By: Brady Lavin
Zakk Wylde, instantly recognizable with his long blond locks, gnarly beard, and iconic black-and-white bulls-eye Les Paul and Flying V, is most widely known as the lead guitarist in Ozzy Osbourne’s band, a position he held until recently. He electrified Ozzy’s tracks with freight train riffs, screaming bends and flying finger-work, and has been doing the same while handling singing duties in his own band, Black Label Society, since 1998.
Although he’s had some health problems over the years, causing him to cancel tours, Wylde is back in ship shape right now, touring in support of the most recent Black Label Society albums, Order of the Black and The Song Remains Not The Same, an acoustic album of Order Of The Black songs and covers.
Zakk recently sat down with Guitar International to discuss the new album and tour, future plans and pissing where he wants to piss.
Brady Lavin: How’s the Uranium tour going?
Zakk Wylde: It’s cool man, we’re having a blast. We’ve been doing some of these outdoor festivals and we go back to the Uranium thing and it’s like… what was it, the other night in Canada. I think it was a 1,200 seater and it was jam packed, and the day before it was like 55,000.
Some of those sardine can [shows] are the most insane, killer gigs ’cause everything sounds killer, you’re tight up on the stage and the crowds surging like everyone’s on ‘contin. Everything’s been going good, all the bands are super cool, and everybody’s just having a good time. All the crews and everybody like that, everybody’s havin’ a blast.
Brady: What do you think of your tourmates, All That Remains and Hail the Villian?
Zakk Wylde: They’re killer, man. They’re all younger dudes, and like you said, they’re the next generation.
Brady: Do you hand pick the bands you tour with?
Zakk Wylde: When we did the Berserkers Tour, I called Alexi Laiho [guitarist of Children of Bodom] up and I said, “Dude, do you want to do a tour?” Because Alexi is awesome and a super cool dude. And the Clutch guys, we always talk about them, ’cause they’re a killer band, man. We were able to get all of us together at one place and one time, and it was a lot of fun on the Berserkers tour.
But for this one, Miss Juliya [of Fuse TV], who I’m friends with and I’ve known for years now, this is her baby. She actually picked the bands. She goes, “Zakk, I wanted to bring out some of the younger bands and bring an established act like you guys out. Do you want to do the tour I’m putting together?” and I said, “Yeah, sure. No problem.”
Brady: The Song Remains Not The Same is an obvious nod to rock legends Led Zeppelin, but what is the significance of the additional “Not” in the album title?
Zakk Wylde: Actually, I’ve gotta be honest with you. I’ve never heard of Led Zeppelin. I know Kingdom Come, but I don’t know Led Zeppelin. Who is this Led Zeppelin band? I have no idea. [Laughs]
What was I gonna say? Oh, we were all just sitting around, and obviously we’re all Zeppelin freakos, and I think we might’ve been listening to The Song Remains The Same. We were talking about releasing the record, and I was like “You can’t say it’s an unplugged or an ‘unblackened’ type of record, because the only song that’s similar to the original riff or melody is ‘Overlord,’ you know?”
The other songs are completely reworked. For “Riders of the Damned,” the only thing that makes the song similar is the song title and the lyrics, because the music’s different and so is the melody. So that’s why I said the song remains not the same. The song’s still there, but it’s completely different.
I mean, it’s got the whole Zep factor in there with the coolness. So, you know, keep the Fonzi level in there to wipe out the Richie Cunningham. [Laughs] To make it an even playing field.
Brady: How did the idea to do a version of “The First Noel” to close out the album come about?
Zakk Wylde: I ended up doing that right around Christmas time, and all the money went to St. Jude’s [Children's Hospital]. But I just had a whole bunch of people telling me, “Dude, I can’t find that song.” A bunch of our Black Label fans and everybody kept going, “Where is that song?” It wasn’t on iTunes or anything, so that’s why we tossed that on the record.
Brady: The Song Remains Not The Same finds you playing most of the instruments yourself, like the earlier Black Label Society albums. What was the recording process like, and did the acoustic nature of the album change how you approached it?
Zakk Wylde: JD did all the bass work, and obviously JD mixes. The way we got it down to a system, it’s just like preparing a meal. It’s just like, “JD, I’ll leave you to mix the record.” This way there’s not too many cooks in the kitchen, and then at the end of the night, I’ll come in and just listen to it. Then I’ll go, “Dude, bring up the kick drum a little bit and we’re gonna need a little bit more of my guitar,” you know what I mean? This way you guys can get attached to it. You really get your hands dirty with the thing, and then I can come in with fresh ears at the end of the day. It worked out great that way. JD can do his thing and not be bothered by anybody.
