UG editorial team. A group of people who are passionate about guitar and music in general.
Posted on Sep 23, 2013 08:29 am
There is "Wayne's World," the "Wide World of Sports" and now there's "Wylde's World." Zakk is king, emperor and six-string shaman of this bizarre place inhabited by the Berzerker Nation, the staunch metalheads who support and embrace all the craziness and insanity that flows from his oversized cranium. And there's a lot of it. On any given day you'll find the Wylde man masquerading as a guitar playing horse in one of his videos or stumping for a new brand of coffee "Designed to give you the strength and determination to be merciless forever."
We talk about that video (his cover of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine") and special coffee blend (Valhalla Java) in this whacked-out conversation. And of course we get into the new live Black Label Society CD/DVD Unblackened. Filmed and recorded on March 6th earlier this year at Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles, the show spotlighted Zakk breaking out more intimate arrangements of his heavier tunes as well as revisiting the mellower and more acoustic-oriented songs from earlier records like "Pride & Glory", "Book of Shadows" and "Sonic Brew."
Zakk's initial vision for this performance included an actual string quartet for which he'd written arrangements for cello, viola and violin. But after running headfirst into the realities of classical musicians and Marshalls, he scrapped the idea and brought in Derek Sherinian to cover all the string parts on keyboards. Though he's known as the madman of metal, Zakk has this other side fueled by the likes of the Allman Brothers, Neil Young and even Elton John. Here you can hear those influences come out on songs like "I Thank You Child," "Spoke in the Wheel" and his piano tribute to Dime, "In This River."
I tried to ready myself mentally while waiting for Zakk's call but nothing can prepare you for the hurricane-like onslaught of a conversation with the King Berzerker. The phone rang promptly at noon and the moment I picked it up, I was knocked over by the Wylde maelstrom. "Steve Rosen," the voice boomed over the line. "What's going on over there?""It's your world, Zakk. I'm just living in it, brother," I replied. A huge guffaw comes crashing out of the mouthpiece and then the response, "I try to tell Barbaranne (his wife) that. She's not buying it," he laughs again.
We jump into the deep end and begin our long swim.
UG: What's the great Zakk Wylde life lesson for today?ZW: What do we got goin' on? I just put a Hammond B-3 upgrade in our Korg keyboard over here. If I want to demo something or anything like that we got that in there.
Have you been putting down new stuff?
Yeah, we start the new Black Label Technicolor Dreamcoat Masterpiece Theater record on the 27th.
Where is the album at this point?
The guys will come out and I'm pretty much just writin' riffs everyday and getting ideas and stuff like that so at least when the fellas are out here we can blast through it. Usually I always write when the guys get out here like when we just start going. We could be in a car and hear some Zeppelin and go, "Dude, let's do something like that." You know what I mean?
You still take your cues from your heroes?
Anything that we dig. Whether it's Helen Reddy or any iconic stuff we hear. I'm just sitting up here pounding riffs away.
We revisited a lot of the older stuff because I don't sit around the house usually singing 'em. Without a doubt we had a blast doing it.
I'm actually doing this thing tonight at the Whisky for Jack Osbourne. He's doing this thing for Causes for Cops and obviously it's 9/11 (this interview took place on September 11th) so I'm gonna go down there and jam a couple tunes. Then tomorrow me and Barbra are flying out to Florida and have got to do some things. Everyday we've got something going on so it's just silly. But then again it's better than sitting around and going, "Wow, I've got nothing to do."Where did the idea for "Unblackened" come from?
A lot of the mellower tunes or even the stuff that has the electric stuff in it never sees the light of day live. We got nine studio records out now so you try and touch on each one of 'em or play one song from everything. Me even as a fan of all my favorite bands, I don't know if I'm up for a full hour concert. After a while it's just like havin' sex. I've broken the Black Label sound barrier of 18 seconds (laughs). It's just that after a blow job of 50 minutes, you already blew a load and it's like, "I'm done. Can we just watch 'Seinfeld' now?"Did you set out to make a DVD?
