He’s one of the most recognizable guitar hero’s from the past 20 years, famous for his work with Ozzy and still going strong with his own brand of powerful bluesrock. Zakk has delivered his ninth album with his group Black Label Society, ‘Shot To Hell’. He was supposed to come over to the Americain Hotel, Amsterdam, for interviews, but things changed at the last moment into a phone interview. Below is how the whole thing went down. This interview was printed in Music Maker issue 09, september 2006 with Zakk on the cover.
Copyright Richard Hallebeek and Music Maker 2007
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:: Hey Zakk, this is Richie, Music Maker magazine, calling from Amsterdam.
‘Hey bro, how you’re doing buddy?’
:: Everything’s cool man.
‘You’re in Amsterdam? How’s everything going over there?’
:: You know, the usual stuff..
‘Oh man, it’s insanity over there, I love it. Everyone loves Amsterdam.’
:: You’re welcome back here anytime.
‘Oh, without a fucking doubt, I’ll be there before you know it.’
:: Thanks for this opportunity to speak to you and ask some questions about your new album.
‘Oh, right back at you brother.’
:: I got an advance copy of your new Black Label Society album ‘Shot To Hell’ yesterday. I checked it out and was impressed.
‘Well, put it this way, you can either listen to it or it makes a great beer coaster, as well (laughs) you know what I mean?’
:: Yeah. It sounds big, I like the overall sound, direct, in your face.
‘Thanks bro. Yeah, they did an amazing job at the mixes and everything like that man.’
::This album was produced by Michael Beinhorn, who produced Soundgarde, Ozzy and the Chili Peppers before. What was it like working with him?
‘Well, I worked with Mike..you know the record company was like.. how exactly would you feel if you had a producer and I was like you guys gotta be.. .let me explain something. I go ‘you gotta be fucking high if you think some motherfucker’s gotta come down here and tell me what to fucking do. I mean, it’s just not gonna fucking happen bro.’
‘In true Black Label fashion I go: ‘ You don’t ask.. well you know where the fuck you’re going, you don’t have to ask for directions. Allright. And I go I’m not a fucking charity act, I don’t need somebody to wipe my ass and fucking, you know, put my shoes on for me and put my clothes out there, I go trust me, I’m capable of doing this shit myself. You know like, I don’t need somebody to tell me where the shit is sharp, flat, out of tune and shit, come on, give me a fucking break. I’ve been fucking doing this with Ozzy since I’ve been 19, I’m 39 fucking years old. I mean, Jesus Christ, if I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing by now, STOP. You know, just quit and go and fuck home. You know what I mean? But I said, oh you want a fucking producer? I go ‘ let me call Mike up, ’cause he did the one Ozzy record with me, we did Ozzmosis, and we had a blast. We were talking about Jimmy Page the whole time, checking out guitar tones and everything like that. So I said, cool, what the fuck Mike is doing? I call Mike up and said, Mike you wanna make some cash? I go ‘this will be the easiest fucking money you every fucking made. And he goes ‘what do I gotta do? I go ‘ Mike, just show up whenever the fuck you wanna show up. That’s all. And you know, he’s like ‘I gotta pick up my kids, I gotta� I go ‘ Mike, I don’t give a fuck about the fucking things you wanna do. We’re down here in the studio and we’re working on the record. Go and knock yourself out. Show up and go it sounds pretty fucking cool. You know, that middle part should be a little shorter or something I go, well great. fucking jerk off. You know what I mean? We just had fun with eachother, so I mean, it’s no big deal. I mean, but you know that’s the way it goes. I mean, are you gonna get a fucking producer and tell Jimmy Page with Led Zeppelin at the height of their power, you’re gonna tell fucking Jimmy Page he needs a songwriter and a fucking.. a producer??’
:: He knows what to do.
‘Get the fuck outta here! It would never happen! You know, Led Zeppelin, they need a producer. And a songwriter. HA!’
:: I enjoyed the guitar sounds and the layers of guitars on ‘Shot To Hell’.
‘Oh, thanks bro.’
:: What was the idea concept behind that? Did you make that up on the spot or did you already have some ideas about it?
‘It’s always.. always on the spot man. You know what the bottom line is? We go through rehearsals and shit like that, you know what rehearsals are for? It’s for when you’re getting ready for the tour. You know what I mean? But if we go in the studio, we’re still knocking it out. I mean, it’s just like.. we’re not playing Mahavishna music here. You know what I’m saying? I mean, all it is it’s just.. it’s rock fucking music. So the bottom line, it’s just like.. it’s going into the studio, it’s me and Craig and you know I’m plugged into the fucking Marshall and we just start going down. That’s it. And it’s like fucking massive sounding and the whole thing is like just go; here’s a cool riff, you know on the way down I was listening to ‘A Whole Lotta Love’ on the radio, And I go, man it would be kick ass if we got a fucking tune like fucking ‘Whole Lotta Love’. So I just go [sings riff] and I’m fucking Zep, you know what I mean? But everything sounds remotely like Zeppelin or Sabbath. It’s already a win-win situation, you’re in a fucking.. you’re in a ZIP code, you know what I’m saying? I mean, you can’t go wrong with Zeppelin or Sabbath.’
