Zakk Wylde, one of the most iconic identities in metal, returns in 2010 with a killer new Black Label Society album, ‘Order Of The Black’. In the months preceding the recording of the album , Zakk endured a number of major health scares, the passing of his father and being told by Ozzy Osbourne after 20 odd years of service that it was time for them to part ways. Displaying every quality of the bands mantra that has inspired the Black Label family all over the world: Strength, Determination, Merciless, Forever. (SDMF for short), Wylde has delivered an album true to his vision of uncompromising, unfiltered and unrestrained rock and roll.
We caught up with Zakk a few days out from heading off with Black Label Society on the latest run of Ozzfest dates, before then doing a run of shows under his own “Berzerkus” tour with the band taking Children Of Bodom, Clutch and 2 Cents on the road with them.
Hey Zakk, thanks for chatting with May The Rock Be With You.
Hey Scott what are you doing brother.
The new Black Label Society album, “Order Of The Black” it must be a great to finally unleash this on the world….
Without a doubt man, the response has been great throughout the world so far, just goes to show how big the Black Label family is now. It’s definitely supercool man.
Had you commenced writing/recording for the album prior to your health issues last year?
No I hadn’t, we just went in, wrote it and recorded it like the other albums. As far as I am concerned an album is just a snapshot in time. You know when you listen to Zeppelin’s catalogue, the first album and the second album kinda sound similar because they knocked them out back to back. But I mean every other Zeppelin album had it’s own sound, none of them sound the same because at that moment in time, 1968, that’s where they were at, you know. If they had of wrote Stairway To Heaven for the first album, they would of put it on there. But they didn’t write it then! That’s the great thing about records and music, it’s almost like when you look back at your yearbook photo back in high school, that’s where you were at, at that time. I don’t understand someone like Axl Rose, if you have been writing an album for that long – what you wrote 14 years ago, you are going to look at it and go, that’s when I was going through my Nine Inch Nails phase, but I’m not even into that anymore. So that’s kind of what I mean.
Well given you recorded the album post all the events of last year, how much of your experiences over that time feature in songs on the new album?
Well it’s funny, someone said to me “Zakk, you had those three pulmonary embolisms and you could of died three times, that you realised you had to make such a good record?” I go, yeah you know all those other albums, I didn’t think I was going to croak so right before I croak I will put a good album out with “Order Of The Black” as opposed to all the garbage I was putting out before!! They asked Zakk, do you look at life differently and I go, no, usually that’s reserved for guys that are complete assholes and douche bags the first time around. It’s like I don’t need to go to jail to go, “you know doing jail time for 8 years was the best thing that ever happened to me”. It’s like wait, you are telling me that it took you beating up 80 year old grandmothers and stealing their purses and robbing banks and stabbing people to make you realise it’s not a cool thing to do in the first place? So no…I didn’t get any epiphanies or things like that prior to recording the album. I wrote the song‘January’ about my father who passed away in January, so that songs about my Pop. We were just laughing that being in Black Label you gotta Black Label up. Zakk you had blood clots, a hernia operation, throat surgery, your dad passed away, you got told you are not playing with Ozzy anymore…and I go actually that was before Lunch haha!! When you are in Black Label that’s the way it goes! When people are like man I want to go get my Black Label colours and I am like are you sure want those things? There is a lot of burden that goes along with them haha!
How has your approach to writing songs changed, if it all, over the BLS journey?
Well it’s still the same, you just listen to Zeppelin and Sabbath and try and steal as much as you can too write a good song haha! It’s then when I want to write something mellow I listen to The Eagles, Elton John and Neil Young to see what I can come up with haha! So long as you are in the ballpark with those guys you should be ok! But seriously, we approach it with doing the heavy stuff first, then when that’s becoming a little old or sounding the same, that’s when we will start writing the mellow stuff. Then the same with that, once that’s getting stale we will get back into writing the heavy stuff again.
There’s some killer guitar solo’s through the album, when you are sitting down to write and record a solo, how do you go about constructing/composing it?
