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The Lowdown: Interview with Zakk Wylde of Black Label Society

The Lowdown: Interview with Zakk Wylde of Black Label Society

"This album is so frigging amazing that after I listened to it I looked at myself in the mirror and I just started making out with myself."

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Last Edited by: Chris MUG5 Maguire January 27th, 2014.

When it comes to shredding on guitar, there are few out there that can do it with such style as Zakk Wylde. Known for his meaty, yet bluesy riffs and blistering solos, over the last twenty years he has made a name for himself as one of the worlds premier axemen, beginning with Pride and Glory, before going on to play in Ozzy Osbourne's band while simultaneously slaying audiences the world over with his own band Black Label Society. Black Label Society have just finished recording their latest album Catacombs of the Black Vatican, which is due for release on 8th April. Zakk took some time out on his birthday to chat to AltSounds about the new record. Although the six foot, muscle bound, bearded biker is an intimidating presence to look at, he is one of the most genuinely nice guys we've had the pleasure of talking to, punctuating almost every answer he gave in his thick New Jersey accent with an infectious belly laugh.

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AltSounds: Hey Zakk, howís it going?

Zakk Wylde: Iím doing good bro. Just sittiní here hanging out, getting it done over here. Getting my nails done, my eyeliner done and getting my eyelashes curled.

AltSounds: Ha, nice. Whatís the occasion?


Zakk Wylde: Iím just keeping it Black Label. Keeping it real. Itís actually my Birthday today. Iím 47 years old.

AltSounds: Happy Birthday man!

Zakk Wylde: Thanks a lot man. Itís nothing Viagra canít fix. Haha, the brutality.

AltSounds: True. Have you got any plans later on to go out celebrating?

Zakk Wylde: Yeah man, weíre gonna go out and hit a steak house, sniff a few gallons of glue. Itíll be fun. Now that I canít drink anymore the glue seems to be working out fine.

AltSounds: Well Iím sure youíll have a good time. So other than that, the big thing for Black Label Society at the moment is the announcement of the new album Catacombs of the Black Vatican which is due out in the spring. Is the album finished?

Zakk Wylde: Yeah man itís all done. Weíre done recording, done mastering, artwork is pretty much done so weíre good to go. The single comes out in a week and the rest of the record comes out April 8th and thatís when weíll fire up the Black Label Armada and off weíll roll.

AltSounds: So what can fans expect from the new record? More of the same old Black Label or have you thrown anything different into the mix?

Zakk Wylde: Nah man I always joke when people ask what the new album's like. I always just say ďYou know, itís just like the last nine albums but with new song titles.Ē I was talking to my buddy, he goes ďWhat does the album sound likeĒ and I go ďPut it this way, this album is so frigging amazing that after I listened to it I looked at myself in the mirror and I just started making out with myself. And then I listened to it again and I looked at myself in the mirror and this time I not only made out with myself, I groped myself.Ē

AltSounds: It must be good then.

Zakk Wylde: [Laughs] My buddy goes ďRemind me not to buy this record!Ē But yeah, you know to me itís like with any of my favorite bands whether itís Zeppelin or Sabbath for instance, itís like them going from Masters of Reality to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, youíre like whatís the new album sound like? And theyíre like ďWell it kinda sounds like us but with new riffs.Ē Unless weíre going for a departure and weíre going to do a rock opera or a jazz fusion opera like weíre going through a Mahavishnu Orchestra phase then itís gonna just sound like another Black Label album. You can enjoy the soothing make-out sounds of a new technicolor masterpiece. Itís make-out music that you can enjoy with your loved one. Inside the CD it comes with a 100mg pill of Viagra and youíll be good to go.



AltSounds: Awesome. Referring to the title, where exactly is the Black Vatican?

Zakk Wylde: Itís actually the name of the studio. I've got my own studio at home. it was called the Vatican and then obviously I painted it black, I painted the whole guesthouse black and my wife goes ďWhat are you Anton LaVey now? Are you like twelve?Ē and I go ďNo. I take offence to that. Iím thirteen. Iím in my teens now.Ē But yeah the Black Vatican is the name of the studio.

AltSounds: Cool. Itís been a while since the last full album of new music when compared with the time between previous records - not counting the live albums and stuff. What have you been up to in the meantime?


Zakk Wylde: Well itís not like Iíve been stockpiling riffs for the last four years. Iíve had a few song ideas flying around but it was just time and I was like ďHow much time have I got before the guys have to fly out for the gigantour? Twenty five days? Well Iíve got twenty five days to write a record.Ē So what I usually do is put on a carpenters record, listen to it backwards and listen to all the satanic messages and it inspires me and then I just go write some riffs. And then when I get done with all the Satanism, I just convert back to Catholicism and everythingís fixed and off we go. Itís just a balancing act.