We got approached to do the DVD and me and J.D. were talking and I said, "Everybody at all the chapters and the Black Label Berzerker Nation always keep asking, 'You guys ever gonna do a mellow thing?'" Instead of doing another heavy one because obviously we had new songs and the production we had on the last tour with the video screens and pryo and all this stuff we've never had, we decided to do something different. Live we'll wheel out the piano and Dime's song "In This River" and maybe "Spoke In the Wheel" and we did a mellow tune off the last album, "Darkest Days."So there's always been some softer stuff in the live show.
We'll wheel a piano out and we'll do maybe two songs in a row. I remember one time we did like four mellow tunes in a row and J.D. was like, "Dude, next time at the merch stand we should start sending out sleeping bags and cots." I could just see us losing the whole audience.
Four mellow songs in a row was too many?
Yeah, that's we always usually keep it to a maximum of two and then back to a Marshall steel curtain so everybody's ears are bleeding again. I remember right after we'd get done with an Ozz gig sitting in the Submarine (tour bus) and we got a 15-hour drive or whatever. Me and you are sittin' up front makin' cocktails and having a beer and just listening to like Seger, Neil Young, Crowded House, Allman Brothers, Elton John and whatever mellow stuff we got.
That's how you'd unwind after an Ozzy show?
I remember when Sepultura was out with us and I went on their bus just to say hey to the guys. Dude, the party they were having on there and like the music they had in the background because they had friends on there, the music they were listening to made them sound like the Partridge Family. That was the mellow music they listened to. Pretty impressive.
Fans know you as this heavy guitar player but the truth is you've been doing this more acoustic-oriented music right from the beginning.
Oh, without a doubt. Just like when I listen to Zeppelin and them doing "Black Dog" and then they do "Going to California." With our stuff, I love the mellow stuff just as much as I love the heavy stuff. Even with Ozzy we'd doing "Mama, I'm Coming Home" and then we're doing "No More Tears." You know what I mean? It's always been around.
"Unblackened" was a chance for you to pull out songs from your earlier records that rarely got played live?
Yeah, it was kind of cool taking a trip down memory lane because a lot of 'em we haven't played since we recorded them. Like the Pride & Glory songs, I might dick around playing "Sweet Jesus" but I never played 'em with the band. The last time we played "Sweet Jesus" or "Road Back Home" or any of those songs was with the band back when we did 'em. "Road Back Home" was never even played live. Me and Nick (Catanese, guitar) did that "Book of Shadows" thing. It was just me and him and acoustic guitars so a lot of those songs have never even been played with a band.
Was that cool breaking out those older songs?
That was a lot of fun and the whole experience was good.
What was it like rehearsing these tunes with the band?
It was a good time with all of us sitting down there and all of us workin' out the parts and Greg (Locascio, auxiliary singer) working on the vocals and stuff like that. We just got Greg the day before because he was working and he couldn't come out and had some family stuff going on.
You've worked with Derek Sherinian many times before.
We had strings guys come in; we had a four-piece string section come in because I wrote string charts for the whole thing. That's why the bonus tracks on the thing are just a bunch of songs that me and Adam (Klumpp, engineer) had. I wrote like a cello bit, violas and I wrote violin parts. We had a program that actually wrote out the music so we had sheet music to give the guys (string players) when we hooked up with 'em.
What was that like working with trained string players?
This quartet we had come in (laughs) were used to doing weddings and shit. We had microphones and monitors set up for 'em. But once the volume kicked in, they had no idea what was on the sheet music. They were not even listening to the band or where Chad (Szelia, drums) played 'em some drums.
It was a train wreck?
It was a disaster and things always come in threes and this would be one of 'em. You have the Titanic, you have the Hindenburg and then you had these f--kin' guys comin' into Mates Rehearsal. It was right up there, bro (much laughter). It was f--king horrendous. We're all looking at each other going, "Wow, they're gonna be able to do 17 f--kin' songs? We can't even get halfway f--kin' through one song."Black Label was just too much for them.
At the end of "Spoke in the Wheel" when we play "Layla" at the end of that?
It was a disaster and things always come in threes and this would be one of 'em. You have the Titanic, you have the Hindenburg and then you had these f--kin' guys comin' into Mates Rehearsal.
That part is beautiful.