Mind you, I do like coming in and pouring… like if he asks for a cup of coffee, I’ll just come in and pour it scalding hot right into his crotchal area. Just to liven things up. [Laughs]
Brady: The soulfulness of your voice is really showcased on the covers of classic songs on this album, especially “Helpless.” How did you choose which songs you wanted to cover?
Zakk Wylde: We probably heard ‘em on the radio that day, it was that easy. I mean all we gotta do is like, me and you just going up and hit Starbuck’s to get coffee for the guys, or if we’re going out to get some grub, me and you will be listening in the car. I always listen to classic rock anyway.
Yeah, usually it’s just whatever’s on the radio for probably the majority of the songs, whether it’s “Can’t Find My Way Home,” “Helpless”–I love Neil Young, anyway, I just love all his stuff.
The majority of the time we’re not on stage, and we gotta drive another nineteen, twenty hours. Back when I was drinkin’, we would be sitting up front and I’d be like, “Brady, what do you want?” and you’re like “Zakk, get me a Crown and ginger and a Beck’s” or whatever. We’d just be sittin up there listening to all the mellow stuff, whether it’s Elton John or it’s Neil Young, the Eagles, Allman Brothers or Greg Allman’s solo records and stuff like that. Or listening to Motown, Marvin Gaye. It’s my love for all the mellow stuff, too.
Brady: Not many people are aware of your skills on the 88 keys. How did it come about that this album would feature so much of your piano playing?
Zakk Wylde: I don’t know, I mean I’ll always play the piano when I’m sittin’ at the house if I’m not jamming. I mean I’m not crankin’ it up when I’m at the house, I got a little practice amp. I’ll stick an octave pedal on it.
With the piano, it’s just another great tool to write tunes on. Whenever you’re sitting down with the piano or an acoustic guitar, you’re not gonna start writing Sabbath riffs or any Zeppelin, you know?
I remember watching [VH1's] Storytellers with Billy Joel, he’s hysterical. He was saying he’s a huge Cream fan and he goes, “It’s a weird thing, the way my music turns out. When I was growing up I loved the Beatles and everything, and then all of a sudden Cream came out, and I fell in love with them. But for some reason it doesn’t translate to the piano.” And he starts playing “Sunshine of Your Love” on the piano. [Laughs] And the whole band starts kickin’ in and he’s like, “No, stop. Please, stop.”
When you sit at the piano it definitely puts you in a different frame of mind. That’s when you start writing “Helpless”es and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and stuff like that.
Brady: Zakk, you have a dedicated army of fans, affectionately known as the Berserkers, who are used to BLS rocking out and melting faces. What has been their reaction to this much more toned down sound on The Song Remains Not The Same?
Zakk Wylde: Well, on every Black Label album, we’ve always had mellow stuff on there. You know just like Zeppelin had “Black Dog,” and then they’ll do “Going to California.” Then we did Hangover Music. That was the only Black Label that we had the intention of going in and making a mellow record from beginning to end.
And I did that Book of Shadows record ’cause I had a bunch of mellow songs laying around. A lot of people are always asking, “When are you gonna do another one of those types of records?” like a road trip record. This is definitely one of those mellow records that you could just kick back to.
When we were just over in England, I listened to that Beck album, “Sea Change” or whatever. That album is amazing, but it’s mellow from beginning to end. So I’ll just be chillin’ out and put that on and pass out.
Brady: It’s funny you mention that people are always asking when you’ll be going another Book of Shadows kind of thing, because that was literally my next question. What are the chances of something similar to that, an acoustic album of all original material, happening in the future?
Zakk Wylde: Definitely, without a doubt. Musically, with Black Label, we just piss where we want to piss, we’re the Rolling Stones. With Zeppelin, they just pissed where they wanted to piss, musically. People were like, “Well you can’t do that,” and they were like, “We can do whatever we want, man.”
That’s the beauty of the band. And like I said, I love Neil Young, and you don’t even know what kind of record he’s gonna be putting out next, whether he’s doing the electric thing or he’s gonna do the “Harvest Moon” thing. That’s what’s always awesome about Father Young up there, and the same thing with Zep, they were always mixing it up.
