If anyone would have told Jeffrey Phillip Wielandt that he’d grow up to be revered as one of the great rock n’ roll “Guitar Gods,” one of only three guitarists known to the public as “Ozzy’s axe-men,” have his signature guitar become known as “The Grail”; his infamous bulls eye-painted Gibson Les Paul custom, circle the globe on tour numerous times he’d lose count, be recognized at the Hollywood Rock Walk of Fame, cementing his handprints and signature in recognition of his successful music career and his contribution to the music industry, become a prolific songwriter, actor and producer, partner with Blair’s Sauces and Snacks to produce his own hot sauce; “Berserker”, have his own line of coffee and change his name to Zakk Wylde, he would have probably sat for a moment, contemplated the idea and then replied, “Cool, I got a lot of livin’ to do in this lifetime, so let’s get busy.” Indeed.
Catching up with Zakk Wylde is like saddling a bronco; it’s a lot of fun but you better hold on. He celebrated his 47th birthday on January 14th and has been out promoting Black Label Society’s newest offering, Catacombs of the Black Vatican. He’s got that east coast vibe; and his accent is almost like sitting with a “Goodfella” if you know what I mean. Nothing is off the record with him; you can ask him anything and he’ll be happy to answer even if it’s just bullshit and nothing but laughter ensues. “If it has to do with my gonorrhea, syphilis and herpes, I’m fine with–it don’t worry bout it,” he says with a hearty laugh. “Hold on hold on… I got rid of the dandruff though!”
Well what about tattoos? Surely a rock god of his caliber has funny stories about his ink; what ink? He snickers and takes a breath, “WHAT? I don’t have any! I have not one tattoo on my body but my wife has a couple!” Wylde clears his throat as he tries to speak through his laughter. “I have never had any interest. I got my buddies who are so into it but I remember a bunch of my friends got into it when Guns [Guns N’ Roses] exploded and they were huge; and a bunch of my buddies got tattoos because all the guys in Guns had them so I figured that’s all the more reason that I shouldn’t get them; cause everybody else was getting them so I decided, ‘I won’t.’ If I were to ever get one I know what I’d get but I have tons of my friends who live that whole thing; they live that life style. And then I got a lot of other friends that just thought, ‘Hey, my body’s a canvas I’ll do what the fuck I want with it,’ they had that attitude too and neither one of them are wrong.”
When you get a personality like Wylde, the conversation just flows, and it’s hard to believe you’ve only know him five seconds because he talks to you like he’s known you forever. That’s a rare quality, so discussing Pride and Glory was a treat since that’s not really what he’s doing right now. “Well it was just a whole different band,” states Wylde, “different thing you know I mean with P & G that was like a 3 piece of doom you know like a Cream on steroids type thing that I was going through right then and; which was the complete opposite of what I was doin’ with ‘The Boss’ you know double-tracking guitars and where it’s more structured and regimented where as with P & G it was kinda like Cream; we were a three-piece band where a three-minute song would turn into a twenty-minute jam you know what I mean,” he laughs and continues, “but you know I mean I loved doin’ that so that was what that band was about; so it’s a completely different thing than BLS. Black Label is more like the stuff I did with Oz like it’s the songs and it’s structured and that’s that.”
Wylde and his band, Black Label Society, are getting ready to release Catacombs of the Black Vatican in April 2014. This is the band’s first all new LP since The Order of the Black, which came out in 2009. With a title like Catacombs of the Black Vatican, one tends to wonder what it’s all about; are they worshipping Satan? Is it about dark secrets, the Church, priests, nuns and bad behavior? Wylde’s laughter is so thunderous it’s hard to see him as the gentle giant [standing at 6’2”] he really is. “You have a wild imagination,” he says through his laughter. “Okay, for the album, Catacombs of the Black Vatican; the name is simple; it’s actually the guest house we converted into a studio so we did the whole record there; and we christened it ‘The Vatican’ and then I painted it black and that’s why it’s the Black Vatican and you know I’m in Black Label and so my wife Barbaranne, was like, ‘Oh great, you’re going to paint it black?’ and I said, ‘Well yeah, I’m not in Brown Label Society I’m in Black Label Society,’ and she retorts, ‘Great.’ So I said, ‘Look if you were married to Jimi Hendrix the house woulda been painted purple and lets just leave it at that.’”
