Vacationing with Zakk Wylde
You and him kicking back and listening to Neil Young
By Bryan Rolli,
11:20AM, Thu. Jul. 7, 2016
Zakk Wylde, master shredder for Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society, and as a solo artist, found time for a phoner on the Fourth of July – also the fourth birthday of his youngest son, Sabbath Page – in anticipation of an appearance on Sunday at Emo’s.
Austin Chronicle: You don’t take many days off, do you?
Zakk Wylde: It’s like, “You wanna go on vacation?” “No, when I’m home, that’s the vacation.”
AC: Your new solo album, Book of Shadows II, marks 20 years since the original Book of Shadows and showcases a less raucous side of your love of classic rock. How have the gigs been so far?
ZW: Oh, crushing, I mean a blast. Doing this show at some of these metal festivals, that was pretty comedic. It was cool. One of my buddies was like, “Man, I hope it’s not gonna be a problem.” All day long was just a complete metal festival, and then we come out doing the mellow stuff. But it was definitely cool. We’re having a blast.
AC: Do you think people know what to expect when they come out to these Book of Shadows shows?
ZW: Yeah, that’s why it’s just Zakk Wylde. This way it’s just the two solo records. That’s all it is. We don’t even do Dime[bag Darrell]’s song; we don’t do [“In this River”]. There’s no Black Label in there, and there’s no Pride & Glory. All it is, is just Book of Shadows I and II. That’s it.
AC: You’re playing both albums in the same set. Does it feel weird playing these songs from different points in your life together on the same night?
ZW: Yeah, even though the other record was 20 years ago, the concept throughout them is obviously the thing that links both of them together. It’s just my love for that style of music. Whether it’s the Eagles, Elton John, Van Morrison, the Band, Bob Seger, the Allman Brothers, Skynyrd, Sam Cooke, Percy Sledge, the Stones.
Most times when we’re hanging out, just chilling out after the show, we’ll be sitting in the nuclear submarine and we have a 16-hour drive. Back in the drinking days, it’d be me and you sitting up front having cocktails, solving the problems of the world, listening to all the stuff we’re talking about – Neil Young, just all the mellow stuff. That’s the constant thread between the two records.
AC: The heavy stuff and the more melodic material are both such important parts of your musical background. At this point, does either one feel more natural?
ZW: No. When we’re doing the heavy stuff, I love doing that. My love for Sabbath and Zeppelin comes out in the riffs. And then the mellow stuff, I love listening to that as well. Like we always say, as much as we love Zeppelin doing “Black Dog,” I love it when they do “Going to California.” It’s just a different outlet, which is great.
AC: There’s a handful of metal artists who have tried to make a sequel album several years later to varying degrees of success. How did you make sure this album reflected the original but also stood on its own?
ZW: To me, the production on the first album is great. It’s stellar, the actual mixes and production me and [Black Label bassist] JD [DeServio] and [engineer] Adam [Klumpp] have been making in the Black Vatican, the studio I’ve had since 2010. So we did Order of the Black, we did Unblackened in there – we mixed it in there – and we did the live record. We also did Catacombs of the Black Vatican in there and The Song Remains Not the Same.
So we know how to work the room. We know how to make the records. The whole thing is, now you make the donuts in there. We box them up and then we ship them out.
For us, it’s the sound quality of the records, too. You want to make the best sounding fidelity on each and every record. It’s like a bench press. You want to beat it every time. It’s just a lot of fun.
AC: You have your hands in every part of the record-making process now. How does that compare to the old days when it wasn’t quite as hands-on?
ZW: It’s been hands on ever since Black Label started. Pride & Glory, everything I’ve done; Book of Shadows, everything has been hands on. The only thing is the Ozzy records where I wasn’t involved with the mixes. We always had a blast making every record. I’ve never not had a good time making any of the records. It’s always fun, and you’re always around super cool people.
With the Ozzy records, you just sit and watch how records are made, see how things go in the studio, stuff like that. Then when it came time to start making the records on our own, you know what you want. You ate these things. It’s just a matter of me and you wanting to get it spicy enough, but we don’t want it too spicy, putting Tabasco in there. Maybe just put a little bit in, and maybe go, “Ah, that’s too much. Back it off a little bit.”
It’s kind of the same thing as far as the fidelity of the records – the highs, the mids, and the lows. You just don’t know. You have good recordings that you really enjoy, and then you just A-B your stuff to that.
AC: I hear a lot of inspiring lyrics on the new album, especially on songs like “Lost Prayer.” How much did your personal faith impact your songwriting?
ZW: To me, at the beginning of writing lyrics, they just have to have some weight and some depth, using metaphors and stuff like that. To me, I have as much fun writing the lyrics as I do composing guitar solos, just coming up with certain different things. I enjoy the whole process. It’s always the music first, then the melody will come to it, and the lyrics are pretty much always last, ‘cause I figure out what I want to sing about, and then I’ll start writing about it.
As far as the lyrics go, it’s either things that have happened to me or things that I’ve seen happen to other people. It could be about an autobiography I’ve read, or me and you could see a movie about somebody and I’ll get an idea from a couple lines that are in there. I’ll get an idea for a lyric and then write them down.
AC: You want something real that people can sink their teeth into.