:: Did you try to get some different guitar tones, with different amps and different guitars?
‘Well, I mean the bottom line is, you always stick around with something. But I mean, it’s always gonna be about a Les Paul and you know, just my Marshall and then a JCM 800, just a 2203, it’s just either a signature one and then all my old ones from the early 80’s, but the bottom line is, I got 6550 groove tubes in ’em and then 200 watt EV speakers. And that’s one cabinet. And then all I do is just, once you get an ass-kicking guitar sound, all you gotta do is.. then I double it. And that’s it. So it’s only two guitars, that all it is. And then, you know then, just do like Jimmy Page things,like add different colors, I can use Dan-Electro and do a Roland Jazz Chorus, you know, add clean things, just different tones, like Jimmy Page.’
:: The track ‘The Last Goodbye’ is a good example of that. Is that you who plays the piano?
‘Yeah, that’s me.’
:: I liked the guitar orchestration on there, lots of stuff happening in the background.
‘Thanks bro. Yeah, I’m using an actual sustainer on that, and you know, the beautiful thing about that thing is you can actually make it sound like you got like string section, you know.’
:: OK, so that’s what it is, the sustainer.
‘Yeah, that’s wat that is, a sustainer on one of my Les Pauls. A Les Paul Classic and I’m using that shit all the time, it’s awesome man. Like an Ebow, but you know, a million times better.’
:: It also sounds that on this album you take your vocal to a new level, there’s some cool harmonies and stuff.
‘Oh yeah, totally. Well you know it’s all the stuff I love, I’ve been listening to The Eagles, Elton John, Neil Young, you know, the bottom line is, I listen to classic rock all the time. I’m listening to Van Halen on the radio right now, you know what I mean? So, you know, it just puts on all the great times, man.’
:: On track 7 ‘Hell Is High’, there is quite a bizarre guitar solo on there with some outside stuff you don’t hear too often in this kind of music.
‘Oh yeah, it’s a mixture like Randy Rhoads, with all the diminished stuff and like Allan Holdsworth, a lot crazy shit, you know what I mean?’
:: That was one crazy solo man.
‘Yeah, it’s fuckin’ nuts! (laughs) But I did it in one take, you know what I mean? I actually constructed it that way, we were laughing our balls off when I did it in the studio though.’
:: What is your main approach to solos? Are you a one-take guy or do you like to construct something?
‘Yeah, yeah, we usually get on take, because I’ll either construct it, you know what I mean, it just goes� you know you got.. Randy Rhoads was the master at that, so you know, like, it’s gotta be a memorable solo, you know what I mean? I’ll either construct it, or you got the Eddie van Halen school, where it’s just like, Eddie’s just like, off the cuff, you know what I mean? Just one take, just fucking� nuts. You know what I’m saying? It depends on what mood you want, you know. What side of the bed you wake up on that day, you know what I mean? But I mean, they’re both great, it doesn’t mean one’s better then the other. But you know, it is true, it is like even Ozzy who would use to say ‘Zakk’ he goes, ‘anybody can shred and do all that stuff’ he goes, ‘ but Zakk, just play something�’ It’s like a melody in a song, you know what I mean? The solo’s gotta be a song in the song, you know what I mean? Like, you know, you listen to a solo like ‘Stairway To Heaven’? Game over. The greatest solo ever written was ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and then, right after that it’s ‘Hotel California’.’
:: Those solos are defenitely part of the song.
:: Your guitar sounds huge. I know your studio setup and doubling tricks to make things sound bigger, but what do you use to make your sound live that big?
‘Well, it just, you gotta have a great sound man, first off. And then, I mean, my rig in the studio is the same rig I use live.’
:: When playing for big audiences, do you use dummie cabs or mike the cabs onstage ?
‘Yeah, onstage, totally. We just mike two cabs, that’s where I’m going out of the left side and the right side of the PA. And then Mick is doing the same. Micks coming out.. usually they have me in the middle and Mick’s even wider. Mick’s on the outside and I’m in the middle.’
:: How many cabs do you actually use for those big stages?
‘Depends, either four or two. You know, it depends on the size of the venue. You know, ’cause you got the monitors and everything like that. And I always go out of the bottom cab, so this way I’m not blowing my head off, you know what I mean. Because otherwise I can’t, you know.. I need to hear the vocals, I need to hear the drums, I need the.. you know what I’m saying’? Trust me, I love Zakk Wylde, but I don’t love him that much. (laughter)‘
:: Yeah, of course you need to hear the band..
‘Yeah, exactly. Like I said, I dig Zakk Wylde, but I don’t dig him that much bro.’
:: Do you have a home studio or some kind of place where you can work on ideas at home?
