An Interview with Zakk Wylde on His New Book, Bringing Metal to the Children: The Complete Berzerker’s Guide to World Tour DominationBy Joe Daly
April 16, 2012
Whether seen as a goal or a lifestyle, “world domination” has been exhaustively explored in literature, yet never as boldly, crudely and hilariously as by guitar virtuoso Zakk Wylde, founder of rock outfit Black Label Society, church-going Catholic boy and all-around inducer of mayhem. Wylde’s new book, Bringing Metal to the Children: The Complete Berzerker’s Guide to World Tour Domination delivers explicit, often jaw-droppingly graphic instructions for transitioning from fat-fingered guitar novice to flaxen-haired rock god, exploring everything from choosing the music you play to how to avoid being tea-bagged on a tour bus. Yes, tea-bagged.
Co-written by Snake River Conspiracy guitarist Eric Hendrikx, Bringing Metal to the Children delivers a loose and profane primer for succeeding in the music industry. On the practical side, Wylde discusses concerns such as building a home studio, the unique properties of various guitars and strategies for attracting the attention of a major label. This chapter alone is a must-read for any musician looking to score a record deal. For entertainment purposes only, Wylde pens a laughter-inciting sample letter to a record executive for fledgling bands to use, suggesting the following language: “I thought I knew excitement when my wife gave birth to our first child, but it paled in comparison to when I first heard our demo. We are fucking awesome.”
Such profane hyperbole is the book’s secret ingredient, with Wylde delivering practical insights in terms so blisteringly funny, and often so sexually-explicit, that the lessons cannot help but stick. In addition to Wylde’s gut-busting banter, other musicians and recognizable figures populate the book with stories and commentary of their own. Rob Zombie, Slash, Lars Ulrich and MMA fighter Forrest Griffin contribute war stories and advice columns, often turning on each other and Wylde with cutting barbs and eye-watering one-upsmanship.
Hendrikx plays an unusually prominent role in the literary melee. While most co-authors lurk behind the scenes, Hendrikx emerges in a series of side conversations with Wylde throughout the book, with Wylde regularly stepping out of the narrative to viciously mock Hendrikx via a series of “Notes from Zakk,” accusing his co-author of having imaginary girlfriends and a noteworthy collection of Star Wars dolls. Few biographies so perfectly capture the essence of a group of buddies hanging out, swapping jokes and talking shit
Stories about his time playing with Ozzy Osbourne, who hand-picked Wylde as his new guitarist in 1987, stand tall among the highlights. There is also a multiple-choice test to gauge one’s ranking in the Black Label Order (Bea Arthur being the highest), a set of mosh pit survival strategies and a ferociously funny section in the book’s “Bonus Material” section, where Black Label Society bassist and perennial whipping boy John “JDesus” Deservio brutally skewers Wylde in a series of actual tweets exchanged between the men.
For musicians, rock fans and people who appreciate the fine art of taking the piss out of your friends, Bringing Metal to the Children thoroughly entertains on a number of levels. Beyond the drink-spitting humor, there are incisive discussions of the music industry that any up-and-coming band would be well-advised to read. Ultimately what grounds the book are the undercurrents of heart and sincerity that flow through Wylde’s tales and that he summarizes in the Epilogue with disarming eloquence and humility.
I had a chance to talk to Zakk as he prepared for a monstrous week of awards shows, concerts and the release of his book. While I had prepared a series of esoteric and provocative questions about the music industry, songwriting and Zakk’s storied career, almost all of them went out the window inside of the first two minutes. Sometimes when a guy picks up a head of steam, you have to just step out of the way and let him do his thing.
In the interests of fairness and of allowing all sides to be heard, we have included a surprise at the end of the interview.*
How’s it going?
I’m doing really good, man. We’ve got the book signing tomorrow, getting ready for Ozzy rehearsals, and then we’ve got another book signing in New York, and then it’s off to Black Label rehearsals over in Poland, and then it’s eight weeks of doom trooping (touring) over in Europe.
You’re rehearsing in Poland?
Yeah, it makes more sense. We get the Doom Crew over there and the band in the venue we’re gonna be playing and then we rehearse there for a couple days. Otherwise we’ve gotta fly everybody out to L.A., and everybody’s from all over the place. The majority of the gear’s gonna be in Poland anyway because we’ve gotta ship it over there. That’s why when people ask, “Can we get Black Label to do a one-off show?” I’m going, “Dude, do you have any idea how much it costs for me to do a one-off show?” Just to fly everybody in, get all the guys hotels, pay everybody, and now you’re talking about shipping the gear over to somewhere like Chicago? They go, (nasally voice) “Well can’t you do it for like five grand?” I go, “Dude, that’s not even going to cover the guys’ flights, let alone hotel rooms. Are you out of your mind?”
