Zakk Wylde (Black Label Society) : Habemus Papam !

Black Label Society don’t deliver albums as quickly as their famous frontman Zakk Wylde delivers his soli! After Shot To Hell (2006) and Order Of The Black (2010), four more years were necessary for the Americans to release their new record. But the long wait should be forgiven quickly after listening to Catacombs Of The Black Vatican, released on April 7th, and the album shouldn’t disorient the band’s fans too much. In the following interview, Zakk Wylde confesses to being “very busy” with the many tours Black Label Society went on. For him, time really is in short supply.

Relaxed, unaffected and always courteous, Zakk Wylde also answered our treacherous questions regarding his relationship with Ozzy Osbourne, his live soli – sometimes considered too long and off-putting by the audience –, or his musical tastes. But the keyword in this interview is “family”, for his vision of the band, his connection with his fans, and his idea of rock’n’roll. Zakk Wylde is not only a rallying point – he’s also sensitive, loyal, and a man of integrity. Should we say Zakk Wylde is the Pope of rock’n’roll? We actually asked him that as well…

« The lyrics are the Gospel and I’m the pope of confusion because no one really knows what’s going on around here (laughs)! »

Radio Metal: Black Label Society have put out these past years two compilations of acoustic or rather mellow songs. So, would you say that behind your impressive figure, the beard, the long hair, etc. you’re above anything else a sensitive man?

Zakk Wylde (guitar/vocals): I guess it’s just that I enjoy it! We take a lot of heavy songs and we work them and do mellow things like on Song Remains Not The Same and to me, that was a good time. Unblackened was its own thing and then obviously because we had an opportunity to do a DVD and instead of doing the live set with the heavy stuff that we had done previously, that’s why we did the mellow stuff. You know, Black Label Berserkers Nation was always asking “when are you guys gonna do some mellow?” You’d think a lot of these mellow songs were obviously not in the light of day and that was a great opportunity to do it. And as much as I love listening to Zeppelin doing “Black Dog”, I love listening to “Going To California”. I mean, you know, as far as the mellow stuff goes, I love Elton John, I love the Eagles, I love Neil Young, when the Allman Brothers do mellow stuff, Skynyrd and Bob Seger. I mean when I want to chill out I just put the Rolling Stones, when the Stones are doing “Wild Horses”, stuff like that, “Angie”, and you know, when the Beatles do “Long Winding Road” and “Yesterday”. It’s all great stuff, you know what I mean. I love the mellow stuff just as much as I love doing the heavy stuff.

Four years separates Order Of The Black and Catacombs. Could having a little bit more time between albums be a way to create more desire amongst the fans?

Yeah, I guess so… But that just seems the way it’s been working, just because we’ve been touring so much, but I enjoy it. The whole thing is it’s just that the way we’ve been doing it now, we’ve still been working the whole time. So, it’s just between the touring, we had the Unblackened, we also did Song Remains Not The Same and then we opened up for Guns n’ Roses, we opened up for Judas Priest, we went out with Megadeth on the Gigantour, and then we were headliners on our own shows and doing festivals and things like that, so the whole time, these last 4 years we’ve been busy.

The fact that you’ve been touring so much, does it mean that you’d rather be on stage than in the studio?

No, I love both.

The title of the album Catacombs Of The Black Vatican, comes from your own studio called Black Vatican. So, are you the pope of Rock n’ roll?

Well, you know, with Black Label, the lyrics are the Gospel and I’m the pope of confusion because no one really knows what’s going on around here (laughs)!

I know you’re a Catholic, so, what do you think about the pope who was elected not so long ago?

All the popes are just beautiful souls, I mean, you know, they’re just beautiful people, man… All they are is just kind and beautiful people, I mean that’s the job of the pope, you know what I mean.

And do you think he would like your music?

(Laughs) I don’t know! I would hope! (Laughs)… Maybe the pope can listen to it while he lifts weights or something!

« The band brings people together, so it’s great. It’s like the big Black Label dysfunctional family gatherings (laughs)! »

As usual, the music on Catacombs sounds very natural and authentic. What’s your state of mind ?

Usually the first thing I do in the morning is pick up a guitar, work on scales and have a couple of Valhalla Java (Note: Black Label Society’s own coffee brand), and then I’d also sit behind a piano. Or in the tour bus, the Submarine (Note: the name of Black Label Society’s tour bus), I’ll sit and pick up the acoustics and write some mellow stuff in the morning and stuff like that. [And then for this album] I just asked my wife Barbara Ann, I said “when are the other fellows coming out here?” She said “they’ll be out here in about 25 days”, so I was like « wow! I got 25 days to write a record », and that’s how it went.

You were quoted saying : « If you ask me the difference between this album and the last eight or nine? It’s the song titles. » On the other side, the album is pretty diverse. Did you want to show that you can have a wide musical spectrum while still being true to a certain tradition?

