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Black Label Society

Line up:

Zakk Wylde - lead guitar, vocals, keys & piano
John "JD" DeServio - bass guitar
Nick Catanese - guitar
Johnny Kelly - drums

In a typically cold Finnish Sunday we headed to the hotel where Zakk Wylde should have been waiting for our interview in occasion of tonight’s show in Helsinki. Just the winter created some issues with the boat trip from Sweden, and the band didn’t make it to the hotel. After rushing to the venue, and a couple of hours more of waiting, finally here we are inside BLS tour bus to talk with Mr. Zakk Wylde himself. We will dig in the present, past, and early days of the his career, through Pride and Glory, Ozzy, Black Label Society, not without curiosities and a good dose of humor:

Marco: Alright, let’s begin. Chart-wise it seems like "Order Of The Black" has been quite a successfull album, probably according to that, is one of the best you have done so far.

Zakk: Thanks man! That’s good! [laughs] Hope we continue like that!

M.: Personally do you think so?

Z.: Uhm... no, to me we just approached it in the same way we do with all the other work. It took 94 days to write and record, and then it was mixed, mastered... all work’s pretty much the same. But no, production-wise I think JD, and Adam [Klumpp], and myself, we did... Production-wise I think probably it’s the best sounding. It wasn’t like we were sitting around for 4 years to write the songs, you know.

M.: But still when you have so much time you must have at least some good stuff!

Z.: Yeah, without doubt. But at that point you don’t even know what’s good or what’s bad anymore anyway.

M.: And probably have some more material that is left out.

Z.: Yeah.

M.: How would you define instead with your own words the songs of this new album, compared to the previous ones?

Z.: Uhm.. We are selling, you know... It’s pretty much the same stuff that I [usually] write about. Just different angles, different views... They’re just life in general: world, religion... just what’s going on in the world, if you know what I mean. Things that might be happening to you, or whatever. "January" is about my father passing away. "Time Waits For No One" is about life in general... "Crazy Horse" is actually about the Indians, "crazy horse". "Overlord" is about, you know... as I said, I read everything, from religious cults, all kinds of religions which I find fascinating, and then a lot of war stuff. So about WWII and things like that, and trust me, you can always find tons of information, like on History Channel, I see a lot of stuff from there about that, and that’s definitely interesting. To write songs about it, or something like that.

M.: Yeah, and then there’s also that instrumental "Chupacabra" song.

Z.: Oh yea, "Chupacabra". Well, it’s just my ode to Eddie Van Halen’s "Spanish Fly", from which I was inspired... and you know, Paul Kossoff of Free, John McLaughlin... All these amazing guitar players in the world. That includes me, Zakk Wylde!

M.: And that is actually pretty interesting.

Z.: Cool man, thanks!

M.: So, now that you have your own studio, the Black Label Bunker, in your house, what has changed in the composing and recording of the songs?

Z.: Uhm.. no, recording in the BLB is not like such a big difference. It doesn’t make a real, massive difference to me. I mean, when I’m recording there or recording in... anywhere else in the world. You take any musician, once you put them in the studio, it’s just a "breeding ground" for inspiration. ’Cause everything sounds great there, the piano, the acoustics, the guitar... heavy stuff... and you just wanna start writing. It sounds like now I have an home studio so it’s like "wow, now I’m gonna come over [and compose some new songs]". I still approach it in the same way as if I had to record in Electric Lady or something like that.

M.: Ok. What kind of feeling instead do you get from the audience when you play the new songs live?

Z.: Oh, it’s going really really well right now! We have been doing songs like "Godspeed Hellbound", "Parade Of The Dead", "Overlord", "Crazy Horse"... You know, we feel like we have to throw in some of the new stuff right now.

M.: And Will Hunt left the band during the tour, being replaced by Johnny Kelly [Type 0 Negative]. Any comment about this?

Z.: Well, it’s not like Will had a problem, he had prior commitment to Evanescence. So we knew that Will wouldn’t have really "joined" the band... It’s not a big deal, it just happened that came up now. You know what I mean, to avoid leave the race, if you get a flat tire, what do you do? You fix it and you keep moving forward. Will’s good buddy with John so, you know, it’s just a small world, everybody knows everybody. He just gave John a call, see how the hell he is doing, and John said "Yea, I can come out there whenever you need me". So John came covering up, and he’s been kicking ass since Will just went to go working on the new record with Evanescence.

M.: So it’s been good so far with Johnny?

Z.: Ah, John has been playing great man, he plays excellent!

M.: I’m looking forward to see that today then!

Z.: Yeah, without a doubt man!

M.: If we talk instead about your life, you have been a worldwide-recognized talent for so many years, and as you mentioned before among your main inspiration you have artists as Van Halen and so on...

Z.: Randy Rhoads also.

M.: And you said once that your father was also a great inspiration to you.

