Something Wylde And A Pinch Of Cilantro
An Interview With Zakk Wylde
If you wish to glimpse inside a human soul and get to know a man, don’t bother analyzing his ways of being silent, of talking, of weeping, of seeing how much he is moved by noble ideas; you will get better results if you just watch him laugh. If he laughs well, he’s a good man.
~Fyodor M. Dostoevsky
Zakk Wylde is a good man.
Before I have a chance to utter a single word, a grizzled voice asks me how I am doing. This is unusual and somewhat unexpected, but after a brief pause I answer and reciprocate.
“I’m doing good,” Wylde exclaims. “Just shooting the shit with you, brother.”
And so begins an insightful interview with an incredible singer, songwriter, and key member of Steel Dragon. Those of you without a thespian bone in your body should invest some time and watch Rockstar, a little rock ‘n roll classic starring Mark Wahlberg. You will get a little taste of (and have the chance to appreciate) Zakk Wylde’s contribution to the art of cinema.
Wylde’s demo tape launched him into rock stardom at the tender age of seventeen. He replaced one of his idols, Randy Rhoads, and would become a major electrifying force helping lead the Lord of Darkness through the nineties and into the new millennium. Today, Wyld continues to share his talents with Ozzy whenever he can, but his primary focus is being the life force of the Black Label Society.
Generation Axe Tour, plus some Peanut Butter and Jelly
Before his new LP, Book of Shadows II, is released on April 9, Zakk Wylde will begin the Generation Axe Tour that arrives at Massey Hall on May 4. The tour is not just a gluttonous gathering of five accomplished guitarists. They are all very gifted musicians. Individually, they will perform songs from their personal work, but fans can also expect all five of them to play together. Steve Vai, Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt and Tosin Abasi will bleed the stage dry, as a tight, cohesive unit.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Wylde exclaims. “I mean, I know all the guys. The only one I’m not familiar with is Tosin. I haven’t met him yet, but I heard his music, and he is phenomenally amazing. I’m looking forward to meeting him. In terms of the other guys, they are all ridiculous guitar players. It will be a lot of fun hanging out. I can’t wait to watch everyone throw down. We are all going to come out together and jam at the same time. I’m really looking forward to that.”
Zakk Wylde loves to tour. He always has. It is big part of his genetic makeup. It simply courses through his veins. There is a reason he had posters of Jimmy Page and Black Sabbath on his walls when he was growing up. He has surrounded himself with music his whole life, and touring is something he never wants to end.
“I’m doing it,” he says. “I absolutely love touring! I have friends of mine that are my age, and they come to a point in their lives where they don’t like touring anymore. I still love it! It never gets old. It’s like peanut butter and jelly, or pizza. It never gets old. It can’t get old. It’s always good!”
By the time the Generation Axe tour comes to an end, Book of Shadows II will be out, and Wylde, backed by the Black Label Society, will roll through your town soon enough. There doesn’t seem to be any particular place in the world he enjoys playing the most, because he is a genuinely simple man. He will go wherever he is needed, and play his guts out anywhere his fans decide to show up. “It is great that we can do both,” he says. “It’s nice to do the heavy thing for a while, and then get into the mellow thing for a bit, and vice versa.”
All Things Axl and Book of Shadows II
It has been twenty years since the release of the first Book of Shadows, a disc that showed the world a gentler, mellower, and a deeply introspective side of a relentless guitar shredder. Why did it take so long? Was this an accident or part of a master plan?
“Chinese Democracy took fifteen years to make. And so I said to myself, ‘we’ve gotta break that record,'” Wylde answers. His devious smile is obvious, even over a digital cellular phone.
“I could have made this album fourteen years ago. But that would have made little sense. Why do such a thing? Why? I thought some more about it and decided that we should break the record.” He pauses, all serious, without breaking into laughter.
“After sixteen years had passed, I pondered some more, and I thought, ‘why not aim for twenty?’ This way, not only could we break the Chinese Democracy record but actually secure it,” he concluded.
If there is one thing that Wylde is good at, it is busting balls. Just take a look at his own roast, and the irreverent humour that permeates his being. He has the heart of a comedian, a recovered liver of a sinner, and a heart of a saint.
“After doing the heavy stuff for the last two years (Catacombs of the Black Vatican),” he continues, “it felt good doing the mellow stuff.”