Yeah, but like we ended up playing that and they couldn't play it (Zakk sings the melody of the outro of "Layla"). They were playing it all staccato and sh-t and I'm going, "No, it's 'Layla.' Eric Clapton. You had to have heard that one." They're like, "No, what is it? We don't know. We have no idea."You originally wanted to do "Unblackened" with a real string quartet?
Yeah, plus they're Union guys so the thing is for two hours we get 'em. After an hour they had to have a break so they could have coffee and chill for like half-an-hour and then we can get back to work. We're all sittin' around talkin' and I'm going, "Steve, you're road managing with us out on this thing and you’re in the rehearsal, 'This ain't gonna f--kin' work, dude.' You're like, 'What do you want me to tell 'em?'" We're crackin' up laughin'.
I'm glad I wasn't the road manager.
The guys go, "Well we really wanna do it. If you want we'll stay an extra hour." I go, "An extra hour? We can't even get through f--kin' 'Layla.' We got 17 more songs to do! You guys are f--kin' on dope. Give me whatever you string cats are smokin'. I don't drink anymore. I mean I'm sniffin' glue but what kind of Flintstones chewables are you guys f--kin' chewin' on. I'll try some of that."You are a riot but I'm sure it wasn't funny when you were going through this.
I said, "An hour? We need you guys for like a month for six hours a day to actually get this thing going." I was like, "That's it, man. There's no way." It's like a football team and no one's seen the playbook. You're out there as the quarterback and the wide receivers don't know their routes and nobody knows anything. It's like, "You're kidding, right?" You might as well just go in the huddle and go, "Zakk, you go deep deep. Go and do a post pattern" and nobody knows anything.
That's when you decided to scrap the string quartet idea and brought in Derek Sherinian to cover all the parts on keyboards?
That's when we gave Father Sherinian a call. Derek was like, "Zakk, I'll do it on the Mellotron and all that sh-t." Yeah, it was just go with what you know.
"Losin' Your Mind" was the first song on the "Unblackened" DVD and was also the opening song on the "Pride & Glory" album. That song holds a special place in your heart?
Yeah yeah, totally. I just figured it would be cool to open up with. There's nobody gonna figure we're gonna be opening up with that. So before the kabuki even drops as soon as you hear the banjo it's like, "Oh, f--kin' check it out." That's how we ended up picking that one - it was a no-brainer picking that thing. Because obviously we were gonna do stuff from the past catalog and shit like that. That was definitely cool, man.
What are your memories like of doing the "Pride & Glory" album and working with Rick Parashar (Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains)?
It was the first album away from the Boss (Ozzy) so it was like being out of your parents' house. I remember being in an apartment with the guys and just going f--kin' ballistic because you're out of your parents' house. It was definitely exciting and we had a f--kin' blast making that record, man. Hands down.
"Machine Gun Man" was another track from "Pride & Glory." It's kind of Jimi Hendrix running headfirst into Zakk Wylde.Allman Brothers and all that type of shit for sure. That's everything I love.
The "Unblackened" version of "The Blessed Hellride" was actually a bit more electric than the original.
Yeah, without a doubt. Live we end up doing that one with the doubleneck and stuff like that. So obviously yeah, it's more acoustic on the record with the electric solo and shit like that.
You covered several songs from Book of Shadows including "Sold My Soul" and "Road Back Home." These rarely get played?
No. Like I said, "Road Back Home," "Sweet Jesus" and stuff like that. No, not at all. With P&G we used to do "Sweet Jesus" but "Road Back Home" was never played like how it is on the record. With the band and the Hammond and all that shit. All the stuff we revisited was a good time. And the video clip of Rae Rae (Zakk's daughter) and stuff like that is awesome. That was fun to play. Like you said, we revisited a lot of the older stuff because I don't sit around the house usually singing 'em. So every now and then I just wanna get them out. Yeah without a doubt we had a blast doing it.
You worked with Ron and Howard Albert on the Book of Shadows record. They worked on Layla and some Allman Brothers albums so that must have been cool.
Yeah, totally. That was a good time makin' that record too. Every record I've had, I have great memories connected with every one of 'em that I've done.