AltSounds: Speaking of which, last year you released the live album Unblackened, which like Hangover Music Vol. VI before it showcased the more mellow, acoustic side of your music. I take it every now and then you enjoy doing the more mellow stuff to counter balance the heavy, chunky riffs youíre known for?

Zakk Wylde: Yeah man. In the mornings when I wake up Iíll usually just pick up the acoustic and if Iím in the submarine, the bus, Iíll make some Valhalla Java for the fellas and Iíll just be running the morning scales, or jamming some Neil Young type stuff, The Allman Brothers or The Eagles, cos thatís just what the instrument lends itself to. But when I get back home and itís time to write then I do what I gotta do.

AltSounds: Is it true that you write some of the heavier stuff on acoustic first?

Zakk Wylde: On this album I wrote a couple, maybe three songs on the acoustic as far as riff-wise goes. I might hear something on the radio, like some Zeppelin or something and get inspired and then just go mad on the acoustic and try to write something in that vein. Then Iíll go jam on the amp, a Marshall 2000 set to low with some verb on it and an octa-pedal which just sounds gigantic like Iím at Madison Square Garden and Iíll just start writing riffs from there. Usually I just limit myself to the E string and the A string. Pretty much all your favorite riffs are on two strings anyways. 'Whole Lotta Love,' 'The Ocean,' 'Into the Void.' Two strings. Dumb it down, make it as simple as possible and limit your options.

AltSounds: Another simple but classic riff is ĎAinít No Sunshineí which you recently released a cover of. Great video by the way. Iím surprised it didnít win any Grammyís or MTV awards though
.

Zakk Wylde: Haha, yeah with its classic video presentation. This one guy wrote ďI have no idea what these horse heads are about but the fact that the guitarist in the solo's hands are so out of sync it made me hate this band." I just went ďDing ding ding! Another satisfied customer!Ē [Laughs].
Editor's Note: The ďguitaristĒ he is referring to is HELLYEAH and ex-Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul. Although a fantastic drummer and his brother Dimebag Darrel was one of the greatest guitar players of all time, Vinnie obviously never took to the instrument as can be seen in the hilarious video below.
WATCH | Black Label Society - 'Ain't No Sunshine (Unblackened)'


AltSounds: Did you not try teaching Vinnie the solo?

Zakk Wylde:
Ha, yeah I go ďVinnie, youíre ruining it for all of us, you gotta step it up son in the air guitar department.Ē

AltSounds: I see a lot of interviews with you where people ask you about your guitar playing and who your influences were but I rarely see people ask about your voice. It seems that because you are such a beast on guitar it often gets overlooked that you are an amazing singer. So who do you look up to as singers and do you put the same amount of care into your vocal technique as you do guitar?


Zakk Wylde: Well obviously youíve got Greg Allman, Ozzy, I think Joe Cocker is amazing. I love Elton John, Robert Plant obviously, Rod Stewartís amazing. As far as Iím concerned Chris Cornell is the heavyweight champ. Chris could sing the phone book and it would sound amazing. Heís just in a whole other league. We were just out the road with David Coverdale and you know Dave's still killing it like itís nobodyís business. But as far as my own singing goes itís just like anything, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Itís like playing guitar, just repetition, repetition you know?

AltSounds: As I said there are plenty of interviews where youíve listed the guitarists that have influenced you, Randy Rhodes, Jimmy Page etc. But how does it feel to hear that younger guitarists are citing you as influences and youíre regularly featured in those Ďgreatest of all timeí lists?


Zakk Wylde: You know thatís what itís all about. Itís that trickle down effect. The blues artists inspired Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck and they trickled it down to the next generation of players, to Eddie Van Halen and Randy, who influenced me and Dime and itís an awesome thing. Itís everyoneís interpretation of what a pentatonic scale is and what a diatonic scale is.

AltSounds: And who are the younger players that you think are killing it in the new generation of guitarists?

Zakk Wylde: Well Dario [Lorino Ė the latest addition to Black Label Society] heís only 24 years old and heís insane and iss jamming with us now. Alexi [Laiho] from Children of Bodom is phenomenal. The guys from Shadows Fall. The guys from Dragon Force are completely out of control. I love the guys in Messhuggah as far as the heavier stuff goes.

AltSounds: You mentioned Dario earlier. Nick Catarese left toward the end of last year. Is everything cool with him? I take that it was all amicable?

