Songwriter Interviews

Zakk Wylde (Ozzy, Black Label Society)

by Trevor Morelli

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The shredder talks Ozzy, the latest from Black Label Society, and the "power of payola, paid vacations and hookers."



When we last talked to metal guitar icon Zakk Wylde in 2014, he told us about his love for Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, his first solo album Book of Shadows, and his writing techniques on some of Ozzy Osbourne's biggest hits, including "No More Tears" and "Mama, I'm Coming Home." Since then, he's been cruising along – literally and figuratively – with a number of new projects, including a new Black Label Society album, a second solo album, and potentially more work with the Prince of Darkness himself.

As the frontman for Black Label Society, Zakk is always hammering out new riffs and bringing new ideas to the table. The band's latest effort, Grimmest Hits, dropped in January 2018, but it's not a "best of" compilation as the title suggests. It's Black Label Society's 10th studio record and it boasts chunky grooves and head-banging melodies on songs like "Room of Shadows" and "Trampled Down Below."

Zakk was more than happy to talk about how he came up with some of the tracks on Grimmest Hits, and to discuss some of his biggest songs, including Ozzy Osbourne's "Perry Mason" and "I Don't Want to Change the World" (which won a Grammy in 1994 for Best Metal Performance). Also on the setlist, his current influences both young and old, and his future plans both in the studio and on tour with Ozzy. As for the latter, Zakk says he's looking forward to the two-year No More Tours 2 world tour with "The Boss" before he retires. There might even be a new Ozzy record in the works.
Trevor Morelli (Songfacts): Hi Zakk. You just came from the ship. How was the ShipRocked Festival?

Zakk Wylde: Yeah. Actually, it was nice out on the ship. Mind you, once we got out of port, we were circling out when we were doing the show up on the upper deck, and the wind was definitely kicking in up there. You know, we're out on the seven seas. But, it was definitely cool.

Songfacts: What are some of the other highlights for you? Do you get a lot of downtime on these things or is it pretty busy, start to finish?

Wylde: Well, we did the two shows and then we did one indoor in the theatre and one out on the deck. The other two days we did a meet-and-greet, and then we did a signing at one other thing. Everybody's super cool on the ship and everybody's having a good time. It's a blast.

We caught up with Zakk mere days after he got back from ShipRocked 2018, a music festival at sea that cruises from Florida to the Bahamas aboard Carnival Liberty. In 2018, some of hard rock and metal’s heaviest hitters came out for the party, including Black Label Society, Stone Sour, Seether, Nothing More and P.O.D. ShipRocked also includes a guest appearance by The Stowaways, an all-star band made up of musicians from other awesome bands. This year's lineup included members of Living Color, Sevendust, Fuel and Disturbed.
Songfacts: Let's talk about your album Grimmest Hits. It just came out a week and a half ago and the reviews are pretty good. Is that something that you typically read or pay attention to at all?

Wylde: Well, no. I know the reviews are going to be good because we use a lot of payola and paid vacations to make sure. It's amazing what payola can achieve, it really is. I tell kids, they're like, "Congrats Zakk on winning Best Guitarist again," and I go, "Yeah, you can also congratulate payola and paid vacations and the strippers and prostitutes we've got to hire to make everybody happy."

Hey, if you're not doing whatever it takes to win, then you're not trying hard enough.

Zakk's work with Ozzy Osbourne and Black Label Society is often furious and brutal, but he's also an emotional songwriter with a powerful voice. In 2016, he released Book of Shadows II, his second solo album and follow up to 1996's pre-Black Label Society effort Book of Shadows. He's also been busy promoting Wylde Audio, his line of guitar products, as well as playing in the Black Sabbath cover band Zakk Sabbath with his good buddies Blasko (bass) and Joey Castillo (drums).
Songfacts: That reminds me of "Room Of Nightmares." Can you tell me a little bit about the song and especially the video, and how it came together?

Wylde: The song was probably one of the last things I wrote. When we're out on the road doing Zakk Sabbath, it's like, "Are we going to do another Black Label album in between dates?"

I go, "I don't know. How much time do I have before the fellas come out to the Vatican?"

"Probably 20 days"

"Alright, I've got 20 days to write a record."

It's really no different than if I'm your book agent and you're the one writing the books. You already did Jaws and turned that into a movie, now you need to take a break. I'm like, "Well, what have you got now?" You're like, "Well, I've got this idea for this thing. I'm going to call it The Exorcist and it's about this little girl that gets possessed."