‘You know, I’m actually gonna get a studio built up here. But the whole thing is, eeh..I think I actually enjoy going to a studio. Because I don’t like..if you have it around here all the time, you know, it’s not special. Whereas like, you know I mean, whole days when we go down to the studio, it’s like, fuck, we get in there and it’s like.. I go in without a song, just like we did this album, you know, eight days later, I wrote 23 songs. Just because when we get in there, you got a piano, you got the guitarsound, massive, the drumsound like Led Zeppelin, you know, it sounds awesome. You can’t help but nog get inspired, you know what I mean?’
:: But you’re gonna get a studio built anyway?
‘Yeah, we’re probably gonna work here, you know. I’ll have it, and then other bands who wanna come up here and record.. you know I got ten acres, something like that, out in California, so.. This way, bands who come up here, they can go down to Hollywood, they can hang out, they can do whatever they want, you know what I mean?’
:: You spoke about Allan Holdsworth. You played with him on Derek Sherinian’s ‘Mythology’ on ‘Day Of The Dead’. That’s quite a contrast in one song to hear both of you together.
‘Yeah, it’s pretty fun. I mean, Allan Holdsworth is the man, bro.’
:: You like him?
‘Oh, he’s fucking amazing. He is one of the greatest guitar players ever, bro. It’s� it’s Allan Holdsworth, bro. He’s the shit. He’s one the greatest ever. I don’t care what anybody says.’
:: Any stories from those sessions?
‘The bottom line is, I didn’t see..Yngwie. He’s one of the greatest ever, of all times. Yngwie wasn’t there, Allan wasn’t there, the bottom line is that we all recorded seperately in the studio. Derek flew over to Yngwie’s house and recorded him there, Allan recorded his stuff at his studio, so I never got a chance to meet him. Needless to say, he still is the shit. (laughs)‘
:: Michael Wagener produced the album ‘No More Tears’ and ‘Live And Loud’ for Ozzy. The guitar sounds huge there, how much did you have to do with the production?
‘With those, nothing.. at all. With Black Label, I deal with all the production and that, you know. I mean, I’m the Jimmy Page of this fucking operation, you know. With Black Label. But I mean, when we did Ozzy’s records, no.. I never.. Michael Wagener mixed it and, you know. And recorded everything. When we did.. with Michael Beinhorn, you know, the guys recorded it, so. I have nothing to do with.. once I record all my parts, usually with Ozz, I’m done. I’m not sitting there listening to the mixes and everything like that.’
:: That album sounds big, I like it.
‘Oh, thank you bro. But I mean, the guys have done a really great job with all the records that are recorded with Ozz, so you know.. but I never had nothin’ to do with the mixes though.’
:: You have quite a range of signature equipment, ranging from amps, guitars to pedals. Any new stuff coming out with your name on it?
‘Well, we’re working on this pedal..it’s like a fucking Eventide and it’s a foot�it’s a stompbox. It’s just like a normal footpedal. It’s like a pitch shift, it sounds like an Eventide. So we’re working on that right now with Jim Dunlop. It’s fucking gonna be a kick-ass pedal man.’
:: Do you have any stuff that you wanna bring up?
‘No, I think we got it all. We got the fucking new record coming out, that’s enough. (laughs) Then we’re working on Ozzy’s new record, we’re trying to finish that, you know.’
:: Busy times� you also just finished Ozzfest?
‘Oh yeah, we got done with that, that was a..we got a blast on that thing. It’s always some ass-kicking time, it’s the biggest summer tour, we always have fun with that. It’s fun with all the other bands. You know what I mean, when I see all the other guys, it’s just always a good time, you know.’
:: That must be hard work for you, you play twice there, one with your own group and then with Ozzy.
‘Yeah, you know. I mean, the usual day, I just wake up, have something to eat. Then I’ll lift weights at the hotel and we got weights on the bus that I’ll lift and then like, I’ll come out 12 o’ clock, I start practising, between 12 and 3 o’clock I’ll be doing press, whatever. I got a guitar in my hand and I got a Marshall on the bus, so I’ll just sit there and practise and then around 3 o’clock we go offstage. Then I go out into the bus, have another beer, take my Black Label collars off, 4 o’clock I go walking right back up on stage, and we start playing with Ozzy. Then after the show, boom – we’re out of there. You know, and that’s every fucking day. So, you know.. but I love it. I love working, so fuck it.’
:: Do you also play a lot when you’re at home?
‘I still, you know.. I still play about.. always in between doing the press and you know, picking up the kids and all the other crap, I mean, I still lift everyday and then I’ll still get at least three of four hours of practise in every day.’
:: That answers my question how you keep up your flawless picking technique. You just play all the time.
‘Yeah, totally. I mean, when I’m sitting there watching a Yankee game, I got a guitar, I got a Les Paul in my hand and just going [sings rapid motif going up, sings a downward motif] scales, 24-7.’
:: Any new stuff you’re woking on in your playing?
‘Eeehmm..what was I listening to the other day..you know what? Every now and then I’ll just play some of the older records that I really love. And just go through the albums, like one was ‘Diary Of A Madman’, the other day I was just playing ‘Hot For Teacher’, like Eddie Van Halen, or today I was also listening to Mahavishnu Orchestra, I was listening to John McLaughlin the other day, you know just jamming on some of that stuff, you know what I mean.’