November 24, 2006 | Author: Joe Matera
When he’s not being Ozzy’s right hand man, Zakk Wylde is laying to waste the masses with Black Label Society. As one of the truly genuine guitar heroes left in the world, Zakk’s take-no-prisoners approach permeates his whole being, from his fiery guitar playing right through to his machine gun replies to journalists’ questions. Joe Matera recently caught up with Wylde to discuss Black Label Society’s new studio outing Shot To Hell, guitars and his approach in the studio…
How did you approach the initial songwriting process for Shot To Hell?
Me and Craig [Nunenmacher, drums] got in there, with no songs, no nothing. We just go in there and I pick up the guitar and start playing. I will come up with a riff and bang, there’s already a song done. I’ve done it the other way where we are sitting in rehearsals in the same room, just jamming and jamming and it turns into this hazardous thing where it just sucks all the life out of the songs. Everything that is fresh is just completely gone.
Let’s talk about the gear you used for Shot To Hell?
My gear for the record was the ‘70s Marshall 100 watt JCM 800 2203. I have a philosophy that if it works, it’s not like I’m going to sit around and try hundreds of other amplifiers. If some one says, ‘Hey Zakk you need to try this amp as it smokes the Marshall’. You know what? I’m sure it does but I’m happy with my Marshall. The Marshall has 6550 Groove Tubes in it so I’m getting one great guitar sound out of that one cab. Because of that I’m always good to go. I have one cab with 200 watt speakers and another cab loaded with 300 watt speakers which are even cleaner sounding.
When it came to guitars, I used this Gibson Les Paul ’57 Junior that that I got for my 25th birthday. It’s the same guitar that Leslie West played, with the P-90 pickups and all and that was used on Mississippi Queen. I used that guitar for the clean stuff through a ‘80s Roland Jazz Chorus JC120 that sounded phenomenal. I also had a Gibson ’58 Junior and a ’65 Gibson SG that have all got P-90s in them. You can’t really go wrong with any of that stuff when it come to the clean stuff. For the dirty stuff, I used my “Rebel” Gibson Les Paul Custom that’s got EMG pickups. The ‘Rebel’ keeps everything clean and tight, but is still dirty yet clean.
When it comes to guitars, you always tune them one whole step down, why is that?
We always tune everything a whole step down now all the time as we got so used to doing it like that. If I was doing something on a piano like for example if it’s in C major or E minor as in Last Goodbye, then the bottom line is, live we’ll do it in D minor. The whole down tuning thing usually on the guitars is just to make it heavier and everything like that. The lower we go it just seems more comfortable for the vocals, especially if I’m going to be belting out the high shit. For us to do it night in and night out, it’s easier on the pipes. It’s not like I’m knocking it out in the studio one day and then will never do it again. We’re going to do it every night. So I definitely tune a whole step down rather than a half step. So if a song’s in D on the piano, then on the guitar, if we do it live, it’ll be played in C.
Laying down your guitar parts in the studio, you tend to do a lot of double tracking?
Yes I love to double track the guitars and stuff like that. Obviously for it to work, you first have to start with getting a killer guitar tone from one guitar. So when you come to double track, then all the “bigness” will just come to life. The same thing with the vocals too, but if we’re doing some mellow stuff there are certain times where you may want an intimate vocal so you won’t double it. When I say intimate, I mean you wouldn’t want to double a vocal on The Long and Winding Road by The Beatles? Because it’s a real lonely, sparse sounding song, you want a single voice. But otherwise if you want a larger than life sound you need to double it. I learned that stuff from Ozzy. And I should know having worked with him for 20 years or so now. Doubling makes everything lighter and huger and massive.
When it comes to the live environment, you have a wall of Marshalls on stage, yet you only have the four cabinets on the floor that are directly behind you, actually on?
Yeah those four right behind me. It’s the same with both Black Label Society and with Ozzy. I’ve only got four bottoms going. The top ones do look cool as shit but having the top ones on would kick your fucking ass man. Put it this way, I dig Zakk Wylde, but I don’t dig him that much! (laughs)
So how many guitars do you take out with you when you’re on the road?
When I’m touring the States, I usually have about eight guitars with me on the bus. We usually have them in the bunk on a rack so it looks like a music store almost. I normally have like an Epiphone, a Chet Atkins Gretsch guitar, an acoustic and about four other Les Pauls. Put it this way, if you were on the bus I’ll be like ‘Joe, pick whatever you want, just grab it and play it brother’. I don’t give a shit. The reason we have so many guitars on the bus is because when you’re sitting on the bus for like 26 hours you need to have guitars, video games, porn and whatever else. The God damn bus becomes like this fun world on wheels basically. Aside from those guitars, I also have all my other guitars that I use on stage. There’s about 12 or 13 guitars of those like my ‘Bulls-eyes’ and the Randy Rhoads guitars. So along all of Nick’s guitars, we probably have about 30 guitars together on the road.