News & Exclusive Interview: Zakk Wylde on Black Label Society’s New Album
Zakk Wylde’s thick, deafening guitar tone and lightning-fast solos make him an unstoppable voice in heavy music. He has talent, drive, charisma—the whole package.
Wylde’s band, Black Label Society, will release their new album on April 8, Catacombs of the Black Vatican. The album marks the group’s first all-new LP since 2009’s The Order of the Black.
We caught up with the frontman and former Ozzy Osbourne guitarist to discuss the guitar philosophy behind the new album (“Lots of guitar riffs!”), advice for aspiring players and more.
Wylde – who is known for slinging a variety of Les Paul Bullseyes, Explorers and Flying Vs – also has a new Gibson model out: the limited-edition Zakk Wylde Moderne of Doom. Read our chat with Wylde about the axe here.
Congratulations on the success of Black Label Society’s Unblackened album, and now you have a new album dropping. Tell me about the title, Catacombs of the Black Vatican.
Well, seeing I’m a fine, outstanding Irish Catholic, the name fit! I used to have a home studio and called it the Bunker, originally. Then, when Ozzy had his studio, he started calling it that, so I had to rename mine, so I just started calling it the Vatican. I painted it black because we’re Black Label Society. I mean, if I was Jimi Hendrix, I would paint it purple. We’re Black Label Society, so I had to paint it black!
How does this new album differ from your last one, The Order of the Black?
It’s pretty much the same as the last ones, with different song titles! (Laughs) Everyone wants to know what it sounds like, and it sounds like the last pervious nine records but with different songs. It’s just how we do a Black Label Society album!
What was the writing process like for this album?
If we’re on the road, I’m usually the first one down and first one up, because I don’t drink. So, I’ll get up in the morning, and I’ll start running scales. Then, I’ll start playing mellow tunes, like Creedence Clearwater or Bob Seger—acoustic stuff. So, I’ll get song ideas on the road. Then, when I get home, every day I’ll go into the studio and get inspired to write riffs.
What was your guitar philosophy on this release?
Lots of guitar riffs! My philosophy is writing riffs on the E string and the A string. When I used to listen to “Smoke on the Water” or “Iron Man,” those riffs can be played on basically one string. Being a kid, those were the first songs I learned. They’re just riffs. They’re on two strings, the actual riff. That’s just riff writing.
So, I sit down and keep digging and digging and writing and then record whenever I have something good. I’ll stockpile it. I might write the whole song right there, too. Then, the guys get here, and we do it. I’ll play it for Chat (Szeliga), and he’ll play air drums on his legs, and then he’ll get on the drums and play it one time through, record it and do this thing, as opposed to sitting in a rehearsal room and blasting away. It’s so much easier now that we have the studio. You can shape it and mold it instantly when you’re in the studio.
You recently wrapped up the “An Evening of Zakk Wylde” tour of Canada. What was the idea behind the trek?
It’s our Canadian Black Label family. We always have a blast when we’re up there. On this tour, we played some soothing Black Label sounds. With the book tour, I read a couple passages and we have Q&As. When we do these storyteller tours, I have a blast. It’s a different animal than when we do the full-on, walls-of-doom and blasting stuff.
What words of wisdom do you have for up-and-coming guitarists?
Learn your scales and your fretboard. Have someone teach you. To me, it’s no different than learning how to read and write and add and subtract. You can get through life with that. If you want to be a chemical engineer, then you have to learn trigonometry and take those facets of education to a whole other level. If you want to be a jazz player or classically trained, you’re going to have to go further. But, you have to have the basic knowledge.
Photos by Anne Erickson