Even when he's not in the studio or on the road, it's hard for Black Label Society maestro Zakk Wylde to get any rest. His home, located about an hour outside of Los Angeles, is a sanctuary of sorts for wayward rockers and friends, who keep him up all night partying. His most current tenant is Phil, a noisy, obnoxious friend from New Jersey who keeps interrupting our phone interview by shouting homophobic comments.
When it becomes impossible to finish a thought, Wylde wanders outdoors so he can properly discuss his new album, Mafia. But the peace only lasts a couple of minutes. While the guitar player and singer talks about spreading the gospel of Black Label Society, the connection is pierced by what sounds like the feral roar of a chainsaw; it's actually Wylde's 11-year-old son, Jesse, baiting his dad by riding a mini motorcycle in circles around him. "He might as well have a chainsaw," Wylde growled.
Jesse isn't the only one who regularly yanks his dad's lumberjack beard. There's his co-manager and wife, Barbaranne, whom Wylde affectionately calls "My Sharon," and their other son, Hendrix, who just entered his terrible twos. Rock stars don't always make the best or most enthused parents, but for Wylde, music and family have always been inextricably intertwined. And his extended family members have been as important as his blood relatives.
When Wylde was 19 years old, he was adopted by Ozzy Osbourne and his band to play on 1989's No Rest for the Wicked. For the next four years, Wylde cut his teeth touring the world with Ozzy, and performed on 1991's No More Tears and 1995's Ozzmosis before setting sail on his own the next year with his first solo album, Book of Shadows. He formed Black Label Society in 1999; six years and five albums later, what started as a side project has turned into a new musical family and a formidable rock force. With the release of the galvanic Mafia, Wylde seems on the verge of breaking Black Label Society beyond the fringes of Ozzfest and into the heavy-metal mainstream.
The album is a showcase of metallic energy that combines the stomp of Pantera, the sluggish chug and guitar squeals of Alice in Chains and the six-string virtuosity of Eddie Van Halen. And to mix things up, there's a pair of piano-fueled ballads, which demonstrate Wylde's flexibility and offer a hint of vulnerability. Mafia is easily Black Label's most mature and fully realized disc to date, one that sounds like it was carefully written and painstakingly finessed.
"To us, it's just another Black Label Society record," Wylde dismissively said. "That's how it is every time. We go in there with nothing, then we kick it around, and within an hour we have a couple songs. That's the way it should be. I think if you really try to figure out what the f--- you're doing and image yourself, then you just end up trying too hard and it doesn't sound real."
Whatever they're doing, Black Label Society are on the right track. Last week, "Suicide Messiah," the first single from the album, was the #1 most-added song at mainstream and active rock radio, which should help build buzz and anticipation for the LP's March 8 release. The song is a crunchy, pounding slugfest with shuddering vocals that sound like a cross between Ozzy and Axl Rose. But while the sound is basically familiar, the subject matter is new for Wylde.
"It's my take on power trips and the way people follow blindly, whether it's Jesus or George Bush or one of those freaks overseas that we're fighting a war against," he explained. "People always need something to put their faith in and they choose these power-crazy mother----ers in the name of religion."
For Wylde, this is an epiphany. That he's incorporated the idea into lyrics for his new album is even more revelatory. After all, here's a wild-eyed guy whose drinking exploits are as legendary as his outstanding guitar playing — a dude who has crashed cars into trees for kicks.
"In the world we live in these days, how can you not [touch on politics]?" he said. "But that doesn't mean I don't still like to have a good time and do crazy sh--. If there isn't something crazy that goes on in the span of the day then something's not right."