Yeah, without a doubt. The Ozzy ones too. Even the Down to Earth stuff. I didn't write a song on the record but I still had fun playing all the guitar parts on it.
"Spoke in the Wheel" is one of the softer songs you've performed before?
Yeah. Actually that was the first Black Label song I ever wrote.
Is that right?
Yeah, in a hotel room in Japan. So yeah, that was the first Black Label song I ever wrote.
Did you write that on piano?
With that little tribute to "Layla" at the end.
Like I said a lot of times I'll transpose stuff to piano when I'm just dickin' around so I can do mellow versions.
Was "Sonic Brew" the first album that you had a real hand in co-producing?
Of course but obviously even moreso now.
You obviously produce all your stuff now.
I've made enough records where it's just like I know. I mean, dude, you just A-B your stuff to stuff that you dig that sounds good. You know? Even stuff that's out currently. It's like, "Listen to the drum sound on that record. It sounds real good." So then you just A-B your stuff to that and try and get it just as good or if not better.
You pulled "House of Doom" and "Queen of Sorrow" from "Hangover Music Vol. VI." When you did songs from more recent albums - though that record is almost 10 years old now - could you sense any growth as a songwriter from the earlier tunes?
Yeah, you go to set patterns and certain things you want to hear chord-wise. But otherwise you go, "I've already done that in other songs. So let's try something else." Usually you come up with something cool.
If you really had to point to bands who influenced your writing, who would you name?
There's just so many of 'em. Obviously Zeppelin and Sabbath and Tony Iommi. His writing was amazing. Then you've got Neil Young, Elton John, the Allmans, Skynyrd and Bad Company. I'm just trying to think off the top of my head. Obviously the Stones if you look at "Wild Horses" or "Angie" or any of these songs. I just go into the Rolodex of Knowledge. You can learn as much from Al DiMeola as you can learn from Dave Gilmour.
Were the Beatles an influence on you?
Everybody that writes songs whether you're in a punk or anything like that you listened to the Beatles. They were the heavyweight champs and nobody's come close and I don't think anybody can. Just like the Model "T" Ford, that's the first car. The difference between them and it'll never be done again because obviously first off it was brand new. Just like with Jimi Hendrix, everything was brand new. There was no Marshall stacks, there was no pedals - there was no anything. It didn't even exist.
["Pride & Glory"] was the first album away from the Boss (Ozzy) so it was like being out of your parents' house. I remember being in an apartment with the guys and just going f--kin' ballistic because you're out of your parents' house.
The Beatles were the first and the greatest.
The Beatles were the original boy band and everything like that. But I mean the thing they did changed everything. It changed the world. But if you take all that away and just look at the songwriting it's ridiculous. Everything from "Yesterday" to "Long and Winding Road" to "Helter Skelter." It's insane.
What about somebody like Pete Townshend?
I love Pete Townshend, too. His writing's amazing. When I listen to the Who, there are not just a couple good iconic things but it's one after another.
Talking about outside writers you covered Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine."
Like I said when we're sittin' we're always listening to the best of Motown stuff, Marvin Gaye or Bill Withers. Just when we're chillin' out or whatever. We'd always have stuff like that on. I remember me and J.D. (DeServio, bass player) were watching TV because J.D. has a whole back catalog of Saturday Night Live and Bill Withers was up there doing "Ain't No Sunshine." We were talking about how amazing all these '70s are with the singing and the playing and just everything. That's always been a great song. Whenever we talk about doing cover songs whether we hear it on the radio, if it's something we all want to do it's like, "Cool, let's do a cover of that."It was a great cover and your solo on "Ain't No Sunshine" was very cool and different.
Yes, I think Vinnie (Paul) did a great job on the solo on that one (laughs). Did you see the video?
I could not stop laughing watching you wearing that horse's head.
Yeah, I say, "Vinnie did a wonderful job on the solo."Where did that solo come from?
Obviously I did a couple takes of the solo and I was puttin' some fast stuff in there too with the slow bit and then real fast. It just sounded like, "Who invited that guy to the party?"It was weird and different.
It sounds like it was something out of a Quentin Tarantino movie or something like that.
The only problem with the video was you were wearing the wrong end of the horse.
(laughs) Thank you, very much.
