Metal Edge, December 1999
There’s nothing subtle about Zakk Wylde. He’s the guitar demon that laid sinister soundtrack to Ozzy Osbourne’s No Rest for the Wicked and No More Tears, breathing insanity into “Crazy Babies,” ripping through “Demon Alcohol” and raising hell on earth “Tattooed Dancer.” He wore his Southern pride on his sleeve with Pride & Glory, enjoying fleeting success with the project, but not completely satisfying his hunger to rock with reckless abandonment. From there he split songwriting time between Osbourne’s Ozzmosis album and Guns N’ Roses, in the process recording his solo-acoustic Book of Shadows, an album that made for an interesting sidebar for the shredding metal phenom, but only intensified his desire to raise Cain with six-string, Sabbath-inspired salutations. When writing with GN’R seemed a dead-end road, Wylde had a revelation – he’d sing the songs himself, give them his own voice, and create a band that fulfilled his vision of rock’s most brutal attributes. He dubbed the band Black Label Society, and their self-titled Spitfire Records debut is one of the year’s stunning releases. Fire, brimstone, guitars that scorch and music that humbles. It’s what metal was intended to be but has had difficulty in achieving in recent years. Think Monster Magnet and Corrosion of Conformity, the attitude of Pantera and the sonic depth-charge of a guitar hero who’s been quiet for far too long. It’s nasty, it’s sweaty, it’s rock, and it’s oh so satisfying.
Released in May, Black Label Society’s original cover had since been pulled from circulation, as a cease-and-desist order from Johnny Walker claims it was too close a resemblance to their packaging. “Fuck this, man!” rails Wylde over lunch-hour drinks at a New York City micro-brewery. “They want a cease and desist, and I want to know where the fuck my endorsement deal is! Black Label Society would be good promotion for them – mass profanity, skulls, alcohol, c’mon!”
That’s the way Wylde would like to have it, but as the legalities dictate, the new artwork will be the band’s skull logo, inscribed with the monogram SDMF, according to the band’s founder, “standing for Society Dwelling Mother Fuckers – If you’re into the band, you’re an SDMF-er. It could also mean ‘Sometimes Daddy Masturbates Furiously.’ Or what my kids say ‘Some Daddies May Fart.’” Also on the new version of the album is a BLS cover of “No More Tears,” the mini-epic Wylde wrote with Osbourne in ’93.
Welcome to the Black Label Society, the world Zakk Wylde created, and so charismatically detailed in our recent interview. Oh, the brutality.
What is Black Label Society?
Zakk Wylde: It’s a way of life. It’s bigger than the band. It’s just freakin’ music made by alcoholics, for alcoholics and alcoholics in the making. Somebody like Kurt Cobain wouldn’t have survived this band because suicide is not an option. You can’t be a pussy. The complaint department is closed. It’s just about how much fucking ass you can possibly kick from one bar to the next.
Pride & Glory had more of a southern feel to it. Then you did Book Of Shadows…
Wylde: You’ve got to remember, we did the P&G thing, then I got back together with Ozzy and we did another Ozzy record, and then I had all the acoustic songs lying round. That’s how Book Of Shadows came about. Doing Ozzmosis, we’d get done tracking and I’d go back to the hotel and there was a pub right next to it. I’d be there until six in the morning drinking with everybody, shooting the shit, and they said, “Go get your guitar and play some stuff for us.” I’d be jamming to all these fucking acoustic songs I had aside from what I’m jamming on the electric, cause I’m writing all the time. So, I sat on those tunes and Geffen basically wanted me on the label – about as much as fucking Anton LaVey wants a brunch with the Pope – so I went in and we made the Book Of Shadows record, a one-off. After we did that, I got thrown off of Geffen.
So you’re hanging around, and that’s when you started working with Guns N’ Roses?
