Zakk Wylde really needs no introduction, but just jumping right into our interview with him would be a little awkward. The Black Label Society frontman and former Ozzy Osbourne axeman was in New York last week to chat about the band’s forthcoming ninth album, Catacombs of the Black Vatican. He held forth on what the album, due out on April 4, sounds like, quitting drinking, the departure of Nick Catanese, and his thoughts on streaming music services.
Well, we’re here to talk about your forthcoming album which no one’s heard any of yet.
Yes I know. Well we haven’t really recorded any of it yet so hopefully, hopefully I’ll pull something out of my ass by the time April 8th comes around. (laughter)
Well at least you made a great trailer. Tell us a little bit more what it’s about.
Well we’re definitely doing heavy stuff again. When it’s going to be another 4 years or whatever between that album and the new album, I’m on the road mostly. Nowadays I’m the first one down, first one up. Usually when I wake up in the morning I go over scales and write some other stuff when we’re out on the road. Usually when we write, I’ll have no ideas pretty much and we’ll just go straight to the studio, it’ll be “the guys are coming out we have to make a record.” And as soon as we get off the road and you tell me “we got like 3 weeks.” So every day I just go out there and start. If I were in The Exorcist, where he’s out there just digging, you just gotta keep digging and digging and digging and you come out with another record. So it depends on which side of the bed you woke up on that day, what you listened to on the radio, or were inspired by something, if you were listening to some Sabbath or whatever, you get inspired by all that stuff, or if you’re listening to something like hardcore. You know that’s pretty much how it goes. But like I’ve got 3 weeks to come up with a batch of tunes, so every day I’m just sitting there writing and writing, just digging and digging and digging and digging.
How much writing do you do while you’re on the road?
Some ideas will pop up every now and then but they’re not fully developed ideas. Let’s say you just (sings riff) you just have that main riff – the rest of where that’s going to go we don’t know, you have the main riff. You know what I mean? But yeah you get that. Otherwise I sit there with my Marshall turned low, I might as well just have it full volume, you know the pedal on and it just sounds gigantic. At full volume, I’ll just be, you know the rigorous sounds are so inspiring, you know just heavy, and it inspires you to write heavy riffs. That’s how most of it’s written. And you know I’ll just have a melody or I’ll have an idea, but the lyrics are always last.
It seems that there’s been a sort of duality in your work. you’ve never been afraid to embrace the more mellow side.
Yeah, I mean as much as I’ll listen to “Black Dog,” I ‘ll want to hear “Going to California” too. So I work with both.
It’s been 4 years since the last studio album. Did you decide to take some time off between records?
No, we’ve been working the whole time. We have a running joke. They’re like “well why does it take you until like now, the early days of Black Label it used to be an album a year. Why is it now 4 years in between records?” But back then we wouldn’t have as many legal battles that we have now because between stealing from all the artists we like and we love and ripping off all their songs and then gift-wrapping them and making them ours. Now we have to go to court and pay these artists their royalties. But in the meantime, it gives us enough time so that we can steal from other artists for upcoming lawsuits.
Have there literally been any legal battles?
Yeah I had a couple – “Stairway to Heaven,” “Free Bird,” “White Christmas” – these are just a few that we’ve stolen from now that helped me put that wet bar in my mansion before they caught up with us. No, it’s just a running joke that we use. That’s just before brunch, before I clean the dog, run, come up with a cure for cancer, world peace, stuff like that. But we’ve been working the whole time. Like you said, I just ask when the guys are coming out, then we’ve got three weeks to write a record.
So when was that, when did that happen?
By the time the guys came out, I had about 12 concrete things, and we’d just look at it and go “we need more uptempo songs” or something like that – or I’d pull something out of my ass. The guys came out, Chad and JD, we’d just track for probably about 8 days and we were all done with everything. Chad would just be playing air drums while everyone is playing and he’ll just play air drums and it’s just like “what’s that” and he’s just like “oh it goes with the guitar solo.” And then we’ll just do the song right there, and then you go and Chad will play on the drums once or twice and it’s “alright let’s record this thing.” We don’t do the whole thing where we go in a rehearsal room and practice for 3 weeks on the same song. The guys I roll with, everybody knows what they’re doing. When you’re around guys who know what they’re doing, if you’re on a football team, I could have you pulled in right before the playoffs and you could take a look at our playbook and I’ll just tell you what routes to run and throw you the ball.
Speaking of pulling in before the playoffs, you just replaced rhythm guitarists. How was the switch?
Yeah, Nick [Catanese], had been doing BLS for 17 years, and he really wanted to put 1000% into his own thing. So yeah Nick’s kicking ass, and Dario [Larina] stepped right in. It’s not like American Idol where you’ve got 6000 people coming in. The whole thing is a couple of guys I know in other bands who are amazing bass players, drummers, singers, where I was like ‘do you know anybody?’ We got Dario playing on tape just killing it, so we flew him out to the Vatican and met him and he was great.
