Having just released the band’s tenth studio album ‘Grimmest Hits‘ in January of this year, the frontman seems to be navigating his services between his own solo project, BLS, Zakk Sabbath and of course the small job of touring with the one and only Ozzy for his ‘Farewell Tour‘.
So, yeah! He’s kind of busy!
OD – With the new album only a few months old, it’s clear that this year has been a successful and very busy start for you. It seems from the outside that there has been almost no break for you since ‘Book of Shadows’ (2016) to the Zack Sabbath project, live dates with Ozzy and then ‘Grimmest Hits’ tour which started in December, was it a case of just going from one project to another?
ZAKK – Yes, you could say that. For me, it’s not really a big deal at all. We were out on the road doing Zakk Sabbath, which is always a blast for me and then I was thinking ‘well, I suppose it’s about time to make another Black Label Society album‘ and I just had to figure out how much time I had to do it and just got on with it. I figured that I’ll have about 20 days to write and record the album and once that was all figured out, I just worked to that timeframe and got it done.
When the guys, (John DeServio, bass and Jeff Fabb drums) get out there they need a few days to track the material and then we’re on our way. If ‘Stairway to Heaven‘ or ‘White Christmas‘ flies outta my ass, then we can track it while the guys are there and that’s the way we do it.
People keep asking me ‘Hey, did you do anything different on this album?‘ and I’m like “no, it’s just business as usual“. We did nothing different on this album that differs from any other. That’s the beauty of making records, you can go into the studio with nothing and create something totally new that will last forever. For me, that’s the excitement of making music. To see what we are going to build and not really have any preconceptions. You just never know how it’s going to turn out and that’s the real magic of making music.
When I look at my idols, like Sabbath or Zeppelin, they just kept producing insane music that got better and better with each album. I remember hearing ‘Into the Void‘ and then a buddy of mine was like, “Hey Zakk, have you checked out Sabbath’s ‘Vol 4’ yet?” and I was like “Any good tracks on it?” (laughs). Then when I heard it, tracks like ‘Supernaught‘ and ‘Snowblind‘ and loads of killer tracks and my fucking head was just blown clean off, dude!
I always look forward to the challenge of hopefully writing new music that will blow my previous stuff outta the water. That’s the goal that I think every band or artist want’s to achieve and I gotta say, it’s a hell of a time trying and I love it.
OD – As you said you only allowed yourself 3 weeks to record ‘Grimmest Hits‘. With reference to what you just did you have any idea of the album’s approach at all prior to the writing process, or did you just follow your instincts and let it develop along the way?
ZAKK – The whole thing was just smashed out over that period of time. It’s always about the riffs and I had a few ideas here and there prior to getting into the studio. The foundation to any of the heavier songs we write is basically all about the riffs. When you look at Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water‘ – that riff carries the whole tune, or take Iron Man (Black Sabbath) and ‘Whole Lotta Love‘ (Led Zeppelin) and the riff is the commanding presence. That’s where I really begin when putting music together. I start with what hopefully is a killer riff and build on it. Everything just falls into place thereafter.
OD – Your career has been a roller-coaster since you bust out with ‘Pride & Glory’ back in ’94 and now with your many projects, there is also Wylde Audio and Valhalla Java to add to the list. Had a younger Zakk been told that by 2018 you would have your very own brand of guitar and coffee, would you have believed it?
ZAKK – Put it this way. When I look at all of this now, sure, it’s awesome, but things are so different now to when I was growing up and learning to play the guitar. Take schools like MI (Musicians Institute) for examples, where they are teaching all genres of music as well as the business aspect to kids. We all love to play music, but the business side of things is just as important.
There are millions of incredible musicians out there that are so talented at what they do but find it difficult to live off of being a musician. It’s awesome that they know how to play their instruments or whatever, but if they can’t get a good business foundation going, then the likelihood of them having to give up to get a regular nine to five is more likely.
That knowledge was never available in a school-type situation when I was growing up and I just had to find out along the way. I got screwed over a few times and I learned from those mistakes and they are some of the most important lessons I’ve ever had in my life.
If I was 18 years old and wasn’t blessed for having Ozzy in my life, as well as our Black Label Family, I’de be using social media pretty much like I’m using it now, however, I guess it would be a lot harder to try to make a name for myself as there’s just millions and millions of bands/artists out there who unfortunately buried under all the other noise on the internet.
People keep asking me if I have any advice for new artists and all I can say is, first and foremost, play what you love. Regardless of what is going on or what is popular, just follow your own tastes and don’t be afraid to express yourself through your music.
OD – Do you find that you’ve come across many musicians that are playing music in bands that they don’t particularly enjoy?
ZAKK – Sometimes! I mean, if you really dig The Almond Brothers, Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin, then just go play that music. If it makes you happy to play stuff like The Ramones or Sex Pistols then why the fuck are you in a band that sounds like Bon Jovi? (laughs) The answer I usually get or used to get, back in the early 80’s, was like “we just wanna get signed, man. We gotta play this stuff if we wanna get signed!”