Z.: Oh yeah. Without a doubt man. But he just.. worked hard for us, and never complained about nothing, you know. We’re bitching all about something, but at the end of the day you still get shit on you, you know what I mean?

M.: Yeah. And then again, sorry to bring these things up, because I know 2009 wasn’t really a lucky year for you... With the passing of your father, then your health problems, that lead you to quit drinking...

Z.: Yeah. But you know, if you think about it a little in the old fashion, that’s all we’ve been through much, so... [laughs] It’s no big deal man!

M.: But how have all this affected you as a person, and your music?

Z.: No, nothing.. you just keep fucking plowing ahead. Like I said man, I suppose that all those situations just bumps out in your world. You know, it’s just another scar. So, it’s a matter of how you look at it, you just keep rollin’ man, that’s about it. It’s what makes you grow up.

M.: In that year you also got replaced in Ozzy’s band from Gus G., I’m not going to ask you why and how...

Z.: No no, I still talk with Ozzy, still in good relationship with Ozzy... No everything’s great man.

M.: What I’m more interested to know about is how do you judge your whole experience with Ozzy from when he put his eyes upon you untill then?

Z.: Uhm, since then all they asked me "so, could you get focused more on Black Lable now?". I still focused just as much on Black Label as when I was playing with Oz. When I’ve been working with Ozzy I had to get focused on, that. It’s just like, whatever you are doing at the time, you concentrate on it. I never thought to have to split myself in any way, cause it’s music all the time. No, I can’t complain about anything, I’m just grateful for everything I had, you know.

M.: And have you ever seen them live after you left the band?

Z.: Oh yea, we did the OzzFest with them. We headlined the B-stage, and then Ozzy was on the main stage. So I listened to the songs, the band sounds great, so we had a blast with all the guys... And Gus is playing awesome. I think it’s good, man.

M.: What were you thinking when you were there in the audience instead of playing on stage?

Z.: I think we would’ve enjoyed all if I could have played with them. No, I think it’s cool when you just see somebody else playing your stuff. It’s cool man!

M.: [laughs] Yeah. If we go back instead to the ’90ies, to the Pride and Glory album, and "Book of Shadows"... For me those are two masterpieces that I keep listening to quite often even nowadays.

Z.: Cool man.

M.: But how do you remember those early days of your career, and why Pride and Glory didn’t work out?

Z.: Well, about the Pride and Glory thing, we had done that album, and then... it was a weird thing. It just... You know, with the business side of everything... that’s when... Oh, John Kalodner left the label... he was our main contact with the guys, so I just got "mixed in the shop". And I never really paid attention to any of that stuff ’cause I really don’t care. I love just to play music, but it was just kinda like we were an afterthought at that point. So then they thought if it made sense for us to continue or not, ’cause nobody knew what we really wanted to do. We were just sittin’ around so I made the "Book of Shadows" album, ’cause I owed them another record. After we did the first album I had all those songs lying around. Just acoustic things. No, but I’m really happy with both those records, we had a great time when we made "Pride and Glory", and I had a great time when I made "Book of Shadows". Like I said, even with Ozzy I’ve had a blast making records too. It’s all good man.

M.: And I saw that you are also going to publish a book.

Z.: Oh yeah, right, "Bringing Metal to the Children". It’s just some... a piss taken out of the whole industry, and about... taking a piss out of myself, and everything. Just ’cause... why not? [laughs] It’s just a gigantic plaetora of comedy. There’s just comedy all over the place, that’s what the book basically is about.

M.: So can you maybe give us some example?

Z.: Oh yeah. It’s just.. even from what I first thought when I was 15 years old playing in a band, to what your perception of everything is. And then I put in the book like "Things definitely NOT to do" if you’re trying to make it into the music business. ’Cause I did things that failed miserably! We tried this thing and "Oh what? this will work, right?" and then you are like "No it won’t man!". I just put all those stuff in there, just to give some advice. ’Cause people’s always asking me for advice anyway: "Zakk I would like some advice on how to start a band" and whatever...
And I’ve put in there stuff like "What I would do if I was 18 years old again". Like nowadays. You know what I mean, if I was starting a band right now, what I would do to give my band the best chance for success. You get that, but in between that, it’s just all ridiculous, just funny stories, being on the road and everything... You go through this book everywhere laughin’ your balls off.

M.: Then I will definitely have to buy that! [laughs]

Z.: Without a doubt man!

M.: I read that you also wrote some kind of tips on how to become a guitar hero or something. [laughs]

Z.: What, on the book? Oh that’s just all stupid shit man. "True rocker" test and all these sort of stuff. It’s good!

M.: And instead if talk a bit about your family life, how often do you have time to actually take a real "vacation" from being "Zakk Wylde"?

