Incendiary guitarsmith and Vikingesque tower of power, the mighty, mighty Zakk Wylde spoke with us today about his unquenchable passion for music, creative influences, acting roles, and the hot-as-Tabasco (er, Berserker) Wylde Audio product range, among other things. Hitting Australia again this November to play a string of dates that are undoubtedly set to blow the minds of the Zakk Wylde Black Label Society’s antipodean chapter, Zakk and the boys are currently finishing work on the much-anticipated Book of Shadows II album. When we dial his number, Zakk answers the phone by singing a cheerful and operatic ‘Helloooooooo Theeeere!’ down the line.
SR: Hi, Zakk! How are you?
ZW: Hey, what’s goin’ on? I’m doin’ great! I’m over in California right now and then I’m getting ready to go out with the Jersey chapter in a little bit. We’ve got a show on Saturday and after that, we’ll get back to working on Book of Shadows II over at the Black Vatican. And after that, we’re going to mix it and get ready to roll with the Australian chapter.
SR: Saturday’s the Food, Truck, and Rock Carnival in Jersey, right?
ZW: Yeah, we’ve got a Black Label mass coming up on Saturday.
SR: What are the home shows like for you? Do you run into people from your past a lot – kids from school and people you grew up with?
ZW: Yeah, without a doubt. I see high school buddies and stuff like that. Yeah, it’s always a really good time, for sure.
SR: What’s your favourite venue to play?
ZW: Wherever anybody will show up.
SR: I read that, as a kid, you skipped school to hone your craft as a guitarist. That’s sure paid huge dividends. Can that kind of dedication be taught, or does it have to be in the blood from the beginning?
ZW: No, you have to have passion for anything you do. Whether it’s sports, whether it’s music, whether you want to be Mother Theresa, you have to have passion for what it is you do, or what’s the point in getting up in the morning and getting out of bed? And I tell my kids that. I say, ‘Whatever it is you love, and whatever it is that you want to do, that’s what you should be doing. Not what me and your mother tell you to do. What is it that you like doing? That’s what you should be doing. Whatever it is that you love doing, and whatever you have passion for, that’s what you’ll excel in!’
SR: You picked up a guitar at the age of 8. I’m not sure that most other kids that age are as focused. What do you put that dedication down to?
ZW: I don’t know. Even when I played sports when I was little, I played to win. Otherwise, what’s the point of putting the pads on and going to practice? I don’t understand. Then again, I love the process too. I enjoy working out, I enjoy practising guitar. And back in the day when we had football practice during the week, whenever it was, I enjoyed going to practice. I enjoyed the practice as much as the games. I enjoyed the whole process. I hear people say that they like to tour but that they don’t like to make records, or vice versa: they like making records, but they don’t like touring. But I love making records and I love being onstage. They’re two different animals. Being in the studio, it’s more of a controlled environment, where you can be Salvador Dali and sit back and look at the painting. And you can go, ‘Ah, you know what? Maybe a little bit more red over here…maybe add some blue over here.’ You can sit back and look at the painting. Whereas live, it’s just the free flow and the energy and the excitement. It’s a one-off and you have that adrenaline for an hour and a half. And, you know, it’s just a whole different experience. And like I said, I love it. I’m blessed to be able to do what I do.
SR: Who have been the most inspiring and exciting guitarists you’ve seen play live?
ZW: Growing up, my guitar teacher. Seeing him play was pretty mind blowing. When I was 17 or 18 years old, playing clubs, there were two guys, Dave Di Pietro and Kenny Dubman, who played in a band called Prophet. To be able to see those guys play each weekend and whenever we’d open for them, that was a complete guitar lesson in itself each weekend and just completely inspiring. So that was huge for me in my learning process, you know, to have great guys like that around. And then, all the guys that I love, whether it’s Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page, Frank Marino, Randy Rhoads, or John McLaughlin, I get just as much enjoyment out of listening to them and getting inspired and listening to greatness. Like, how could you not be inspired? They’re great musicians. And, like I said, I still have that much excitement and still get that inspired when I hear them, just like when I was 14 years old and I first started playing.
“…I’ll see our almighty Australian Black Label family in a little bit…”
SR: How do you think growing up in New Jersey influenced you creatively?
ZW: Even though it was a small town with really nothing going on, it was great. I had my friends and it was just music all the time, for me. That’s what it was all about: just practising all the time. I knew that I was going to dedicate my life to music and that was it. I was practising 14 hours a day.
SR: Can you tell us a bit about your beautifully designed Zakk Wylde Audio line, and if there other products you’re planning to branch out into?