So what’s the deal with Ozzy? What are you doing with him?
It’s the “Ozzy and Friends” thing. (current and former Ozzy band members) Gus G., Blasko and Tommy (Clufetos) are coming out and doing a bunch of tunes, then I come out with Blasko and Tommy and we end up doing a bunch of stuff from the era when I was with The Boss, from No Rest for the Wicked all the way through everything I’ve ever done with him. Then Geezer (Butler, Black Sabbath bassist) comes out and we do a bunch of Sabbath stuff and at the end, Slash and everybody–Geezer, Slash, Gus–and we all play “Paranoid.”
Jesus, there are going to be a lot of wet zippers by the end of that show.
(laughing) Exactly. Yeah, it’s gonna be cool.
The way the book reads, it sounds like you, Eric Hendrikx and all of the other contributors had a great time putting it together.
Oh yeah. It started last New Year’s Eve. When we started going through the idea for the book, it was a combination of two things: it’s all about my studio and technical stuff like gear, guitars…all I gotta do is add some scales in there. Then me and Eric started cracking up, right from the beginning, about me being like a Soldier of Christ, you know and having morals and caring about people and empowering people–not enslaving them–and you know, wanting other people to succeed, and being caring and sharing, unlike management, who’s into Satanism, which is the number-crunching. (laughing) Eric and I were literally rolling on the floor, crying from laughing and just taking the piss out of everything. Everything would always come back to management, you know, “As I looked out into the crowd, I saw a brotherhood, a gigantic family, a Black Label Family of Doom,” whereas management looked at is as “Cash crops with legs,” and retirement plans, 401(k)s… we were dying laughing. We realized, “This is the direction the book has to go in, man.” Pure ridiculousness. Then me actually putting advice in there, like if I were eighteen years old again, what I would do. Stuff like that.
The stuff that you talk about regarding the music industry, like the letter that bands should write to record companies, is immensely practical, beneath all the humor. Did you intend the book to be just for musicians?
No, I guarantee you that a majority of guys that we know, if they read the book, they’ll be crying laughing because they’ll know what I’m talking about, but the book, to me, reads more like us sitting in a pub, just talking, you know what I mean? But it’s the truth though, you know what I’m saying? I mean, you know this stuff, being in the magazine business, being around music and rock and roll and everything like that. Like I said at the beginning of the book, “Thanks to God and Jesus Christ for not only giving me this life, but for bestowing and blessing upon me the insane cast of characters that make up the music business.” Everybody that I roll with, they’re like cartoon characters. I mean, any one of us gets up and walks away from the table, you immediately start taking the piss out of them.
The amount of ball-breaking that you guys do might shock some people. I wonder if there will be some people who won’t know what to make of how harsh you guys are toward each other.
Without a doubt. The section at the end with JDesus and the tweets, where everyone talks about how wonderful I am– JD’s like, “Yeah, wonderful piece of shit!” (laughs) I’d always be sending him those things and he’d tweet back and I’d show you what JD wrote, like, “Here’s the rebuttal,” and you’d be dying laughing. I told Eric, “Dude, we gotta put JD’s rebuttals in the book. These are priceless.” We knew we had to print these–they were too good. And that’s the way we roll on the road all the time. And the unique thing about Black Label is that everybody’s having a good time. Like with GNR–whatever happened with Axl and Slash–that’s the million dollar question, really. I mean, guys, just fix it. If you could get along, you could become the biggest band in the world again. But the thing is, I’ve never been in a band like that. All the guys we rolled with, everybody had a good time and it was what it was. I’m just saying that if Joe doesn’t want to be in the band anymore because he wants to have a steady job and he wants to get married and be around his family all the time, I mean, we still keep in touch with Joe and see how he’s doing. Just because he’s not playing with us anymore, it’s like, alright, what are we supposed to be pissed off at him? With Black Label it’s a unique thing–everybody can come and go as they please, and everybody has a good time while they’re here. Life’s hard enough already.
You make a good point with Guns N’ Roses. They have all the reasons in the world to get back together, but they don’t. As someone who’s been around as long as you have, what’s the one thing a musician can do to thoroughly and brilliantly fuck up their career?
Lemme put it this way: it’s already enough of an ass-plowing to begin with. It’s like I said in the book, if you’re in Alice in Chains–if you’re Jerry Cantrell–and that’s the music you love and that’s what naturally comes out of you and you love playing that stuff, that’s what you gotta do. It’s a long road whether you’re in Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Boston or any band. The whole thing is that you might as well be playing what you dig playing, rather than being in some band where you’re like, “Dude, I can’t stand playing this.” Then what are you doing it for, man? You know what I mean? Nothing for nothing, but whether me and you work in a McDonald’s, there are still gonna be jerk-offs that are there that we can’t stand, you know what I mean? You might as well pick something you really love doing.