So you’ve been doing more of acoustic tours lately, Is this the kind of thing you see doing more of in the future?
As far as doing the Book Tour of Doom, it’s kind of Black Label songs meets George Carlin on steroids, or VH1 Storytellers gone really wrong. So when it’s actually Uncle Zakk sitting down with the rest of the Black Label family you know and we jam for a bit, tell some stories about the music business in general and how ridiculous it is.
It is ridiculous right?
It’s comedy all over the place but God bless it because without that you wouldn’t have the cast of characters that you have. I had a blast with all the book tours when we were doing those, those were a lot of fun. Obviously when we were doing Gigantour, then it’s just full on walls of doom again and you know you’re going to be doing the heavy thing. But I love doing both, I love making the records, I love touring. You know I don’t like one or the other better. You know if I have my wife do a foot massage, that feels just as rewarding as a shoulder massage. They’re both awesome, I don’t prefer one over the other, they’re both awesome. Especially for me, maybe not her, but definitely me.
You’re not drinking any more following health problems. How hard have you found it to just go cold turkey?
I’ve got buddies in AA and it’s nothing like that, I think it’s more of a social thing. They have parties down here, it’s more of a hang thing. But somebody yesterday was like “what would you say to being a counselor and going to meet some kids I help?” But what am I going to say to them? I’d go ‘dude have a blast drinking and if it starts getting silly, when you can’t do any more of it you know for health reasons or whatever – your liver’s about to explode or something like that – it’s just like you already know you can’t do it anymore.’ You ran it into the ground, you had a good time no one got hurt, just leave it at that.
Is it tough being around people that are drinking?
I just went to a bar last night and drank O’Douls, the fake stuff, while I was watching the game. I’m a people person. I like hanging out, talking about sports, religion, what’s going on in the news, so it’s just hanging out and talking to cool people. But I know some other guys that are just… forget about it. They walk into a bar they could not go back. Or if I gave them a taste of fake beer like the O’Douls or something, they’re ready to start drinking Jack right there. It’s just like, ‘are you kidding me man?’ They can’t even be around it but hey more power to you if you can’t be around it but I don’t have any problems with it. The guys still drink or whatever I couldn’t care less ,it’s cool. The way I look at it it’s just more beer for everybody else.
Well I appreciate that!
Exactly. My buds always say “we lost a drinking buddy but we gained a designated driver. Come pick us up in about 3 hours we’ll be at the Irish pub.”
Getting back to the industry, the whole streaming thing has really taken hold since the release of the last album. What are your thoughts on streaming services like Spotify and Beats Music?
I mean, we’re older now. Me personally, I still walk around with the old record, I just buy it off of iTunes, put it on my phone and I got it. So this way your favorite band the guy who made it whatever is getting or whoever the whole thing is just getting paid. And the guys who made the record. That’s the whole thing with everybody’s… like my nephew. His misconception is with all these rap bands – DMX and all those bands with blank CDs. I’m like ‘when you burn them you’re not paying for it. They have to pay for studio time, and that ain’t cheap. They’ve got to pay for someone who’s going to engineer the record and the whole thing.’ But yeah the downloading and that whole thing, that’s just where we’re at now.
Order of the Black debuted at #4 on the charts. Do you feel any pressure to top that with this one?
That’s just a testament that our Black Label friends are getting bigger and bigger and bigger. For younger kids now a days they got to get out there they have to tour, they have to tour, they have to tour. So it is what it is I mean if this was going on back when Zeppelin and Sabbath were rolling, they would have had to adapted to it. There’s no way around it. It definitely puts a damper on some things, but at the same time if you really love music you’ve got to get through it. You’re blessed if you can do the things you love doing and pay your bills.
How often are you in touch with Ozzy?
I still talk to Ozzy sometimes, he’s out there kicking ass doing Sabbath, and they sound awesome. I just presented him with a lifetime achievement award so it was definitely an honor to do that. It was a great night. So yeah,it’s all good.
They made a good record.
Without a doubt. It’s great. After all this time, now Ozzy’s like “I feel weird, they like us. You should have seen the reviews back in the day like with Spinal Tap like ‘shit sandwich.’ ‘The gospel according to Tap. What day was it that god created Spinal Tap and why couldn’t he have rested on it?’
I was talking to someone that saw Spinal Tap back in the theater when it came out, and he was saying that everyone who was in the industry was just dying in the theater, but many other people just weren’t really laughing at the jokes.
Ozzy said “I thought the movie was about Black Sabbath!”