In addition to being one of rock's greatest guitar masters, Black Label Society leader Zakk Wylde is also one of its most skilled and colorful raconteurs. Asked to explain the title of the band's ninth studio album, the powerfully rifftastic Catacombs Of The Black Vatican, and he's out of the gate like a champ.
"My studio is called the Black Vatican," he says. "I painted it black like that Anton LeVay guy with the black house. My wife, Barbaranne, she said, ‘Painting the place black. What are you, 12 years old?’ And I said, ‘No. I take offense to that – I’m 13. And I’m in Black Label Society, not Brown Label Society. You’re just lucky you’re not married to Jimi Hendrix; otherwise, that thing would be painted purple!’”
He lets out a deep, hearty chortle, then adds, "And the catacombs represent my gaping asshole after 25 years in the music business. Believe me, it’s dark and it's cavernous, and there’s a lot of dead bodies in there. Nobody wants to go there, pal.”
When it comes to interviews, as he is on stage or on record, Wylde never phones it in – even when calling from the road to talk about the new album, ballads that aren't really ballads, and why he doesn't stockpiles riffs.
I'm curious – have you heard from any members of the clergy about the new album's title?
[Laughs] “There hasn’t been any kind of official response, but I’m not worried. I’m a good Catholic boy. In an inadvertent way, I’m promoting Catholicism with this record. You know, it’s like how I call people ‘Father Joe’ or whatever. I call the greats ‘Saint Rhoads,’ ‘Saint Hendrix,’ ‘Pope Page,’ ‘Father Iommi,’ and so on – all the gods who passed away who are now up in God’s tavern. No, bro, I’m a good Catholic boy – people know that.”
With very few exceptions, you've produced the band's albums yourself. How do you rate yourself as a producer?
“You know, it's just a matter of letting stuff happen. If you’re producing Salvador Dali, you’ve gotta let him be himself, you know? Let him paint and do his thing. It’s like being a coach: If you’ve got great players, let ‘em play. When I’m producing a record, I don’t tell the guys what to play. That defeats the whole purpose of having them around. I’ll show them the riff and I’ll say, ‘OK, here’s what I got. What do you have for that?’ If I have a certain idea for a drumbeat or a bassline, sure, I’ll tell them. But I want to know what they have. Surprise me, you know?
“As far as my own stuff goes, I’ll bounce the stuff off the guys to see what they think. I'll say to [bassist] JD [DeServio], 'Bro, what do you like best, the Al Di Meola solo or the David Gilmour one?’ And if he’s like, ‘I’m feelin’ the Comfortably Numb solo,’ then I’ll bag the Al D shred thing and I’ll go with Dave. Or maybe I’ll combine them and do a Neal Schon thing. I’m pretty easygoing in the studio. Once I know that everything sounds great, that I've got the sonics down, then I’ll let things happen.
“Put it this way: Roger Clemens is gonna pitch like Roger Clemens – you can’t make him pitch like Greg Maddux. Greg isn’t an overpowering pitcher; he’s more of a finesse guy. Same with players. If you’ve got the right guys in the room, you don’t need to tell them a bunch of shit. Think about if you were producing the first Guns N’ Roses record. It’s like, what do you need to do there? Nothing. You just hope the guys show up, and you keep supplying them with endless vats of booze and whatever else they had going on. You just turn on the tape and get it down."