Zakk Wylde answers my call from somewhere in Texas, where he is on tour promoting his first solo album in 20 years, “Book of Shadows 2”. Zakk’s in a good mood: he answers my call by grunting into the phone. Sensing my puzzlement he laughs it off and says “Just kidding! It’s Zakk man. How you doing bro?” That’s one way of breaking the ice.
The guitarist has recently released “Book of Shadows II”, a sequel to his first solo album from 1996. “If it hadn’t been the 20th anniversary we wouldn’t have even thought of doing it,” he explains. “People kept saying ‘Hey it’s 20 years ago’. I couldn’t believe it’d been twenty years; it didn’t seem like that long ago.”
Playing more mellow material on the “Unblackened” short tour convinced Zakk he needed to find time for a sequel. “In between cleaning the dog, running around chasing diapers, world peace and coming up with a cure for sickness, I’ll see if I can fit that in before brunch, you know?” he says with a laugh. “I just had to write the songs. It’s not like I had these songs collected for 20 years and now there’s a new ‘Book of Shadows’ record. ‘Chinese Democracy’ took what, 15 years? So by the time we hit 16 years we figured let’s keep going and hit twenty! Might as well make it a round number,” he jokes.
Both records are perfect bookends, drawing from the guitarist’s love of artists like Neil Young, Elton John, Van Morrison, The Eagles, The Band, Bad Company, the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Percy Sledge and Sam Cooke. The songs showcase a more intimate style of guitar playing (and Zakk sings too) than his work with Black Label Society or Ozzy Osbourne. I asked Zakk if being sober had any impact on his songwriting or his approach to making a record. “No. Sometimes everybody would be on the floor laughing because we were so hammered,” he recalls, “but as far as the booze and things go, it’s not like I needed that to write songs. We just drank because we were always having a good time. It was never ‘oh my god, without a drink I can’t write or I can’t play.’ Nah, it wasn’t like that.”
The guitarist recently did a run of shows with Generation Axe, an all virtuoso guitar extravanganza featuring Steve Vai, Nuno Bettencourt, Yngwie Malmsteen and Tosin Abasi. “Generation Axe was awesome,” he says. “Steve called me; it was his brainchild. I had known Nuno throughout the years, and Yngwie, and obviously I’ve known Steve. I’d never met Tosin before; he’s an amazing guitar player, super cool dude, it was great to hang out with him.”
Zakk felt really inspired by jamming on stage with these amazing musicians he calls friends. “As far as I’m concerned it was nothing but a win-win situation. Everybody up there’s got chops: everybody can play fast, everybody’s got technique; at that point it comes down to everyone’s taste in playing. Every night was great; it was a great time just listening to everybody play.” In addition to the chemistry on stage, the tour bus, which Zakk calls ‘The Submarine’, was where the musicians bonded a lot. “We’d be done with the show and drive to the next town, and we’d all share tales of the music industry. We’d be rolling on the floor crying, laughing, man.”
Zakk will be pulling triple duty on Heavy Montreal weekend. Black Label Society will play a pre-festival show at the Corona on Friday, and then again on Saturday at the festival. Zakk will be back on Sunday for a solo set covering both “Book of Shadows” records. I wondered if the band had anything special in mind for die-hard fans who’d attend both BLS shows, but Zakk wasn’t about to spill the beans and give me a straight answer. “The one show we’re going to introduce the summer Black Label lingerie for men, and we’ll wear those clothes”, he shoots back without a hint of sarcasm. “And on the second show we’ll be wearing the Black Label lingerie for women. The one constant between both shows is that we have to shave our legs. But the actual clothing will be different,” he adds as he finally breaks down laughing. “It’s all about the art; you make the struggle for the art.” I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the band has in store for those two sets…
I don’t want to let him go before trying to solve a mystery that’s been bugging me for 13 years. In 2003, Zakk was playing with Ozzy and they did a short Canadian tour where they played close to 3 hours each night. Considering an Ozzy show is usally a lot closer to 90 minutes, I’ve always wondered why they did it. Zakk shot down a rumour that they’d recorded the material for a live album, and shared his memories of those shows. “I think we were talking about Springsteen sets being 4 hours,” he recalls. “I remember that some of those shows were over three hours with Ozzy just adding songs. And Jason (Newsted, bass) had just joined the band at that time, and he’d go ‘dude, what the fuck man?’ It was hysterical man. I mean, it’d be songs we had never even played before. Oz would go ‘Hey Zakk, let’s do so and so’, and I’d go ‘What are you trying to do? Give Jason a nervous breakdown? We haven’t played that song since we wrote it for ‘No Rest For the Wicked’! Alright, let’s give it a shot…’ We’d be learning the songs in the submarine, listening to the CD, practicing the songs. It was pretty funny but we had a great time. But we were hanging by a thread on stage man!”
Once this solo tour is over, Zakk will take his ‘Zakk Sabbath’ Black Sabbath tribute band on the road with Clutch, and then head home for a bit of downtime before revving up for a new Black Label Society album. “That’s the game plan right now,” he says. “I’ll decompress and then start working. It’s like the football season just ended, I’m going to take a little break and not work for a little while. Obviously you’d still keep lifting weights and training but as far as putting the pads on again, you’d take a break for a couple of weeks.”
The guitarist says he’s already working on material but isn’t sure it’ll end up on the record. “Most of the time, even if I have a bunch of riffs and songs laid out, by the time we get in there and the creative juice gets flowing , next thing you know you’ve already written another twelve songs, and they’re brand new so they’re the ones you want to use anyway. Each time it’s kind of a different thing. Usually I’ll get there and it’s ‘how long till the fellas come in? Three weeks? Alright, I’ve got three weeks to write a record.’ It’s gotta get done.”
Book of Shadows 2 is out now.
Black Label Society will be at the Corona Theatre on August 5th and tickets are available here.
The band and Zakk are also playing Heavy Montreal on August 6th and 7th respectively. Tickets can be purchased here.