You're at the point in the book where they're just about to meet Regan and it's Father Merrin and Father Damian having a discussion, right before they go in. Well, you've got 20 days to finish the book. You're already at the point where they're about to meet Regan, so you know pretty much everything's going to go batshit crazy. So, when you get home, every day you just hack away at it. You know you've got a deadline, so you get it done.

Songfacts: You're a very an accomplished guitarist. I can't imagine you have a shortage of ideas. You seem like the kind of guy that's always sitting around fiddling and working out things.

Wylde: Yeah. If you ever get writer's block, what you do is you just take a Lady Gaga record or a Justin Bieber album, play it backwards and get all the satanic messages and riffs, and then you convert that to Catholicism and play them forward. Nobody knows. So, the whole thing is quite the production, but at the end of the day, you do it for the art.

Songfacts: The "Room Of Nightmares" video starts with a birthday party and then it kind of goes downhill from there. You've got pirates in there and ninjas, and pretty much everything you could imagine. I'm just wondering how you came up with the idea for that?

Wylde: That's actually us playing at an 11-year-old's birthday party. Yes, the music business isn't what it used to be, so a hundred bucks is a hundred bucks. When you get a gig, you take it.

Songfacts: What are some of the other songs on "Grimmest Hits" that you're really excited for people to hear?

Wylde: We play them every night right now. We play "Trampled Down Below" and we're doing "All That Once Shined," and obviously, "Room Of Nightmares." Yeah, it's a lot of fun playing the new stuff. "Trampled Down Below" is definitely fun, so I'm having a good time playing that one.

Now that the album's out, we're going to start putting more songs from it into the set. It's always good when people actually know the songs before they get there.

Songfacts: For sure. It's fresh.

Wylde: Exactly. Give them a chance to get familiar with the songs before you start belting them at them.

Songfacts: The last time that Songfacts talked to you – I think it was four years ago – you talked about a lot of your influences like Elton John, Sabbath, Zeppelin. I'm just wondering if there's any young bands out now that you find are really great songwriters?

Wylde: The band that we had out when we were doing Zakk Sabbath, we had Them Evils. They're just a bunch of young guys and it's all riff-based music, so it was pretty cool. I was so glad, because when you listen to a lot of new music it's not really riff-driven, you know, with riffs like Cream, like "Sunshine Of Your Love," or Sabbath, where everything's based around a riff, and Zeppelin and stuff like that.

It's weird, it's kind of like a lost art or people are just not into that. So, when you hear a younger bunch of artists that are into blues or into riffs, it's just kind of like, "Oh wow." Just like the old saying, "everything that's old is new again" - it's been gone for so long, it's almost like: "Wow, what's that?"

Songfacts: Speaking of, do you think that there will be a return to more guitar-based music? A lot of it's about pop and EDM right now.

Wylde: Yeah, but even when Sabbath and Zeppelin were ruling the world, pop music was still dominating everything then. I think if you looked at the Grammys back in 1974 or '73 when Zeppelin and Sabbath were just crushing everything, nobody even mentioned them, even though they were setting attendance records. Led Zeppelin was doing stadiums, a bigger attendance record than The Beatles when they played at Tampa Stadium, but they weren't even at the Grammys. They weren't even probably nominated.

Songfacts: So they're always on the outskirts, is what you're saying?

Wylde: Yeah, that's what rock and roll has always been. Rock and roll was never invited to that party, ever. It's the way it's always been and it's almost like one of these snooty parties that your sister used to go to. My sister went to Catholic school and they'd have all these little rich girl parties that their friends would go to, that we never had anything in common with, so we'd be like the scumbag, dirt bag assholes. They'd never want to have anything to do with us.

Songfacts: Yeah, it's like, "Let's go out to the parking lot and drink instead."

Wylde: Yeah, we'd sit there with our Led Zeppelin and our Black Sabbath records and Allman Brothers records and they're listening to Madonna and pop music and everything like that, and we're going, "Let's get the fuck out of here. What are we doing here, man? We wouldn't hang out with anybody in this place anyways."

So, that's the way it's always been. Here's Led Zeppelin, the biggest band in the world, and they're not even nominated.

Songfacts: Speaking of Grammys, you won for the song "I Don't Want To Change The World" back in '94. Does it mean anything to you or does it just sit in the basement collecting dust?