Zakk Wylde: Yeah we all love Nick. Heís uncle Nick to my kids and the beautiful thing about Black Label Society is that nobody gets fired or quits its just like ďBro, Iím gonna go do this Iím gonna work on my own band nowĒ and itís like alright, well youíve always got a home here but go kick some ass and I hope everything works out. So I mean everythingís good man. I support him a thousand percent. Once he left we started checking out new players. There was this kid out in Vegas that was pretty good and then I checked Dario out on Youtube and he was just killing it. Right after that we flew him out to the Vatican and met him to see if he was cool, had him do a Chippendaleís dance and I asked him ďis that a spray on tan or a real tan?Ē and he said it was real so I was like ďYouíre committed to the project. Youíre in.Ē It pretty much works like that.

AltSounds: Itís gotta be a dream come true for a 24 year old kid to be playing with BLS?

Zakk Wylde: Yeah and heís a blazing guitar player and a cool dude so itís all good.

WATCH | Black Label Society - 'My Dying Time'


AltSounds: Cool. Last year there were a lot of rumours flying around about a possible Pantera reunion with you filling in for Dime on guitar. Obviously they were squashed due to the fact that the guys are yet to reconcile. As youíre friends with all the guys what is your take on the situation?

Zakk Wylde: Obviously thatís between Vince, Phil and Rex. They gotta sit down and talk about it and if they are gonna do that and they ask me ďZakk, would you honor Dime?Ē Iíd say of course. Iím buddies with all the guys. Of course I would honor Dime. I was pall bearer for him, laid him to rest and I love him. Of course I would do it. What it would be is a celebration of Dimeís greatness and the amazing things Pantera achieved. It would be a big Pantera fest of greatness.

AltSounds: As a huge Pantera fan I would certainly love to see that. Itís just a shame the way things are between them.

Zakk Wylde: For sure. But if they ever did ask me, it would be a case of me learning Dimeís licks 25/8. It would be hysterical, if he could see me playing his songs heíd just be cracking up like ďZakk, you missed a note. You jackass you screwed up the middle part of the solo!Ē Heíd be crying laughing.

AltSounds: Well letís hope it happens one day. Another thing I wanted to ask about is when a few years back you guys had a load of shows cancelled because of threats from the Hells Angels due to them not being too happy about the biker style jackets your fans wear. What was the deal with that and is it all sorted?

Zakk Wylde: Yeah that was a while ago but yeah that thingís all sorted. One of my buddies asked me if it was something to do with the Catholics and the Protestants? He thought it was a Celtics vs Rangers game thing. But everythingís good man.

AltSounds: So thereíll be no worries when you guys come to play Download this year?

Zakk Wylde: Yeah without a doubt. Last time we did it we had a kickass time. Seeing Soundgarden and Megadeath, Anthrax and then obviously Sabbath came on and kicked some ass. It was a great day all round. Itís great when you do those things Ďcos not only do you get to play in front of so many people but when youíre back stage you get to run into so many guys that you know and that youíre friends with but you havenít seen in a while so itís great catching up. Itís win-win all round.

AltSounds: And even when you guys arenít playing Download you still see thousands of those Black Label patches everywhere.

Zakk Wylde: Yeah itís our Black Label dysfunctional family that keeps growing and growing. Itís wonderful.

AltSounds: Cool. Hopefully see you there. What are you plans between now and then touring wise?

Zakk Wylde: Well Iím doing the Hendrix Experience before we start rolling in April, then weíve got a book tour with the Canadian chapter and then after that we go over to Europe to do the Metal All Stars tour with Father Anselmo and the rest of the guys. That will be killer cos I know all the guys and it will be a blast being on the road with them for two weeks. Then we come back home and get ready to fire up the Black Label Armada.

AltSounds: What was that about the Hendrix Experience? Iíve not heard about that.

Zakk Wylde: Well Iíve always wanted to do it but weíve always been touring or weíve been out of town but we were able to make it happen this year. I canít wait to go on it. Eric Johnsonís gonna be on it, Eric Gales, Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Thereís just a bunch of badass guitar players on this thing and Iím a fan of all the guys so itís just gonna be fun watching the guys jam up there every night and getting up there myself and jamming.

AltSounds: That sounds like one hell of a show. Anyway thatís all the time we have for today. Thanks for taking the time to chat with AltSounds. We canít wait to hear the new album.


Zakk Wylde. Thanks man. Take it easy brother.

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'My Dying Time' is out now. Catacombs of the Black Vatican is out on 8th April 2014.



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