Zakk Wylde Explains the Nuttiness of the Music Industry

For almost two decades, Zakk Wylde has always been equal parts influence and inspiration in the realm of rock and metal. By the time he was 20, he’d sparked Ozzy Osbourne’s interest and went on to co-write and record several albums with the Prince of Darkness, including the multi-platinum No More Tears, Ozzy’s best selling solo album that features “Mama, I’m Coming Home” and much of the 2002 double-platinum Ozzmosis. Wylde’s resume also includes countless guest appearances, benefit shows, a comedic 2013 guide to the music industry (Bringing Metal to the Children), movie appearances, and most recently, a line of gear that kicked off with Wylde Audio (debuted at NAMM 2015), and Wylde Guitars.

Earlier this month, Wylde announced that he had inked a distribution deal with Schecter Guitar Research to create Wylde Guitars, and his axes will be for sale throughout 70 countries. The first set will include three models that will debut in January at NAMM 2016: the Odin, War Hammer and Viking. He has been using the guitars at recent Black Label Society shows.

But none of his projects or bands comes close to expressing Zakk Wylde’s metal identity as his band Black Label Society. For 15 years, the bluesy, unwavering, guitar-heavy quartet has been notorious for pinch harmonics and shredding solos as it is piano-fueled, soaring ballads. While 2014’s Catacombs of the Black Vatican is testament to BLS’s “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, fans can look forward to a 2016 Book of Shadows II, (Book of Shadows was Wylde’s ’96 debut solo album), which will bring equal parts acoustic, electric, piano, and, in Wylde’s words, “some ‘Angel of Mercy’-type stuff,” which many fans see to be tune that embodies all of Wylde’s best talents, topped off with a doubleneck guitar. 

While he’ll be spending his holidays on the road for tour, the first stop on his next tour will be in Tempe at the Marquee Theatre on December 26. New Times'  interview with Zakk Wylde that was preluded by a burst of piano notes dancing across the phone line. About 20 seconds later, Wylde, in a sing-song voice, bellowed “Hello, doll!” — his usual greeting to our interviews — before he joyfully admitted he was “tickling the ivories” for some new music.

So did you get great feedback from Bringing Metal to the Children?

I did actually, and people ask if I’m going to write another one but who knows? I mean, there’s no end to the madness and the stories and the things you learn. That’s the beauty of being in the music industry: it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

You described the book as “Seinfeld on steroids.

Without a doubt. I mean, there’s no other job where — there are no qualifications. If you’re going to be a doctor you need a degree, if you’re going to be a welder you need a license. But being in the music business . . . you learn as you go. That’s why it’s so hysterical. I mean, if you have someone managing your restaurant you want them to have worked in the restaurant business. With music, in a sense it’s like why do I need a manger? I’ll play your club, give me $100, not $80, not $90, a hundred. In the beginning so many bands don’t know anything about how much they are getting fisted and raped. It’s like, you think you own the house, but you’ll never really own the house. The industry has really screwed it all up.

Well that’s why your book does have some valuable information! So your tour through Phoenix has Huntress as a supporting act, which is an incredible live show, but very theatric and conceptual. That should be an interesting dynamic for Black Label Society. How did that pairing come about?

Well, most often in the industry you get that set up through your label of course, but also a lot of the time it’s just through relationships. You know, I talked to my friends or a guy I know, and one of them might manage a band, and they tell me about them, and the band is kickass. So it’s like, let’s tour together. Someone gets me turned on to a band and, and then if the suggestion comes up for them to tour with us, it’s like, okay! Everyone knows everybody so it’s cool.

From the audio products at NAMM 2015, and then in NAMM 2016 you’ll be officially releasing your line of guitars. What can fans expect from this addition of the guitars?

Well, getting it under way and launching it . . . You know, you have to be completely happy with the products you’re putting out. At this point, it’s about tweaking and figuring things out — like we need to get the neck a little smaller, etc. Until we get it to the point, where the soufflé is ready, and it’s ready to come out of the oven. You want this stuff to be real and not just a bunch of talk. The ones [guitars] last year were just prototypes to get the ball rolling.

What did you feel was the biggest challenge in creating the type of gear you wanted?

Well, there wasn’t really a challenge, I guess, except getting the right type of people to work on it. You know, that’s how you do things. I mean, if you were starting a restaurant, you would hire people who would make the best food possible. So get great guitar makers, great amp makers. You surround yourself with great people that know what they are doing. You have to surround yourself with the top people.

