Interview: Zakk Wylde (Black Label Society)
Catching up with the legendary guitarist, in Australia with Black Label Society.
Zakk Wylde is one of the greatest heavy metal guitarists of all time, originally hired by Ozzy Osbourne at the age of 19 on the basis of a demo tape. After parting ways with Osbourne in '95 Wylde formed Black Label Society in 1998, but has played on subsequent Osbourne records such as 2007’s Black Rain. Famous for his incredible guitar playing, signature style and a penchant for finishing guitar solos while his own blood gushes down the frets, at the age of 48 Wylde represents what rock and roll is all about.
When I speak to Wylde he is in between rehearsals for Black Label Society’s upcoming world tour, and recording his second solo album, Book of Shadows II. His attitude is absolutely wild, and his enthusiasm is ultimately infectious. Here’s a peak at how Zakk Wylde has been doing: “I’m doing great!” Wylde’s voice thunders down the line, “I’m up here in the Vatican, I’ve been taking a break to talk to you guys between recording the follow up to the Book Of Shadows record, Book of Shadows II, so I’ve been working on that one. Then we’re going to jump on a plane and we’re going to be around the world in 26 days!” If that wasn’t enough Wylde now also owns his own company, aptly titled Wylde Audio.
If he wasn’t already excitable as it is, he is absolutely stoked about his company. Everything he says about it is matter-of-fact. “The whole thing is that it’s my own company now. Guitars, amps, pedals, everything. But it’s more than just guitars and amps. The whole thing is that it’s my company - so it’s awesome!” As for a product he is most proud of? “Obviously… all of it! The guitars are coming out slammin’ and the amps are coming out great. This is also just the beginning. There’s a reason why it’s called Wylde Audio, it’s not just guitars and amps!”
Having played in all-star bands since 1988, one thing Wylde has a lot of insight in is the changing trends in guitar playing over the last twenty years: “…Trends have been emerging since the beginning of time. One thing will be popular and then that will make way for another thing and then another, that’s just life. With me though, I just play what I love and I just do what I do. I mean if you go back to the '70s all Led Zeppelin had to worry about was making great Led Zeppelin records. They didn’t try and make punk rock records, they left that to The Clash.” His demeanour is one of inspiration. “Find out what you love and do that!”
Having travelled all over the world it was of interest whether other cultures had ever influenced Wylde’s musical sound. The answer? Music is fundamentally universal and unifying, as he explains further: “I mean the whole thing of where you live, and what music comes out of you. You look at Albert Lee, one of the greatest country guitar players who has ever lived, he doesn’t live in Nashville, he doesn’t live in Oklahoma, he’s from England! When you think about it it’s more about what really touches you and what moves you. I mean we’re talking about a guy from England, and he was one of the greatest country guitar players who ever lived!”
Wylde is not just knowledgeable, but entirely passionate about the subject. “You look at the whole movement of Zeppelin, and The Stones and everything like that, I mean the whole thing is due to their love of blues, the blues is an American art form.” Wylde is referring to the UK heritage of The Rolling stones, and how they mastered a foreign art form. Again, this comes from a man who has lived and breathed some of the highest heights of rock and roll history. “I mean it’s just that they have so much passion for it that that’s what’s going to be in their bloodstream and that’s what is going to be in their DNA. It’s about whatever music you have a passion for, you know what I’m saying?”
To put it bluntly Zakk Wylde is jolly as all fuck, and has a great sense of humour, as is evident when we start to talk about the process of making a record, such as 2014’s Catacombs Of The Black Vatican. “It’s called the Black Vatican because obviously we have this home studio and where we record the records. That’s where we make all the Black Label smoking country donuts. We mix the donuts there, we cook 'em up, box 'em up and send them out.” Wylde has been producing his own records for quite some time, it was certainly of interest to know how he picked up the skill that is difficult to master. The explanation is more obvious than it may seem. “All these years of making records, I mean being 19 and in the studio with Ozzy, watching, and you know being around all the talented people that made these records. You can’t help but learn. It’s just like anything though, if you surround yourself with other talented people.”
Wylde’s humility suggests that he was set for phenomenal things regardless of whether he became guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne. “As for my approach [to recording] I know what I want, I know where I’m going. If there’s something I don’t know how to do I’ll ask, but that’s the reason why you surround yourself with talented people.” But who are these talented people? Wylde fires off a long list of names, but there’s one that really stands out. “I mean the first time, when we did No Rest For The Wicked with Keith Olsen, Keith was phenomenal!”
With Australian shows coming up in Fremantle, Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne I was wondering how Wylde sees Australia in comparison to America. As it seems, they’re not so different. “We have tonnes of fun when we go down there, so every time we go down there we look forward to it.” Has Zak Wylde noticed anything rather weird about Australian fans? He chuckles “If I ever met anyone from Australia who didn’t like AC/DC I’d probably think to myself that I’m in the wrong place!”
There’s plenty of talk and rumours around the metal community about a celebration of Pantera’s Dimebag Darrel, in which Zakk Wylde would play the guitar parts in tribute to his close friend along with the original members Phil Anselmo, Rex Brown and Vinnie Paul. “To me it would be a Pantera celebration,” he states. “I love the fellas and they’re my brothers so whatever they want to do I will be there, without a doubt! Why wouldn’t I?”
As it seems there is certainly hope for such an esteemed occurrence. Wylde goes on to recall a question he is constantly asked by journalists, he really seemed to need to get this off his chest. “Right now people ask me ‘Yo Zakk what do you do to warm up for the show?’ No I just worry about making sure that my lip gloss and my eye shadow matches my fingernails and my fishnet stockings.” He erupts into belly rumbling laughter.
After touring Australia fans will have to bide their time until the release of Book of Shadows II. How long will it take before it is finished? Is Mr Wylde a perfectionist..? “Well obviously as much as anybody else you want it to sound slammin! I don’t fiddle around overthinking it and overthinking and overthinking it. If you’ve got it you’ve got it. If anyone wants to give it another shot we’ll do it, then when we’re happy with it we all give each other high fives!”
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