Zakk Wylde on his Ozzy split, his health and the future
Zakk Wylde is on a roll. The man known for reducing concert stages across the world to splinters with his blazing acts of guitar heroics is riffing alright, but it's not what you'd expect.
He's acting out Seinfeld shows. Many of them. He must have some DVD or TiVo collection, because you name the episode - the Chinese restaurant, Jon Voight's car, the date with Keith Hernandez - and Wylde's got it down, scene-by-scene, line-by-line. Getting through them is difficult if only for the fact that Wylde keeps cracking himself up.
The episode in which Elaine dates an orchestra conductor who insists on being referred to as 'The Maestro' is a particular favorite of his, and he re-enacts bits with astonishing accuracy.
But then it's down to serious business, and in this, the final installment of our Zakk Wylde interview, he addresses his split with Ozzy (and has some surprisingly gracious words for Gus G, his replacement), his health (last August he was hospitalized for blood clots that spread from his legs to his lungs) and his future, which now centers around his own band, Black Label Society.
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Zakk, do I call you 'The Maestro'?
[mock serious tone] "Yes, I would prefer that. The Maestro…The Great." [lets out a loud laugh]
[laughs] OK. To start right off, regarding Black Label Society, you're going to record a new album with the band -
- but before you do, I understand you're going to build your very own recording studio in your house.
"Yes. We've got the compound and now we'll have the bunker. You know, when you record a record, you figure, if you're looking at $1,000 a day and you're in there for 60 days, that's $60,000. And then you've gotta pay everybody. To do an album, minimal, it's a quarter of a million dollars. Or maybe it's $100,000 - $150,000.
"So if you take that money and build a studio, you never have to spend that money again. I mean, you still have to pay for an engineer. But it's like buying a house, you know?
"And even if you have a studio, it's still cool to go to different places. If you want to record in London, you record in London; if you want to record in Canada, you can go there; if you want to record in Seattle, you can go there; if you want to record at Electric Ladyland, you can go there. That's the fun part of recording in different places - you're not in the same damn place all the time.
"It's like when Eddie Van Halen built his studio, he said, 'We can record as long as we want. And if we want to take three weeks off, it's not gonna cost us $21,000 to take an ear break,' you know?"
Plus, for writing and getting ideas down, I think it would be a big help.
"Even the stuff I've written on the road, when I get home, there's another 15, 16 ideas, and I don't even feel like using the old ones 'cause they're like a year old."
"Totally. I mean, all my writing, I always do it in the studio, 'cause everything sounds good. The piano's there, the keyboards; if you want to put strings on something…And everything sounds good when it's in the cans, it sounds killer.
"When we're touring, all I'll do is pick up the guitar and practice, do scales and stuff like that. But as far as writing? We're up there doing an hour and a half every night. You're in, like, show-mode.
"Even the stuff I've written on the road, when I get home and we get in the studio and I start writing, there's another 15, 16 ideas, and I don't even feel like using the old ones 'cause they're like a year old. You ask any musician, they're diggin' the new stuff they came up with; that's what they're most excited about.
"You know, when Axl was doing Chinese Democracy, some of those songs were 14 years old! If that was the case with Led Zeppelin - and they were only around from '68 to '79 - I mean, if they would've written Stairway To Heaven before that first album, it never would've seen the light of day. You would've said, 'Hey Jimmy, what was that acoustic thing you did, that Stairway To Somethin' or whatever?' And he would've been, 'I did that in The Yardbirds. That's '66, bro. It's 1979 - who cares about that?' You're always on to the next thing, you know what I mean?"
To have your own studio, you must be psyched.
"It's gonna be killer. And for all my buddies that want to record, I can say, 'Guys, instead of spending 40 grand on a record, come up here and -
"Yeah. [then, laughs] Spend 50! Me and Joe will split it."
I'm the dealmaker.
"Exactly. 'Hey, it wasn't my idea, it was all Joe.'" [laughs]
Let's talk about the direction of the record. Have you been doing demos?
"Nah, I never demo. Never have. The only demos I've ever done was when we did No More Tears. We did, like, Mama I'm Comin' Home, I Don't Want To Change The World and Desire.
"The vocal performance that Ozzy did on the demo? I mean, he still sang his balls off on the finished version. But you get so used to hearing the demo, that ends up being what you want - and it never comes out the same. So it's like, 'Dudes, if we know the song, just go in and record it once.'"
"The doctor goes, 'Dude, your liver enzymes are high, your pancreas enzymes are high…[laughs]…from the booze! Well, I guess the party's over for you, Zakk.'"
But while traveling, do you ever just take out a Radio Shack recorder and write down your ideas?
"Once in a while. But the majority of the time, when I'm at the house, when I jam something on the piano, I have an old Panasonic recorder and I'll jam it on that thing.
"For me, the music dictates the melody. Give me a riff to sing over, you know? Or a piano thing and I'll sing 'The lonnnnng and winding roooooad.' That's why I don't walk around with a hand-held thing and sing into it. It's like, 'You want me to put music to that?'
