At 19 years old, Zakk Wylde was tapped to join Ozzy Osbourne’s band as his co-writer and lead guitar player. His tenure with “the boss” lasted nearly twenty years and spawned his unprecedented persona and solo career.
Wylde formed Black Label Society in 1998 as an outlet for his own creative vision under the SDMF (Strength. Determination. Merciless. Forever.) handle, and has since went on to release 7 studio efforts with a new one on the way. Prior to the August 10th release of Order of the Black, Zakk took some time out to talk about the new album, his Black Label Bunker, and how he’s survived the toughest year of his life.
So you’re gearing up for the release of Order of the Black. How does it compare to past Black Label Society efforts?
This album is so good! It is so good!
Wait, here you go, here’s a good one. You know Father Cantrell, Jerry, back when they were making the album with the dog on the cover, him and Mike [Inez] called me up–this is a good one, like “How does this album stack up against the other albums?” Him and Mike gave me one of the drunk love calls, you know, at about like 4 o’clock in the morning. They were at Electric Lady Land, and I was out here in California.
So Barbaranne was like, “Who the hell is calling?” And I said, “You know, it’s one of my drunk friends.” So I pick up the phone, and it’s Mike and Jerry. They’re in the studio, just wasted out of their minds, and I get on the phone with Jerry and go “Hey Jerry, what’s going on, buddy?” And he goes, “Ahh, we’re just working on the record.” I go, “How’s it coming out?” He said, “Put it this way, this record is so fucking good, we’re gonna have to get a fucking blow job with every fucking copy sold.” I go, “I’ll make sure Barbaranne picks up a copy. Thanks for the early warning, bro!” I told Barb, “Memo to self: you need to go buy the new Alice in Chains record.” [LAUGHS]
So obviously, that’s where your album is. On that level?
Yeah, right! [LAUGHS] It’s that good!
No, but I always just love it when any of these artists or bands say, “Oh yeah, it’s the best album we’ve ever done.” I go, “Well, you mean to date?”
Well yeah, because they just said that about the last album.
And not only that, you’re discrediting all of your other work. For me, it’s just like when you talk about Zeppelin, or Sabbath, or Neil Young, or Elton John: they’re all my favorite artists. So you’ll go, “What’s your favorite Zeppelin record?” and I’ll go, “Well, I love them all.” If we’re roadtripping and we’ve got the whole boxset, it depends on which album I probably haven’t been listening to and which one I’m kind of burnt out on. But it depends on what mood I’m in–I like them all. I don’t think any of them suck.
Jimmy Page always talks about Presence. They had a time restraint on it, and he said they were just working night and day on that thing, just trying to finish. Beyond all the obstacles and challenges it presented, for him, it was the most gratifying, and that’s their least selling record. So you know, everyone has different opinions.
Let’s put it this way: it’s just a new album. It’s something new to listen to. It’s like if you listen to The Beatles, when they came out with Sgt. Pepper and they just said, “Yeah, it’s the best,” then that’s just discrediting “She Loves You” and all their ’50s-esque sounding stuff. It’s all good. If you have The Beatles Greatest Hits, then every single song on that thing is slamming. But it depends on what mood you’re in.
And you recorded it at your new Black Label Bunker. How was that experience?
It was great. I’m so happy with the way The Bunker came out. We can record in there and mix. A lot of times, you’ll have the studio, but you’ll have to take it somewhere else to mix. And now that we’ve road-tested The Bunker–I mean, the album sounds slamming. You can record, you can mix in there, you can do everything in there. So I couldn’t be happier.
Did you build the studio with the intention of having other bands record there?
Yeah, without a doubt. E1 Records is giving me my own label, so I’ll have Panworkz and I’ll have the power to sign an act. I can record and produce them in The Bunker and then mix their album. So yeah, I’m looking forward to it, without a doubt.
I just read about the “Lead the Parade” video contest. Where’d the idea to involve the fans in your video production stem from?
We were just talking about it one day. My son and his buddies, they are 17 years old, and they’re in high school. They’re the ones that came up with the idea. They’re actually taking video classes for either working out in Hollywood or making movies or TV. So they’re taking cinematography classes, and they put together a video–I think they took a Lamb of God song–and they did a video on the side of the house with fire and the whole nine yards. [LAUGHS] I mean, it was hysterical.