ZW: Without a doubt. Even with Bob Dylan, when he says, “Mama, take these guns from me, I can’t use them anymore,” he might just be talking about responsibility and the weight of the world. He’s just using the metaphor of guns. Metaphors are great. You’re just trying to be creative. It’s just like having different colors and trying to be Salvador Dalí.
AC: How was the songwriting process between the first and second Book of Shadows different?
ZW: When I did the first album, we were recording Ozzmosis at the time. So we were tracking it, and after we got done tracking – because we recorded the basics over in Paris and some in New York, so we would be in New York – I remember we were staying at 34th and Lexington. We’d track all day and go out all night. I’d just hit as many Irish pubs as I could find in New York City, go barhopping ’til 6, 7am. It was awesome.
I ended up being in this one bar. It had been there since 1903 (though it might’ve been the late 1800s), and they had an ass-kicking jukebox. It had the Stones in it, Elton, the Eagles, Bad Company, Bob Seger, Allmans, Skynyrd. All the stuff we were talking about, Percy Sledge, Sam Cooke. So I just ended up listening to tunes in there all night, and then I’d crawl back to the hotel when the sun came up and end up just jamming on the acoustic – Neil Young-type things or whatever.
That’s how that album came about. Just being inspired and listening to that stuff, and then getting everyone to just start jamming some tunes. The next thing you know, you have a collection of songs and just hit those.
AC: This time around, you probably ditched the barhopping and boiled it down to being around the music you love.
ZW: Yeah. There’s no right way or wrong way to do it. When we did Catacombs, it was like, “How much time do I have? How many songs do I have?” “You’ve got about six weeks.” Well, how much time does it take to make a record? Six weeks.
AC: You’ve been making music for 30 years now, and you always have another project in the works. Has there ever been a substantial break in your schedule?
ZW: No, I don’t think so. I love what I do. I don’t think it even matters. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. Richard Branson still has a reason why he gets out of bed every day. You just have more freedom to want to do different things. I think if you love working and you love doing what you do, it’s not work. With the Stones, when they were asking Keith Richards, “Do you think you guys are gonna retire?” He’s like, “Retire from what?”
If I like planting my tomato garden in the back, am I gonna retire from that? It’s relaxing, getting a cup of coffee and going out back and tending to my garden. I can get it with sports, where you physically can’t do it anymore. But then again, if me and you couldn’t play anymore, we’d just go into the next step of our career, which would be coaching, or me and you would be team owners, or whatever.
It’s just like with Wylde Audio. Everybody’s like, “Oh, you’ve got your own company now,” and I go, “I couldn’t have been treated any better than I was with all the other companies I was with.” That’s the reason why I was there, and they’re family to me. They always will be a part of who I am and everything I’ve got.
It’s no different than Derek Jeter. Me and you played for the Yankees, then we coached the Yankees, then me and you are the general manager and vice president of team operations. The only next logical step for me and you is to be team owners. To me, it’s just a natural process, and it’s exciting. Not everybody wants to do it, but I love doing it.
AC: I’m glad you mentioned Wylde Audio. I picked up one of those guitars a couple weeks ago, and it’s one of the most powerful necks I’ve ever handled.
ZW: I dig it. The guy did a tremendous job putting them together. If you follow my Instagram, we’re getting ready to do the Raven now, and the Barbarian. Those are in the works as well. That’s why I said it’s exciting. All the time, we’re creating something. There’s always something going on.
AC: How do you balance all your other business projects with writing, recording, and touring?
ZW: It’s easy. You make time for everything. That’s all. You can plan ahead and do whatever – those are the tours and stuff like that – but on a daily basis, you’ve got to be flexible. Things change, but you just keep in touch with everybody.
If me and you were working on the espresso right now, you’d be looking and trying to find some other beans. Then you’d send them over here, and I’d try them out, and then me and you would figure out which ones we like the best, and we’d take it from there. And then right after that, I’ll start working on some more guitars. And then after that, I’ll practice.
Kids ask, “Do you have any advice?” I go, “Yeah, make your band your job.” I say, “This way, you all win.” Who wants to have a crappy job? Nobody. I say, “Make the band your job, down to your artwork, your merchandise, everything.” There shouldn’t be a point in the day where you go, “I’m bored.” Then you’re not doing enough. That’s all that says.
AC: People hate their office jobs, but they keep doing them because they know they need to make money.
ZW: My whole thing is, figure out what it is you really enjoy doing and work at trying to be able to make a living doing that. You’re a writer, and you’re like, “Zakk, I want to start my own magazine. I want to get into publishing.” Awesome. And then, after that, you’re like, “Zakk, I’m writing a script right now for a movie as well, because I want to get into that.” Awesome, because you’re a creative person. You say, “Zakk, I’ve always wanted to do that.” Well, you should be doing that.
AC: There are 24 hours in a day, and people could be taking more advantage of them.
ZW: My whole saying is, “There aren’t enough fuckin’ hours in the day” with Black Label. There just aren’t, for all the shit me and you wanna do.
AC: And of course, on top of all that, you’re also a family man – four kids! You have to make that your first priority.
ZW: Yeah. I wouldn’t change my situation for anything, man. I thank the Good Lord every day for what I got. It’s awesome.
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Zakk Wylde, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Label Society, Pride & Glory, Dimebag Darrell, Book of Shadows, Neil Young, Eagles, Elton John, Van Morrison, the Band, Bob Seger, Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sam Cooke, Percy Sledge, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin