Zakk Wylde set out to make a Black Label Society album that would display his affinity for mellow classic rock. And he succeeded. Witness Hangover Music Vol. VI a trip through Sunday morning heaven with one of rock 'n' roll's great hellraisers. I caught up with the venerable guitarist just days after Hangover was released and just as his summer plans for Ozzfest were coming into focus.
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SoT: How's Ozzfest shaping up?
ZW: Right now everybody's asking me, "Is Sabbath doing it? Is it Ozzy?" Your guess is as good as mine. Sharon [Osbourne] just calls my wife, Barbara Ann, and says, "Tell numb nuts to show up on Tuesday at the rehearsal places at 12." Then it's on. But that's when I'll know what's going on. I ain't gonna fucking bother calling Ozzy up [makes simpering noise]. It's just like his schedule's so fucking insane that I'm not going to bother him about that. He'll let me know when we're about to do it.
SoT: What's that like being out on the festival circuit in the summer?
ZW: It's fun but I'm working so I don't have time to go walking around, checking things out. Then the free time I do have, I'm practicing. I gotta stay on top of what I'm doing, know?
SoT: How'd Hangover Music come about?
ZW: I've always loved doing the mellow stuff anyway. I love everything from Neil Young to Pantera, you know what I mean? After you're onstage for an hour-and-a-half to two hours, blasting your brains out with a wall of Marshalls, a wall of doom and a Les Paul, you're in some shape. It's as loud as a jet taking off. After that, when you gotta get on the bus for a 22-hour bus ride .... In my CD collection I've got records to get me fired up for a show but I'm not busting those out again until the next show. On the last tour we'd sit on the bus and listen to classic rock radio. Seger would be on, Neil Young, the Eagles and early Elton stuff. I said, "This is kick ass driving music. You know what we oughta do? We can piss where we want to piss anyway, so why don't we make a record like this but one that's like that all the way through?" So that's what we did. It's just good driving music, ya know?
That's why we called it Hangover Music. You got Blessed Hellride, which is a Saturday night record. Then, when you wake up on Sunday when you're feeling like prison ass, to ease your way back into the day, you put the mellow stuff onHangover Music, which is for Sunday morning.
SoT: Were these songs that you'd had for a long time?
ZW: We didn't have any songs. When we got into the studio, I wrote 23 songs in about eight days.
SoT: I wanted to ask you about "Layne," which is about Layne Staley from Alice In Chains.
ZW: My first problem is that I can't write lyrics like "Shiny Happy People." I'd like to do it but I can't. I wrote is as a tribute to Layne, wondering what was going on in his head. I've never done heroin in my life. It must be a really dark fucking place, man. I like drinking fucking beers and we go out and get fucking blitzkrieged. That whole drug thing ... I've never done it. I just put myself in Lane's headspace when I wrote lyrics for that thing.
SoT: Obviously, you've been around people with drug and alcohol problems over the years. How does someone keep from going too far into that, do you think?
ZW: I dunno. I think you've just got to make up your mind, you know? Put it this way: In all the years I've been in this business, I've never done coke in my life. I'm not about to. I've never done acid. No drugs except pot. If we have a super long bus ride ... because I've got bad insomnia, I might have smoked a little pot if there was some around just to knock me the fuck out. I've taken fucking sleeping pills before and I'd have the most horrendous nightmares. I was like, "Fuck that shit. I ain't taking that crap no more." That's why people are drinking all the time––it's just to knock yourself out. Once you get off stage, about 11 o' clock at night, with all that adrenaline going through you? It's like .... If I said, "Jedd, lay down and close your eyes. You've gotta do radio at 6 in the morning," you're going to go, "Get the fuck out of here. I can't go to bed right now. I'm fuckin' wide awake." That's why a lot of people fall into that. You're up, you take some pills and you go down. Then you wake up feeling like prison ass, then you start taking shit to get up. I'm glad I never got into that. I just drink some beers. You feel like shit in the morning, fuck it. If it's that fuckin' bad, crack a cold one. You'll get over it. But we're not gonna start doing fuckin' crazy ass shit. That over-the-top shit, I've never gone there.
SoT: I wanted to ask you about "Whiter Shade Of Pale." Now there's a song where I ... I mean, I like it and all but it's like ... I wondered if we really needed another version of it. But, you know, yours worked.
ZW: I've always loved classic rock radio. It's like ... all the classic stuff. Between Elton's stuff, Procol Harum, great shit. Originally, we were going to do a covers record, just a whole batch of all these fucking tunes. Then I said, "You know, fuck it man. The whole joy of being a musician is writing your own shit, you know?" I love covering other people's stuff. But we were driving down to the studio one day and "Whiter Shade Of Pale" came on the radio, so we got into the studio and worked it out on piano and just sang it. That was it.
SoT: How long have you played piano?
ZW: I actually started playing piano before I started playing guitar. My sister Amy, who's 18 months younger than me, she can play classical shit. I never got into that. I just wanted to learn Elton John songs and Neil Young songs. I was a kid. But I play to do finger exercises to get ready for the tour and shit or just to get away from the guitar for a while. When you sit behind the piano, it just puts you in a different headspace. It's like playing an acoustic guitar. With that, you're going to write a certain way. When you pick up a fucking guitar with a fucking shitload of distortion on it through a Marshall, you're going to fucking start writing riffs, know what I mean? That's just the way it goes. You start playing a flute, you're going to sound like Jethro Tull, baby.
SoT: Did you start writing songs right away or did that happen later?
ZW: I'd learn Bach or Mozart on guitar but I'd always have time to write my own stuff.
SoT: Do you remember where you got to the point where you actually had something good?
ZW: Oh, man. I look back on some of the lyrics I wrote back in the day when I first started writing. Whew. Look out, baby. But you gotta start somewhere.
SoT: Tell me a little bit about how it came to be that you have your own signature model guitar.
ZW: I love Gibsons. I've always played them. I prefer Les Paul Customs. Jimmy Page made the Les Paul what it is. I just loved the sound of the ebony fretboard because it's a harder wood and a rosewood you're going to get a darker sound. With Ozzy, you need a brighter sound. So that's what the guitar offers. My guitar's got maple on the back of the neck. The grail one I got is an '81 Custom, so the signature was modeled off of that. It's amazing, the way they fucking... Gibson did an amazing fucking job. I just put the EMG pickups in it 'cause one day, I remember sitting there with a friend of mine who had an old Fender Mustang and I had a Les Paul Custom and he was just jammin' and he plugged the thing in, there was barely any wood to this thing and he started wailing on it. I went, "Jesus Christ, that's 10 times louder than my Les Paul. What the fuck?" He said, "Oh, yeah, I've got these EMG pickups." I said, "Fucking hell, I need to get a set of those fucking things." I put them in the guitar and it just sounds amazing. I still like the sound of old PAFs when you want to get that vintage sound. But for my workhorses, I put the EMGs in there.
SoT: Do you get approached by a lot of companies about endorsements?
ZW: Definitely. But I just stay loyal to one company. That, to me, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, all those guys played Marshalls. And as a kid every time I saw a poster of somebody playing and there was Gibson on their headstock, I'd say, "Man, I'm going to get enough money someday to buy one of them." I still feel the same way. But you see some guys, these fucking endorsement whores. It's like each week they're endorsing something new. "I only play this guitar." Then, two months later, they're like, "This is the guitar of my choice." Do they need free fucking gear that bad?
ZW: It's just funny, man.