Exclusive Interview: Black Label Society's Zakk Wylde On Going Unplugged and Staying Sober
An interview with Zakk Wylde never seems to go as planned. One doesn’t interview Zakk so much as one throws down with him. When Revolver gets him on the phone, the Black Label Society frontman/classic Ozzy guitarist/ax-god goes off, chatting so casually and zealously about his band’s recently released acoustic album, The Song Remains Not The Same (eOne), and his recent sobriety that our readied journalistic questions go right out the window. Instead, we talk shop with a man who feels for all the world like just a fellow music fan and an old friend.
REVOLVER Hey, man, how’s it going?
ZACK WYLDE I’m good, man, just doing some methamphetamine, some steroids, and some crack cocaine. Aside from that, it’s good. [Laughs] We got another gig tonight, man. Basically, just doing the majesty of rock.
On your new acoustic album, The Song Remains Not The Same, you re-recorded a couple of tracks from the last BLS album. How do you translate a big, burly BLS song into an acoustic track?
That’s why we named it The Song Remains Not The Same—you know, besides being real into Zeppelin. The only song that’s really an unplugged version of an old track is “Overlord.” With “Parade of the Dead,” the only thing that’s the same is the title and melody. I’m playing it on the fuckin’ piano, and I’m not even playing the riff. It’s me just using them as a working title and lyrics. That’s how I jam. If I’m jamming on an acoustic song, I’ll just start singing “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” over the melody. It’s just something to fucking set it up.
What inspired you to put out an acoustic album rather than just another electric record?
Well, the Order [of The Black, BLS’ last full-length] album hadn’t been out that long, and when we were talking about putting out the next single, we were like, "Why not just put out something new to listen to?" And we had a lot of stuff lying around. And people always talk to me about [BLS' 2004 album] Hangover Music, how much they love that mellow shit at the end of the night to chill out to.
Are you going to take the acoustic stuff live?
We’ve got a lot of tours coming up—we’re doing all the festivals, and then South America, Asia, and Australia—but then we were talking about coming back and doing something, with the songs being performed acoustic but with me playing electric solos and stuff, and maybe having Father Cantrell and Father Slash in, have my buds sit in with me. I thought it’d be cool, like Neil Young’s unplugged stuff. We could get some strings in there with me playing piano and Jerry singing with me, make it sound totally fucking insane. Do a real "un-blackened" thing.
Do you find you have to do either a big electric show or an acoustic show, or can you do a little of both on the live stage?
Well, a set is like a movie—you gotta keep that movie moving along. If we’re watching a movie and it dwells on one part too long, it’s like, Why am I paying attention? Same with a set. If we have a song with four choruses, we only play two. I’ll play Dime’s song, or a song like “Darkest Days,” but that’ll be the mellow song of the set. If you have four mellow songs, you’re losing the crowd. If I go see the Eagles unplugged, I know what I want to see, and if they don’t play “Hotel California,” the crowd gets lost. It’s no good losing a crowd.
Has sobriety mellowed you out?
Nah. It was never really about that, it just got to the point where it started messing with the shows. When it starts getting in the way of shit, that’s when it just gets stupid. It’s like a football player—you run him into the ground enough, he can’t play anymore. All of a sudden, you start having trouble with getting out of bed and taking a piss, and that’s a problem. But nah, we’re still chilling. The rest of the guys are in the back pounding booze and smoking weed and shit the whole time! We got wide-load trucks unloading cases of hard liquor into the bus!
What about productivity? Do you work harder now that you’re on the wagon?
Me and Oz were talking about that one day. He was talking about how getting wasted can give you a lift-off pad. And yeah, if you and the guys are just jamming, it gets your inhibitions down, and some good stuff comes out of it. And if it sounds good, cool! The Sabbath guys were high all the time! But with alcohol, half the time you listen back to it, and you think, Ah, man, that sucks! You’re jamming on some Zeppelin-y thing that you think is the greatest music in the world, and then next day you’re crying from laughing at it, because it’s so fucking horrendous. It’s not like that for all bands. Some bands get cleaned up and sober, and you listen to their new stuff and think, Wow, these guys need to go back on drugs right now, because this is God-awful!’ [Laughs] It never really affected me, man. I never really recorded when I was blasted, anyway. Yeah, in the studio, we’d be drinking beers, but we’d take care of business.
Yeesh, sounds like you’ve been working your ass off lately.
Well, we toured for about four years for the Shot To Hell record, and then the [Order Of The Black] before this one, but in between those four years, I wasn’t just sitting at the house writing songs, I was out working. So as far as I’m concerned, we never really stopped. Between that and tour dates with the Boss, I’ve been always working.
That all sounds exhausting.
I prefer it that way, man! I’ve always said that vacations are for people who hate their fuckin’ job, you know? I’m really not for going to Tahiti and sitting on the beach for a week doing nothing. And since I don’t drink anymore, what am I going to do that I can’t do at home? If I go on vacation, I think, How much is this costing me? Ten grand?! I could be doing this at the house! And it’s not like I’m sitting around doing nothing at home. When I’m sitting at home watching the Yankees, I’ve got a guitar in my hands.