But the whole thing was that they put it together, and we were just thinking that it’d be cool to have all the chapters, the whole Black Label family, just have everybody put together a video for the song. I said it could be the most serious, drop-dead awesome video, or it could be the goofiest, gayest video we’ve ever seen, ever! [LAUGHS] You know, just the funniest shit that you’ve ever seen, or like a really amazing, serious video that’s like, “Oh my god, that thing came out amazing!” So I just said it could be anything in between. If it comes out hysterical, or it comes out really good, it doesn’t matter.
I mean, that’s where the idea for that thing came from. And not only that, you’re getting everybody else involved, you know what I’m saying? It’s for everyone else to run with.
Exactly. And you guys have always seemed like a band that enjoys involving your fans.
Well, it’s not the “fan club,” it’s the “fam club,” as in “family.” That’s why we have all the chapters and everything like that, because it’s bigger than the band, you know what I mean?
BLS went under a bit of a lineup change this year, with Will Hunt announced as the replacement for Craig Nunenmacher. How’d Will come into the mix?
We knew Will from out on the road, and Craigo–we all love Craig. No one ever quits or gets kicked out of Black Label, but Craig was just like, “Zakky, if we’re not touring year ‘round, financially, with my wife and my son, I need to figure out something else to do.” So we were like, “All right, Craig.”
But put it this way, if any of the guys in the Doom Crew or in the band, if they could make more money with Celine Dion, you’ve got to go for it, and you can always come back. If it’s just like, “Oh dude, we’re done with that tour, is there any room for me?” I’d say, “Yeah, we could use another body.” The guys can always come back, and that’s the beautiful thing about it.
But when Craig said he had to split, I’m at the point where I don’t have to audition people. We’ve been doing it long enough, so you know who the guys are and you know who ain’t. The prerequisite for being a Black Label guy is that you can’t be a douche bag and you got to know how to play your instrument. So you know, Will fits that description with flying colors, and he’s friends with Craig and everything like that, so everything is awesome.
So it’s been almost a year since your blood clot issues surfaced…
The whole thing was crazy when I got it! I asked the doctor, “Doc, all my years of drinking, could this have affected it?” He said, “Zakk, put it this way: it’s a blood thinner. If you got this hereditary, from your parents or anything like that, if anything, with these blood clots, the alcohol saved your life.” So I go to the wife, “See sweetie, drinking is good for something!” [LAUGHS] She was like, “You’re dreaming, jackass,” needless to say.
But the doctor was like, “Seriously, if you’re out with the guys, you could be at Hooters watching Monday Night Football getting hammered with the guys. But you’re on blood thinners, and you’re adding another blood thinner on top of that with the alcohol, and I know you want to have a good time and everything, but you’ll just literally start bleeding out. Bleeding out of your eyes, your nose, your mouth, your dick, your ass. And that will be the last time you ever visit Hooters.” [LAUGHS] So basically, at that point, you’re not going to need rehab. It was just like, “Wow! All right, brother!” So I just decided, that’s the end of that!
Some guy was asking me, “Are you with the 12-step program?” I said, “No. Black Label one-step program. You’re done!” Because seriously, I’m not going to give some guy $40,000 to go, “So Zakky, how ya doing? How ya feeling today, big guy?” If I’m going to spend $40,000, I’m going to go buy myself a hot rod or a nice Les Paul. I’m definitely not giving it to somebody just to tell me to stop drinking. The hell with that! I’ve got bills to pay, and my kids are getting ready for schooling, so I could think of a million different things to do with $40,000.
Considering you’ve always been a big drinker, how difficult was it to just stop?
You know, you just stop drinking. I had a bunch of other guys that were like, “Man, how’d you stop drinking?” You just stop. What’s so hard about that?
It’s just like saying, “Zakk, how’d you get so good at guitar?” You practice! That’s all! Life’s simple. You want to lose weight? You cut your calories and you do cardio. That’s it! For some people, if you want to keep looking for answers, you can go to college for eight years and try to figure that one out. But you don’t need to!
