There's a group called Black Label Society. It's both a heavy metal band and a sort of club. The society's logo is easily spotted at shows and record stores and hole-in-the-wall bars — Old English lettering accompanied by a skull, often stitched on the back of a jean jacket or leather vest. People who wear it give each other a nod or a handshake. Yet band founder Zakk Wylde, a singer-songwriter with long hair, a gruff, bearded face and a faded New Jersey accent, says there is no official membership.
"Anytime anyone shows up to a performance, that's the chapter meeting right there," explains Wylde, on the phone from a tour stop in Canada.
Black Label Society fans are also Zakk Wylde fans. And currently, Wylde is out promoting a new solo record, one that's been 20 years in the making and that Rolling Stone dubbed one of the most anticipated of 2016.
"The whole thing was [Guns N' Roses'] Chinese Democracy took 15 years to make, so I thought, 'Let's break that record,'" he says.
Just before Black Label Society entered the studio to lay down 2014's Catacombs of the Black Vatican, Wylde gave himself one month to write and record Book of Shadows II, a follow-up album that's one of his most personal yet. With song titles like "Darkest Hour," "Sorrowed Regrets" and "Useless Apologies," he delves into some of the painful mistakes of his past. He says that life is a whole lot more calm now that he's sober: "The Caligula days, we're not going with that anymore."
"There's a bunch of dinosaur bones out there, and you go out and dig 'em," he says of songwriting. "You have a cup of java, you go get food, and it's a matter of digging. It's always the music first, and then that will inspire the melody. The lyrics are always last."
Above all, his virtuosic guitar playing slays the most. At just 19, Wylde was selected by Ozzy Osbourne as his lead guitarist, and he's only improved since then. Over his career, Wylde has made more than 20 studio albums, and is currently in three groups: Black Label Society, his solo act and the Zakk Sabbath tribute project, which he says will head out on tour this fall. But the married father of four says he doesn't feel overworked in the slightest.
"I look forward to it every day," Wylde says. "If we were to own the Yankees [Wylde's favorite baseball team], then we'd wake up every day and think about how to make the experience better for everyone. It's the exact same with music. That's the pure joy of it." ♦
Zakk Wylde with Otherwise and Jared James Nichols • Sat, Aug. 27, at 8 pm • $25 • All-ages • Knitting Factory • 919 W. Sprague • sp.knittingfactory.com • 244-3279