INTERVIEW AND PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
Guitar virtuoso Zakk Wylde is best known for his long stint in support of former Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne and leading his own band Black Label Society which recently released its 8th studio album ORDER OF THE BLACK. Wylde has gone through many changes during the last two years. His long-term run as Osbourne’s guitarist came to an end, and he also faced serious health problems in 2009 when he was suddenly hospitalized due to blood cuts. Fortunately, everything seems to be fine in Wylde’s camp now. His health problems are long gone, and the ORDER OF BLACK is becoming their most successful release to date. Black Label Society’s new tour reached Finland in early March, and in Helsinki, we had the pleasure to speak with the man himself and hear all the latest news from Wylde’s world. Read on!
First of all, how is Zakk Wylde doing in March of 2011?
I’m doing rather well, aside from being two hours late. No, everything’s good, man. Everything’s good; everybody’s having a good time.
You are now in the middle of this Black Label Society tour in Europe. You recently changed your drummer, and John Kelly is now playing drums for you. Whatever did happen with Will Hunt?
Yes, yes. I mean, right before we got to England when we were doing rehearsals, well, the gang from Evanescence called up Will, and they were like, bro, we need you to come to do a record. And he was like, well, I’m over in the middle of Europe right now, man, with the Black Label or something like that. So we just gave John Kelly a call and stuff like that. I mean, I’m at the point now where I know so many great musicians, you know, I just call you up and ask you what you’re doing, you know what I mean? It’s like, “Well, just hanging out at the house right now, you know, chilling out.” “Well, if you’re not working, then do you want to come out on the road for a month and a half or two months?” And he goes, “Yeah, yeah. Just give me a solo on one of the songs.” You know, it was that easy. Because Will knows John, and John knows Will, so it’s one gigantic fraternity, you know what I mean?
Is former Black Label drummer Craig Nunemacher completely out of the picture now?
Yes. We don’t talk to him since we’ve been over here. He definitely fucked up big time, man.
Tell me something about working with the one and only William Shatner?
With William Shatner over there…“laughs” Aside from being the greatest Starfleet commander of all time….well, Guy Adam, who’s working on the record, he’s producing the record. He just called me up and said, “do you wanna jam on Iron Man?” I said, “Yeah, no problem, just give me a buzz, and we’ll knock this thing out, man.” (laughs). But it was really great meeting him. He’s one of my childhood heroes (along with) Ozzy, Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Geezer, and all the guys. And then there’s William Shatner. I’ve been blessed that I got them all on good days. It was awesome to work with Shatner, and he was a super cool guy. They all were super cool guys.
After all the things that happened during 2009, a lot of things happened in 2009 for you. How much did all that affect you on a personal level? You had serious health problems and…
Oh, I had blood clots, I had three pulmonary embolisms. And people are like, Oh, you almost died three times. Do you look at life differently? And I go, no. So I still do the same shit I did before. It’s like, you know when you get married, people are like, doesn’t it change everything and I’m like, no, it doesn’t change anything. Well, when you have kids, that changes everything, right? No, I just got to feed more people, and that’s about it. No, but you know what I’m saying, right. It’s all in the way you look at it, and whatever. And when I had the pulmonary embolism, it wasn’t just like getting sick or anything. To me, it was just another bump in the road. So it was like, man, what time are we on stage? Like half an hour? Yes, that will be fine.
So it did that incident change anything in your life? I mean, how much you now have to think about what to eat or drink and think like that?
Well, as far as – just alcohol. They just said, “Zakk, if you’re on blood thinners, you can’t be drinking alcohol because that thins your blood as well.” So I was like, okay. So when they told me to stop drinking, I just stopped drinking.
How is your world different now when you are not drinking anymore?
It’s not a big deal for me. I mean, it’s just… it doesn’t affect my writing or any of that. But it’s not like I was hammered while I was making the records anyway. It’s like when you’re making the record, you can drink a beer throughout the day, but you know, you’re focusing on playing and everything. But you know, if we got hammered at the end of the night, that was when we had friends come over and listen to the playback and just listen to shit and just chill out. You know, I was never getting wasted while I was making the records.
ORDER OF BLACK
I was going to ask about the creative process of ORDER OF BLACK because now that you are sober, was it any different to make an album this time?
It was no different than when I was making every Ozzy record, or you know – It’s all the same.
It seems that the ORDER OF BLACK is going to be your best-selling album to date. It was number four in the States, right?
Yes, and the last one, I think, was number 13 or something like that. So I mean, to me, it’s just a testimony that our Black Label family is getting bigger and bigger, and it’s good “laughs.”
How was it different to make this album without having that “Ozzy pressure” on you?
Well, I never looked at it as pressure. Whenever we were going to make an Ozzy record – I mean, the songs that were on this record could have ended up on the new Ozzy record, you know what I mean. To me, it was never like, oh, here’s Black Label stuff, or here’s – I mean, whenever I was playing with Oz, it was great music, you know what I mean? So I mean… it’s just like – whether it’s Ozzy or Black Label, it’s all in the same – you know, it’s just hard rock. So I come up with a cool riff, and then Ozzy sings vocals on it. So I mean, whether it’s anything on this record or “Crazy Horse,” whatever, Ozzy could have been singing on it. That’s about it.