“Since it just so happened that this was the twentieth anniversary of Book of Shadows, I thought, ‘why don’t we make The Book of Shadows II?’ You have no idea how many fans I’ve met throughout the years that have constantly asked me when we were going to make another one of those records, ’cause they really dig the mellow stuff.”
They will only have to wait a little while longer.
“Somewhere in between cleaning up after the dog,” he promises, “changing diapers, and my ever consuming quest for world peace, not to mention my efforts to try and fix the Cleveland Browns…”
I can’t help but laugh. “Yeah,” he giggles. “that’s what I’m saying. ‘That’s a lot of work. Let’s see if I can squeeze it out before brunch.’ And that is honestly how it came about.”
What about the songs? Is there a difference in writing finger-shredding riffs and slowing down to write “the mellow stuff?”
“To me,” Zakk Wylde exclaims, “the mellow stuff has been around, going back to the early days; ‘Mama, I’m Coming Home,’ ‘Road Back Home,’ ‘A Road to Nowhere,’ ‘Time After Time.’ When you pick up an acoustic [guitar] or sit behind a piano, it naturally puts you in a more reflective mood. I love the mellow stuff as much as I love the fast stuff.”
A Little Bit More Cilantro
Wylde is very proud of Book of Shadows II. He is proud of the whole record, and was reluctant to pick any particular track as his favourite.
“Jamie and Adam did a great job with the mixes,” he says. “They always knock it out of the park. We have the system down now. They’ll be mixing the record, and I’ll come in at the end of the night and want a little more cilantro or a little more Tabasco, and it’s done. I am very happy with the way everything came out.”
He enjoys different songs for different reasons. Each has its place and derives meaning in its own unique way. Each one sets a different mood. The piano pieces in particular – probably because they are rare – seem to stand out on their own. But they do not overshadow the beauty, and importance of the rest of the work.
A Soldier of Christ
Wylde is easygoing, uninhibited, and very open about his life, including his Catholic faith. He doesn’t speak about it much; maybe that’s because he is rarely asked, or because he likes to remain private. Who knew though that the Father of Darkness and the Son of Light had been touring together for years? Mind blowing stuff, really.
Book of Shadows has a definite spiritual dimension, especially the beautiful lyrics. It is permeated with spiritual images and deeply human motifs.
As an artist, Zakk Wylde strongly resembles Johnny Cash. The man in black, who went through his own private and public hell, had always maintained an unapologetic love of Jesus. Just take a look at the last video he made for the song “Hurt,” where, in his last moments, he questioned his empire of dirt. Wylde mirrors Cash in the sense that he is very proud of his Irish Catholic roots and continues to be a Soldier of Christ.
“Yeah. Without a doubt,” he explains. “I thank the good Lord for everything I’ve got. I thank Him every day. I thank Him when I wake up in the morning. I thank Him in the afternoon, and just before I hit the sack. I am definitely very genuinely grateful for everything that I have and am able to do.”
Do people give him a tough time about it?
“It’s all good,” he chuckles. “We all bust each others’ balls about it. So, whatever.”
“Some people wonder what it all means,” he adds. “They ask me to explain this Jesus thing and all that. ‘What would it mean if Jesus was here right now?’ They want to know what He would say. I try to simplify things. He would say that there is plenty of sand in the sandbox, but if you have more than the next guy, try to help them out.”
“And basically, don’t be a douche,” he concludes with a hearty laugh.
Being There When it Matters
Wylde has four children, and has been married to his high school sweetheart, Barbaranne, for over thirty years That is certainly a lifetime of memories with his family, and definitely not the industry standard. This kind of commitment seems very difficult, and it certainly doesn’t come easy.
“Being in the music industry offers nothing,” he explains. “You and I, no matter who we are, or what we do, we have to go to work. Hopefully, you have a chance to do what you love, but regardless, you still have to work.”
“I remember something I read by Jonathan Winters that explains it well,” he reflects.
“As a father you provide for your family, but you have to make sure you are always there for the important things.”
“That is the truth,” he says. “When my dad worked, he worked his balls off, so that as a family we could have nice things. He worked hard so that we would have the opportunity to do what we love.”
Being there for the important things: that is definitely something to hold on to.
Bring Metal to the Children and Busting Ass
With coauthor Eric Hendrix, Zakk Wylde wrote a book four years, Bringing Metal to the Children: The Complete Berserker’s guide to World Tour Domination. It was a way of giving back to kids who dream like he once did. People have always asked his advice on how to help their son or daughter succeed in the music industry. He also offered a Coles Notes version of his thesis.