Wylde: Put it this way: I think they just looked at the thing - Best Metal Performance or Rock Performance or whatever the hell it was [Best Metal Performance With Vocal] - and they went, "Ozzy Osbourne?" You know, they were all sitting around a table going, "That guy's still alive? I remember my older brother going to a Black Sabbath concert or a devil worship thing. I guess we'll fill him in. I don't know who any of these other bands are anyway. We have a winner – Ozzy Osbourne!"

Songfacts: We've talked before about all those songs with Songfacts, but one you didn't talk about was "Perry Mason," which is a pretty well-known song. How did you come up with that song?

Wylde: Once again, it just riffs, just like [sings riff]. So, it was just like "Miracle Man" or any of the other ones. It's just like: "Zakk, have you got any riffs?"

Songfacts: So, for you, it's more about just sitting down and hashing them out, and kind of like woodshedding almost, just getting everything out?

Wylde: I remember John Sinclair, who plays keys. John was just jamming on it. It's like, "John, what's that, man, that's cool?" So, I started playing along with him.

Yeah, we started with that [sings - play below to hear this part - it will make more sense] and then [sings riff] and said, "Let's do something like that." And then we did the climb up and then I took on doing the climb and then I had that riff. Then Ozzy was like, "Oh, cool, man, let me sing something on that," and then Oz just started singing. That's pretty much how they all come about.

Songfacts: Last summer you did some more shows with Ozzy. What was it like to be back on stage in that environment rather than with Black Label Society?

Wylde: Oh, it's great. The whole thing with Oz, even though I wasn't playing with him for like nine years and Gus was out there crushing it. Me and Barbaranne, my wife, we still kept in touch with Ozzy and Mom, so we'd go out to dinner and hang out during the holidays, Ozzy's birthday, Mom's birthday, the kids' birthdays, Christmas, things like that. So, we were in touch. Just because I wasn't playing with Oz doesn't mean I don't love him any less than I did when I was playing with him in the past.

Songfacts: Is it a bit different touring with him? Do you feel like you have any less control or is it the same thing, like you're just one big family and everyone's free to speak their mind?

Wylde: No, it's like I never left. It's where I came from and it's like my home away from home, so it's just like me and you going back to our parents' house, going, "Hey, guys," and us bringing groceries over and then cleaning up the house for mom and dad and then mowing along in the back and just making sure the house looks nice. So, nothing's really changed. As soon as I came back, it's just like when I left. It's like everybody's crying laughing. I've always said, "It's a miracle anything gets done around here because we're always crying laughing."

All you got to do is be around Ozzy for like five minutes, because he takes the piss out of himself. He's constantly making fun of himself. We could be watching TV for two seconds and he's like, "Look at the state of this one." So, you'll be on the floor crying laughing. Man, it's amazing.

Songfacts: He's come out and said there might be shows here and there but there's probably going to be one final world tour over the next couple of years. How does that feel for you? Is that sad, or is that bittersweet?

Wylde: I mean, seeing Sabbath and everything like that, I don't know how much more you can go out on top.

Songfacts: Right, and that's part of it, is leaving a positive legacy.

Wylde: Yeah, a #1 record. It's like John Elway: he's going to stick around, he wins that last Super Bowl, and then he retires, he's right on top. You can't go out more on top, like if you had to script it for a movie. And like you said, those records will be forever, so the music will never die. If Oz wants to do the two years, it'll be good. If he says let's just keep going, yeah, why not?

But I think the game plan right now is to go out 'til 2020 and that's it. But, I'll always be here for Oz, whether he needs me to clean the dog, or go in the backyard and mow the lawn. It's like, "No problem, I'll pick up some milk and eggs on the way over."

Songfacts: Cool. Maybe you can't talk about this, but can you foresee a new record with him before all that happens?

Wylde: I don't know. I know Oz is jamming with a bunch of buddies he has, but if Oz is like, "Have you got any more stuff like 'Mama,' have you got any riffs lying around?," I'd be like, "Yeah, sure, Oz." I'd pull something out of my ass and say, "I'll write a bunch of riffs, whatever you like we'll use, and whatever you don't like we'll just put that aside. And I'll save that for like Barbra Streisand, per se."

Songfacts: Do you think if there might be some new material before you go out on the road with him?

Wylde: That's up to the boss.

Songfacts: Is there anything else you wanted to add about Grimmest Hits or your upcoming tour?

Wylde: No. The album in Billboard the guys were just telling me is at #4 and it's #1 on the Rock chart and all this other silly stuff. It just goes to show you the power of payola, paid vacations and hookers.

February 16, 2018
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