a rock band. Zakk tells me we’re like a fucking Christian organization you know what I mean because we give money to St. Judes which is awesome man. So we’re not a biker gang, we’re musicians that do good things. We have more fans and then it’s a family. So that’s what it’s about. The patches kind of represent it.
Sometimes I think at least in Finland, some people would get in trouble with biker people when they were wearing Black Label vests and…
Because of the three patch thing?
That’s what I mean here…
A lot of these biker gangs get upset but we tell our fans if they tell you to take it off, then take it right off. You know whatever…that’s why we even have newer logos now…with a different patch so people won’t have to feel threatened. They shouldn’t, because that sucks. We’re not a threat, we do good things for people. But hey these biker gangs are serious, and they’ve got to do serious things to get these patches. And for our fans to just go buy them and they are like "fuck that!". I can respect that. You’ve got to kill or whatever you got to do to get these things…and I’m just a bass player man. I love jazz, and soul, and metal. We’re musicians, we love Jesus, and we are good people. So if they tell people to take them off, we tell them please listen and take them off…that’s it. Right from the beginning, that motorcycle thing… I do know that Zakk doesn’t even have a motorcycle, but he certainly does have a look of motorist guy.
Yeah, right. He looks like one, doesn’t he?
He does but if I’m right he actually never had a motorcycle, not even back in the days?
Never a motorcycle. He would kill himself. Yeah at 80, he had one of those little motorcycles. Oh, dude, with the big helmet. He would look the part that you’ve ever seen in your life. No, he definitely should not drive a motorcycle at all. He’ll fucking wind up killing himself or somebody, so he shouldn’t drive. I shouldn’t even “laughs”
There’s a new acoustic album coming out from Black Label soon?
Yeah, it’s called THE SONG REMAINS NOT THE SAME. There are some acoustic versions of songs on the ORDER OF THE BLACK which we did like four different versions of songs from the new record and all the bonus tracks that we did for Europe and South America, all those, we put them on one record, which I co-produced the mix. I don’t know if you knew that?
I co-produced and mixed the last two Black Label albums.
That’s news for me.
Well, there you go. See, I’ve got to fucking promote myself because nobody will. I co-produced and mixed the last two Black Label records. That’s why they sound so good “laughs”
Nah. It’s been awesome and Zakk, he gave me more responsibility you know. You know, me and Zakk really produced fucking SHOT TO HELL. We produced SHOT TO HELL; I didn’t mix that one, but I did fucking produce the last two and then mixed the last two, so sonically we’re really happy band. Everybody is saying that THE ORDER OF BLACK is the best album in a long time.
I read that the new Black Label album did pretty well in the States?
Yeah, the first week, it was like number four. So, I’m very excited.
So you have done something right then "laughs"
What’s that? Yeah exactly, I’ve got to get involved, like a little guinea. Get the little guinea involved in this shit. You know, Zakk… “laughs”
OK. The next question is about the drummer situation of Black Label Society? Is Craig Nunemacher now completely out of the picture?
Yeah, well you know Craig did left; shit when did he leave? A couple of years ago, 2 years ago, so then we got Will Hunt and who played on the record, and then Will decided to go back to Evanesence and he had to leave us. On the last tour we got Johnny Kelly to come in and fill in. Johnny is a really good friend of ours, and now we got Mike Froedge to play the drums with us. He played with Nick in Speed X and in a band called Double Drive but so that’s it, but, now he’s our drummer now, it sounds great and he’s kicking ass, you know?
Is he a permanent drummer for Black Label now?
I guess, you know what I mean? It’s… I hope so, I think this is fucking revolving door gets old, you know what I mean? Like when I left…. When I left in 2000, they had Barry Gibb’s son, Steve, and then they had Mike Inez and then they had Robert Trujillo and then they had James Lomenzo and then I came back. So, now that door was shut. There’s always a door shut because I mean it’s the fucking time. ”Laughs”
How do you see the future for Black Label Society?
I predict a global domination and Zakk with tell everybody how gay he really is and he will do it. I predict that is going to happen. Ha, ha and also, my band, Cycle of Pain is going to take over the world. Have you heard Cycle of Pain? I’d love to talk about it.
CYCLE OF PAIN
Yes go ahead, tell us something more about Cycle of Pain?
OK, Cycle of Pain is a band, I got a record deal. I had a whole bunch of music, jazz stuff, bass music like this funk stuff, and add rock and metal stuff with friends of mine. We grew up together, we were in a band when we were 15. So the label said I could do whatever I wanted, so I put the band back together with my brothers. We’ve stayed in touch, we’ve played forever still throughout the years. So I got to do my record and my singer was my drummer when we were 14 and the guitar player was (still) the guitar player. We were in battle of the bands and we played together from when we were 14-18 as the band Tyrus and all these other bands whatever but through the years we kept in touch and even jammed together. So it’s killer, its family, its heavy metal in the same ballpark as Black Label. We have a lot of different influences: a lot of funk and jazz, along with metal and rock.
So far you’ve only played in the States with that band, right?
Yes, I’m trying to get it over here. My record was released over here though, on Metalville Records. We did get to open for Black Label and a band called Shinedown in the States. It’s a great record, Cycle of Pain….we actually won the Doobie Award from High Times magazine. I don’t know if you guys are familiar with High Times over here?
I have heard about it.
But we won the "Pot Song of the Year". We had a sendoff from Cypress Hill who rapped on the song and Zakk played a guest lead on it as well. I have a bunch of guests on the record. My buddies from P-Funk and then there’s Ray from Korn, the singer from Fear Factory, guys from Symphony X and some other bands as well.
I’ll have to check it out!
Yeah man, Cycle of Pain, and we’ve gotten some of our music on shows like on TV in the States. So it’s been killer man, so please check it out. We’re writing new music right now and I think you guys will dig it man.
WORKING WITH VINNIE MOORE
There’s one more musician in my list which I would like to discuss with you and he’s Vinnie Moore. Tell about your collaboration with him?
Well, I was working with Vinnie back in ’91, 1991, is when I joined Vinnie Moore’s band. We went out on tour for the “Meltdown” tour, which was for the record, MELTDOWN. And we got to open up for Rush that year, which was really unbelievable. You know what I mean, and a dream come true because I got to play Madison Square Garden back home. You know, I lived in New Jersey, but Madison Square Garden’s like, that’s the place. That’s like, ah, you know, heaven, you know what I mean. So I got to play there with Vinnie, which is awesome. Vinnie’s an awesome dude. Amazing, Vinnie plays in the UFO now and I got to play in his latest solo record.
Wasn’t it called TO THE CORE?
TO THE CORE; and it was killer. I went back to Delaware because he lives in Delaware, not too far from me in New Jersey; so I went down there and banged out all these tunes in like two days and it was a lot of fun. Vinnie’s just an awesome dude. He’s like my brother, man.
So you have…
Don’t tell him I said that, though. [Laughter] It’s on tape. No, no, no. I hate him, I don’t like Vinnie Moore. [Laughter]
I won’t tell him “laughs” Thank you for your time John!
No problem guys!
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BLACK LABEL SOCIETY LIVE PICTURES FROM SWEDENROCK FESTIVAL 2011 !!!