Nick Cantonese , 2006

 

Written & Photos by: Jason Perlman

 

Yet again, another Ozzfest for Black Label Society. Does doing that show year after year ever get routine?
No, never. And especially not this time because we are headlining the B stage and it is going to be epic. All the people that are usually up in the lawn when we play get to be right there with us. It was like, every time we played, we were in the first or second slot on the main stage and I would look up in the lawn and there was always a sea of Black Label shirts. And I was like, "Fuck, man." If they were up front, we would have so much more fun. Now, with the B stage, there are no seats, it is just them and us and it will be so much more intimate. I like shows where you can reach out and see them sweat and slap hands and get one-on-one with the people. I am still a fan myself, so if I were at a concert, I would want that, too. I wouldn't want to sit in the lawn and watch a show from the Jumbotron; I could rent a video and do that shit. I want to see them; I want to see the band. So finally, all the Black Label fans will be able to see us. It's killer, man.

And you get to about double the length of your set as well?
Yea, last year we got to play five songs and this year we will get to play nine. Those extra songs can definitely help us out. It is like; wow we can finally work up a sweat. Before it was great, because you would be playing on the same stage as Sabbath and Ozzy, Judas Priest and Slayer, all these great bands were playing on the same stage as us. But five songs is like a dick tease. My guitar tech would hand be my guitar and it seemed I would almost literally hand it right back because we were done playing. Did we even do anything? I mean, I am not even sweating and it is like 1,000 degrees in Arizona. But this year is going to be really, really, really cool. I am so looking forward to it, man. We get to headline the B stage where (Rob) Zombie did it last year and Slipknot the year before, it is going to blow up I think, man.

 

I was actually going to ask about that, because it wasn't until a couple of years ago that a big-selling act would headline the B stage and sort of created that excitement. Because there has been that experience of that, how comfortable were you taking on that role this year?
To me, the second stage is still full of talent. To me, it is just a warm up of what fans are going to get on the main stage. But for us to headline it will give it that extra oomph, just like they had Zombie headlining it last year. I mean to get to see Rob Zombie up close, and he scaled everything down and did a raw show, people dug that. Like I said, it is more intimate and you get to see the band members. You can be inched away from them and are not stuck between rows of seats. As a band member playing, there are people in between seats and it just becomes sterile. People just cant get up close to there your at. But when you can get fans together that are jamming and they are all together, it is just a sea of one motion. That's where the band can start feeding off it. To me, this is killer. There is no downplaying it. The B or A stage is great, but I never experienced the A stage like Zakk (Wylde) has or at night whenever its packed, I mean that would be a rush. But we have done shows like Donnington, where it was like 80,000 people and its like, wholly shit, you can't even see the end of the crowd. It's crazy, but there is nothing with the bands like, "You are on the B stage and I am on the A stage." We are recognize there is a ton of talent on the A stage and a ton of talent on the B stage and people just take in the music for what it is. Just enjoy it.

 

I have been covering Ozzfest for about eight years and have seen BLS play that "sterile" environment for 20 minutes, but also saw you play the Newport Music Hall as a headliner. There is a difference in how the band acts on stage and the energy given off. So how excited are you to take that small-club energy and put it to 10,000 people?
Sure, and there is a difference that playing in daylight is, well, kind of not rock and roll. But you still at the same time, the kids paid their money and they want to see a show. So even it is like 1,000 degrees out, you have to do your shit. We are there to do our job and strap in on each day. But there is nothing like sitting, waiting for the show when you are inside and those house lights go out. That is where this other entity comes in you and you turn into like Jack Lambert of the Pittsburgh Steelers. It's like you lose your front teeth and steam starts coming out of that football helmet and you are ready to tear someone's fucking head off. There is such a difference in yourself. If I could bottle that feeling, I would be a millionaire. You go on stage for however long you play, and you just feel like you are on top of the world. And when the set is over, you have to come back to reality again. I go from the guy on stage back to Nick. Fans are all the time saying, "Man, you are nothing like I thought you would be." The best similarity was something Ozzy said, which was, "A clown can't be a clown all the time." They don't walk around all the time with those big red shoes and a big red fucking nose. You have to turn off that person and become a human. To me, I am more of a fan of music, still. I have been told before that I am so not the rock star guy. I mean I am just some lucky dude from Pennsylvania who gets to play the guitar and who gets to do what he loves to do for a living. How can I be a dick to someone? I remember the first time I met Ozzy, the man stood up, shook my hand, looked me in the eye and said, "Hi, I'm Ozzy." So if this guy doesn't have an attitude or an ego, then nobody on the planet should. Because without Ozzy there never would have been a Black Label, there never would have been an Alice in Chains or anything near what is out now. And this guy is the most docile, humble human being I ever met in my life. That is who I role model after.