Well I always tell people there are the two schools of theory…. There is the Randy Rhoads school of writing where he constructed every single one of those solos, which is just amazing. It’s like Stairway To Heaven, there’s nothing perfect in this world, but that’s about as perfect as it gets. It has everything in it, if you are going to play that song, you have to play that solo! Mr Crowley, you have to play that solo! It’s like Hotel California too, that solo is a key part of that song. Then you have the improv thing such as the Eddie Van Halen way, where he is just shredding and off the cuff kind of thing that is just as amazing. So you can take either of those schools. Then there is somebody like Neal Schon where he has a melody and then puts some insane blazing, ripping thing over it and then he hits the nitro button at the end. Neal is just amazing at constructing solos that once again perfectly fit the song. It’s fun, a solo is like coming up with a vocal line or whatever, you are creating something, you know what I mean?
The Black Label Bunker is your own studio that you built to record the album, tell us about the bunker!
I couldn’t be more pleased with how the Bunker came out, it’s been road tested now. Everything was recorded in there and mixed in there. When we built the studio, they said you might have to mix somewhere else. I said you gotta be kidding me! The whole point of a recording studio is you have to be able to mix there. We ended up taking it to another studio initially to mix and the guys were in there for about three days and what we had in the bunker smoked it! I said this is ridiculous I am not going to drop $15,000 to $20,000 to mix the record that goes to another place, when I could use that to sink into the bunker, you know what I mean! So it’s great man, now we can make the donuts in there, wrap them and ship them out!
For ‘Order Of The Black’, from the first day of writing, through to recording, mixing and mastering, it took 94 days! Everyday we were in the studio, at the end of the day I would just mark it down in the calendar. You just get in there and knock it out. Someone the other day asked, “Zakk now that there’s no time restraints because you have your own studio”…and I was like, well I never made any albums with time restraints anyway. Whenever I have done any Black Label album we have just gone into the studio and done the work. We don’t take weekends off or anything like that. I mean if you are on a roll…why stop? It’s like Scott, how about I get you in the studio and sing on a Saturday….you have to sing on it at some point, why don’t you just get your ass in the studio and I will force you to sing on it now! It’s like, well I’m not in the mood….well get in the mood! Sooner or later you gotta get it done, so why not today!!!
How long did the bunker take to plan/build?
It took the guys a little bit of time to make, probably about two to three months. I had my brother in laws that are in construction come down and help build it. We had this old guesthouse on our property and what the guys did was rip it apart and then in went the studio. It’s kick ass man, it’s all state of the art stuff. Now that we have Panworkz Records on E1 Music I’ve got my own label. So this way if we sign anyone like that chick Sarah McLachlan or a band like Stone Temple Pilots or a bunch of kids, the thing is we can get them into the bunker and record, produce, mix and then off they go!
You mentioned the new label just a minute ago, have you started working with any artists yet for Panworkz?
No not yet, but it’s great that I am in a position to help out young talent you know. But I am going to keep it old school you know, like Motown. I am going to steal all their publishing and take all their merchandise and hopefully they will end up with drug and alcohol problems haha! Listen, I am a man of tradition!
Coming up after your run of Ozzfest dates, you head out on your Berzerkus tour, with Clutch, 2cents and Children of Bodom?
Yeah we are starting Ozzfest in two days. We just did a St Jude’s show at the Roxy raising money for children’s cancer, that went over great and raised some money for the kids and all that. Then we have Ozzfest as you said, then middle of September we are going to start with the Black Label Bezerkus with Children Of Bodom, Clutch and 2Cent and we will knock that out. I am looking forward to that as well, that takes us up until Christmas time. Then 2011 we fire up Black Label for global domination in the pursuit of a womans clothing store for the next 20 months!!
With your Berzerkus tour, was that a matter of you thinking that now it’s time for Zakk Wydle to have a concert/event of his own?
Yeah exactly like you said, now I am in a position to bring other acts out with me, why not? This time we have 2Cents coming out with us who are a younger band and it’s an awesome feeling you know. Alexi from that Children Of Bodom is a great guitarist and represents that new breed of guitarist coming through, so it’s great. We talked about doing stuff a couple of years ago and now we finally have the opportunity to do it. The guys in Clutch are an ass kicking band so I think the whole bill has something for everyone. This is just the first instalment, the bigger and bigger that it gets we will make it more of an event, as opposed to just a concert.
