Exclusive Interview: Zakk Wylde Of Black Label Society
Since 1988, larger than life guitar god Zakk Wylde has shredded for the Ozzy Osbourne band while simultaneously building a strong cult following with his own project, Black Label Society.
So after 20 years of hard rock headbanging, and having played most every club on The Sunset Strip, performing on an outdoor main stage at this year’s SSMF is a real honor for the accomplished guitar virtuoso, whose touring adventures have taken him from Sudsy Malone’s to stadiums across the world.
You’ve played most of the clubs before, so getting a chance to play in the middle of the street must be pretty incredible?
I think it’s great man, because I remember back when I was growing up in Jersey, in Neptune, we used to have these block parties where everyone would be barbecuing and playing Wiffle Ball in the streets, you know in the developments, and this is just a giant version of that, you know what I mean.
It’s definitely cool without a doubt… You know, I’ve played at The Roxy, I’ve done the Whisky before, and actually I’ve played the Key Club as well, so this is definitely gonna be a special thing.
What other bands on the bill are you looking forward to seeing?
Well obviously Marilyn Manson because I’m friends with them. It’s always good seeing those guys and Twiggy [bassist Twiggy Ramirez], so that’ll be cool. The Offspring and The Bad Religion guys… Festivals are just always cool because you get to catch up with the guys in the band, because they are the ones usually always at work. Or they’re touring. Or they’re making records. So everyone’s just really busy. It’s just good to see everyone and catch up.
The Doors are the honoree this year. Did they influence you growing up?
Yeah, the crazy thing about The Doors is that we could always talk about them whenever we talk about amazing, iconic bands. No one’s ever sounded like them before they came around, and no one’s ever sounded like them since.
…I mean ever since Zeppelin came out, and Robert Plant’s vocals with that higher register over the loud guitar—just a screamy vocal over it—that kind of is like the textbook, or the blueprint, of how you make a certain cake; that’s the recipe. So for Jim [Morrison], that baritone voice, it works amazing within the framework of that band, and the instrumentation with the keyboards and the guitar. Jim’s vocals make the music really dark; it’s really good, it’s so unique, it’s just weird.
Like I said, there are just certain bands where no one’s really sounded like them before they came around, and no one’s really sounded like them since, which is mind blowing!
Is Black Label Society doing anything special you can talk about? Any sort of homage to The Doors, or any cover songs?
Well we started breaking out the Black Label lingerie line for men, so I’m shaving my legs, and I have to put on my lipstick and my rouge…it takes about 45 minutes just to get ready for the big rock show… Naw, I mean aside from doing all our usual stuff, we’ll probably work a Doors tune into the set. The Doors kick ass, I’m a fan and so is everyone else in the band!
Who or what for you were you major influences and contributors to you being the success that you are growing up?
Well when I was about 14, I saw my guitar teacher Leroy Wright playing the guitar in front of me, and to physically see someone playing “Eruption,” playing “Crazy Train,” and playing “Heartbreaker,” and playing the guitar solos of all my favorite bands… Just to physically see his hands doing it, right then and there, I was like, “This is what I want to do with my life.” It just looked so interesting and mind blowing. It was like all the answers to the world were in the fret boards and it was just limitless.
You’ve played at the stadiums, the mega festivals, looked out over thousands of people from the stage, you’ve got a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame….
And I’ve played Sudsy Malone’s (Cincinnati, Ohio), where you can literally do your laundry, have a cocktail, and you can watch a band play as well… That’s when I knew I had reached the apex, and the Mecca [laughter]…
Well keeps you grounded right?
Well I don’t need any of that to stay humble… let me put it this way: let’s just say I don’t need to beat up an 88 year old grandmother and do eight years in prison to realize that’s the wrong thing to do [laughter].
Is there anything left musically you want to accomplish, a sort of life goal you wish to fulfill?
You know, that’s the beautiful thing about music—it’s like Zeppelin after writing “Whole Lotta Love” it’s like, “Well we’re pretty much there, what are we gonna do now?” And then all of a sudden they write this thing called “Stairway to Heaven,” and, well we can pretty much retire now. But then they come out with “Kashmir,” you know what I mean…
That’s the great thing about music; there’s something new every day you wake up.
See Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society perform live ON The Sunset Strip Saturday, August 18 during the Sunset Strip Music Festival street fest. Tickets are available at TicketWeb.
–Brent X Mendoza