INTERVIEW: Zakk Wylde
Black Label Society’s new CD, Order Of The Black, is one of the ass-kickin-est albums of Zakk Wylde’s long career of ass-kicking. Whether with Black Label, Ozzy or Pride and Glory, Zakk’s never been one to hold back a killer riff or searing lead line, but Order of the Black has really hit it out of the park – as evidenced by its #4 Billboard debut. I caught up with Zakk on the eve of the album’s release.
Last time we chatted you were still building your studio. Now that it’s all done, what’s it like?
It’s killer, man. We test-drove the Black Label Bunker – we recorded the record in there and mixed it. I couldn’t be happier, man. Because the thing is, a lot of the time you could record in the studio but you want to mix somewhere else, but this just sounds great. We took it out of the bunker to mix it in another studio with a big SSL board and all that sort of stuff, and our studio sounded better. It’s one stop shoppin’, ya know what I mean? I can make the donuts in there, wrap ‘em, box ‘em and send ‘em out.
Do you feel there’s an energy there that you couldn’t get if you were watching the clock all the time?
Um, well no, to be honest with you, I never watched the clock anyway when I was recording. Nah. The way we make a Black Label album, we go in and we knock ‘em right out. It’s just like, me and you going down to the studio today, we could hear Zeppelin on the radio, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ or something like that, and go ‘Dude, let’s do something like that, that pounding driving riff, then we’ll start with the drums, come in with the vocal,’ you know what I mean? It’s like, by the time we get to the studio, everyone’s just chilling and next thing you know we’ll start tracking. So I mean it’s like, if we want to do a mellow thing we’ll do something mellow. I’ve never had any problems recording anywhere. When we did a lot of the sessions for Hangover Music, we had about eight days off in the middle of Nashville so I was like, ‘Tim, just book us some studio time. We’ll go in and do a bunch of mellow stuff.’ Cos I’d been playing a bunch of acoustic guitar in the bus, as opposed to us doing the heavy stuff, because we were touring at the time. A lot of those sessions ended up on that record. The way I look at it, it’s just like when you’re going to any studio – Olympic, where all my favourite bands recorded, Abbey Road studios, Electric Lady Land, as soon as you get into the studio you’re just like a kid with a million crayons and you’ve got a massive colouring book. It’s always a good time, man.
Speaking of mellow stuff, track four on the new CD, Darkest Days… I have this thing where track 4, no matter what the band is, track four tends to be a sweet spot where I find my track, y’know? The really melodic stuff always seems to happen at track four.
I dig it.
What can you tell us about that song?
I was writing that on the guitar after I heard the Stones on the radio. It might have been Wild Horses or something like that. I was just jamming on the acoustic and I just ended up writing that one.
There’s some cool whammy bar stuff at the start of Black Sunday. Is that the Epiphone Graveyard Disciple?
Yeah, that’s the GD. He wanted to get his chance on the record! (laughs).
I can just imagine it there. ‘Pick me! Pick me!’
Like I said, man, the Epiphone guys did a great job with the guitar. I use it live now and everything. It’s cool! I’m diggin’ it.
Now, Time Waits For No One. I’ve gotta be careful saying that one because in an Australian accent it sounds like I’m saying ‘Tom Waits for no one.’
(Laughs) Tom Waits for no one! Well he doesn’t, man, because he’s too busy winning all these Academy Awards! Oh man! But yeah, I was just listening to a lot of Mowtown and stuff like that.
It’s cool! I love hearing the piano stuff because there’s some really heavy stuff on this album, but there’s always something to break it up.
It’s definitely a rollercoaster ride.
And once again, on this acoustic thread, Chupacatra. That track’s awesome!
I love Al DiMeloa, John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucia, and I listen to a bunch of flamenco guitar players as well. They’ve just got such amazing musicians. If you can’t get inspired listening to those guys… you know, like when I’m not doing the metal thing or the hard rock stuff it’s just something new to play. I like watching jazz videos. I’ve got some Allan Holdsworth stuff and John McLaughlin’s instructional video. You can always learn something new and just incorporate it into your playing. But I was sitting on the tour bus a while ago and I ended up writing that thing. I’ve had that sitting around for a while.
Yeah! When I was about 13 my high school music teacher said ‘Stop listening to that metal crap’ and he taped the Guitar Trio album for me. Of course being 13 I didn’t want to listen to it because at teacher told me to, but deep down I thought it was cool.
Well the metal crap’s cool too but it’s all good, you know what I mean? But when you hear the Guitar Trio, McLaughlin, Paco and Al, it’s pretty insane.