It’s not as much to show that I can do it, I mean I just enjoy doing it, I’m just playing what I love playing. I mean, the other argument could be said “just stick to what you know”, “go with what you know”, but, no, I love doing everything, like you said, I just as much enjoy sitting and playing the piano and playing the acoustic guitar as I do when we’re cranked up and playing heavy stuff. I think, with any band, how much you want to make it a conscious effort to do something completely different… I mean, that’s cool but what I was trying to tell is that we didn’t make a jazz record. Like I said, I had 25 days to write songs and I wanted to make it more of a hard rock record, you know, like previous records. But to me it’s just a matter of riffs. It all starts with the riffs and then, you take it from there.

Dario Lorina, who now replaces Nick Catanese, actually looks a little bit like you did when you began your career and joined Ozzy for the first time. So, do you see a little bit of yourself in him?

No, not really. I mean, with Dario, I just see that he is a great guitarist. He practices and he knows how to play and he’s a good kid, he’s 24 now. He could play his ass off and he’s a good person.

You did a lot of featuring on other artists’ records, on shows, on TV shows like Californication, etc. Is this a way for you to show that rock’n’roll should just be a big brotherhood?

Yeah, I mean, with Black Label it’s like that. I guess it’s like being The Grateful Dead on steroids. You know what I mean? (Laughs) You see somebody else wearing Black Label stuff, you just hook up with the guy and then it’s a meeting ground where you can just hang out. The band brings people together, so it’s great. And we’re just a house band, you know. It’s like the big Black Label dysfunctional family gatherings (laughs)!

Would you say that the fact that you are no longer in Ozzy’s band, allowed you to be fully recognized for yourself, so to speak?

No, I mean I love playing with Ozzy and I love having him in my life. And that’s where I came from, and that’s part of who I am, and I should be proud of that, you know. But I mean, it’s just that… (he pauses) No, I never looked at it that way.

About his long guitar solos : « Because I enjoy it and the guys need to go to the bathroom (laughs)! »

We often hear people kind of complaining against the long guitar solos you’re often playing in the middle of your concerts. So I’ll be asking this on behalf of them: why are you so keen to do such long solos in you shows?

Because I enjoy it and the guys need to go to the bathroom! (Laughs)

(Laughs) Okay, good answer! You’re always paying tribute to the old classic artists like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix. But are you the kind of guy that sticks with the past or do you actually get inspired by new artists?

Yeah, I mean, I listen to new music and you know, if there’s something I like, I’ll definitely check it out. But I mean, like as of late I’ve been digging Robert Plant, that was the last concert I went to – me and my wife we saw Robert Plant and that was great! But no, I mean if I hear something new, I’ll check it out, I listen to the radio and stuff like that. Yeah, I listen to everything. Avenged Sevenfold [for example] sounds really good and they’re all good dudes and good guys. And them having success is great for the whole hard rock community, you know what I mean.

You’re going to do a solo tour in Canada. Why did you want to make a solo tour at this point?

Yeah, we’re getting ready to do the Book Tour Of Doom. We’re getting ready to start firing that up right now. We did a short one over on the east coast and on the west coast and then I was like “man it would be great if we could go up to Canada” and then we had the rest of our Black Label family going “yeah man, you got to go up to Canada with the Book Tour”, and things like that. So, that was right before we went out and did the Gigantour and we had a great time on that. After the Gigantour, we recorded the new record and so, I had an opportunity to do it now before we’re gonna go out and do the heavy stuff, you know, when we fire up the Armada in April. When the new album comes out we do the Revolver Golden Gods tour in the States. So, you know it’s just a matter of me having the time to do it. I love working, man, and I love playing acoustic as well, and it’s a good time. And then we’ll roll with the Canadian Black Label family, so it’s a good time.

Do you think, you’ll release another solo album, one day?

You never know. When I’m doing Black Label… I mean there’s nothing I can’t do in Black Label Society, like what I did on Book Of Shadows. If I want to do mellow stuff, I do mellow stuff, if we want to do heavy, we do heavy!

I also heard about a Jimi Hendrix tribute tour…

Yeah, we’re going to be doing the Hendrix Experience tour, so I’m really looking forward to that as well. Kenny Wayne Sheperd is gonna be out on it, Eric Gales and Eric Johnson are gonna be there, just a bunch of insanely awesome guitar players.

Are you going to record these shows?

I’m sure they will be.

Are we going to see you in France soon?

Yeah, without a doubt! We’ll all be there before you know it, man! Hey, do me a favor; just tell the rest of my friends, the Black Label family over there, to stay strong, keep bleeding black, and we’ll see you guys in a little bit, man.

Interview conducted in Paris on February, 4th 2014 by Spaceman.
Transcription : Judith.
Introduction : Amaury.

Album Catacombs Of The Black Vatican, out since April, 7th 2014 via Mascot Label Group.

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