Z.: Oh well, you know, like old Gene Simmons once said: "Vacation is for people who don’t enjoy what they do". I’m just saying I love doing what I’m doing, and I don’t need to go [home]. I’m always touring around, travelling, so a vacation for me is sleeping in my own bed. "Going home" is a vacation. But you know, my oldest, me and Barbaranne’s oldest daughter is 18, so she’s in college now. Our older son is 17, he’s getting ready to start college, and then Andrew is 8. He likes playing his videogames and be an 8-year-old. But I’m just saying they all have their own lives outside of me. No but we always keep in touch, I keep in touch everyday when I’m out on the road, just to say hi, tell them I love ’em and everything like that. But they got their own thing going on, you know. It’s not like I gotta be home everyday, wiping their ass and shit like that! [laughs]

M.: [laughs] Oh yeah, maybe a few years back!

Z.: Oh well, yeah exactly. But they are all independent and they have Barbaranne at the house. My wife’s at the house, so no, everything’s good man.

M.: Ok. Instead I see you have one of your guitars here, and one thing that I was thinking is how your custom guitars and the whole design came up, is it you who designed it or how did you choose them?

Z.: Oh no, I just love doing that, I love guitars, and designing ’em is just another thing that I like. There are all these products around guitars. For all those guitar players out there. I’m one of them. But since I’m blessed with the good fortune of being able to work with all the companies that I’m endorsed by, I might as well have a part in all the shit because the whole thing is that they allow me to design stuff. And then you know, Marshall, Dunlop, Gibson and Epiphone, they are all great companies.

M.: Yeah. So based on what do you actually choose the guitar, when you try it and think "ok I want to play with this one"?

Z.: How do I choose the guitar? Oh well, the ones I design, there’s the ZVs, or the Epiphone’s Graveyard Disciple, that coffin-shaped guitar. Just stuff like that. I hand them the design, they make it and then once they’re done they play great, they sound good, and then we are good to go.

M.: Ok. Since I’m Italian I have to mention also that you’re going to play in Milan in 10 days, and I was curious to know what you think about the italian crowd, or from southern Europe in general, compared to the scandinavian fans, which are often considered to be more "quiet", or even a bit "shy" sometimes.

Z.: Uhm, I don’t know. I think we are all a big Black Label family, I mean it’s just one universal thing. In this last tour, Paris has been pretty insane! That was like the real "insane" show so far with the audience and everything like that. I don’t know what kind of birth control pills they were on! [laughs] Or what the hell was going on, but that night was pretty insane. I’m just trying to think but every crowd has been great. I mean everybody is there for a reason, havin’ a good time, with their "house band". It’s one big Black Label family gathering, and if here comes the house band we are ready to play for the "wedding". [laughs]
You know, sometimes you have the crazy crowd but then there’s other crowds, where people just wanna go watch and enjoy the show! They sit there and watch. Personally, when I go to shows I just sit and watch.

M.: Yeah, sometimes that’s not bad either [laughs]. So now you are having this tour, then the American tour, also South America...

Z.: Yeah, and Canada.

M.: And after all this touring do you have already some plans?

Z.: Yes I will start wearing women’s clothing exclusively! [laughs] That’s a great plan!

M.: [laughs] Well... that might be, uhm, "interesting"...

Z.: Yeah! [laughs] It might not be good, I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but it’s something! [laughs] It could be a pretty funny thing! It might boost the alcohol sales! [laughs]

M.: Man, I don’t know if this is the result of the fact you are not drinking anymore... [laughs]

Z.: [laughs] Maybe I should start drinking again!

M.: Yeah, exactly! [laughs] It might do good!

Z.: And would help stay the fuck away from the women’s clothing! [laughs] No but everything’s good man, we’ll be touring out till Christmas time, and then we’ll see where we will go from there.

M.: So you don’t have already some new material or anything.

Z.: No, not right now. I know we’ll be on tour exclusively untill then.

M.: And usually when you are in tour you are not composing any new song?

Z.: Naa, I’m not writing when I’m around the world. I might write some acoustic stuff, but as far as heavy riffs I really don’t. I like to do more writing when I’m not on the road.

M.: Ok. One other thing, we talked about "Book of Shadows", and you mentioned working on acoustic songs... Have you ever though about doing some other album like that one?

Z.: Actually we were talking about doing that on a Black Label DVD, a DVD just doing an unplugged thing. So that’s in the work as well.

M.: But you are not gonna make any other acoustic record?

Z.: Maybe, yea, I could see that [happen] soon. You know, we had that "Hangover Music", so yeah, maybe. I know we’ll be doing something like that again.

M.: And that would be Black Label Society or Zakk Wylde?

Z.: That’d be Black Label, it’s [the] same thing. Like "Book of Shadows". We might even do some "Book of Shadows" stuff out on the road, on the unplugged thing.

M.: That would be really interesting.

Z.: Thanks a lot man, I appreciate it brother.

M.: Good, thanks for the interview!

Z.: No problem brother!

Intervista di  Marco Manzi

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