For many artists and musicians, a fruitful career that can span two decades is a dream come true. But for guitar legend Zakk Wylde, a 20-year timespan is merely the most recent break in between his debut solo album, Book Of Shadows, and its sequel, Book Of Shadows II.
While the New Jersey native earned initial notoriety as the guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne, as well as the founder of the band Black Label Society, he is present-day Lord of a mini-empire that includes Wylde Audio, The Black Vatican recording studio, hot sauces, and Valhalla Java Odinforce Blend coffee.
Wylde’s business ventures build on his foundation as a true musical force, whose bold and fearless body of work speaks volumes to his talent and vigor. Wylde’s most recent release, Book Of Shadows II, offers a present glimpse into the heart of Wylde’s musical spirit.
The opening track “Autumn Changes” is a metaphoric homage to transition and perhaps even loss. Wylde croons: “My autumn changes have come and gone/Like the falling leaves and the memory of what you’ve become.”
“Darkest Hour” is a powerful and poetic exclamation of the sentiments tied to life’s low ties. Wylde sings: “Your crossroads have come/And as they knock upon your door/Choices to be made/For this life in which you live/Will you leave or will you stay? In your darkest hour/Tell me what it’s gonna be?/In your darkest hour/Will you walk with me?”
The lyrics pair perfectly with an equally emotional guitar solo for pure catharsis (like pretty much every other song on the album).
Book Of Shadows II is a commemorative representation of Zakk Wylde encompassed: Charismatic, distinctive, and heartfelt.
So much is happening at once in Wylde’s world. But he wouldn’t change a thing, he says. He paused from his plethora of activities to talk about his new record, his business ventures, and the derivation of his pinch harmonic style.
In the spirit of humor first, he answered the phone in a sheepish sounding voice, “Hello there?” The gesture is telling of Wylde’s gentle spirit.
An excerpt of the interview follows:
Book Of Shadows II is so melodic that it’s a naturally heartfelt record. Were there any specific experiences that served as your inspiration for the stories you tell in these songs?
There are 20 years in between records and the running joke is that [Guns N’ Roses’] Chinese Democracy took 15 years so let’s break that record! It was all by design to begin with, so when we hit 16 years I was like you know, 20 is a better sounding number. The only one that could possibly break this record of 20 years in between records being unemployed would have to be maybe Richard Branson. So that was the whole purpose of the 20-year wait.
We’re making records every year with BLS and touring…so it’s not like we’ve been sitting around. I had a collection of a bunch of songs that we were going to put on Book Of Shadows.
In between the two records obviously the one constant is my love for that style of music—The Eagles, Neil Young, Elton John, Allman Brothers, Bad Company, Percy Sledge, Sam Cook, Lynyrd Skynyrd—that mellow stuff. That’s what I listen to most of the time. I love that style of music. We’re always doing the heavy stuff so the last thing you want to hear is more heavy stuff. I love making these records.
Your pinch harmonics style is distinctive—from where did you draw inspiration to play that way? Is it true you’re a big fan of TNT?
I love Ronni Le Tekro. When we did “Miracle Man” on that first Ozzy record I used Ronni’s guitar tone from “10,000 Lovers” as a reference. I love his playing. What’s cool is I got a chance to see him and I told him all that stuff. He was like, “No way,” I was just like “Yeah, without a doubt man.” I love Ronni. He’s amazing.
Do you have any updates on Wylde Audio? Will you be using the equipment exclusively on tour?
Completely. And it’s awesome. Between Marshall, Gibson, they’ve all been family to me and I have great relationships with everybody there. It’s like moving out of your parents’ house. You have your own place. It’s super exciting. I wouldn’t change my situation for anything. I’m truly blessed.
Every day we’re creating new [equipment]. We don’t throw everything out at one time. Right now the models that are out are the ODIN, WARHAMMER and WIKING V out. I’m going to check out guitar mockups soon. As far as the amps go, I’m checking those out as well. Every day there’s always something going on.
People ask me for advice. I tell them they should have their hands in the whole [business of music]. You have no one to blame that way. You hear stories: “I can’t believe we got ripped off, money stolen, etc.” That should never happen. If you’re in charge and on top of everything, at least you don’t have to blame other people or play a victim. Things happen—that’s life and reality. You should want to embrace the whole process.
We’re gonna start working on another Black Label album near Christmastime…With all the things going on…It’s like being a team owner for the Yankees, or something like that. Wining the championship is the goal of the year but we’re flying down to see younger kids playing. Our coaches tell us to check people out—we’re talking about the concessions, the restaurants in the stadium; we’re talking about making the parking better. There’s always a million things going on, which is awesome, aside from the actual game that happens every day or night. Even though we just won the World Series we’re already making deals the next day. We’re already talking about getting an all-star pitcher to upgrade the team.
Not everybody wants to do it but I really enjoy doing it.
Zakk Wylde is playing July 19 at Webster Hall in New York City and July 30 at the Theatre Of Living Arts in Philadelphia. Book Of Shadows II is available now through eOne Music. For more information, go to zakkwylde.com.