‘Hope you’re smashing some coffees brother’ the distinctive New Jersey voice of legendary metal guitarist Zakk Wylde bellows down the phone. It’s 5:15am and Ozzy Osbourne’s long standing axe slinger and Black Label Society guru is ready to talk.
Wylde talks like he plays. It’s deliberate but off the cuff with a slide of cheeky humour. ‘The word up here is that Optimus Prime is going to beat the living piss out of the Omnicrom’ as another hearty laugh echoes down the line.
Black Label Society have recently dropped their eleventh album, Doom Inc, as they toured through the States completing a staggering forty four shows in fifty nine days, with Zakk currently ‘just getting ready for Santa to roll on in and do his thing.’
Talking of the new album, an ode to the road crew and loyal fans of Black Label Society, it’s full of bluesy grooves, heavy riffs and the odd ballad thrown in but what has the reaction from fans been to it?
‘People having been getting violently ill brother, they’ve been losing a lot of weight. They’ve been ‘Zakk man, I’m throwing up and it’s not stopped, I’ve had diarrhoea since I started listening to this album although I have a six pack of abs now and I’ve dropped 40lbs! Zakk I have my beach body ready!’ They are really, as painful as it is, appreciative because they never had abs before and now they do!’
Wylde is a constant source of amusement and while the previous answer is in jest you genuinely sense the vibe of this is exactly how Zakk sees the world, all play on words and puns intended.
‘It’s another batch of brews. When you listen to the band there some Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, Sabbath you know, but the whole thing is just a new batch of songs. I love going in the studio every time we approach another record, it’s just like a new season. We never know what we’re gonna find until we go in there. There could be some dinosaur bones, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, you know. We just don’t know and that’s the fun of it. I have blast each time.’
This album is the bands eleventh in twenty four years. When you add in Zakk’s work with Ozzy and the numerous other projects he appears on, that’s an impressive gallery of dinosaur bones.
‘I just go out in my gym, I have an amp out there and I just sit down with some coffee. It has low volume, it’s got reverb on it and the whole things sounds like I’m at Madison Square Garden with nobody in there, it just sounds awesome. So you just start writing riffs that you wanna hear and what you are is a by product of all the music you love and what you choose. I’m just writing stuff I wanna hear. Sometimes you’ll hear ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ by Bob Dylan on the radio and I’ll go home and the mindset will be ‘I wanna write a really simple song’ and you’ll just start writing something and you end up writing free form. So it gets inspired by things you like or you hear a really cool Zeppelin riff, Sabbath riff, Mountain or Cream. You get inspired and that can spark an idea for a riff to frame within that zip code. That’s how writing music comes along. I don’t go sitting writing bits and pieces that are laying around, I pretty much do it all in one sitting. The music first, that usually inspires what to be said over it, then the melody comes in and after that I figure out what I wanna write about and then write.’
While it seems fairly simple to say write the music you love, it does start to become a theme throughout our conversation thus giving you a deeper understanding of the man.
‘It shouldn’t be a challenge, you’re playing what you love, it should not be difficult. If you wanna make it, you wanna play it, practise it then do it. All you need is chords then songs.’
There is also the famous self deprecating humour of Wylde, a man mountain who has played Sabbath on a ‘Hello Kitty’ guitar and been roasted on a American TV special.
‘That’s just us being us, we’ve always been goofballs, even before Ozzy. I start writing skits and people are like ‘are you kidding me!?’ We’re looking at the video for ‘End Of Days’ and you know what will be hilarious? We don’t even have the band playing! It’s just me and JD in a bear suit and koala outfit beating the piss out of each other the whole time. The video is nothing to do with anything. That’s how we come up with these Einsteinian ideas you know. We do our own stunts too. We don’t have enough to pay for stuntman!’
Wylde is though known for his long career with The Prince Of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne, and talk turn towards his friendship with him and the soon to be released new album.
‘My relationship with Oz, he knows whenever he gonna need me to bring over some milk and eggs over to the house and watch the dogs, I’ll do it. He knows I’ve always got his back and I’m here for him.
We’ve recorded Ozzy’s new record and Jeff Beck is on it, Tony Iommi is on it , Clapton is on it. If you told me when I was 15 years old I’d be on an album with Ozzy, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Tony Iommi I would be like that’s never gonna happen, so it’s a honour to play on the new record with those guys. It’s definitely cool!’
Which makes you wonder what the former hellraising beer drinking party animal would say to his fifteen year old self.
‘Play the music you love. Whatever it is that you love that’s what you should be playing. It naturally comes out of you. It’s really is the truth. It’s easier said than done. Before Ozzy, Bon Jovi was the biggest thing right- he’s still massive but I’m just saying at the time of ‘Slippery When Wet’, forget about it! Being from New Jersey, you were either Springsteen or Bon Jovi. I remember us trying to get a record deal and it was ‘101 how not to do it!’ cause Bon Jovi was huge and we were trying to write Bon Jovi songs. Which when you think about it, that is the last thing you should be doing! Whatever is popular is the last thing you should possibly be doing. Cause you’re a day late or a dollar short! It’s kinda funny cause not one of us in the band even had a Bon Jovi record in their collection!
Writing songs to get a record deal, playing songs we don’t even like. It’s amazing. It’s like Kurt Cobain trying to play Rush. ‘Why am I learning this, what is it gonna do for me?’ I’m never gonna use it and I have no interest in it’. It’s hysterical. It really is the truth. Is this how Led Zeppelin did it? Is this how Black Sabbath did it? Mention anyone you like…is this how the Rolling Stones did it? You know what I mean, just play what you like playing and hopefully people like it. Do you think when Bon Jovi was the biggest in the world they told Guns N Roses to be more like Bon Jovi? ‘Yeah but that’s not what we do, that’s not what we like, we like early Aerosmith, the Stones, punk rock’. Next thing you know Guns are the biggest in the world then they’re telling Chris Cornell you need to be more like GNR but Chris is like ‘yeah but that’s not what we do’. Next thing you know Soundgarden is massive and they are telling Green Day they need to be more like the grunge guys. What I’m saying is when you look at every one of these bands, Bon Jovi included, they stuck to their guns and did what they did. They told Jon Bon Jovi you need to be more like David Lee Roth jumping around, more like Van Halen but they go ‘yeah but that’s not what we do’. These were the biggest bands in the world. It’s the record company always looking for the next big thing but it’s just like ‘no whatever you like doing, play that!’ That’s it!
And that is indeed it. Minister Wylde has finished his sermon and the word is love. Love the music you play. It’s a philosophy that has served Mr Wylde exceedingly well.
Interview By Iain McCallum
Black Label Society’s Doom Crew Inc is out now. Buy your copy now…