Zakk Wylde – Black Label Society ‘The Only Words’ Are Sticking To Your Passion

“If you’re not doing what you love, then what’s the point?”

Zakk Wylde. A name synonymous with some of the most recognisable riffs, and a blistering work ethic to match.

The New Jersey-born guitarist, songwriter and producer first established his relationship with Ozzy Osbourne in 1988, after being named lead guitarist for his band. After seven years, he decided to form Black Label Society, with whom he’s released 10 hard-hitting studio records, the latest being Grimmest Hits (which no, isn’t actually a greatest hits record).

In between releasing those albums, intermittently rejoining Osbourne and doing solo work – Book of Shadows (1996) and Book of Shadows II (2016), he’s also been teaching his ways to aspiring guitarists. He sat down to have a chat about celebrating Black Label turning 20, riffs and his enduring relationship with Osbourne.

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With this year being 20 years since Black Label society came together, how’re you feeling about the band and where you guys are at? 

“We’re at the point now that we’re paying off various… things. That’s the whole purpose of keeping the band going. It’s not because we actually enjoy hanging out with each other or enjoy playing music at all, we have outstanding alcohol debts and we’re just paying it off now (laughs). Considering it’s a 20-year anniversary of Black Label, we had a birthday cake made that said ‘Happy 20th birthday. 30 more years to go to catch the Rolling Stones. So suck it up and get to work’.” 

On Grimmest Hits, what was one of the riffs that got you really excited? 

“The first one was on a track called “Trampled Down Below”. I had that riff and I was like, ‘I’m going to use this when we write the next record’… The mindset is that when I’m doing a Black Label album, it’s obviously going to be more riff-driven than the Book of Shadows stuff – from the beginning to the end of those records, it’s just going to be a mellow roadtrip.”

 

Has there been a guitar player growing up that inspired you to be better?

“Yeah without a doubt! I took guitar lessons for a year-and-a-half; they’ll teach you what you want to know – which is how to play songs – and they showed me the theory behind it in terms of how it works. You have all these parts, but how do they connect together? Then everything starts to make sense. It was awesome.”

Did you hit any particular roadblocks in your early years, or was guitar playing something that came to you naturally? 

“I think with anybody, the more time you put into anything, you are going to get better. No-one ever told me I had to practise. I always tell everybody – if you’re doing something you love, no-one needs to tell you to do that. If you want to be a body-builder, you have to watch your diet and train, but you already do it. Even when I do guitar lessons with ten students, eight of them are there trying different stuff, but then you have those two who are adamant and you don’t have to tell them to practice.”

“If you’re not doing what you love, then what’s the point?”

Moving to your relationship with Ozzy Osbourne, you talk a lot about being able to kick back with him and have a laugh. But was he always there when you needed him? 

“Yeah! He’s like an older brother. So if there was ever anything business-wise or advice-wise, I could always ask him or my dad. Just being around him… It was a miracle we ever got anything done because we were always cracking up laughing. He’ll be taking the piss out of himself every two minutes, and then everything else going on around him. 

I’ve never been in a band with people that I can’t stand. You hear these horror stories about these guys that hate each other, but you can choose your friends. Why would you even hang out with an asshole?”

So with Zakk Sabbath, having started touring at intimate gigs across the Sunset Strip, what were those initial shows like? 

“It’s no different to being a cover band playing Black Sabbath songs at keg parties with ten people there, or playing in friends’ kitchens or in the basement, backyard. I was 15 years old, and now I’m still playing Black Sabbath songs, but the keg parties are just bigger. So it’s definitely cool, nothing’s really changed. We get together and celebrate the band, so it’s awesome.” 

Grab your copy of Grimmest Hits out now.

black label society grimmest hits

Black Label Society – Grimmest Hits tracklisting

1. Trampled Down Below
2. Seasons Of Falter
3. The Betrayal
4. All That Once Shined
5. The Only Words
6. Room Of Nightmares
7. A Love Unreal
8. Disbelief
9. The Day That Heaven Had Gone Away
10. Illusions Of Peace
11. Bury Your Sorrow
12. Nothing Left To Say

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