Zakk Wylde: Generation Axe Camaraderie Like ‘Spinal Tap’ at Night’s End
For Zakk Wylde, there always seems to be a few things in motion all at once. Over the last couple years, he's put out an acoustic solo album and toured with his Black Sabbath tribute band Zakk Sabbath. This year he's placed his focus on Black Label Society's new album, Grimmest Hits, touring with Ozzy Osbourne on his farewell run as well as linking up with some esteemed guitarists on the Generation Axe tour.
As a guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program, he discussed everything that's been keeping him busy. Check out the chat below.
Grimmest Hits gives a pretty good overview of your different musical tastes. What makes branching out so much fun?
Yes it does. I do think you are correct in that, it does have a batch of all my years of influences down to Cher and Bette Midler, Barry Manilow (the early stuff, though when it was much bluesier and heavier). But being that the album is called Grimmest Hits, people always ask "Zakk why is it Grimmest Hits? Is it like a greatest hits thing?" I go no. No, first of all Black Label doesn’t have any hits so you have to have that to contain a record of greatest hits. There's really nothing great about the record so therefore it's grim so when you listen to the record, and it's Grimmest Hits and you go - I don’t hear any greatest hits on this thing and they go, exactly. That's why it's Grimmest Hits, jackass. So there is no false advertising.
We had a blast making the record and there it is - and the record company did ask though are there any hits on this record? I said, "No, it looks rather bleak and grim so therefore we went with Grimmest Hits."
Grimmest Hits was released this year. How soon do your creative gears start turning again after releasing an album?
Sometimes you write some stuff at soundchecks or when you are sitting in a hotel room you can usually write something. Usually, I do the same thing with this record. I had about 20 days before the fellas were about to come out. I had just gotten off the road or doing something. Maybe it was the Generation Axe thing. So in between the month of August, I guess the guys will be coming out on 20th. I go that's about 20 days and they say you have 20 days to write a record.
So just every day you go in there and start making sandwiches. That’s about it. Every day you start digging and digging and coming up with riffs. As far as the heavy things go, it starts with a riff. Then once you get a riff, it inspires the melody and then the lyrics usually always are last. The lyrics are easy because they are always about things that I like -- like fast cars, fast women and fast licks. So that is pretty much what all the lyrics are about. I find what it is going to be in that so it is really not a stretch. But the whole thing is, once I am done with that then we're done with the record. We mix it, we box it and then we ship it out. Then you have your Black Label flavored country donuts and that’s it.
Let's talk about the Generation Axe tour. It's you, Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt and Tosin Abasi. What's the typical conversation like when five guitarists get onstage and soundcheck together?
We talk about what types of eyeshadow would look best, matching each others shoes, Feather boas — types of things like that. We talk about fashion mostly and how we will look most powerful when we get up on this stage. Then obviously you know, we as buddies because we all roll together and have known each other for years, we do each other favors just like, "Does anyone have any razors? I need to shave my legs before the show because I don’t want to rip my fishnets." These are the important things we talk about aside from that. But yeah, we enjoy hanging out with each other, playing guitar and running scales.
Everyone on the Generation Axe tour it a monster guitarist but each of you has a very distinct style and technique. What do you like about everyone else's playing?
With any instrument or anything, whether your singing when you hear Sabbath, you hear Zeppelin... when you hear Robert Plant's voice or Ozzy's voice you immediately know who it is. That is really the most important thing whether you hear David Gilmour play the guitar or you hear Frank Marino from Mahogany Rush playing guitar. From the first two notes, I can tell you who it is from the vibrato.
Like at soundchecks it doesn’t even matter. As soon as I hear one of the guys pick up the guitar I know immediately who it is whether its Tosin, or whether it's Steve or Yngwie or Nuno immediately. It is a lot of fun. You are rolling with all the fellas. Like, Father Steve said, we're all sitting on the sub one night Steve goes if I didn’t put this thing together, us jamming all together having a good time, just the stories alone, the war stories at the end of the night and the pure Spinal Tap comedy that is the music business, just hearing all these stories, the comedic value alone, Steve goes, "This is the reason why I should have put this together. Every night is a blast for sure."
You've been with Ozzy for most of your adult life. Basically, since you were a kid.
Yes that is why I have been in and out of mental hospitals for most of it. I actually have a suite at the Bellevue Mental Hospital. It is very kind of them. It does have its perks. When all my buddies were going to college, I was going to Ozzy Osbourne University where I majored in various alcohol consumption, pummeled liver, kidney, pancreas and brain cells but I mean - it has been a wonderful ride.
We have always stayed in touch throughout the years, even when Father Gus [G.] was crushing it and having a good time. It started exactly where we left off. I always say it is a miracle that any work ever gets done because being around Ozzy for five minutes, you need a pair of Depends just because you are crying laughing all the time. He is always taking a piss at himself or whatever is going on at the time, whether it is politics, whether music or any current event in the news. All you have to do is hang around him for five minutes and you will be dying.
What never gets old about playing those Ozzy songs?
I mean nothing because everyone always asks me all the time, Zakk, you are on the road all the time. I do well over 200 shows but in between the records and everything like that. If you ask any musician it’s the love of playing and that's why it never gets old. It is just like watching porn and pounding your genitals into submission. It never gets old. Ever. [laughs]
So many great musicians are part of Ozzy's legacy. What is your proudest contribution to that lineage?
Making his sandwiches because he always said when I make his sandwiches, just like when I first auditioned he said, "Zakk, play with your heart and then when you make my ham sandwich go light on the mustard." I said okay. And it was just then he said look at me, I said okay. And he poked me right in the eyes and I said, "What was that for?" He said, "Because life is tough. Get used to it. Now go make my sandwich." I've been making those sandwiches - and I've never had any complaints. I think that would have to be my crowning achievement. He's never said, wow, you really messed up on this one. Never. He's just like, "Wow, Zakk, this one's really slamming." So I'd have to go with ham sandwich and light on the mustard.
Thank to Zakk Wylde for the interview. 'Grimmest Hits' is out now and can be purchased here and be sure to follow Black Label Society on Facebook to stay up to date with everything they're doing. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show here.
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