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Interview: Zakk Wylde (Black Label Society)

29 November 2021

Photo by Jen Rosenstein

Though you can, in this case, judge a band’s sound by the way they look (think Harley-riding-Vikings), the members of Black Label SocietyZakk Wylde (vocals/guitar), Dario Lorina (guitar), JD DeServio (bass), Jeff Fabb (drums) – are some of the most down-to-earth, fan-friendly artists around. In a recent phone call, Wylde tells me that the nightly meet-and-greet with the Black Label Society fan chapter in each city on tour is something the band enjoys. “Nobody has to force that on me,” he says in a rather thick Jersey accent.

Black Label Society’s eleventh studio album, Doom Crew Inc., was released on Black Friday and gives hard rock fans something to be thankful for as a turbulent, yet one-with-promise, year comes to an end. And while Wylde loves cranking out new riffs in his home studio, nothing beats playing those songs in front of rabid fans on the road which is where I caught up with Wylde as he was in the midst of a headlining tour with openers Obituary and Prong.

The new album is full of the hard rock songs that Black Label Society fans know and love but I appreciate the sensitive side, the ballads that you’ve included on the new album.

ZAKK: Thanks, brother. As much as I love listening to Zeppelin doing “Black Dog,” I love it when they do “Going to California.” Same thing, Sabbath can do “Into the Void” but then when they do “Changes” on the piano, it’s a great song as well. I’ve always loved the mellow stuff anyways. It’s just another side. I love listening to the Eagles, the Allmans, the Stones when they’re doing “Wild Horses.” The first Black Label Society song I wrote was “Spoke in the Wheel,” so, the mellow stuff has always been there.

You named some of the influences. In my ears, I hear everything from Ray Charles to Bob Seger to even some Skynyrd/southern rock on some of the slower songs on Doom Crew Inc. You already mentioned the Eagles, anybody else you draw from that may not be obvious?

ZAKK: Every band is a reflection of what you digest and what you love. If you listen to the Black Crowes, you go, “What’s in that soup? What are you tasting?” Humble Pie. The Rolling Stones. The Allman Brothers. The Faces. You can taste it in the soup. Guns N’ Roses is early Aerosmith and their punk influences. If you’re having a Guns N’ Roses soup, do you taste any Black Sabbath in there? No, not at all. When you listen to certain artists, you know where it’s coming from and what they love. That’s why we tell kids, just do what naturally you love and what you play. Otherwise, you’re always a day late and a dollar short. Bon Jovi’‘s doing what Jon wants to do. It’s like, “This is where I’m coming from, this is the music I love.” Slippery When Wet is the biggest album on the planet. Record companies are telling Guns N’ Roses they need to be more like Bon Jovi. And they’re like, “Yeah, but that’s not what we do.” And then when Guns N’ Roses is the biggest band on the planet, they’re telling Chris Cornell that he needs to be more like Guns N’ Roses and Chris was like, “But that’s not what we do.” And then the Green Day guys, when the grunge thing is massive, they are telling the Green Day guys they need to be more like Alice in Chains. They’re like, “Yeah, but that’s not what we do.”

I remember before I played with Ozzy, it was just “How do you get a record deal?” You have to be more like what’s popular but I was like, “You should be doing the complete opposite of that.” Almost act like you’re oblivious to it and you don’t even know what’s going on. It’s really the truth. When Led Zeppelin came out, Led Zeppelin was just being Led Zeppelin right from the beginning. Sabbath was just being Sabbath. If you told Fleetwood Mac they need to be more like Black Sabbath, they’d be like, “Yeah, but that’s not what we do.” Just play what it is you love and if people like it, then great. At least you’re up on stage playing the music you love playing.

With Black Label, there’s always Sabbath floating around in the soup and all my love for all these other bands, whether it’s the Stones and Zeppelin and Deep Purple. For me, riffwise, in this genre of music, it always starts with the riffs. Whether it’s “Smoke on the Water” or “Whole Lotta Love” or “Into the Void,” that dictates whether it’s going to be a good song or not. With the ballads, my love for Elton John and the Allman Brothers, and like you said, Ray Charles and Sam Cooke. I love all that stuff as well. You’re a reflection of all the music you that you love. When you’re listening to it all the time, you’re digesting it, it’s going in your DNA. For the Black Crowes, Rich and those guys, because they love the Stones so much, no matter what they’re playing, it’s going to be in that soup.

