Ozzy Osbourne: the Beatweek interview
June 22, 2010 by Beatweek
“Funnily enough, it wasn’t intentional,” Ozzy Osbourne says of the fact that his new album Scream is a heavy record even by his standards. And with the album out the door today, he’s looking forward to hitting the road – if only because it means he can’t be pinned down into starring in yet another television show. His touring schedule for 2010 includes the resurrection of Ozzfest in amongst a bevy of solo dates. It doesn’t take long for Ozzy to reveal his first surprise of the conversation, which is that his new song “Let Me Hear You Scream” was originally about the death of Michael Jackson.
“I think we did six different versions of it,” he says of the lead single. “We were gonna call it ‘Peter Pan is Dead’ and it was about Michael Jackson dying. But that’s fucking horrible, how can you do that, you date your album when it’s not that long after someone passes away. It becomes old history, you know? So then it was ‘Superman is Dead’ then it was someone else, then someone else. In the end it stuck as ‘Let Me Hear You Scream.’”
Scream sees a few changes from Ozzy’s modus operandi, the first being that he “took time” making the record as opposed to his previous routine of taking a brief break after coming off the road and then getting with his band to “jam a bit, and then whatever comes of it we’d take into the studio.” But it’s the band itself that’s seen perhaps the most significant change, as Ozzy finally got around to finding a new guitarist after asking Zakk Wylde to continue to pull double duty for years even after Wylde’s own band Black Label Society took off.
“Zakk has got his own band. He doesn’t need me,” Ozzy says of the friendly professional parting. “He’s got a great band of his own and he’s a great talent on his own, and I have the greatest respect of Zakk, and we’re still very good friends. What happened was, at the end of the day, well actually I knew I had to get a permanent replacement cause he was doing his band and mine and one or the other would start to encroach on the other, you know. I was starting to sound a little bit like I was playing with his band, which is natural, it’s not the end of the world.”
After dreading the audition process but ultimately giving into it after Wylde’s relentless two-band touring schedule pushed him into ill health, Ozzy settled on the twenty-nine year old Gus G. Of the fact that his new guitarist is less than half his age, Ozzy claims that he “never, ever thought about it” and points out that he recently jammed with an eleven year old virtuoso – although he does laugh heartily when he realizes that he’s currently the oldest member of his own band. “I’m older than all of them put together,” he jokes.
In fact the Prince of Darkness is in something of a joking mood, quipping that it’s still “too early in the day” despite the fact that we’re chatting in the middle of the afternoon. But seemingly nothing gets under Ozzy’s skin as quickly as the thought of ever having to be a part of another television show after one too many season of participating in The Osbournes. In fact he’s looking at hitting the road as a relief for just that reason. “I’m hoping we can do a few good shows on this tour. The fucking TV thing got on my nerves. I can’t stand doing that TV shit, you know. I’m glad I’m back on the road for the simple fact they can’t get me to do a fucking TV show. I hate it.”
He’s quick to point out that he doesn’t mind watching television (provided that he doesn’t have to see himself on the TV screen), but “I don’t go to clubs, I don’t go around to bars, I don’t go and watch new bands, I don’t know what the fuck goes on apart from me.”
Still, Ozzy managed to get word of the story of the Latimer mercy killing, which he turned into the song “Latimer’s Mercy” and it might be the most controversial track on the new album. He relays the story of Robert Latimer as he understands it: “It was a farmer who had a really fucked up kid born with everything wrong with it, and she was in constant agony. She wasn’t in pain. Agony. And she had seizures, and the seizure medication she was taking, if she didn’t have it she would fall apart or whatever, so they couldn’t give her pain medication. So the only thing she could take for pain was fucking Tylenol. And he ended up killing her because he couldn’t stand to see his daughter. I stopped and I thought to myself, fuck, that must be a really heavy decision to have to make.”