Some of the stories are extremely raw and explicit. Did you have any problems being so open on the written page?
No, not at all. To me it’s no different than me sitting there with someone, talking about shit that happened. To me, it’s no big deal. I mean, there are certain guys I know that would never want to see stuff from their past like the old Ozzy pictures of me with the poufy hair. They’d say, “No way–I ain’t signing those.” It’s like, dude, those things are golden! Are you kidding me, man? Those things are priceless! That’s open season on taking the piss out of yourself right there. But were there any embarrassing things that I didn’t want to talk about? It’s like when we did the roast–anyone talking about my drinking or anything like that. Dude, I know some guys who’d say, “Well, so and so doesn’t want to talk about the drugs or the booze,” but, you know, it happened. It’s kind of funny. I couldn’t care less, man. No one’s going to say, “Don’t show any pictures of Zakk with the flaming hair.” Dude, those pictures are hysterical!
You drop a ton of great Ozzy stories. He’s always surrounded himself with uncommonly-talented people, from his band to his wife. What do you think is his greatest strength as a musician?
As a musician, hands down, he’s the king of the melody. He’s hugely influenced and inspired by the Beatles. But Ozzy’s melodies–when he’s hearing riffs–it’s usually the first thing that comes out of his head and he starts singing. You’re like, “Wow. That sounds great. That’s a great melody.” So as a musician, Ozzy always comes up with great melodies.
What about you? Every legendary guitar player has their signature in their playing, whether it’s a lick, a tone or a technique. What’s yours?
Inspiration, because people can hear me play and go, “Well, if this hack can make a living doing it, I can definitely do it.” (massive laughter) What’s my inspiration? I give people hope! “If this hack can make it, I certainly can. I thought the dream was over, then somebody played me some of Zakk’s playing, and I realized I’ve got a long way from over. If this moron can make it, I know I can.” (still laughing)
Near the beginning of the book, you say that from time-to-time, you pull “douchebag lead singer shit” with the band. What’s an example of that?
You always hear guys like Eddie Van Halen say, “Yeah, that guy’s got LSD–Lead Singer Disease.” Or you hear the stories where the singer’s always the biggest douchebag in the band, because without the singer, there’s nothing–the show gets cancelled. Now, instead of me saying I’m a guitar player, now I can throw in the lead singer thing and have one of my pissy fits and act like a complete douche. Then JD and the rest of the guys have to say, “Well, he is the singer, if that’s what he has to classify it as. He’s the guy in the middle of the stage.”
This is a personal question that’s been on my mind. When you guys rolled through San Diego last fall with Judas Priest, I picked up a Black Label sweatshirt. My girlfriend now wears it–quite often and without permission–all the time. What are the rules on that?
Hah! (mockingly) What’d she do, steal your swag?
Yeah, not only will she steal my sweatshirt, but she’ll ask me, “What’s the name of this clothing line again?” Are there any rules about this?
(laughing) No, just as long as she’s still giving good food massages and shoulder rubs, peace shall be restored in the king’s castle. She should wear whatever Black Label crap she wants to wear!
Any album plans in store for BLS?
Well, after this eight-week crusade (tour) we’re going on now, when we get back from that we’re doing the Unblackened thing in August, so we’re looking forward to that as well. We’re gonna film for a DVD.
We end these interviews with five either/ors. I’m going to give you five choices and you pick one and if you want to explain why, have at it.
Tom Coughlin or Bill Parcells?
Coughlin or Parcells? I’ll stick with Coach Coughlin.
Eric Hendrikx or Mark Twain?
That’s a no-brainer. Anything with Eric, you’ve gotta go the opposite.
Aerosmith in the Sevenites or Guns N’ Roses in the Eighties?
They’re both slammin’, man. But I was there to witness GNR in the Eighties, so I gotta go with GNR, just because I was there. In the Seventies, I was just a little dude, so I didn’t realize the greatness, but I’m sure if I’d have witnessed it, who knows?
Captain Kirk or Luke Skywalker?
Dude, that’s a no-brainer. You gotta go with Captain Kirk, man.
Last one–shredding or sex?
Shredding or sex? Um… well, I combine both at all times. Like peanut butter and chocolate.
Thanks a million, man.
Thanks, Joe. Been a lotta laughs.
*We thought it only fair to invite co-author Eric Hendrikx, who endures heroic amounts of taunting throughout his own book, to deliver the valedictory comments for this feature. Many thanks to Eric for his time and input.