I was just watching Dr. Phil the other day, and I don’t even know if that guy’s a doctor. But the one dude that was on there with his wife, he was banging her sisters, and beating her up, and drinking, and the whole nine. And he goes, “Now Don, you’ve probably got to cut out the drinking and beating her up, and you’ve gotta stop sleeping with her sisters.” And the crowd’s going crazy! So you see, you can go to college for eight years and have that kind of wisdom. [LAUGHS] I’m thinking, “Is this a joke? Is this a Saturday Night Live sketch, because this is ridiculous, man!”
It’s just like any of those numb-nutted idiots saying that going to prison for eight years was the best thing that ever happened to them. You deserve to stay in prison for the rest of your life with that kind of attitude, you know what I mean? How about don’t go to prison at all? That’s what you should be thinking. You should know that beating up 80 year old grandmothers and stealing their purses, and robbing banks and liquor stores, is not really good. It’s not cool. So they’re like, “After eight years of prison, I realized that.” You know why? Because you’re an idiot. [LAUGHS]
And how’s your health today?
Everything’s fine! I’m off the blood thinners now, so everything is back to normal. But while I was taking the blood thinners, it was just like taking vitamins, and I take vitamins everyday, so I just added another one to the mix. It was no big deal.
But when I had the blood clots, I was still doing the same things I always do. I was lifting weights, hanging out, and just doing everything in between. I’d hang out with the kids and everything like that and do normal Black Label business, but just not while drinking beer.
I know there’s a new guitar line coming out and a new Marshall head in the works. What else, in terms of gear, do you have on your plate?
Over at a Dunlop, we’re working on this really cool pedal right now. It’s going to be awesome, but I don’t want to mention it or somebody else is going to start building it. [LAUGHS] You know how that goes! I’d say, “Oh, I’m going to call the band Black Label Society” and two weeks later there’s a guy coming out with the same name, the same logo.
But we’ve got the new guitar line coming out, I’ve got the new amp, and I’ve actually designed two new body types for guitars. We’re also working on Black Label coffee, beef jerky, beer, hot sauces. And we’re talking about doing pubs, sports bars with entertainment, the whole nine yards. So we’re working on that as well.
And obviously, we’re doing The Bezerkus. We’re doing the whole tour, and we’ve got Children of Bodom coming out, and Clutch, so that’s going to be cool. And we’ve talked about expanding that and making it more of an event type thing, but this will be the first one, so it will be cool.
Then I’m working on The Zakk Wylde Black Label Guitar Bible. This book’s going to have everything in it, that’s why I’m calling it “The Bible.” Aside from just my stuff for Zakk Wylde or Black Label fans or whatever, it’ll have my solos, and me doing the instructional thing with the DVD. The book’s going to have everything in it, with pictures and all types of stuff.
So I’ve got all that, and then I’m working on a script. Me and my buddies are working on a script for this hysterical movie we’re writing right now. If I end up doing that, it’s going to be about 20 months from now, because we’re going to be on the road for about 20 months.
So everyday on the Black Label “Shit To-Do List,” the minute I wake up, before I even take a leak, I’ve got a million different things going on. So between the kids getting ready for college, and Barb doing things, it’s like–well, I love it. You should never be able to say you’re bored. With Black Label, there are no weekends, and it’s 366 days a year, 25 hours a day.
You obviously have to love it…
It’s like Gene Simmons said, “I don’t go on vacation. Vacations are for people who hate their jobs.”
Seriously, it really is the truth. The last time Barb and I went somewhere, it was when we went out when we got married. We normally get married every year, just to renew our vows, but when we first got married, we went to Bora Bora. And I was just sitting around. I had my Les Paul with me, and I was just like, “Dude, seriously, I want to go back to work.” I’m not a sun guy. I don’t lay out in the sun, and I’m not a surf guy. It just isn’t for me.
Even though you and Ozzy parted ways earlier this year, you’ve obviously remained close, and BLS will be appearing on this year’s Ozzfest. Is there any possibility of you joining Ozzy on stage?
We haven’t discussed it yet, but you never know. Gus is the guy now, and Gus is a killer player. And everyone in the Black Label community, we all support Gus and everything like that. We’re rooting for him.
Well Zakk, I know you’re super busy, so thanks for taking some time out to talk today!
Yes, now I have to go off to rehearsals. But before I get there, I have to come up with a cure for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital for curing cancer, I have to split the atom, and then after that, I have to make a bowel movement. [LAUGHS] I’ll see if I can fit that in!
Ok, well good luck with that!
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