Godspeed Hell Bound – I love that one. It’s got that almost thrash thing happening.
Yeah, well you talk about metal! That’s your stock heavy metal song! We were just goofin’ in the studio, just a pile-driving fuckin’ metal death march. That’s what that thing sounds like to me, man. I was watching the military channel writing that riff, watching footage of World War II.
Another one I really dig, and you’ve tucked it towards the end of the album, is Riders of the Damned. That’s like a classic Zakk riff happening there.
Thanks a lot, brother. It reminds me of Zep and Sabbath and my love for all those riffs, you know what I mean?
Now being a guitar geek, it’s time to ask the geeky guitar questions.
No problem at all!
First is, I wanted to know the origin of the pinch harmonic for you. Where did you get it from?
Just from Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top – how he used it in La Grange and everything like that. I asked my guitar teacher ‘What is that he’s doing? How does he get that sound?’ I didn’t know how to do it, but my guitar teacher showed me how to do it. I was like, ‘That’s like the coolest thing.’ But I got it from Billy Gibbons.
So many people do it in the middle of the neck and stuff, and you’re probably the first guy to come out and really hit it on those low notes.
The running joke is, whenever the guys hear other bands do it now, they’re like, Zakk, you getting any royalties for that stuff? When we were out on the Ozzfest, every kid was doing a pinch harmonic and Nick [Catanese, BLS second guitar] was like, ‘You get a quarter for each one.’ He was adding up. ‘Dude, you made $14.50 today!’ That’s like the running joke now. So every time someone hears a pinch harmonic they throw quarters and nickels at me.
Something I like is really cool is the way you use Twitter – you’re almost like a guitar teacher, handing out advice. Have you ever thought of sharing the knowledge through a DVD or something?
Actually yeah! Now that you mention that, I’m actually working on a guitar book right now. So it’s Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Guitar Bible. I’m working on that right now. It’s going to have everything. The players I love, all the gear, all my guitars, just everything. And also, everything from every scale, modes, everything. We’re going to balance it. It’s also going to have a DVD with it. It’ll go through my solos and show you how it works with the scales. So everything correlates and makes sense. And I love doing it. Put it this way: back in the day if I could have got a book by Randy Rhoads when I was 15 years old, I would have been the first one in line for that one.
The new Marshall: what can you tell me about that?
It’s just gonna be another Marshall JCM800 2203, a 100 watt top on steroids. We’re talking about maybe putting together a combo amp, the little baby Marshall, the whole nine yards. The cool collectible stuff. It’s just an ass-kickin’, balls-to-the-wall JCM800 with no bells and whistles. The running joke is, it’s hysterical because it actually goes to eleven. The actual volume knobs all go to eleven. Just for the cheese factor.
I saw something on Twitter the other day you mentioned a Jimmy Page Telecaster replica?
Yeah, it’s my old Telecaster that I used when I did Farm Fiddling [for Guitar World's Guitars That Rule The World CD in the early 90s]. I’ve got a guy out here who’s going to do the work for me. I’ve got tonnes of pictures of Jimmy using the actual guitar, and I’m going to have one of my buddies, Dan Lawrence, do it. He said ‘Zakk, just give it to me, I’ve got a million pictures of it as well.’ I love Jimmy Page – who doesn’t? – so it’s just something cool to have around the house, you know what I mean?
So what guitars did you use on the new CD?
I just used the Gibson Grail, the ZVs, the GDs, the Rebel.
How’s the Rebel looking these days?
She’s fine, man. The headstock’s been broken off three times but she’s fine.
Do you have any plans for any other new signature stuff coming out soon?
Yeah man! With Dunlop we’re working on another pedal right now. I’ve got this ass-kicking idea for a new pedal. And the chorus pedal, we just put that thing out. I’ve got some other guitar designs I came up with so we might be doing that pretty soon. I’ve got a tonne of stuff going on right now.
How do you use the chorus in your rig?
It’s kind of wide – just to widen everything and sweeten things up. But you can get all those cool sounds. Andy Summers with the Police, he has great chorus sounds. And I love Father Randy with his live tone. Randy’s live tone I thought was even better than what they actually got on vinyl. His live tone was amazing, with the chorus on it. I’ve heard bootlegs that blow Tribute away.
Have you had a chance to check out the new Ozzy CD?
Yeah, what I’ve heard sounds great. Ozz is sounding great, Gus is playing his balls off, I’m happy for Blasko – he’s a Black Label brother – they’re doing great.
Order Of The Black is out now. Here in Australia it’s released through Riot.