Somehow, I found a kind of liberated feel from this new album, kind of feel what you had with the Pride and Glory album back in the days. I think this album is somehow very close to that one. Do you agree with that?
I don’t know. I mean, we went about making a record. We did it at Black Vatican, you know, the new studio, out of the house. But I mean, it was – we went in with the same way we made all the other records. It took 94 days, writing, recording, mixing, mastering, the artwork… everything was done in 94 days. You know, that was cool.
One thing that comes to mind is that you have always done two kinds of material. You have this mellow side like albums BOOK OF SHADOWS and HANGOVER MUSIC VOL IV, and then there’s the heavy stuff. Which one do you actually prefer more?
Well, you know, I love them both. You know, I definitely love playing the heavy stuff, and I also love sitting behind a piano or an acoustic guitar, or something like that. I mean, obviously, when I’m chilling out and relaxing, I listen to mellow stuff. So obviously, after you get done playing that heavy stuff for an hour and a half, blasting your brains out, you’ve got to listen to some Elton John or Crowded House and just listen to some good mellow stuff. But like I said, I love them all. I love listening to Zeppelin just as much as I love listening to “Cold in California.” I love listening to “Black Dog” and all the other stuff.
I want to know when we will hear some true Hammond organs on the Black Label Society album?
Do you mean Jon Lord type keyboards and shit like that? No… Black Label is a more guitar-oriented band, like Black Sabbath.
Okay. Everybody keeps asking you this, I know, but how is your life now without Ozzy, and what do you miss most of all about him?
It’s just Black Label 24/7, 365 days a year. But I mean, Ozzy is still a part of my life. I mean, I still talk with him. You know, it’s just like not living at home with your parents anymore. You still love your parents, but it’s just like you’re not at home anymore. I mean, Ozzy will always be in my life, and so is Sharon, because I love them. So it’s no big deal, but it’s just that I’m not in the band anymore. But I still talk to Ozzy, so everything’s good, man.
This is actually the second split you had with Ozzy. The first time did happen around 2005, just after the release of the excellent OZZMOSIS album. Was the split any different this time compared to the first time?
It’s all the same. Nothing’s changed. I mean, in ’95, when I was playing with Guns and Roses and playing with Oz, he was like, “Zakk, I either gotta get another guitar player in here or if you’re not going to do the… if you’re going to be playing with Guns and Roses, that’s cool, and all, but I got to get another guitar player”. So that’s how that came about when he said, “I got to get another guitar player.” It was nothing – we never got into any arguments at all. It was just laughing all the time. It’s been nothing but good times. I mean, I could talk to him on the phone right now, “How ya’ doing,” or whatever.
Well, about the OZZMOSIS album, in my opinion, it was the last really great Ozzy album. There was an interesting line-up there with Geezer Butler, Deen Castronovo, and Rick Wakeman.
Sure, we had a great time. I mean, we recorded some of it in Paris, some of it in New York, so I had a great time. As I said, I had a great time when we made every one of those records.
How do you like Joe Holmes, who replaced you in Ozzy’s band back then? I mean, how do you like him as a player, you know?
I’m friends with Joe, an ass-kicking guitar player, a cool guy, and stuff like that.
Although he played many years with Ozzy, he never played on the next Ozzy album DOWN TO EARTH?
No, Joe never ended up playing on it. But I’ve seen Joe a lot, and he’s a great guitar player. As I said, he’s a great guy.
When you returned to the band, you re-recorded all guitar parts for the album, which was otherwise finished. How do you like that DOWN TO EARTH album overall?
Well, you know, I didn’t write anything on there, you know what I mean? It was weird for me because I enjoy having a part, you know, writing a record. But Ozzy had written – you know, I still had a great time when we recorded the record. It was almost like me doing that Rock Star soundtrack; I mean, everything was written before I came in. So all I had to do was just play guitar. And I had a good time when I did that. So I still had a good time when I made the record.
When we two saw last time in 2009, you then said that you were then writing for the next Ozzy album. Whatever did happen to that material?
Right, we had a batch of music, a batch of riffs. We had about 13 ideas.
Whatever happened to those songs?
I’ve still got them. Ozzy still has them.
You did not use them anywhere?
I didn’t use any of them for the record. I just started fresh, you know. I listened to some of them and said to myself, these are great ideas, but I just want to start fresh.
Ok. I was just wondering if some of it was used for the ORDER OF BLACK?
No, none of it was used. I mean, it would be almost like if Ozzy had a bunch of ideas he had written with Sabbath, you know, at the end there, and then all of a sudden he met Randy and was like, well, let’s use some of this Sabbath stuff. But then he said, no, fuck it, let’s just use all new shit. I mean that kind of idea.