Back in the day, when everyone thought the Earth was flat, people actually lived at recording studios where they sat for weeks or months, laying down tracks and getting it just right, drinking bad coffee, eating deli trays brought in or at diners, hammering out tunes they hoped would be platinum selling discs or at least number 1’s and emerge from the recording process ready for a vacation. With Wylde and Black Label Society, 25 days was the time they had to create what is now Catacombs of the Black Vatican. “I believe the guys came out for two weeks,” ponders Wylde, “and right after that we pretty much got done tracking and it’s real quick the way we make the records it’s not like; we were like on the road four years supporting; well basically it was three years but by the time Catacombs Of the Black Vatican comes out it will be four years since the Order record, [Order Of the Black], but I wasn’t sitting around for four years stock-piling riffs and getting song ideas for the next album it was more like once the album’s out, you’re out touring and in ‘tour mode’ so you’re promoting what is current and I don’t think about writing other songs, lyrics or stuff like that. So right after we got done with Gigantour, and I was talking to Barbaranne, my wife, and I said, ‘Babe, the guys are coming out and we’re going to do the record,’ and she says, ‘Well, you got 25 days,’ and I said, ‘Okay I got 25 days to make a record.’”
Wylde takes a breath and continues, “So every day I’d get up in the morning and have some Valhalla Java, go out to the garage and turn my Marshall on with a pedal and it would sound like I’m at Madison Square Garden, you know with a low volume and I’d just start writing riffs so that’s pretty much it. You just keep diggin’ and diggin’ until you get stuff you’re happy with and some days you get it, and some days you get nothin.”
He chuckles and says, “But you just keep going back just like if you and me were out there lookin’ for religious artifacts like Father Merrin, in the Exorcist; we’d just keep diggin’ until we find somethin,’ I mean we heard it was buried out here somewhere so we keep diggin’ and diggin’ and it’s like me and you don’t find anything so I say, ‘Robyn, lets take a break; we’ll come back tomorrow and dig some more.’ And you know that’s how you do it, and also by the way you’re telling me I got 25 days, it’s gotta be done in 25 days and that’s that; you know. I mean if you told me the house has to get painted in 25 days it has to get done; I get the house painted in 25 days and that’s that.”
Book Signing Event in Los Angeles, Photo Credit: Glen Willis
It’s hard to believe that Wylde didn’t write any songs on tour because usually that’s when a lot of writing gets done; traveling by bus or plane [some by horse], you’re still a captive audience of one with time on your hands, but Wylde doesn’t really have time to sit around on tour; you don’t just walk off the bus or plane, play the gig and go back to the hotel; it’s full-time on the road. “Well, I had a couple of acoustic song ideas,” he enthuses, “cause when I’m on the road I still get ideas; but I’d get up, make some Valhalla Java for the ‘Doom Crew’; you know the fellas, and I’d usually be the first one to pick up my guitar and start running scales up and down and if I write anything, don’t forget I have my acoustic with me, it will be in the vein of like Sweet Melissa, or Heart Of Gold, maybe some ‘Credence Clearwater-sounding thing’ or Bob Seger or The Eagles, cause the instrument tends to lend itself to that kind of style of music; you know, because it’s an acoustic guitar. So I’ll have some song ideas but no song titles or anything like that so once the guys get out, we’ll have maybe 12 or 15 ideas and we’ll just jam them out. Once all the music’s done and the guys head home, then it’s time to start coming up with melodies and start singing. And I’ll go out there and sit in the truck with my cup of Valhalla Java and just sit there and crank it in the truck and I’ll come up with a bunch of different melodies and stuff like that until I get something I’m happy with and then start writing lyrics; find something I want to write about and then I’ll start doing it.”
Wylde loves the recording process from beginning to end; he sees it as creating; like a child because it is, in actuality your ‘baby.’ “I love the whole thing,” says Wylde with a tone of explaining something amazing. “I mean I love the whole thing from it being an embryo until it turns to a fetus and then a baby, you know what I mean… the development stages; I just love the whole process because you’re comin up with a skeleton of something and then you start adding and adding and all of a sudden it takes shape and form and you sit back and say to yourself, ‘Wow that came out really cool,’ so that’s the whole joy in the process of writing you know what I mean? Because you ‘create.’”
Whether it’s creating new music or just jamming for the sake of getting together to be with good friends, Wylde keeps very good company. From the Allman’s to Ozzy, he’s sat in with the best regardless of the stage. “I sat in with the Allman Brothers one night,” he says with a smile. “I mean Ozzy; sitting in with him and then the Skynyrd guys and without a doubt the Allmans; I’ve sat and jammed with all of them so it’s been amazing. “I love the Allmans; obviously Gregg Allman’s singing alone is just amazing and then I played with Geezer and the band at one point cause Sabbath is such a huge influence on me and you know I’ve been blessed with all the people I’ve already jammed with and met all my heroes—and met them on a good day; so I couldn’t ask for more.”