ZW: Well, that’s why I called it Wylde Audio, because it’s not just going to be guitars. It’ll be guitars, strings, picks, I mean, everything in the guitar world…cables, pedals, everything. But I also want to branch out into speakers, tubes, microphones, and then outboard gear – everything to do with ProTools: plugins and stuff like that. But to me it’s no different than when I had a paper route when I was a kid, mowing lawns, or in the winter, shovelling driveways. It’s just all money that’s going to go towards me buying my guitars and amps and doing what I want to do. Yeah, to me it’s no different than when I was 14 or 15 years old, except now I’m 48.
SR: How did your Berserker hot sauce come about?
ZW: Well, Blair (Lazar – founder of Blair’s Sauces and Snacks) approached me about it. He was like, ‘Zakk, I’m doing some hot sauces for some athletes and musicians and I’m just wondering if you’d be interested’ and I said yes. I mean, we have Tabasco and other hot sauces when we’re out on the road. We buy different hot sauces from whatever area we’re in when we’re on the road…if somewhere has a cool hot sauce. So, yeah, the guys in the crew eat it, the guys in the band eat it. So I said, ‘Yeah, it’d be cool.’ Blair make amazing hot sauces so it was a no-brainer. I eat it, so I said, ‘Let’s do it!’
SR: The Bullseye is your trademark guitar, as we know. I read that the design inspiration came from Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
ZW: Yeah, when I saw the movie I thought, ‘Ah, that would be a cool design for a guitar.’ Because, I mean, Randy had the polka dots and Eddie had the stripes. So when I saw it, I thought it would be a really cool design on a guitar. Then my buddy, Max, ended up painting a bullseye on it. I said, ‘Max, this isn’t what I wanted. I wanted the Vertigo design on it.’ And he says, ‘Well, I guess I fucked up.’ (Laughs). It was kinda too late because I had a photo shoot to do that day, and the rest is history.
SR: I saw that beautiful clip of you and your little girl singing I Thank You, Child, and another of you and Hendrix working out together in your home gym. How has fatherhood changed you and what are some of the most important lessons you want your kids to learn?
ZW: Well now, instead of having just me and Barb and the dogs to feed, we have four other people living in the house that we have to feed. (Laughs) We have four awesome kids and they’re super cool. They get it, you know? It’s awesome, having the kids. I mean, a lot of people would say, ‘Oh, having kids – it’s gonna change your life… You get married and it’s gonna change your life!’ when we first started dating. Or, you know, when I got with Ozzy, they said, ‘Now that you’re famous, it’s gonna change you.’ But not really. I still did the same things I did all the time. You’ve got to practise all the time if you want to be good and you’ve got to work hard if you want to be good. I mean, the good lord can give you a gift but it’s up to you to water it, you know what I mean? You’ve got to take care of it. The whole thing is that you’ve got to practise and you’ve got to work hard. I mean, Eddie Van Halen still had to practise and he has a god-given gift, so did Joe Satriani and Jimi Hendrix and Steve Vai and all the guys I’ve already mentioned. All the guys I’ve mentioned practised their asses off. And that’s the reason why they’re the best at what they do.
“…I knew that I was going to dedicate my life to music and that was it…”
SR: Speaking of practice, what tips would you give kids starting out with their first guitars today?
ZW: You have to have passion for what you’re doing. What music moves you and what you love. What you love – not what other people tell you to love. You might think you’ve got to tell kids, ‘Well, you’ve got to learn how to play classical guitar’, but they might think, ‘Yeah, but that does nothing for me. Why do I want to learn that? Why do I want to learn something I couldn’t care less about?’ I mean, if you come around to it later and you like it, then great, you know what I mean? As far as telling kids to learn stuff, it depends on what they want to do. If you want to learn tons of scales, if you want to learn to play Eruption or learn a Randy Rhoads solo, okay. But then, Kurt Cobain would be like, ‘Well, Zakk, that’s not what I want to do. I’m not into that. That’s up to you and Dimebag – you guys love that stuff. I’m more into this – I’m more into punk stuff. I like The Beatles and I like Sabbath. I really don’t care about sitting around practising ten hours a day worrying about learning Eruption. I couldn’t care less.’ You know what I’m saying? It depends on what you want to do musically. Kurt would’ve been like, ‘I love singing songs.’ He was amazing at it, and he would’ve been like, ‘This is what I’m doing. I’m doing what I love.’ It’s a lot easier said than done. Whenever there’s a musical movement going on, that movement was going on four years before it even happened. When Bon Jovi was happening, Guns ‘n’ Roses was doing their thing and nobody knew about it. And then when Guns ‘n’ Roses exploded and became the biggest band in the world, the grunge thing was going on and nobody could care less. Everybody was telling the grunge guys, ‘You’ve got to be more like Guns ‘n’ Roses’ and they were like, ‘Yeah, but that’s not what we do.’ And then, when the grunge thing exploded, everyone I’m sure was telling the Green Day guys, ‘You’ve got to be more like Pearl Jam’ and they were like, ‘Yeah, but we have nothing to do with Pearl Jam.’ And they’d be like, ‘Yeah, but you’ll never make it.’ You know, you’ve just got to stick with what you love.