As far as a whole other record, I’m sure we’ll definitely do one in the future. The Song Remains Not The Same is out right now, and probably in December we’re gonna go in and do a DVD, a Live Un-Blackened DVD. It’s gonna be the band and bunch of guests, with some of my friends like Slash, a pedal steel guy, some background singers, a four-piece string section and stuff like that to really blow it up.
Brady: Sounds awesome! What can we expect from your upcoming appearance with hip hop legends the Roots on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon?
Zakk Wylde: Yeah, I think that’s gonna be the 6th or something like that.
Brady: Yeah, June 6th.
Zakk Wylde: Ever since I did the American Idol thing, my kids actually talk to me, my wife actually makes me coffee in the morning, the dogs don’t bite me. [Laughs] I was on George Lopez, I’m gonna be on Jimmy’s show, so it’s cool man.
It’ll be like sitting in with the band, like I did with Lopez’s band over there on George’s show. They’re super cool guys. We had a blast down there.
Brady: So will you just get there and rehearse the day of?
Zakk Wylde: We’ll probably do just a couple of tunes, ’cause they said, “Zakk, just give us about six tunes you really want to do. So if you want to do some raunchy stuff, some classic rock stuff, whatever you want to do.” So I came up with a wish list and we’ll knock it out.
Brady: What’s been playing on your iPod as of late?
Zakk Wylde: I got some Bill Withers I just bought. I bought Crowded House. What else did I just buy…I got a Sarah McLaughlin record, her last record. I think I’m gonna get that chick, what’s her name? Adele? Really good, she’s friggin amazing. Her voice is sick. So I’m probably gonna get that thing.
On my iPod, I’ve been listening to a lot of Robin Trower lately. I’ve been in a Trower phase.
Brady: What do you think about the direction metal is taking in the future?
Zakk Wylde: The great thing about it is it’s always changing, all music is, which is cool.
You gotta figure, from where the Beatles and the Stones started, in ’62 to around ’67 and ’68 when Cream started, and all the psychedelic stuff and Jimi Hendrix, and then Zep came along and Sabbath. The ’70s were amazing for music, all great musicians and you had such a wide spectrum of styles and all good, you know what I mean? Even disco, I don’t care what anybody says, they were all great songs. Not only that, but all the musicians are playing their own instruments and they’re all badass.
Then you had the punk rock thing coming around. If you really think about it, it was a true revolution, revolting against everything. I remember one of my buddies who was all up in the punk rock thing, he goes, “Zeppelin were definitely top on the list of bands that we fuckin’ hated.” And you know, I love Zeppelin. “The Song Remains the Same? We used to call that pile of shit All the Songs Sound the Same.” [Laughs]
You know, when you read anything about Zep at that point, Jimmy Page was saying that the Clash were really good. My friend said, “Too bad the punk rock scene wasn’t too kind to Zeppelin. One of the guys in the Clash goes, ‘Zeppelin? Listen. Just the mere sight of one of their shitty album covers makes me wanna fuckin’ puke!’” [Laughs] Oh, fuck man.
I mean, that was almost the same thing when Nirvana came out to backlash against Guns N’ Roses, know what I mean? Guns really was the modern day Zeppelin, and Stones, for that matter, with the supermodels and the jet airplanes, the fuckin’ parties. That’s Stones and Zep, man. And the Nirvana comes out and their like, “Go fuck yourselves, assholes.” Music’s just changing, you know?
But with the metal thing, I would be out at Ozzfest and it’s just so amazing how much of an influence Dimebag Darrell was on that generation, that genre of guitar playing. It’s amazing. It’s not just in a guitar style, like the solos sound like Dime. I’m saying the whole sound of the songwriting. The songwriting and the sound, the whole style of music is what Dime influenced. Even the guys that are out with us right now, I can always tell. They’re definitely influenced by Dime’s guitar work, hands down.
Brady: How well do you think Gus G has filled your shoes in Ozzy Osbourne’s band?
Zakk Wylde: Gus is doing awesome man. Anyone that goes to their show is just like, “Gus is amazing, man.” He is. And he’s super cool.
Gus is in Firewind, which is ridiculously slammin’, too. I think Gus is doin’ awesome. And everybody in the Black Label family is behind Gus, anyway. We’re all rooting for him.