"That's what's so cool about being in the studio: I can write the music first, I can listen to it in sensurround, and it'll inspire me to start singing something."
Let's segue radically here. Obviously, this year your health has -
"Oh, the last couple of years. You know, I had throat surgery. We had to check that out and make sure it wasn't cancerous. I had a polyp on my vocal cord so I had that taken out."
I didn't know that.
"Yeah. And then I had a hernia - an umbilical hernia from lifting - so I had to have that taken care of. That was all while I was on the road. And the best was when I had this blood clot thing, the doctor goes, 'Dude, your liver enzymes are high, your pancreas enzymes are high…[laughs]…from the booze! Well, I guess the party's over for you, Zakk.'"
"Phil, our security guy, he goes, 'Yep, you really did a number on yourself, asshole.' [laughs] He said, 'See, you got the tortoise and you got the hare. There's the Irish pub - Zakk, you just flew over there and rifled down as much shit as you could, brother!'
"I go, 'This sucks. No more booze.' And then he says, 'Yeah, party's over for you, asshole. But not for us…because we chose to be…turtles!'" [laughs]
Well, we're all very glad that you're OK.
"Ahh, thanks, brother. Now I have to take these blood thinners, and you can't be drinking while taking those, 'cause otherwise you'll be bleeding internally and all that shit. I don't think you need rehab for that. If somebody tells you, 'Dude, you can't drink,' you can't drink, you know?
"I mean, the funny thing is, I asked the guy, 'Is it alcohol-related?' And he was like, 'No. If anything…if you had these [blood clots] all your life, the alcohol was helping 'cause it was thinning out your blood. It's not that I'm advocating you go out and blow your liver out and your kidneys and your pancreas and everything like that,' you know?
"'Zakk, we're very proud of you, but you're 42 years old now. We just think it's about time you take your wife and your kids and you get the fuck outta your bedroom and grow the fuck up and get a job'" Zakk describing how Ozzy fired him
"But the first thing he asked me was, 'Do you do a lot of traveling?' And I'm like, 'Yeah. You know, since I was 19, when I joined Ozzy, I'm either flying, I'm on boats or I'm on the tour bus. But it's not like I'm sittin' there driving the thing, you know, where I'm stationary for like 18 hours, 22 hours.'
"Then I looked at him and I said, 'When I'm in the studio, I'm sitting down and recording. When I'm home and I'm practicing - you know, I'll walk around and stand up practicing right behind the tour - but any musician jammin' behind the piano or sittin' down with the guitar, you're sitting down practicing.' Or else I'm off at the McSorley's! [laughs] Sittin' at the bar, you know? So I go, "Hmmm, there is a lot of sitting going on,' you know what I mean? [laughs]
"But any awareness, if I can give it to anyone, is 'Dude, go to your doctor and get it checked out, 'cause I wouldn't have known about this thing if my fucking leg wasn't killin' me."
Of course, the other major thing that's happened in the last year has been your split with Ozzy...
"Well, I'll tell you how it went down. This is how it went down. Oz and Mom (Sharon Osbourne), they said, 'Zakk, son, we need to talk to you.' They sat me down at the kitchen table and said, 'Zakk, we're very proud of you, but you're 42 years old now. We just think it's about time you take your wife and your kids and you get the fuck outta your bedroom and grow the fuck up and get a job - because me and your mother want to enjoy our life now. I think we've done enough. You're 42, now get the fuck out of the house!'"
And make something of yourself.
"Yes! So that's where we're at right now. [laughs] That's what happened. As rough as it was for me, I had to accept it." [laughs]
Now, I know Ozzy is like family to you, but when it all did happen - I know you were kind of kidding - it seemed to take people surprise -
"Well, I found out from Neil Zlozower, 'cause he was doing a photo shoot with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. He calls up and goes, 'Hey dude, I hear you're not playing with Ozzy anymore.' I go, 'Where'd you hear this?" And he's like, 'I heard it from Gene and Paul.' So I go, 'Well, I guess I'm not playing with Ozzy!'" [laughs]
But was it a shock?
"It's always been this way: 'We're going out on the road.' It's like, 'When?' 'Tomorrow.' 'What?!'
"Gus, who's playing with him, he's fucking awesome. So I hope he has a millisecond of the good time I had" Zakk on his replacement in Ozzy's band, Gus G
"I'm the last person to find out anything, you know? 'Wait a minute…I have three kids?' [laughs] 'Yeah, they're 17, 16 and 7, man, so we need some college money now.'
"But I've been with Oz since I was 19; I'm fucking 42 years old. It's just like…like with my dad passing away, same with my mom…I don't go, 'Oh, this sucks.' I never ask; I always thank.
"At least I got to spend 23 years with the boss. And he knows I'll always be there with him. Gus, who's playing with him, he's fucking awesome. So I hope he has a millisecond of the good time I had - that's a fucking lifetime. Gus will have a fucking blast, you know what I mean?"