Wylde says his Epiphone Masterbilt acoustics “play like Les Pauls. The action is phenomenal.” Photo by Justin Reich
Over the course of six weeks—just prior to the release of his latest album, Book of Shadows II—Zakk Wylde rocked the house at an after-party at the NAMM show in Anaheim, California, with Zakk Sabbath (a Black Sabbath cover band he threw together), was a featured artist alongside Yngwie Malmsteen and Marty Friedman on the guitar-dominated Axes & Anchors cruise, and took part in his third Experience Hendrix tour. This wasn’t a fluke, lottery-win streak for the New Jersey-born axeman. It seems like every waking moment of Wylde’s life has been a nonstop rollercoaster ride since he first shook the earth on Ozzy Osbourne’s 1988 album, No Rest for the Wicked.
Premier Guitar experienced this relentlessness firsthand while interviewing Wylde, whose catalog includes 11 albums with his band, Black Label Society, as well as two solo releases. After getting whisked away to a relatively private section of the Grand Bar at the swanky Soho Grand Hotel in New York City, where people are generally too cool to acknowledge the presence of a celebrity, a guy that looked like he could be either an industry executive or a well-dressed fan in the right place at the right time broke the code and immediately came over and chatted with Wylde. After they were done, our interview began, and in only the first few seconds, as he showed us some videos and pictures on his phone, a barrage of texts popped up. Throughout the interview they continued pouring in from friends, family, and business folks.
Business folks? Well, while we ostensibly met with Wylde to discuss the follow-up to 1996’s Book of Shadows—an album that showcased the softer, gentler side of the 6-string behemoth—it’s impossible to ignore his indefatigable entrepreneurial spirit and rapidly expanding empire. Wylde, who threatens Kiss’ Gene Simmons’ standing as rock’s greatest branding genius, recently rolled out the Wylde Audio line of guitars. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“It’s not just guitars,” clarifies Wylde “It’s guitars, amps, pedals, strings … down to everything. Eventually, outboard gear, Pro Tools plug-ins, microphones. It’s Wylde Audio!” And that’s not all. Wylde also has his own coffee: Valhalla Java Odinforce Blend, roasted by Death Wish Coffee Company.
In this interview, Wylde opens up about Book of Shadows II, shares his secrets for crafting epic solos and playing fast, and delivers the lowdown on Wylde Audio.
How did Book of Shadows II come about?
Throughout all the years of the Black Label family—the Boston chapter, the London chapter, the Canadian chapter—they’d be like, “Zakk, you ever think you’re gonna make another one of those Book of Shadows records?” My whole thing was like, “Yeah, whenever we get a break in between doing laundry, dishes, cleaning the dog, changing diapers, we’re gonna fit one in.” After we did 2014’s Catacombs of the Black Vatican, we toured that thing for two years. We also did an acoustic Unblackened run from New York to L.A., doing the mellow stuff, as opposed to the heavy stuff. It was nice breaking it up a little bit. With the 20th anniversary of Black Label Society coming up, I said, “Man, maybe we’ll knock out another Book of Shadows record while we’re at it.”
Is Book of Shadows II a direct sequel, thematically, to the 1996 original?
Nah, it’s independent of it. The only thing that’s a constant, I guess, is the style. It’s just the mellow stuff.
It’s fitting that we’re talking about Book of Shadows II in New York City, since the first incarnation of Book of Shadows was written here, 20 years ago.
Yeah. When we were tracking Ozzmosis, we stayed on 34th and Lexington. We’d be drinking in every Irish tavern that we could find until 6 or 7 in the morning, and we’d end up in this one bar called Brew’s, which had been there since 1903 but is gone now. The jukebox had everything from Neil Young to Elton John, Bob Seeger to the Eagles. After we got done there, we’d crawl over to the hotel and be jamming on the acoustic and write. That’s what became the Book of Shadows stuff.
Book of Shadows II focuses on the sentimental side of your personality, and throughout the years you’ve covered songs like “Candle in the Wind” and “Ain’t No Sunshine.” It’s great that you’re not suppressing the softer side of your music.
As much as I love listening to Zeppelin doing “Black Dog,” I love it when they do “Going to California” or “That’s the Way,” or anything like that. Same thing with Neil Young when he does, “Hey Hey, My My” with Crazy Horse—the super heavy version. I love it when he’s also sitting with an acoustic and does it by himself.
“Darkest Hour” has the most explosive solo on the album. How do you get in that high-energy zone against a relatively mellow track?
It’s just like how I work out all solos—the Saint Rhoads school of soloing or the Neal Schon school. It’s composed, where you got the melodies and then you put your little fast things in there. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. When we were doing the tracks for that solo, I just kept going and going and going. I was like, “Man, let me just extend the solo out for this one.” I remember I’d be listening to it in the truck. When I’d be driving, I was humming melodies to it and saying, “I’ll put in a little Al Di Meola bit over here. I’ll put a melody over here. I’ll put a Neal Schon thing over here, a Saint Rhoads thing here, a Frank Marino thing here.” There are a lot of parts. You sit down and work out a solo until you’re happy with it.
You’ve taken part in the Experience Hendrix tour. Did the influence of any of the other guitarists rub off on you?
All the guys are amazing, phenomenal players. You got Eric Johnson, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Eric Gales. I’m a fan and I enjoy listening to them. The thing is, whether they’re all playing pentatonic scales or diatonic scales, it doesn’t matter. They still sound like themselves.
Watch Zakk put his Gibson Flying V through its paces in this extended solo, captured onstage in Helsinki, Finland. The guitar has EMG pickups, a Floyd Rose locking vibrato arm, and volume/volume/tone controls with a 3-way switch.