Wylde: Yeah. I was hanging with the GN’R guys, and we were writing - “The Rose Petalled Garden” on the Black Label Society record was one thing we had demoed over at Duff’s house. So between jamming with them and getting back with Ozzy for that little short stint with Mike [Inez] and Randy [Castillo]… Playing all these fucking riffs, if you had Ozzy singing on the Black Label record, it would have been another fucking Ozzy record. Or if it were Axl singing on it, it’d be a GN’R record. Obviously, the melodies would probably be different, and the lyrics or whatever, but basically the music would be the same. I had all the fucking music and I just said, “You know what? Fuck it. I’m just gonna do it myself.”
So you were playing with Ozzy and GN’R at the same time, but neither panned out. Black Label Society came out of those jam sessions?
Wylde: When I was writing with Ozzy, he was just like, “Zakk – what the fuck’s going on? Are you gonna tour behind this? What the fuck?” I was like “Do you want me to call up Axl and as him how much fucking money I’ll get on t-shirts?” Of all people Ozzy’s the one who’s always told me to stay out of that end of it. That’s what lawyers are for. I was just like, “Oz, I don’t know what to tell you.” And he told me he was going to have to get someone else. Meanwhile, I’d be calling Axl: “Dude, I can’t be dicking Ozzy around, if it weren’t for him I wouldn’t be talking to you.” Then once you get lawyers involved, it’s trading and bartering and shit just talks so fucking long. Why? Just figure out what we’re gonna make here. It’s not like I want a king’s ransom or something like that. As long as I got enough money for fucking beer and to pay for my kids’ clothes! So everything pretty much went through the shitter and I just had all those tunes around and said. “Yeah, I’ll do the Book Of Shadows thing.” Doing the Shadows tour was great for chops, but I had fucking welts on my ass for sitting on a stool all night! Fuck that, man! I had to stand up and start playing again!
Ozzy called up and we did a stint over in Australia and had a fucking blast. We came back from there and Ozzy wanted to jam with the other guys… Fine, we’re not married. I love the guy, so he could jam with whoever he wants. I had a lot of riffs around and I was gonna do demo stuff to shop around to the labels just so they knew I wasn’t making a P&G or Book Of Shadows record. That’s when the whole thing came about. We went down to Miami, and the minute we got down there – I hate fucking demoing shit… You go in and spend all this money and then you’re gonna have to record it again anyway? Do it right the first time, ya’ know? We just cut it so the shit sounded fucking primo and then we were done with it.
Is Black Label Society definitive of Zakk Wylde at this point?
Wylde: I think so. But at the same time, the thing with me is, I’m a musician. It’s not like I got into fucking playing because I wanted to get laid or the whole rock star thing. For me, it’s just the playing. Just seeing how fucking good I could get. That’s what got me into it. I’m into everything from Al Di Meola to Machine Head to Neil Young… And Ethel Merman. [Singing] “Hello my baby…” She influenced metal! [Imitating Axl Rose and Alice in Chains in a Merman-like voice] If someone were to go, “What’s Zakk about? Who’s Zakk Wylde?” I would definitely put this album on, because it’s my voice and everything like that. There’s shit like “Spoke in the Wheel” on the record and “T.A.Z.,” and it’s got the heavy shit. I think the funniest thing is when people go, “Man you’re doing fucking heavy shit now.” “Who do you think wrote all those Ozzy riffs? What was on fucking No Rest… and No More tears? Do you think the fucking house cleaner was writing those riffs?!? The guitar part writes the music, and in Ozzy that was my role. I didn’t come up with any of the melodies or any of the lyrics, that was never my department. Plus, I came from being a big Sabbath freak. It’s funny, I dug everything from Sabbath to the Skynyrd guys – You can take all of them and it is like barley and hops and making a fucking beer. But to be honest with you, I had to do P&G and Book Of Shadows to get to this point, to make the song writing and everything into what it is.
You seem like a traditionalist. How do you feel about the recent success of rap and metal mergers?