I heard something recently that I had never really thought of. Bands in the ’70s and ’80s, their influence pool wasn’t that deep. Rock and roll was relatively new. They didn’t have the amount of influences a band starting today will have. There’s a million more bands today and 60 years of rock music that today’s bands can draw from whereas Zeppelin and Sabbath, they didn’t have a lot to pull from so they were making stuff up as they went.

ZAKK: Yeah, I guess it’s true. They [Zeppelin, Sabbath] got it from hearing a blues riff. It’s gasoline and then they make it nitrous. Basically taking a Model T Ford and making it a Formula One race car. That’s what they did with the riffs, they super charged them. People have even said, “Can you imagine if the Beatles had today’s technology with Pro Tools?” I go, “No. Those records wouldn’t have been as good as they are.” They didn’t have 64 crayons, they only had 4. So, you have to use your imagination and get creative and go, We have red and we have white. If we blend them together, we get pink. So now we have 3 colors.” Even though you only have 2 crayons, they mix them together and are like, “Wow, we get another color. Now we can have 3 colors.” It wouldn’t have come out, the way those records did, Hendrix and the Beatles and The Doors if they had today’s technology. It actually wouldn’t have been as good.

This is no secret. You guys look like you have a ton of fun. You’re the definition of “don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” Just looking at a picture, you come across as pretty intimidating but you guys just seem to have a lot of fun. Are the videos you made reflective of you guys?

I just always think, if we’re going to make a video, just give me a reason why I should be watching this thing. The idea for “End of Days,” I was just like, “Let’s make a video of me and JD in these ridiculous outfits.” There’s no guitars, no drums, no nothing. Actually, no band performance, just me and JD, we’ll start as a street corner and we’ll be like these people who get paid to advertise on a street corner for Home Depot or whatever. And then I’m pissed off and am like, “Dude, go on the other side of the street, this is my corner.” And then JD is like, “No, why don’t you leave?” And it starts right there. It’s just a brawl throughout the whole video, it’s just us fighting. We were laughing, just talking about how we’re going to figure out how we’re going to do this thing. We’re crying laughing at how ridiculously stupid this thing is going to be. And then it’s like, “Why don’t we have Jeff and Dario, we’ll have them as rappers for no reason at all? And then you guys can beat them up. They’ll sing the middle part, this is going to be friggin hilarious.” That’s pretty much the game planning for the video. And then we get together with Justin and we shoot them. When we watch the final thing, when Jeff gets done ending the thing, we’re all crying laughing. This thing came out great. It has nothing to do with the song. You can actually watch this thing without the music on.

Did you guys do all your own stunts? Was that you guys fighting?

ZAKK: Of course. I guess, if you want to call it that! [laughs]

Weren’t you on the road when everything started getting shut down in 2020?

ZAKK: We were touring. We did the Rave in Milwaukee. We were rolling with the Milwaukee chapter and that was the last show we did before the world shut down. And then, we just got done rolling with the Milwaukee chapter again at the Rave. It was like 22 months later, since the last time we played there, so it was basically almost two years. It felt like we were just there 3 months ago.

Had that been the longest time that you hadn’t been on the road?

ZAKK: Yeah, pretty much. Ever since I joined Ozzy. ’89 was the end of the No Rest for the Wicked tour … ’89 or ’90 … and then No More Tears came out in ’91. And then we were out on the road again. I’m sure I wasn’t home for 22 months. It’s probably been the longest ever. I loved every second of it, waking up in the morning, having coffee in my own house with Barb and the kids and the dogs. And then bringing the dogs for a walk every day and then just enjoying my time home.

The album’s been done for about a year?

ZAKK: Yeah, probably about there.

Did it feel like you had turned in your last homework assignment and now could go on summer vacation or are you still writing stuff even though you turned the album in?

ZAKK: I think I’ve written a couple of things since then but usually after we get done with a record, I’m done. I usually wait until we’re going to do the next record and then I’m like, “Okay, what, I’ve got a month before the guys come out here? Cool, I have a month to write a record.” And then you just go into the writing mode and I start digging for riffs. We’re doing a couple of shows, 4 in a row, and then a day off, 4 in a row, day off. I look forward to the set. Once we get going, we don’t even soundcheck. I’m looking at you, you’re looking at me. It feels like we just did this 45 minutes ago. I look forward to it every night but a lot of times we don’t even soundcheck. Everybody knows what they’re doing.

I know you’ve talked about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the past. If and when the day comes where you get inducted, who would you like to have do the induction?

ZAKK: I guess either Raquel Welch or Jaclyn Smith. That would be nice. Sophia Loren. That would be nice [laughs]. It doesn’t have to do with anything, it doesn’t matter [laughs].