You’ve been deeply invested in music since a young age. When did you get into sports?
When I was a kid I always played football, always played baseball, but then I really started getting serious about guitar. I was probably 14 and I was just like, “This is what I want to do with my life.” That’s when I basically dedicated my life to music. It wasn’t like, “I’ll make music as a hobby,” it was, “This is what I want to do with my life.”
Well, that worked out better than you could’ve imagined. Despite your success, does it still feel like hard work? Have you ever felt like you’ve made it? Or do you still have to put in maximum effort?
I’m truly blessed in regards to having Ozzy in my life and the opportunity he gave me – Oz gave me this incredibly blessed life that I have. Now that we have our Black Label family, I thank the good lord everyday for everything I have. But every time you go and track a new record, you do it like it would be if this were your first record. That’s how psyched you should be.
It seems like you have that mindset too; intent on making whatever you’re working on as good as it possibly can be. With a creative pursuit, however, it’s not as easy as putting in the hours and consequently reaping the rewards. Songwriting breakthroughs can be very elusive. You might wake up one day and write something amazing, but you could spend the next nine months coming up with nothing but garbage.
Without a doubt. I think that happens with everybody when you’re writing all the time. I mean, Neil Young never stops writing. Look at Robert Plant, he doesn’t stop either. He just put a new record out and he’s out touring. That’s from pure sheer joy and love of creating.
Over the last 16 years, you’ve released nine studio albums with Black Label Society – the latest being 2014’s Catacombs of the Black Vatican. Have you learned to accept the fact you’re not always going to generate dazzling material?
You just look at it like, we’re digging for dinosaur bones in a two-mile radius and they’re in here somewhere. Let’s see if we find anything today. Even if you come up with nothing today, let’s go get something to eat and then we’ll start tomorrow. We’ll get some coffee and we’ll look again. We know they’re out here. It’s just a matter of, you’ve dug over there, let’s dig over here a little bit more until we find something. It’ll come, but getting freaked out about it’s not helping anything.
It can be a painful assault on the ego, to go from feeling pride in your artistry to struggling to deliver anything above average.
Yeah. But my whole thing is you’ve got to keep digging and digging and then all of a sudden you hit something and you’re like, “All right, this is awesome”.
You just wrapped up an Australian tour with Black Label Society. You’ve got a reputation as a supremely powerful live band. Over the years, has playing live had a big impact on the songs you write?
I don’t think in those terms. I just think, when you write a cool riff then there you go. For me, with the heavy songs anyway, it always starts with the riff. Then the melody comes and it finishes with the lyrics. Because then you get inspired to sing about something and then you put it into the melody you came up with.
You’re well known for your signature Gibson Les Paul Custom. Fans pay a lot of attention to your guitar and effects setup, regarding it with quasi-religious reverence. For you, is the gear you use essential for enabling you to do what you do?
My setup is just so basic. It’s just a great tube amp and a really cool speaker. My pedals, they’re basic. It works best for me – it’s less clutter. If you have a great sounding amp, that’s what you want to hear. You have a great guitar; it’s a great combination. To me that’s what it’s all about.
Black Label Society’s ninth studio album, Catacombs of the Black Vatican, is out now.