You mentioned earlier female clothing stores…have you any firm plans at this stage to expand into areas beyond just the music?
See the female clothing stores support the world domination, we need some money to make this mission happen haha!! We have hot sauces coming out and beef jerky, coffee, we are doing beer and eventually I am talking about opening up my own pubs too, with live entertainment an ass kicking sports bar with entertainment. Black Label is bigger than a band man…
The Black Label family is a very loyal bunch, what do you put that down to?
Well that was the whole design from the beginning though, it didn’t happen by accident.
It’s the same like minded people into the same thing. Like I said with Black Label we don’t have the fan club you know, it’s like a family. I always thought it was the coolest thing with the Grateful Dead back in the day, my buddy Scotty Smith and his older brothers, and they were the ones that turned us onto Sabbath and Zeppelin and Bad Company and all the cool bands. But they were all huge Deadheads and they would hook up with the tie-dye on and the whole thing. I thought that was the coolest thing, they had all their buddies hooking up from all over the place. I would be like, where did you guys hook up and he would say we met up in a bar, he had his tie-dye on. It’s like you already have this common bond, because of the colours and the band. The band actually brings people together. I could be like Scott, who is your buddy Joe you introduced me too and you would say, oh that’s my buddy Joe and we met 8 years ago at a Black Label gig. We had the colours on, sat at the bar drinking and became best buddies and ended up best man at my wedding….that whole connection just because of the guy having a Black Label vest on!
Neil Zlozower is one of my fav rock photographer’s and having a few of his books such as Six String Heros and on his website you get your own feature section. Do you have a fav Zloz experience/story?
He is like my big brother man. I remember doing a photo shoot for Pride & Glory and I had my acoustic down there, my Gibson J200 and I had it sitting down there and Neil had this massive big lamp hanging over me. I was sitting on the ground and the lamp fell right off the frigging thing and caved in the whole front of this $3,000 guitar! I was like Neil!!!! He was like son of a bitch! Neil still has the guitar though, but he got the money for it from the insurance. That’s was good times haha….
You have an unusual picking technique when you do fast sections, where you use your whole wrist/forearm, is that something natural in the way you evolved as a guitar player?
That’s just natural man. I didn’t consciously make it happen like that, it’s just the way it goes! There’s nothing particular that I worked on. It’s just like someone like Eddie Van Halen, he holds the pick with his middle finger, I could never hold a pick like that…it leaves his index finger free so he can tap you know. Steve Morse is different too, he holds the pick with his index and middle finger. That’s weird to me… It’s like anyone who tries to pick like me would probably say the exact same thing!
What is it about the Gibson brand that you are so loyal to?
Well it goes right back to seeing Jimmy Page playing one as a kid. Then also Randy had one and he was one of my guys. It was like everyone I ever saw seemed to have a Les Paul, I always thought they were the coolest guitars. I just love the way they play, the sound is great and I love the way the Customs are, the Les Paul custom is it for me you know.
We always like to give artists a bit of airtime in interviews to chat about any new gear they have been using or been involved in developing, so what’s new on this front for Zakk?
Totally, I have a couple of new guitar shapes coming out that I created. Then I also have a Signature Marshall that’s going to be coming out soon. Then I am working with Dunlop on another pedal right now. I am working on the Zakk Wylde Black Label guitar bible that’s going to have an instructional DVD with it too. This book is going to have so much crap in it that it will even make an omelette for you haha! There’s going to be everything, scales and arpeggios all the way through to how I recorded all my solos and show you what scales they are coming from and how they were created. It will have my gear, how to mic stuff, what ore-amps, as I said everything will be in this book!
Gee Zakk, guitar bibles, womans clothing stores, touring, your own record label, sounds like you never stop….
As soon as I get up in the morning, even before I take a leak I got a ton of stuff going on! With Black Label it’s not 24/7 it’s 25/8, 366 days a year you know what I mean! That’s the way I love it!
Band: Zakk Wylde – Guitar/Vocals, Nick Catanese – Rhythm Guitar, John “J.D.” DeServio – Bass, Will Hunt – Drums
Latest CD Release: Order Of The Black – (2010, E1 Music/Riot Entertainment!)