Of course, but with someone like yourself, who is so passionate about the instrument and the gear, especially with you producing as well, I wonder if you have the type of personality of a perfectionist. And that can be difficult in creating your ultimate dream gear, I'm sure.

Actually, not really. I give the “chef” the recipe I want. And when I’m “eating” it, I say, "You know, maybe a little more lime?" They are the professionals who know how to create this stuff, but I just know how I want it to look, sound, and feel. You know what I mean? Then one day, it tastes perfect. Then there we go! It’s a lot of fun. And when the companies you idolized as a 14-year-old kid want to work with you, being endorsed by them and creating stuff with them, it’s a blessing. It’s just a matter now to make it top quality, good, and for a range of budgets. Why would you put out junk? That’s not what I want to do. You know, Mercedes puts out a $20,000 car [editor's note: the cheapest one we could find locally was a shade over $30,000], but it’s not a pile of junk. And they also have a $150,000 car. They are both slamming in different ways.

Well you definitely have to have that mindset, especially this day in age when there’s so much junk out there.

Yeah, it is what it is. Aside from my name, I wouldn’t want people to buy it because of that. The point is, if you didn’t even know who I was and bought the guitar, they would feel that they really loved it. Oh, look at the label — Wylde Audio. Okay, I don’t know who that is; I just love the guitar. That’s the goal. That the stuff speaks for itself.

Do you see yourself as a musician who could transition from touring and making records to ultimately producing and creating and designing gear?

Well, put it this way: Yeah, it’s another source of income. Like, when I toured with Ozzy, it was another source of income. Think of when you were a kid: You get a paper route, and then mow lawns. And I’ll also clean people’s houses. Then you have four different sources of income coming in. If you have a work ethic and you enjoy working, then you enjoy doing and creating . . .  To me, it’s all a win. I always tell kids, make your band your job. You don’t want a job job, you want to play music. So it make a career. You want to write music, right? Well, then make the band your job. All day, every day. If you aren’t creating music, if you’re not practicing scales, if you don’t have the guitar in your hand, it should be around what you’re doing for the band. Artwork, merch ideas, all in. We own the team together. 

Like if we owned the Diamondbacks together, we should be doing it all. The media, the trades, the research, the draft, the stadium, the restaurants in the stadium, the concessions — you know, everything. All day, every day, you and me have something going on and we go for coffee to discuss what we can make better and try and tweak. And it’s fun. To me, none of it is a pain in the ass, you know?

Do you think a lot of bands have issues with that 100 percent dedication?

Well, you know what we were saying before: We were talking about the music business — early or young artists just get ripped off because they put their trust and faith in the industry executives and labels. Nowadays, there should be more schooling or information to the kids. I mean, the foundation is being able to play well, of course. For example, if you’re a chef and you are a badass cook, but you don’t know how to promote yourself or understand all the aspects of the business, it won’t work. I wish they had those classes in high school or college. When I was 14, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life: play music. I would’ve been loving school all day if I had gone to a music school. I could play music, take lessons, and learn the business of it and how to make it a successful career. Then there’s a reason why I would’ve been going to school.

I look back to my blessings and how I was able to play with Ozzy with I was 19, 20 years old. They were an established band and that helped make me look established. Never, ever did I think about, you know, how do I go on the road? How do I tour? I was foolish. No idea. You just don’t know and why would you? Apart from playing all day, you gotta think about how to make a living doing this.

Well, and you’re known as a musician who picks up a guitar every day. Have you guys narrowed down all the songs for a 2016 album?

Well, for the Book of Shadows II record, we ended up having about 40 basic tracks we put down. So it is a matter of putting lyrics to them and finishing them up. And right now, I mean, before I was talking to you, I was writing music. I’ll probably start recording again before Christmas, doing some vocals, then try to knock out as much as I can in January, and the record should be done.

It’s an immersive-type style for Black Label. You know, acoustic, piano, but electric guitar in there as well.

Well, Arizona looks forward to the tour kickoff on December 26!

Right back at ya, doll. I love the Arizona chapter of the almighty Black Label fans. God bless and we’ll see you soon!

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Lauren Wise has worked as a rock/heavy metal journalist for 15 years. She contributes to Noisey and LA Weekly, edits books, and drinks whiskey.
Contact: Lauren Wise