Ozzy still hasn’t made up his mind which songs from the new album will make it into his 2010 setlist beyond the title track; at present he’s more focused on making sure he’s got flexibility once he hits the road. “I could fucking do a five hour show,” he says of his decades-long back catalog. “I know one thing, with the Sabbath stuff I’d love to be doing some different songs instead of Iron Man, Paranoid, and War Pigs every fucking tour, when you do the same set every fucking night. So this time we’re rehearsing a lot of songs so we can call a different song up any given time. That way you can’t run through the same set. I’ve been switching songs around you know. I think we rehearsed thirty-three songs yesterday, old stuff.”
Speaking of Black Sabbath, it’s been a mere month since the passing of the guy who replaced Ozzy in Sabbath three decades ago. “I have a great deal of respect for him as a singer,” Ozzy says of the late Ronnie James Dio. “I was a bit pissed off thirty years ago, but then a lot of water’s gone under the bridge, and it’s just sad that he’s died. I went to an awards show a few weeks ago and I met Vinny Appice, the drummer. Cause when I heard that Ronnie got sick, I immediately sent a message out, if he needs anybody to talk to, just contact me. Cause I mean when Sharon got diagnosed with cancer a few years back, what hit me was I didn’t know anything about it. Everybody I knew who had cancer died. And then somebody said to me ‘I had the same cancer as Sharon and I survived.’ That was the first glimpse of hope that I had, that I found this guy to talk to, cause I used to think it was bullshit, cancer plus patient equals death. I said to Vinny, tell Ronnie I’m thinking of him. If he needs to call me, then call me, you know. Then the next thing you know, he passed away, which is very sad. He was a good singer.”
Another piece of Ozzy’s past is coming into play now that Motley Crue have signed on to co-headline the 2010 edition of Ozzfest. “They’re old friends of mine,” he says of his former tourmates, but “I can tell you now it’s not gonna be a rerun of the fucking 1994 tour I did with them. I don’t think any of us are even up to that debauchery that we did on that tour.” As if to emphasize the fact that his parting with Zakk Wylde was a friendly one, Black Label Society is also on the Ozzfest 2010 roster.
After Ozzfest was whittled down to a single show in 2008 and went dormant altogether in 2009, Ozzy and Sharon are bringing it back cautiously this year, with a modest six tour dates to see if the touring festival still has a place in this new decade. “If it takes up again, it takes up again. If it doesn’t, we had a great run with it anyway. Fifteen years is long enough, I think. It’s been one of the greatest things in my life, Ozzfest, the success of that. The amount of bands spawned off Ozzfest is phenomenal.”
Since we talked, a seventh Ozzfest date has been added to the schedule, this one at the vaunted O2 Arena in London, perhaps a sign that the festival has a future after all. Ozzy’s own tour schedule remains packed, with most of his 2010 tour dates being solo gigs. He says you’ll get the same show whether you catch him on Ozzfest or solo: “I don’t don a different hat. It’s just me, you know. The Ozzfest Ozzy is the same as the arena Ozzy.”
I’ve heard Ozzy mention Lady GaGa in a positive capacity enough times in other interviews over the past year that I can’t help but ask him specifically what it is about her that caught his attention at a time when he’s admittedly not paying much attention to new artists. “She puts a bit of interest in what she does. You’ll find now, you watch these talent shows, you watch these kids singing away, and everybody tries to be the next Mariah Carey, or fucking vocal acrobats, I call them. And then all the sudden somebody like Lady GaGa comes, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song, but the vibe she puts out, I like the fact that she’s not just going up there dressed in a fucking skirt and dripping with diamonds singing. She puts some panache into it. She puts a bit of craziness in there, eccentric stuff, you know. Like Elton John used to do years ago.”
But then he laments: “Everyone else has started copying the thing now.”
I found myself feeling a bit silly in hindsight for having asked the heavy metal pioneer for his take on the latest pop star, but if Ozzy was annoyed at the question, he certainly didn’t show it. In fact he was one of the more courteous interview subjects I’ve chatted with, making sure to remember my name and ending the conversation with “God Bless.” If four seasons of The Osbournes suggested to the world that Ozzy is a gentle yet passionate musical giant, then our conversation all but confirmed it.
So what of Ozzy’s return to his native England in 2010 for a few solo dates and now also for Ozzfest? “I’m just as comfortable over there as anywhere else to play, you know. As long as they enjoy it, it’s a mad thing, you know?”