You are the funniest guitar player in the world.
Dude, what's even funnier were the comments people make on it. Some guy was saying, "I can't even watch this video. The guitar solo is so out of synch with the hands. It's just terrible. You know what? I don't even like this f--kin' band just 'cause of that." And then other things like, "Wow! I didn't really know Vinnie could play guitar like that." And "What is the meaning behind the horse mask?" Are you f--kin' kidding me?
Morons sit down at a keyboard and think they're geniuses.
Obviously a lot of the comments were about, "This is the f--kin' goofiest sh-t I've ever seen and it's awesome" or whatever. But the ones where people don't get it, it's like, "You've got be kiddin', right?" Or seeing the "Sabotage" video with the Beastie BoysM and going, "Wow! I didn't even realize they're police officers. I had no idea." Or people getting pissed off and going, "You know what? My brother is a police officer and this is such a mockery to law enforcement. I f--kin' hate the Beastie Boys." You're f--kin' joking, right?
Another cover was Leon Russell's "Song For You." Did you ever meet Leon?
No, never met him. The first time I heard that song was a Ray Charles record. I saw a video on VH1 of Ray Charles doing that song and I was like, "Dude, that song's f--kin' awesome." I learned it and that was back when Ray Charles had done a cover of it (1994).
"In This River" was the sweet piano ballad from the "Mafia" album. That song became a tribute to Dime but wasn't written specifically for him?
Yeah totally without a doubt.
What do you think it was in your personality that Dime liked?
Oh without a doubt - a drinking partner of doom that's for sure (laughs). Someone whose liver and pancreas could withstand the pummeling that Dime brings to the table.
Even if the two of you hadn't been drinking, you still would have been friends.
Always good times, man.
You whip out the acoustic for some high-speed stuff on "Tekillya" and "Speedball."
Oh yeah, totally. With Derek doubling "Speedball," that was definitely cool.
You're up there onstage and the performance is being recorded for a live DVD - what goes through your head?
When we were playing 'em?
No, nothing. Obviously I jam those all the time anyway when I'm just sitting around because they're great. Not so much finger exercises but I just usually jam on those. I'm writing another one right now for the new album. I just love playing 'em and obviously that's just because I love Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin, Paco (de Lucia) and stuff like that.
Usually when we're gonna go out to do a gig or anything like that, I don't get worked up. I sit around and talk about whatever's going on sports-wise or anything and then decide, "Alright, let's go do this one."
You're not worried about messing up a riff or something?
You practice it enough. You want to nail it and everything like that but nah, I usually don't even think about that. Usually when we're gonna go out to do a gig or anything like that, I don't get worked up. I sit around and talk about whatever's going on sports-wise or anything and then decide, "Alright, let's go do this one."That's an amazing place to be as an artist where you don't feel those kinds of nerves.
I always tell kids who are getting worked up for the show. I go, "How was rehearsal?" and they'll be like, "Oh, it was great, man." I go, "Just do the show like that." I go, "You don't get nervous when you're in rehearsals when it's just you and the buddies and the friends and you're drinking beers and you're sitting there going through the tunes and everything sounds good." I go, "You're not nervous then, right?" and they're like, "No." I go, "Well then just do that. Just approach the show like nobody's there."Did you ever have any interest in doing an all-guitar record?
I remember they asked Eddie Van Halen that question once. I remember it was like, "Oh, you planning on doing a guitar record?" He goes, "I do on every Van Halen album." I completely get it. It's like, "Do you ever plan on doing like a Joe Satriani or Al DiMeola or John McLaughin where it's just all f--kin' guitar?" I've done some other things like those Christmas things where it's just soloing and I definitely enjoy those too. But as far as doing an all-instrumental record? I mean I guess. I definitely see myself doing one but right now the game plan is to knock this new album out and in-between Unblackened and this one there's always something going on.
You said the new BLS album is in the early stages but can you talk any more about it?
Obviously there's gonna be some heavy stuff on this one because it's been how many years since the last studio album? It'll be four years since the last studio album.
Hard to believe it's been four years since "Order of the Black."
