Q&A: Zakk Wylde

When Zakk Wylde quit drink in 2009, the rock press groaned - did this mean an end to the expletive-flecked monologues of his two crazed decades in Ozzy's band? But even off the source the guitarist is in vintage form, using Black Label Society's new album, Catacombs Of The Vatican, as a jump-off.

The Black Vatican is the name of your home studio, right?

Yeah. We were also saying that Catacombs Of The Black Vatican could be my gaping asshole from the last 25-plus years in the music business. My studio basically looks like my 14-year-old bedroom, but now I got all the pictures of my heroes in frames, not stuck up with duct tape: Jimmy Page, Sabbath, Randy Rhoads, John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola, all over the place. The studio was our guest house at one time. When I painted it black my wife goes: “What are you, 10 years old?” I go: “I take offence at that – I’m 11 years old. Also, if you were married to Jimi Hendrix, that thing would be painted purple.”

What subjects did you find yourself writing about?

Lyrically it could be anything, man. Things going on right now, something that happened to a buddy, reading the news. You can write variations on a theme. Let’s say you’re singing about war. You have Bob Dylan’s take on it, then Geezer’s take with War Pigs. When you figure out what the fuck I’m singing about, you let me know as well.

What do you say to the idea that hard rockers don’t do ballads?

Listen, just because I’m a heavy-rock guy, I still like my ballads, and wearing my high heels, my leggings and my dress. Leave me be.

You’ve said this album is like the others but with different titles?

Yeah, pretty much. It’s like, if you beat [the critics] to it, they won’t be able to say anything. They’ll go: “Well, this album sounds exactly like all the others.” And I’ll go: “Yeah, but I already said that.”

Don’t you think artists should evolve?

An artist like Madonna is a chameleon, and each record is a whole new thing. That’s cool. But that’s more of a pop-culture thing, where people are like, alright, we want the next batch of donuts now. The bands we love, whether it’s AC/DC, the Stones, Zeppelin, Sabbath, all we want is for them to do what they do. When punk rock came in, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant don’t have to worry about mohawks and piercings. Who gives a shit about punk rock records, just because it’s huge now? Keep making great Zeppelin records.

There’s always the criticism that you sound like Ozzy.

Well, without a doubt. Put it this way: if things didn’t pan out, I could definitely do a fucking Sabbath tribute band. We could break out Sabbath at weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, circumcisions, wherever they’ll take us. I mean, I love Ozzy’s voice. So if anything, that’s a compliment if anybody said that.

Do Black Label albums get the critical acclaim they deserve?

I think the eight Nobel Peace Prizes I’ve won speak for themselves.

How hot is your brand-name line of Berserker sauces?

Well, I remember they sent one sauce to the house that said on the bottle: ‘Do Not Apply To Skin’; like, this is gonna melt right through your hand. I thought, “Well this can’t be good inside your body, bro.” But there’s different degrees of the sauces.

Youve been sober a few years now. Ever fall off the wagon?

Nah. I still hang out at pubs. It doesn’t bother me at all, because I like the social aspect. It’s also down to the fact that, y’know, I sniff probably about two gallons of glue each day. It has pretty much the same effect as alcohol but it’s less filling. Drinking gallons of beer used to go to my thighs. Now it doesn’t. I don’t drink at all these days.

Even sober, you still have a temper. What makes you angry?

Well, if I don’t get any razors so I can shave my legs before I go on stage. Because a lot of times it rips my stockings.

There’s a bit of a cross-dressing theme in this interview…

I gotta balance out this tough-guy thing with my inner Cher.

It’s nearly a decade since we lost Dimebag. Does it get easier?

The whole thing is so ridiculously senseless. When me and my buddies are talking, we’re like: “Man, I can’t believe Dime is still gone.” I just think of the times I had with him. People ask: “What was Dime like?” And I’ll go: “Dude, if you were having the crappiest day, he’d walk in and light the room up.” That’s the way he rolled.

What about talk of Pantera re-forming with you on guitar?

It doesn’t bother me at all, because they’re talking about Dimebag, which is always a cool thing. I laid Dime to rest, I was a pallbearer. And if the guys were like: “We want to do it and we want you to honour Dime,” of course I would. It’d honour the mountains Pantera climbed.

Does anyone still call you Jeffrey?

Nobody’s called me Jeffrey since forever. My dad called me Flip, because my middle name is Phillip, but that’s it. I usually don’t get Zakk, either. Just asshole, shitbag, scumbag – my most frequent names.

What do you think of Black Sabbath’s 13. album?

It’s great. It’s awesome that they just won a Grammy. I told Oz: “It’s crazy, you’ve finally won a Grammy now. Where were they when the first Sabbath album came out, or Paranoid, Master Of Reality, Vol. 4, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Sabotage?” There’s a couple of good ones in there. They’re slightly okay records, y’know?

After doing Rock Star, do you think you’ll act in another film?

I’m hoping they make Debbie Does Dallas 3. I’m ready to star in that.

What are you doing after you finish this interview?

I’m gonna go shave my legs.

Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.