Wylde: Great for them. I’m all for it because it’s opening up doors for me and what I’m doing. But I’m never going to be a fucking rap guy. More power to them… I mean, those guys came out doing that, so it’s fucking great. I like that at least there are heavy guitars and it’s guitar oriented. I did this interview with Rolling Stone about the GN’R thing and they’re like, “Oh, we hear Axl is going into the industrial thing, like Nine Inch Nails.” I said “Not when I was there. When I was there it was just fucking meat and potatoes, fucking Marshalls, fucking GN’R on steroids.” Somebody asked, “Man, do you think it’s too fucking heavy?” “Fuck that! As far as I’m concerned, GN’R should have been doing something super-fucking-slamming. Being a musician, you always want to try different things, and sometimes you don’t know what’s good for you, but at the end of the day, what people want to hear from me is fucking heavy – a Les Paul and a Marshall and fucking loud shit.
It doesn’t sound like you plan on softening you sound for the mainstream.
Wylde: Whelp, other than doing that Britney Spears cover, I refuse to sell out! [laughs]… Backstreet Boy Zakk! I have two kids, so that’s been a lot of inspiration for this album as well – between Backstreet Boys and fucking ‘N Sync I have a dozen holes in the fucking walls of my house from listening to that shit. So Barb [Zakk’s wife] just said, “Why don’t you write some fucking riffs?” So I listen to that shit for maybe half a song, then I write a who e new Black Label record!
I’m stunned you even allow the music in your house.
Wylde: That’s what they like listening to so I can’t do anything. I can’t do anything except punch holes in the wall and write riffs. It’s very therapeutic, actually.
How did you find the band to round out Black Label Society?
Wylde: I just went down to the bar and fucking picked them up. I found everyone that was lying on the flood drunk and said, “There’s the bass player, there’s the drummer” [laughs]… I’ve known J.D., the bass player, since I’ve been about 17. He went to Berklee, he’s a fucking animal on the bass.
I love it, a Berklee man in BLS! You never struck me as the music school type.
Wylde: I didn’t go to Berklee, but I played with Ozzy – I went to Osbourne University. I met Nick [Catanese] on the internet. When I was doing Book Of Shadows he wrote me and said “Dude, if you need a touring guitarist I’d love to come out and do it.” He fucking sent out a tape of his band and some photos and I said, “Fuck yeah!” Then I met him in Pittsburgh and he could play. I ended up meeting Phil [Ondich], on drums, out on the Shadows tour. Him and Nick did a tape of them jamming on some P&G shot, and if he could play any of Brian Tichey’s shit, obviously he can fucking jam. Now he’s like my fucking drinking partner in crime. So, the band – to fit the description of being in Black Label Society – have to be professional alchies, or have some type of substance abuse problem, then they’ve got to be able to play their fucking asses off. You know what I mean?
It’s more than music, it’s a lifestyle…
Wylde: Hell yeah! There’s no quitters in the band, you don’t miss shows and you don’t wuss out. There’s no room for pussies… [Another round of beer arrives] Drinking on the job – you gotta love it! Somebody asked me, “Zakk, is that all there is to your life? Jut beer, jamming and lifting weights?” Oh God, for fuck’s sake, I hope so! [laughs] The Rat Pack [Frank Sinatra, Dean martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop] never missed a gig and they never committed suicide. It wasn’t an option. Be a Goddamn man and don’t be a pussy! That’s the whole thing with society today … A lot of people have asked me what the song “Bored to Tears” is about because we’ve been playing it live at a lot of radio stations. When we actually did the music I had different lyrics for it, but then I heard about somebody going into rehab for heroin or some-fucking-thing. Everyone and their grandmothers have a fucking heroin problem nowadays, or they’re sticking a shotgun up their ass or something – The whole rock ‘n’ roll suicide thing is so fucking done. For “Bored to Tears,” it’s like this: Everybody has bad days. For fucks sake, if anyone wants to kill themselves it should be Christopher Reeves, but that motherfucker is hanging tough. He’s like, “Nope, I ain’t going down. Fuck this.” The whole rock ‘n’ roll thing is, everyone’s seen the movie and read the book fucking way too many times. At least have enough creativity to come up with a cool band name, the artwork, the songs, the lyrics, everything like that. Use your thinking cap.
