Zakk Wylde Is Still ‘Blown Away’ + ‘Inspired’ By Playing of Classic Guitar Legends
The ever-charismatic Zakk Wylde was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show. He was on hand to discuss the latest Black Label Society album, Grimmest Hits, the writing process, how he's still inspired by all the guitar greats of old and what he's learned from working alongside Ozzy Osbourne on and off since the late '80s. As always, his responses were pretty hilarious. Check out the chat below.
The new Black Label Society record is called Grimmest Hits and its out now. Zakk, you seem like someone who is always making music, always working in the studio or on tour. Where did you learn such a strong work ethic?
Well it had to do with the Animal House years of BLS, the early years and I'm still paying - like Norm of Cheers - I'm still paying off an alcohol bill. Mind you I don't drink anymore, I haven't had a cocktail in nine years. I have shifted to paint chips and glue. But I'm still paying off that tab. It wasn't a scratch or a dent it was mountains. Chunks of mountains. Still working on that. I would like to just sit at home and do nothing but no, there's responsibilities and we have to take care of business.
Like a lot of your albums, making Grimmest Hits was a case of going into the studio and just seeing what happens. Why is that unplanned process of discovery so much fun for you?
It's actually quite the process. I mean, the whole thing is, what I do is take Lady Gaga records and Justin Bieber albums, I play them backwards, I listen to all the riffs backwards and the Satanic messages, then I convert back to Catholicism, and then we record the records. So, like I said, it's quite the process, but I do it all for the art. I'm willing to take that responsibility. I do this while I'm getting my nails done and I get a blow dry as well, but it's work. You know, I'm not afraid of work.
What was the process like this time for the recording of Grimmest Hits?
If we're gonna do the heavy stuff —I mean you have Mount Riffmore, so, and that's to me the three guys that I left there. You have, you know, Lord Iommi, Pope Page, and the Sorcerer Ritchie Blackmore up there. So, I mean, as far as how to construct a car, those are the guys that basically, everything's an offshoot off of that, but that's the main template for as far as rock riffs go and everything like that.
I just think the riffs always come down to if you can riff, between Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page, and Ritchie Blackmore, you're talking about "Smoke on the Water," "Iron Man," or "Whole Lotta Love," or anything like that, "The Ocean" or anything like that, or "Heartbreaker" or any of the riffs. You're looking at two strings that you can play these riffs on, one to two strings, so I mean it's just like it's simplicity really. Trying to write, when you're writing riffs, it's like you might as well just hand me a bass and just give me one string and go and just write some riffs, so, where it's not even cords, it's just a riff.
So, I mean as far as the heavy things go, and then obviously where we've gone with Black Label albums, once I get done pounding away when we get done doing the riffs, it's just sitting around just wanting to do something mellow. You can sit behind an acoustic guitar or a piano, and then let's see what happens there.
I look forward to going in every time we do a record. Like with this Grimmest Hits record, I get just as excited as I did when we first did No Rest for the Wicked, you know, with Ozzy back in '87, '88 because you're creating something new. And it's just like going for an excursion where you're digging. You know there's a whole bunch of dinosaur bones, but we don't know which bones we're going to find, whether it's gonna be a Tyrannosaurus Rex or it's gonna be this or that or whatever.
So, it's just like wow, it's gonna be let's see what we can find. So, I think that's what the whole excitement is to me. You know, and if we played sports or whatever, it's the beginning of a new season. So, the goal is to win another World Series or whatever. So, whether you won or you had the worst season you had, it's just a new season that's brand new. So, I would assume that's how everybody kind of looks at going in and making a new record.
The grimmest part of the new album, Grimmest Hits, seems to be the lyrics. Where did you draw the inspiration for the lyrical side of these new songs?