SR: Which Black Label Society song do you most love playing live?
ZW: It’s a weird thing because the set has highs and lows, like a ride, so it depends. It’s like saying, ‘What’s your favourite Black Sabbath song?’ or ‘What’s your favourite Led Zeppelin song?’ You like the whole record, you know what I mean? Certain albums and their catalogue give you a road trip and it’s like, ‘I haven’t heard this one for a while. Let me put this one on.’ So yeah, that’s the beautiful thing about music.
SR: Well, we get to see you down here again in November. What are some of your favourite memories of playing in Australia?
ZW: Well, obviously the more times we’ve been down there, the more our Black Label family is growing. So we look forward to seeing our Black Label family and every time we go down there, we have a blast, so it won’t be any different when we come down there this time.
SR: We know you as the Viking guitarist. Do you have a favourite character from Norse mythology?
ZW: I think I’d have to go with Odin and Thor (laughs). It’s a good father/son combo.
SR: You’ve tackled a range of acting roles now, including work on Californication, Bones, and Chasing 3000. Do you have any plans to do more acting?
ZW: Yeah. I mean, whenever those things have come up, it’s been like you call me and say, ‘Zakk – I want you to play a drug dealer in this movie. I think you’d be cool for this role.’ It’s like, ‘Well, alright. Tell me what you need me to say and I’ll come down and we’ll laugh our asses off and we’ll do it.’ As far as all the stuff that I’ve gotten, it’s been pretty much a case of that. And it’s always been a good time and everybody down there is super cool. I’ve had some ideas for doing some goofy stuff with some of my buddies. It’s a matter of trying to squeeze it into the Black Label 24/7 366 days a year – trying to cram it in there somewhere, you know?
SR: What do you do in your down time, if you have any?
ZW: The whole time I’ve been down here right now I’ve been going over Black Sabbath tunes and writing lyrics and melodies…coming up with stuff for the Book of Shadows II record, which will hopefully be done at the end of next month.
SR: Speaking of Sabbath, what was it like receiving the accolades for No More Tears?
ZW: I mean, of all the Ozzy records we did – and I had a blast making every one of them – it was, once again, a lot of fun and an ass-kickin’ time. But yeah, I was really happy with the way the album came out, as well. I always had fun making every one of them.
SR: We ask this question of all our interviewees: Do you have any weird, or funny, fan request stories you can share with us?
ZW: No, nothing fazes me. I mean, I’ve got to look at myself in the mirror (Laughs).
SR: Aside from the guys in your band, who are your favourite people to jam with?
ZW: It’s pretty much the guys in my band. I mean, I think when you jam with other musicians, it’s all good. And when I did the Experience Hendrix thing and was jamming with the guys, Tony Franklin and Chris Layton, and they’re great guys, you forge some awesome friendships out of it. So that’s the beautiful thing with Black Label: it turns into a brotherhood of all the guys that played in the band over the years. And we’ve always had a blast. We always have a great time and all the guys can jam. I consider them all my brothers and I still love ‘em.
SR: I read that you like softer stuff, too, like Elton John and Crowded House. What do you and your family usually listen to at home?
ZW: Um, I’m trying to think. If I’m in the car, I’ll listen to Woodstock Radio or Classic Rock or something like that. And I have Sirius Radio, so I listen to new wave stations…stuff that I’m not doing, you know what I mean? I like Echo and the Bunnymen, Crowded House, and the Police. At the same time, I’ll listen to everything from Dimebag to Sarah McLachlan…Zeppelin and Sabbath…Neil Young…Jeff Beck. I listen to everything.
SR: Do you have a message we can send out to your Aussie fans ahead of your tour?
ZW: Yeah, just tell the Australian Black Label family to stay strong and keep believing in Black Label. God bless and I’ll see our almighty Australian Black Label family in a little bit.
Tickets are available here: http://bit.ly/BLSMEL