Well, I got news for you kid, Bon Jovi is playing what Bon Jovi wants to play and fortunate for those guys, they are very successful and God bless ’em for doing what they love to do. But the truth of it is, that it doesn’t work that way. To have any longevity in this business, you simply have to play what you believe in and what you love. Fact!
The best piece of advice I can give any band is, treat your band like you treat your job. Nobody wants a crummy job for the rest of their lives, so do the best you can and make sure you are following your passion or it’s just a waste of time.
OD – You’re gearing up for some dates with Ozzy soon. When you first returned to the stage with him last year, was it a case of business as usual just continuing where you left off or did it take a little getting used to again?
ZAKK – Without a doubt. I’ve been listening to Ozzy since I was 11 years old and to be a part of his final tour, is just amazing. He knows I’ll always be there for him, regardless of what he wants to do. If he wanted to start a fucking gardening company, I’ll be there.
My relationship with Ozzy and Sharon goes way beyond music. They are kind of like parents to me and have been looking out for me since I was 19 years old. My wife, Barbranne and I, just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and Ozzy and Sharon were there and it was just a really lovely family event.
Even though I wasn’t playing with Ozzy for those nine years when Gus (G, Ozzy’s guitar player, also in Firewind) was out there killin’ it every night. People think that there was a kind of falling out, but we were constantly in contact throughout that period, you know, like fathers day, birthday’s with Ozzy, Sharon and the kids, so we were very much in touch and going out for dinner when we all had time.
OD – I’m assuming that when Ozzy asked you to come back for the tour, it was just a typical “do you want to do some shows and can you pass the salt?” type scenario?
ZAKK – (laughing) You got it, man! Totally! Yeah, it was just a real casual and he was like “do you want to do this?” and I was like “yeah, sure man!” It was that easy! People keep asking me if we are going to do another Ozzy record and for right now, it’s just a live show, but if Ozzy asked me if I have any riffs laying around and wanted to record another record, then yeah, I’m totally up for that!
OD – Regarding Zakk Sabbath, at what point do you just say ‘Fuck it’let’s make this a reality’ and were Blasko (Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Zombie) and Joey (Castillo – Danzig, Queens of the Stone Age) in it from the get-go?
ZAKK – Well, Blasko is the Peter Grant (Manager of Led Zeppelin, Yardbirds, Bad Company) of Black Label. When we were doing those Metal Allstar shows, we always had a different drummer and one day we were thinking ‘let’s ask them if they know how to play ‘NIB’, ‘Faries Wear Boots’ or ‘War Pigs’ or whatever‘ and that’s what it would always come down to. It was like a kind of vibe-test to see if there was a good connection there. And then it became a kind of a running joke that the warm-up set would be all Sabbath material when then was referred to as the ‘Zack Sabbath‘ set.
Blasko would talk to whoever drummer we happened to be playing with and he’d say, ‘just jam out some Black Sabbath stuff’ and before we know what was happening, we had our first show under the name ‘Zakk Sabbath‘ thanks to our friends in Clutch, who took out BLS on the road a few years back and we convinced them to give ‘Zack Sabbath‘ a slot at one of the shows.
We then did a headline tour, which was a fucking blast and we had so much fun. Everybody knew the songs so the crowds were losing their minds. It was awesome!
The running joke is that when I was 16 years old, Blasko and I were in a cover band together jamming out Sabbath tunes at keg parties and peoples basments, living rooms, kitchens and high-school parties and now I’m 51 and still playing those same tunes, only there are a few more people turning up to see us (laughs).
OD – I was talking to Rita a few months back (click here for the full interview) when the Dime Vision Vol. 2 came out and she was telling me that there was so much footage that she hadn’t seen and stories etc from the production process. Knowing your close friendship with Dime, would I be right in assuming that although he no longer with us, Dime (Pantera) is still managing to get you laughing your ass off when seeing some of his home video stuff?
ZAKK – Without a doubt! It’s kind of hard to get away from it at times because he’s still all over social media and Instagram too. (laughs) Everyone that has ever been to a BLS show will know that we celebrate Dime every night. As amazing a guitarist/musician Dime was one of the most hysterical people I’ve ever met and also one of the most giving and caring. Whenever he walked into the room it was like this huge light had been turning on. Dime’s agenda was basically this, he just wanted everyone to be happy.
OD – Looking forward, are there any other projects on the horizon or new ventures that you would like to see happen?
ZAKK – Well, obviously the Black Label Society men’s lingerie selection, is high up on the agenda right now (laughing)! I’m currently test-driving all of the styles right now and when I was wearing my kilt on stage last night I forgot to put my fishnet stockings on (laughing). No, seriously man, I’m just so lucky to have this life and be doing what I’m doing.
Travelling the world playing awesome music with great people. Discovering new bands also along the way, like those guys from Ten Ton Slug, who are awesome (pictured below). Such nice dudes and heavy-as-fuck! I love touring with new bands, old bands, friends, whatever. I’m in a very blessed situation and long may it continue.
Black Label Society “Grimmest Hits” is out now via Entertainment One Music. For more information on BLS, please visit this link.
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