I remember a few Ozzfest's ago, and even last year I was talking with Zakk about the record coming out on Artemis. Now you are with Roadrunner Records. Does any of that business side of music affect the band?
It never affected us as a band. Us going to Roadrunner was like, "Wow, this is the label with Nickelback and Slipknot." We are in some good company. So I really think this year when Shot To Hell comes out it will be huge. I am in the band, and when I listened to it, it raised my fur from beginning to end. Zakk just tops himself every goddamn time, and it's just sick. It is sort of like the Use Your Illusion (Guns 'N' Roses) kind of thing. People who dug Book of Shadows will definitely dig this record because there are piano ballads, but then there are rock songs and really heavy songs. It almost like being on a rollercoaster. I think people are really, really going to dig it. But all you can do at the end of the day is cross your fingers and hope for the best.

 

As a guitar player, playing beside Zakk every night has to be a bit...
Insane? Yea!

 

How does a guitar player come to terms with I am going to be in a band with Zakk Wylde and play with him every night?
I have been with him 10 years. I started in 1996. The way I got the gig was not by answering an ad or anything like that. I was playing in a band in Pittsburgh back home and I quit that band and wasn't actually going to quit playing all together. I was thinking the way the music industry was, and it sucked and thought I didn't want to do it anymore. And the way Zakk and Ozzy are is parallel to Zakk and me. The reason he bought a Les Paul was because he saw Randy Rhoades had one. I bought a Les Paul because Zakk had one. The first time I heard Miracle Man, I was like, "Who the fuck is this guy?" I never heard anybody play like that before. So I started to try and learn everything I could that he did. Even my old band used to call me "Little Zakk," because I played the Les Paul and did Penatonics and did the little squeals. You never understand your path in life. But now I understand why I did what I did. But when we play together, and I am not by far the worlds greatest guitar player, but I have learned so much from him that I can double solos with him. But I still learn from him every night. I still look over at him and it blows my mind. We are on stage playing and I look over and see that bull's eye and him and I am like, Jesus Christ, I had posters of him when I was like 16 years old. Now I am on stage with him and he is giving me opportunities. We did Miracle Man on tour, in like 2001, and we doubled the solo and people were tripping out. They were like, "Wholly shit, this other guy can play." They were not thinking I was like Malcolm Young, who is the shit, but who you won't see blazing out the eruptions anytime soon. But everybody knows Zakk is the shit, but he is giving me the opportunity to solo with him, face to face. It is definitely a surreal situation. It's crazy. But I just take it all as a blessing.

 

BLS has a diverse crowd, almost like a Harley Davidson sort of crowd that the stereotypical biker, but also has those businessmen sneaking out to live on the wild side. Are you ever surprised at who you see at shows?
It is funny you ask, because the first time we walked out on stage during the Mafia tour last year there were chicks! Usually, when BLS first started, the crowd as all guys. It was all Sabbath guys and biker-looking guys, and it was like, if I ever had a girlfriend, she would never have to worry about me doing anything, because it is all guys. Black Label is not a band for a single guy. I remember during the tour last year, Zakk and I were standing off on the side of the stage and our intro was on and we were looking into the crowd I said, "Check it out, man. There are chicks in the crowd." And he looks at me and goes, "We made it." We just started laughing and were so shocked that we were seeing girls in the crowd. And even if they came with their boyfriends, God bless them. They still dig the band. They are wearing their BLS babydoll shirts. It was classic. We made it; we finally have girls in the crowd. That was fun.

 

It would have been easy to pigeonhole this band into just being Zakk Wylde and his band, or a Zakk project. But the band, to both Zakk and your credit, played through all that. But was there ever a time where you thought you might not get your own identity?
The thing with Zakk is Zakk is never just a person. He is Black Label. This is his baby. But I have been with him 10 years, Craig (Nunenmacher) our drummer has been with him like seven or eight years and J.D. (DeServio), our bass player, they have been friends since they were like 14 years old. So it's a family. Each of us knows our roles. On stage, its Black Label Society, it's a unit. That society stands for something. Society means more than one. And that is what Zakk always wanted. So when he would hear Zakk Wylde's Black Label Society, he would be the first to say, "No, it is just Black Label Society." He wanted a band. And we are like the evil twins. Through him I got my Washburn Guitar deal and Dean Markley is putting out signature strings. All this stuff that I never imagined would never happen is happening. It still blows me away. One girl had a tattoo that I have on her back, and I signed it and she got my name tattooed on her back. I am still looking at BLS from a fan's point of view, to so me, it is all un-fucking-believable. People are recognizing us as a unit.