“First: You gotta play what you love. Play the music you are passionate about. Second: Work your ass off. And that’s it.”
“There is no secret formula. There is no magical moment. Everybody has their own journey. There is no one, proven way that leads to success. There just isn’t. If it was that easy, then everyone would follow the formula, and they would all be rich and famous.”
“The one common denominator worth mentioning again has always been busting your ass,” he emphasizes.
“You have to work. If you are afraid of work, then you need to get out of the way, and stay on the couch. Don’t complain about it, and don’t you dare blame people. If things don’t pan out for me or you, let’s not blame anyone or blame the weather. Let’s get back to work, and win it next year.”
As I sit type this feature for Spill Magazine, I am conscious of the constant reminder that our world is not in a good place. Acts of terrorism in Belgium yesterday are a painful reminder of how much we still need to overcome as a human race. It is easy to exhibit a seemingly deep love of our planet during Earth hour, but it a far different cry to love and embrace others. It is also easy to by cynical and strut one’s ego on social media, complaining and pontificating about this issue and that, but where does the genuine care for the world come from?
“I don’t think I’m very different than most people,” Zakk Wylde explains.
“I think everyone wants the same things. Everybody wants to have a nice life and have a chance to do the things they love. At the end of the day I would rather be having a cup of coffee with you, or just have a good laugh. To me that seems obvious. It’s not complicated.”
A Little Bit Of Percy Sledge
The more seasoned and veteran musicians often have very little time to explore new
music. They are absorbed in their commitments and driven by their own desire to express themselves. It was surprising to learn that Wylde spends a fair amount of his time away from his own creative process and enjoys exploring new music.
“I often put on iTunes radio,” he says. “I’ll particularly listen to singer/songwriter radio. You can put on Led Zeppelin radio, Rush, or Black Sabbath. Van Morrison. Sam Cooke. Or a little Percy Sledge. It’s great because it plays all the artists in that particular genre.”
“I usually listen to it because I always discover some cool stuff that I didn’t know before. I also dig new music. Having said that, I also love all the great songs I grew up listening to when I was younger; Zeppelin, Sabbath, John McLaughlin, Frank Marino, Robin Trower, and of course Hendrix. I still have my favourites, but that doesn’t stop me from listening to new stuff. Like the new Chris Cornell (Higher Truth). That is the last record I bought. Beck’s mellow Morning Phase album is great too.”
Take Me Home
There are some children who cannot wait to follow in their parents’ footsteps; they eagerly await their chance to carve out their own path. That is not the case with the Wylde family, not in the presumptuous sense anyhow. They enjoy spending time with each other, but dad is dad, and he does and is who he is. The rest of the family have their own dreams, and those don’t include a mosh-pit and the bright lights of a stage.
“My one son is interested in the business side of music,” Wylde explains. “He has been promoting and getting into the business side of music. He has very little interest in playing a musical instrument, or getting involved with producing records.”
Do they tour with him?
“Yeah,” he says. “Every now and then they will come out. My two oldest kids have their own lives. Our other son is thirteen and he is still in school. He’ll come out when he can. They all come out, but at some point they say, ‘I’ve had enough, I want to go home.'”
Wylde Audio and Schecter Guitar Research recently announced a worldwide distribution deal. Schecter will distribute Wylde Guitars and make them available in over 70 countries. The Odin, War Hammer, and Viking models are set for release later this year.
“The whole thing evolved naturally,” Zakk Wylde explains. “I have been blessed in my career to be endorsed by great companies. It was a great experience. They gave me a great opportunity to create, and I will always have relationships with those people, because they are my friends and I love them. They are family to me.”
“I will always have my relationship with Gibson, Apropos, Marshall, and Dunlop. But it’s like Derek Jeter playing for the Yankees. He has retired, but imagine him coming back to manage his old team. He then becomes the general manager, then the vice president of operations. The next logical step for Derek would be to become a team owner.”
“It all depends what you want to do in life. Not everyone wants to be that hands-on. Some people think that it’s a pain in the ass and they don’t feel like doing it. To me, I love it. I love working on that. Every day we have something going on.”
A few more pleasantries are exchanged and with that ends a conversation with what Dostoevsky described as “a good man, who laughs well.”
Book of Shadows II comes out April 9, and a summer tour will be around the corner. Generation Axe lands in Toronto on May 4. It will be a busy spring, and there’s a real possibility of a Wylde summer.