Over the past few decades, Zakk Wylde has somehow mastered the art of being one of the most influential modern guitarists of our time, while still staying under the radar. And while he isn’t one to start many debates, this interview made it clear that, once he gets started on an issue, he’s laying down a solid opinion.
As a former axe-man for Ozzy Osbourne, Wylde co-wrote Ozzy’s biggest selling album, No More Tears, and won a Grammy for “I Don’t Want to Change the World.” As the frontman of Black Label Society, he’s created BLS “chapters” all over the country, and he actually spends quality time with his fans when he swings through town. He launched his guitar/amp company, Wylde Audio, this year, and is promoting his first solo album in 20 years, Book of Shadows II — named one of the most anticipated metal albums of 2016 by Rolling Stone — a rich and diverse offering with intense dialogue about emotions and the fight for the truth. (The fact that he’s sober, faithful, and quite the family man nowadays doesn’t hurt this clarity).
And if you would’ve told him that one day he would be invited to take the stage on Guns N’ Roses reunion tour while promoting this album, he would’ve probably said, “Yeah doll/brother, not in this lifetime.” Not in this lifetime, like the name of the long-awaited GN'R reunion tour coming to Phoenix on Monday, August 15.
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Wylde is known for his talent in two musical pillars representing the hard-working roots and artistic truth in American culture: Southern blues rock and gritty heavy metal. The reason Wylde has been revered across different genres is because of his reverence for the music that’s influenced him: Sabbath and Zeppelin resonate in his riffs, Skynyrd in his mellow, yet powerful pipes, his worship for Buddy Guy in his pinch-harmonic driven blues licks and shredding.
We talked with Wylde about his son Sabbath Page’s fourth birthday, his hopes that Guns N’ Roses will stay reunited, why he’s making his own guitars now, and how we should make entertainment venues safer.
New Times: Congratulations on Book of Shadows II. With Book of Shadows released 20 years ago, how would you say your creative process has changed?
Well, between kids being born, other ones getting older, and people coming and going, the one constant in between the albums is my love for that style of music: The Beatles, Elton John, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Skynyrd, Bad Company. My love for that style of music is that constant thread between both records.
So your love for that style is the core of your creative process.
Totally, but I didn’t have those songs laying around for 20 years or anything like that. I just decided to write it. Like if I wrote books, if I were Stephen King or something, and I wrote Jaws. Let’s say you’re my publisher, and you’re like, this is great! I would say that I was done writing for a while and was going to chill out for a while. So then when you come to me later and ask if I was thinking about writing another book, I would ask how much time I have, and you would say a month. So then I’ll write this new book for you called The Exorcist. So that’s how my records go too — obviously, the time span was different. I write songs beginning to end, not bits and pieces. I find it pretty easy to find inspiration.
Well that’s a great analogy because I also work in book publishing. And as your publisher, I would’ve told you to write another book in a month as well. So, you recently celebrated the fourth birthday of your son, Sabbath Page, on the Fourth of July correct?
Yup! He’s a Fourth of July baby!
So is my dad, so it’s always a party. How did you guys celebrate?
Totally! You don’t have to worry about buying fireworks. We took him out to this one part of our neighborhood where you have a good part of the neighborhood, and our other son Hendrix is on the 8th, just four days later. It’s a birthday bonanza at the Wylde compound.
I felt like this Fourth of July had an intensity connected to it, politically and emotionally. What’re your thoughts on the country’s current state?
Well, whoever is in there, if you’re going to be the Commander in Chief, your job is to be the parent and protect the safety of your “kids.” I mean … it’s not even anything Democratic, Republican, or liberal. It’s none of that. You just do the right thing, and that’s that. I mean, I don’t help a grandmother across the street with her groceries when it’s raining out because I’m a fine, upstanding Irish Catholic. You just do the right thing, and that’s my stance. When it comes to the current state of affairs, it doesn’t matter. You wipe out the bad people, and help people achieve their dreams. People just want to feel safe, be able to pay their bills, and be comfortable.