Which I can't believe that it's been that long already. But yeah, there will be riffs and stuff like that. Then we'll throw a slow mellow tune or two on there but definitely a return to the heavy stuff.
How do you feel overall about your performance on the "Unblackened" DVD?
For us it was just a matter of doing something different instead of doing another heavy DVD. I'm sure after we get done with this album and go out on tour, the next DVD would be a return to the heavy stuff. It's good that we can do both. Eventually down the line, I definitely see us going out and doing an Unblackened tour so everybody knows, "Oh, they're gonna be doing the Unblackened stuff." Now that the DVD will be out and the record, it'll be like, "Oh, they're doing an Unblackened tour. Oh cool, I'll go check that out."Your vocals on the Unblackened DVD were really good especially on a song like "Rust."
Yeah, without a doubt I was happy. There are certain spots that are on there 'cause it's a live thing. But no like you said, I was happy with the way it turned out because we only did the one night.
You can't hide behind walls of Marshalls when you're doing these more acoustic-oriented songs.
Yeah totally and the same thing with "Tekillya" and "Speedball." There's no distortion to hide behind.
In some ways, are these mellower, stripped down songs more difficult to pull than the big electric rock songs?
Nah, for me I approach it all the same way because there's definitely an art to playing the heavier stuff too. If I took Paco de Lucia and gave him a guitar with tons of distortion on it, he'd be like, "What in the f--k is this all about?" You know what I mean? Playing with a lot of distortion is an art form in itself.
What really comes through on the "Unblackened" record is that these songs you've written stand on their own with just keyboards and acoustic guitars.
Keith Richards would always say for anybody, "A true song is something you play on acoustic guitar." Then again I just saw Sabbath a couple nights ago. I was just talking about songwriting and between Tom Petty and Sabbath sonically it's completely two different things. Sabbath is just one hit song after another in that genre of music they created. It's the same thing with Tom Petty or Bryan Adams when I saw him. He was f--kin' silly. But yeah, I completely agree.
What was the Sabbath show like?
It was amazing. It's amazing songwriting 101 hands down. It's not because it's, "Oh, so heavy." It's definitely heavy and dark or whatever but it's the songs and the riffs are so amazingly memorable and Ozz's vocal lines and the performance of the band and just the whole thing.
What did you think of the 13 record?
I think it's slammin'. Considering they haven't even done anything together for that long, I always think it's great whenever the bands we love that haven't done anything for a while get together and put something new out. I think it's great.
Did you have a chance to say hi to Ozzy?
Yeah, of course. I still talk to him all the time.
You're working with a coffee company called Valhalla Java?
Oh yes. It's good stuff, man. We went through a whole bunch of coffee beans to get to Valhalla Java. It was like, "Steve, what do you think?" and you go, "Zakk, this is the sh-t, dude." All the products I use, I endorse. I use my Marshalls and I don't have a f--kin' wall of sh-t up there and behind it have like a f--kin' little boutique amp back there. Like they pay me money to use the sh-t but I don't do that. 'Cause any of the companies you're with, they'll make you want you want. It's like, "Make it more like a Les Paul. The neck needs to be more like a Les Paul." They say, "OK, we'll make it light that." If you endorse it but you don't use it, I don't get that. We're working with Death Wish Coffee and the shit is slammin'.
It's a good cup of coffee?
It's not the fact it has caffeine but it really tastes like a dark roast coffee with overtones of like an espresso shot in there. It tastes really good.
You're not already hyper enough?
I was thinking I'm gonna drink it and start getting all f--kin' jittery and all f--kin' wired out. But I had two cups and I was like, "I feel fine." It's like a good cup of coffee.
You also just finished the Gigantour with Megadeth. Dave Mustaine is an important figure in heavy metal, right?
Without a doubt he's definitely one of the pioneers of that genre of music. When they say the Big Four, you have Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Testament, Anthrax and those guys. That whole movement were the forefathers of it for sure.
Did you have a chance to spend any time with Dave?Dave's the guy, man. We did the tour and hanging out with Dave. He's a really good dude. He's a buddy of mine now so he's definitely way cool.
So you're at peace with the world?
Yeah, just doing this thing tonight for Jack Osbourne. I'm getting excited for the 27th when we start the new album.