I just look at my friends and how miserable they are, and I just write songs based on that. Because they have to hang out with me, and I make them miserable. So, you know, I just look at their life and I just go yeah, I can write songs all day, just looking at them. No, you know, I think lyrically for me it just either situations that have happened to me or, like I said, things that have happened to my friends that I'm writing about, or if I read something about somebody and it's really interesting, it's just like wow, if I write the lyric, you'd be like "I didn't even know that's who that song was about until I told you," you know what I mean?
But no, I mean to me the lyrics always have to have a bit of weight or something like that, or otherwise, most of the time I'd be singing about my nail polish, my fishnets, and shaving my legs, and my anal bleaching appointments, but I mean JD will always go, "maybe we should stay away from that and just keep singing about your miserable friends."
Zakk, your career started with Ozzy and you continued playing with him throughout your life. What's the most important thing you learned from Ozzy about being in the music business?
Make sure there's no spots on the dishes or the glasses or the silver wear. You don't want that, because then people look at it and go - that's dirty. Then you're gonna have to do it again anyway, so just get it right the first time. When you make your bed just - whether you're going with the tuck or no tuck, just make sure it looks uniform and looks good. Things like that. The boss will be - he showed me things like that and just lived by example. Because when the boss would make his bed, whether it's the tuck or the non-tuck, its done right. He says, "Zakk just do it right and you'll be fine. Just do it right the first time and you'll be fine." Then he'd smack me in the head and we'd go play a song.
And how about the actual music business?
As far as the music business side, like even with my kids, or anyone. Life in general. You can tell people to look out for this or look out for that or whatever, and then you end up getting screwed over by somebody you thought you were like, "Wow, I never would have put him up on the BLS odds in Vegas that he'd end up being the complete tool bag that he claimed." You never know. As far as business goes, I think everybody and everyone, no matter how much you know when you go into it, it's just - whether you get screwed over or certain things, that's fine. It's almost like a learning process as you're going along. People can give you advice but then once you're doing it - you can read about stuff all you want in a book or in a magazine or whatever. But once you're doing it for real, it's a whole other thing than reading about it.
To this day talking about being a musician, you always reference the guitarists who influenced you as a kid. People like Tony Iommi, Randy Rhoads. Who has inspired you even later in your career?
When I still listen to Frank Marino from Mahogany Rush and listen to Robin Trower, or Hendrix or John McLaughlin stuff like that I'm still just as inspired and just as blown away by their playing. I still love listening to it all the time. I'm still pretty much on a steady diet of everything I listened to when I was - pretty much everybody is. Whether it was my father who was listening to Sinatra until the day he passed away, whatever it was you were weaned on when you were 15 years old is the music that you had such amazing memories that are attached to, you always carry with you for the rest of your life.
So, all the players I mentioned whether it was old jazz players or anything like that, you go on Instagram today - there are so many amazing players. It's inspiring. Someone was mentioning, I was just like, not according to me. I just go on Instagram and there's an amazing amount of really talented players. They're not household names, guys and girls that are just amazing players, which is great. Whenever you hear anybody do anything - whether it's Adele, she could be sitting at a Holiday Inn at a piano and its just - wow, amazing. Anybody that excelled as what they do. If you hear somebody new, that's great it's just as inspiring as when I hear Frank Marino and stuff that I was listening to when I was 15 years old.
Zakk, most people think of you in the context of Black Label Society and Ozzy Osbourne but you've had the chance to work with other bands too like playing with the Allman Brothers, the Experience Hendrix Tour and nearly joining Guns N Roses. Who else would you like a chance to play with?
I've been busting the guard with all the heroes that I've played with whether it's The Allman Brothers or anything like that. I've always met them on a good day, [laughs]. So I can still listen to the music. Between Black Label and Zakk Sabbath and playing with The Boss, I'm truly blessed. Whenever opportunities come up when I can jam with my friends or artists that I really dig, it's always a great time. I never turn it down, why would you?
Grab your copy of 'Grimmest Hits' here and follow Black Label Society on Facebook to stay up to date with everything the band is doing. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show at this location.
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