When you first heard about the Guns N' Roses reunion, what were your thoughts?
I think it’s awesome. It’s great for rock 'n' roll. It’s great for the whole community. They’re out there doing it again; the stadiums and music. … I hope they will make another record and stay together and keep doing it. As far as I’m concerned, they are the [Led] Zeppelin of our generation, hands down. By them doing great, all of rock does great.
It would be pretty awesome to see you and Slash doing something on stage.
Yeah, I mean we’ve done it before — but I’m sure at this one it’ll be great enough for me just watching them!
Tell me a bit about the new Barbarian guitar. It’s your fourth guitar on Wylde Audio now, correct? That’s amazing considering the company launched this year!
Yeah! The Barbarian is next, there’s the Raven, the Behemoth, a doubleneck — that’s what I love about helping design these guitars. It’s a never-ending thought process and I love it.
They are gorgeous. What sets your guitars apart from others?
Well, listen — I was blessed in that Gibson and Epiphone and Marshall and Dunlop wanted to work with me, but now, I have the freedom to create anything I want. I can create any body shape I draw up, and make a mess towards a beautiful end product! Like if we worked at McDonalds, now we have our own burger truck. There’s other things I wanted to do, but I had an awesome time working at McDonalds, I was treated amazing, but now it’s time for me to move forward. Like moving out of your parents’ house. You have your own apartment and you can paint it any color you want — it’s that creative freedom and creating things that I wish I had when I was a young guitarist.
With the large increase in violence at clubs and concerts the past few years, it is making musicians and fans aware that it could happen at any time, anywhere. Do you think all venues should be installing metal detectors and other safety precautions?
Yeah … the Orlando incident … the young singer that was shot at ... it’s horrendous. But what you’re talking about is like when Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon. Why would you do that? And these people want to become a part of history, and Jodie Foster would want to date me. You can’t stop crazy. And like what just happened in Paris, it’s like wow — you really showed them. What is the main goal to achieve? You know what I’m saying?
Well they are not going away any time soon, and neither is music and music fans.
Like they think they’re going to change the world? Wipe out everyone? I mean, we could’ve been hanging out with Charlie Manson back in the day, partying, going to Led Zep concerts and Black Sabbath and having a blast, and the minute he starts talking about starting a race war and we’re gonna change it, I’d be like “what are you talking about?” I like going to the concert with you, but Charlie, I’m leaving dude. I’m not murdering anyone, dude. Jail doesn’t fit into my plan of global domination, having a good time, and going to see Zeppelin again.
You got all these people drinking the Kool-Aid, and you can’t stop crazy. I’m sure all the people you roll with are good people, they don’t want to hurt people they want to help. Then you have morons who want to kill John Lennon in order to make the world a better place. This also isn’t a new thing; it’s been going on forever.
Well of course, but do you think that these safety precautions should be put in place at venues?
Yes, they should do anything they can. People who attend these shows just want to have a good time, and one moron who shows up could ruin dozens of lives. But who starts that? Where do we draw the line?
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It’s hard not to think about [Dimebag Darrell] in those cases. Do you find it weird that people still talk about you filling Dimebag’s shoes in Pantera?
Nah, whenever anyone mentions Dime it’s a beautiful thing. Whenever the Pantera thing comes up, they say it would be more of a reunion. But I mean uh, if the guys asked me to do it, I would be honoring all the mountains they climbed in Pantera, all their achievements, and celebrate Dime’s greatness. So, to me, it’s not a Pantera reunion, it’s a Pantera celebration. There’s no filling Dimebag’s shoes. Or Randy Rhoads. Or any of those legends — I don’t care how talented you are.
Yes, but between your award-winning work with Ozzy, Wylde Audio, your merch line, your influence among generations of guitar players – what stands out the most as being something that you’re most proud of?
All of it — the ride in its entirety. Where I am right now, I couldn’t ask for anything more. My Black Label Family, Wylde Audio, there’s tons of stuff going on. I’m having a winning season, and this time on the Guns N' Roses tour makes me completely beyond grateful.