How about some of the other songs on the album?
Wylde: It’s either shit that happens in my life or stuff I see going on with other people. Pretty much everything I write about is autobiographical… I’ve got to be the one up there singing the lyrics, so they’ve at least gotta mean something to me. I can’t write something like , “I’m gonna rock out all day. Come on man, it’s fucking midnight.” I couldn’t sing it. I’d want my friends to fucking kick my ass. Actually, before if I did write the lyrics I’d bring them into the studio to hear it. I’ll hand them each a fucking bat and after the chorus just bludgeon me. Bludgeon me, let me get some beers in me first to numb the pain, but just bludgeon me. Just do it, I’m begging… Some of the songs have really fucking dark lyrics, but man, I ain’t about to kill myself anytime soon. I’’ just write a fucking song about it or have a fucking beer. That’s the difference between the lyrics I write and a band like Pearl Jam. For example: Let’s say you save up enough dough to buy a fucking case of Raw Ass – it’s the worst tasting beer we can buy, but that’s all we got the money for – you’re out in front of the liquor store, and some guy puts it in the back of his truck and fucking takes off. “Motherfucker! We just lost the beer and our dough!” Eddie Vedder will fucking whine about it, being a pussy, and write a song about bring a wuss and how it’s crushed his fucking life now cause this asshole drove off with his beer. Come to Black Label, man! What we do is, we get this license plate number, find out where he fuckin’ lives, go down, smash his truck with cinder blocks through the windshield, get the beer, then light his house on fire, get drunk, and write a song about it. That’s the way Black Label handles it, man! It’s pure fucking comedy at its best!!
It’s just good, wholesome, family entertainment… No remorse?
Wylde: The only remorse I would have is that we didn’t slash his tires.
Before we wrap this up, tell us your best Ozzy Osbourne story…
Wylde: When we were doing the last record, Ozzmosis. We were tracking it and I had a big Led Zeppelin poster in there, a big Jimi Hendrix poster and an Aleister Crowley poster… Al in his glory. So we’re tracking guitars and Oz comes in [Doing an Ozzy impression], “Hey Zakk, what are you doing” “Hey Oz, how you doing buddy?” “…I’m fucking bored.” He’s looking at the Zeppelin poster and goes, “You would have fucking loved Bonham, Zakk. He’s the best. He’s the sweetest guy.” He started telling me all these Bonham stories about getting tanked and shit. Then he’s looking at the Hendrix poster. He goes “Zakk, look at the fucking size of his fucking nostrils.” Cause he was telling me that him and Geezer had seen Hendrix play [and] when they saw him playing with his teeth. He was like, “No fucking way.” They were like, “Nobody’s that good.” He said all we heard was the Beatles doing their thing and then here comes Hendrix playing with his teeth and shit. So, he’s talking about that and then he’s looking at the size of his nostrils. It was just a live picture of Jimi snarling. He goes, “Could you imagine how much gack he could have stuffed up one fucking nostril?” The he goes, “hey Zakk, who’s the bald-headed cunt you got up there on the wall?” Me and Michael Beinhorn are just dying – “Oz that’s the Mr. Crowley! You’ve been singing about him for the last 18 years!” [laughs]
Has there been any talk of you going back to play with Ozzy?
Wylde: He’s out kicking ass with Sabbath, and I’m so busy breathing, eating, shitting, fucking Black Label, ya’ know? I’m gonna be out touring behind this thing, but I love the guy and want nothing but good shit to happen to him.
Does it feel like you’re starting all over with Black Label Society?
Wylde: Yeah, it does. I guarantee there will be a bunch of 15-year-olds who’ll hear the record and go, “Do you remember that guy? He used to play with Ozzy?” But for mw it’s definitely cool, I’m back doing what I do best.