And what of the Ozzman; if any day could stand out for Wylde in his history with Ozzy, what would it be? “Oh the day I met him; meeting him at the audition because I’m such a huge fan and Ozz was just super cool; just the whole thing like making records with Ozzy and touring… the whole thing. And he’s god-father to our oldest son; I mean my relationship with Ozzy is bigger than the music. I mean if he calls me up and says, ‘Zakk, can you bring some milk and eggs over and clean the dog-run? We’ve got company coming over today and a million things going on,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah sure, no problem.’”
Though it can be an easy and lit path by the time you reach the status Wylde has enjoyed for so many years, the light can sometimes play tricks on your eyes; you stumble into bad lighting and the illusion that you’re well and unstoppable just dissipates into vapor. If you don’t have your health, you don’t have a prayer and Wylde has been on the receiving end of that little scenario a few times yet his attitude is still, ‘Hey, it is what it is.’ “Someone asked me, he goes, ‘Zakk, you’ve had three pulmonary embolisms,’ this was when we did the last record,” his laughter is contagious and rolling as he tries to finish his sentence. “I mean it was an awesome question he goes, ‘Well you’ve had those three embolisms; I mean you almost DIED,’ Wylde exhales the word in one long low breath and continues, ‘is that why you made such a good record?’ So I said, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna croak so I better make a good one before I kick the bucket!’ You know and I’m thinking to myself, there are so many ‘George Carlin’ ways to answer that question you know!”
“But with me getting sick,” he continues, “it was kind of not a big deal—it was more like, ‘okay, now what are we doin’ for brunch?’ I mean, you get sick; you get sick. I mean there’s nothin’ you can do about it but say, ‘okay let’s move on.’ I never say, ‘oh woe is me’ or ‘why did this happen to me’ no, I don’t do that. That’s not the way I roll or I’m wired; I just don’t do that. If we lost the World Series, I’d say, ‘alright, what do we have to do to get back next year, who are we getting with the pitching staff and what can we do to make sure we win next year.’ I’m not going to sit in a corner and cry I mean, that’s just not the way I roll. I mean I grateful for every day whether it’s good or bad; you just turn it around that’s all; the Black Label Way.”
So what does a man like Wylde do when he’s home; is it vacation time and off again to bask on sun drenched beaches with shots of God knows what and beer chasers, or is “there’s no place like home?” “Well, of course being with Barb and the kids; being h-o-m-e,” he emphasizes, “is a vacation! But me and Barb went to see Robert Plant when I was home and that was just great; you know the two of us just getting out of the house and going out cause you know we’ve got the kids and everything like that so just to have a night alone, chill out and see a concert is always cool but when I’m home I love it—it’s home; hanging out with my dogs and the whole nine yards and everything like that; and of course my family and we have the little guy now; born on the 4th of July.”
Since clicking his heels three times, he discovered that home may be where the heart is but he can only hang around there for so long before the feeling to get back out on the road takes over and memories of the deafening sound of screaming fans and fists pumping in the air as thousands of people chant Black Label Society in unison await across the globe.
Without having to ask him, the answer is yes, Black Label Society is definitely a way of life; a lifestyle if you will; the attitude, the clothes, the music and living daily life to its fullest without compromise or harm to others and Wylde is ready to get moving again. “Well you figure the album’s going to come out April 8th, Catacombs of the Black Vatican,” he clarifies, “and then obviously we’ll fire up the Black Label armada and tour the world several times but before that, we’re getting ready to do this Hendrix Experience Tour which is going to have Eric Johnson on it, and Eric Gayles and Kenny Wayne Sheppard so I’m really looking forward to that; it’s just a bunch of monster players on that thing so I’m really looking forward to hanging out with all the guys and then we’re going to do a Black Label Book Tour of Doom and roll out with the Black Label Canadian family so that’s like ‘Storytellers meets George Carlin’ on steroids; just absolute comedy of doom!” laughs Wylde as he continues, “So we’re going to roll up through Canada but before the tour starts we’re going to go through Europe and do a metal all-stars thing and that’s obviously with a bunch of my buddies that I know throughout the years and that’ll be a blast. And then we get ready for the tour.”
2014 looks to be a very busy year for Black Label Society and Zakk probably wouldn’t have it any other way because truthfully and there’s no other way to say it; from his viewpoint, the morning alarm went off, the Valhalla Java is brewing and it’s time to get this show on the road because if you weren’t already aware, it’s a big Wylde world out there.