Electric Hellfire: An Interview With Zakk Wylde
Zakk Wylde talks us through his new gear company, Wylde Audio: The next chapter in a story spanning four decades of decibels. He also discusses writing Black Label Society's latest album Catacombs of the Black Vatican "in 25 days with a lot of coffee."
Morecambe and Wise, Fish and Chips, Manchester and Rain – there are some things naturally go hand in hand. Yet, amid the hustle, bustle and unveiling of new, shiny span dangly things at this year’s gear porn convention in Anaheim, California - known more commonly as NAMM - the days of one such partnership, it was revealed, were numbered. Zakk Wylde’s backline of Marshall Stacks and Gibson Les Pauls are what defines the man we so love to see batter his chest, growling like King Kong atop the Empire State Building, on stages across our fair planet. But that relationship is coming to an end in an intriguing twist of fate. As shocking as the announcement of Wylde Audio – Zakk’s newly established equipment company – may be however, it is an extremely understandable one.
“People are asking me ‘what are you doing, you’re not leaving Marshall and Gibson are you?’ And I tell them yeah, I’m starting my own company,” asserts the 48 year old guitarist whose DNA consists of a delicate balance of Viking brutality and graceful charm and humility. “They’ll always be my family because that’s why I came from but I’m starting my own company now. I still love my mum, if she calls up wanting me to come round with some milk and eggs I’ll do it, but now I have Black Label Society, I have my own apartment. For me it’s the same with Wylde Audio, and that’s audio – not just guitars and amps but pedals, microphones, outboard gear, pro tools and plug ins, anything you can think of.”
He talks, even through a crackly phone line, with an unfathomable passion. His speech quickens, his sentences grow longer and, in keeping with the signature guitar playing that has earned him such a high place at the Table of Rock Gods, more incendiary. He’s been on the scene and in this game ever since Ozzy Osbourne took the unknown, baby-faced gunslinger in under his wing in ’87. For Wylde, this isn’t a vindictive turning of his back from the companies that have raised him to be the man we all admire today, this is simply the next step forwards.
"Eventually what I’m gonna do is retire all my Gibsons, retire all my Marshalls and I'll have a full backline of my own branded gear. It’s definitely an exciting time for me."
“Someone asked me if I’d still play Gibson’s and Marshall’s so I said it’s like if I used to play for Liverpool but now I’ve been traded to Manchester United: No, I won’t be wearing my Liverpool Jersey anymore. Eventually what I’m gonna do is retire all my Gibsons, retire all my Marshalls – I’m not gonna sell them because that’s part of who I am. But the whole thing is set up so that as soon as I have a full backline of my own branded gear, as soon as I have this great big Wylde Audio Iron Curtain of Doom up there then that’s all I’ll be playing. I’ll be playing my own guitars and my own amps,” he enthuses before a smattering of his trademark sarcasm creeps in: “I’ve got all my own gear but I don’t wanna endorse it!
“If you were to turn around and say, ‘hey man wouldn’t it be cool if there was a pedal that did this or that?’ then my reaction would be let’s do it, let’s make it happen. Or if there’s a piece of gear and it’s broke all the time but when it worked it was awesome, well then let’s just make our own version of that but make it better, so it doesn’t break and it’s more reliable.
“Whatever ideas we can think of, we’ll do it. Or certain things or ideas that are pre-existing, I mean, it could be a cool pedal that was around in the ‘70s – ‘dude this thing’s awesome but it would be great if we could just do this to it or add that’ – we could work from that and make our own version. I’m in a position now where we can do that which is just amazing, it’s definitely an exciting time for me. It’s not even that the sky’s the limit because there is no limit.”
I’m sure there’ll be hordes of gear purists out there who will scoff at this adventure, but just to hear what he has to say and how he says it tells me that Wylde Audio is going to be a huge success. He’s thinking outside the box, like a musician rather than a businessman and that’s exactly what guitarists want.
He assures me that he’ll “think of every detail” of the products that will ultimately bare his name and I truly believe him. For now though he has a European Crusade to prepare for and on his usual trusted steeds he will ride, but in the distance however, just past the horizon where the sun sets like a blossoming flower in reverse, is an inspiring new chapter, a new dawn for Zakk Wylde, for Black Label Society and for all that so devotedly follow him. And that, I feel, is a cause for celebration.