When you had the split with Ozzy in 2009, he then said that the main reason he replaced you was that he started to sound like too much Black Label Society himself and…
I mean, you gotta look at it too. With Randy (Rhoads)still playing with Ozz and he was going back to Quiet Riot and back to Ozzy and then back to Quiet Riot, you know. It was like, dude, everything is starting to sound like Quiet Riot now. Ozzy’s like, “I don’t want to be the lead singer in Quiet Riot.” And he told me one day, “I don’t want to be the lead singer in Black Label,” which I completely understand. If Jake had still been doing Badlands, then Ozzy…if he was….then Ozzy would have started sounding like Badlands. He’s jamming with Gus now for a couple of years, and then he does Firewind, then he does Ozzy, then Firewind, Ozzy….well, then Ozzy will start to sound like Firewind. So I completely understand it without a doubt. If anything, it’s a compliment because the band has its own identity. When Ozzy was jamming with Jerry Cantrell, I said the same thing because it sounds like Alice in Chains. Jerry was like, “well, if you sing on it, it’s not going to sound like Alice in Chains” (laughs).
SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH
About Black Sabbath, it’s obvious you are a fan of the Ozzy era, but what do you think of the other eras without Ozzy?
Well, the Dio years, when they called it Heaven and Hell, that’s really what it should have been right from the beginning because the band even sounded different. The style of music was different from what they’d been doing with Oz. I even tried to picture Ozzy singing on those two Dio albums, and I don’t know what it would sound like…even Ozzy just singing over that music. To me, it doesn’t sound like Ozzy-era Sabbath. The guitar tones are different. Everything sounds different.
Maybe it’s because Ronnie is writing a lot of stuff?
Whether Ronnie’s writing the lyrics or the melodies, the MUSIC doesn’t sound the same as Sabbath does with Ozzy. To me, it’s a whole different band. You try and play Heaven and Hell against Sabotage and tell me if you think it’s the same band. You’d be like, no. If you said one band was called Rainbow and the other was called Black Sabbath, you’d be like – Oh cool, I like that Rainbow band, they are really cool too. It sounds like two different bands. A lot of people say that with Van Halen, too, with the Sammy Hagar and the David Lee Roth stuff.
What about the other Black Sabbath singers like Tony Martin, Ray Gillen, Ian Gillan, or Glenn Hughes?
Well, the Ian Gillan stuff, I actually saw them live on that tour…the Born Again stuff…it’s like the Quiet Riot metaphor again… but the stuff with Ian Gillan is crazy, man. But once again, is it really Black Sabbath? That’s what it comes down to.
Well, I was wondering, have you ever played together with Tony Iommi?
No, I’ve never played with Tony. I love Tony immensely. Anyone who plays rock or heavy metal, I mean, Tony’s the architect, you know what I mean?
Do you foresee any chance of the original Black Sabbath getting back together?
Getting back together? Well, they already did a reunion.
Yes, they did, but once again, for the last time?
They already had one, and they did an album called fuckin’ REUNION. It’s like saying… do you think Page and Plant will get back together? They already did it; you know what I mean? They did NO QUARTER, and they did the orchestra tour, and they did the UNPLUGGED thing. They already did it! They got back together. I mean, I just don’t know. I mean, if they do, they do. But I mean, they already did get back together.
BITS AND PIECES
Are you planning to do another Pride and Glory album someday?
Well, I’m so busy with Black Label, do you know what I mean?
But would you like to do another one?
Well, if I mean, if we could find time in between finding a cure for children’s cancer, splitting the atom, and then solving the problem over in Libya right now, maybe we’ll see if we can fit a Pride and Glory album in there! “laughs.”
I have talked with James (Lomenzo) and Brian (Tichy), and they both said they would love to do another album someday?
I know. Well, Brian’s jamming with Whitesnake right now, and James is out with George Lynch right now. I know the guys are out touring and jamming right now, and they’re so busy. And I’ve got so much on the Black Label list of things to do. But yeah, with them being two and a half hours late for interviews and stuff like that, you know, I don’t know how we’re going to fit in this Pride and Glory.
Of course, you have heard about the Lemmy movie?
Yeah. I’ve seen it.
How about doing the Zakk movie? Have you ever been thinking about that?
Oh, a Zakk movie? Oh, just everybody taking a piss at me? Yeah, that would be pretty good! (Laughter). It would be pretty funny. I can tell you that much.
Some more about Lemmy, you guys worked together during NO MORE TEARS and OZZMOSIS albums. How was he to work with?
Ozzy and Lemmy have been friends forever. When Bob wasn’t doing many lyrics or Geezer wasn’t doing stuff, it only made perfect sense for him to give Lemmy a buzz. And Lemmy is a great lyricist too. So Lemmy is super cool and super-talented. He is a whole institution.
The last question: After this European tour, what’s in your plans after that?
Well, after we finish this, we’re going to go back to the States. We’re going to tour Fuze TV. We’ll be out for May and June. In July and August, we’re coming back over here to do festivals over here in Europe. We’re going to be touring until Christmas time. I know that. And then we’ll see what happens after that.
Okay. I think that’s it. Thank you, Zakk!
No problem bro.
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